The Love Song

Once again this week, we are short on time, energy, and inspiration at this blog. If the song below hadn’t popped up on shuffle this morning, there probably wouldn’t be anything here today, either.

In High Fidelity, Nick Hornby wrote:

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

There’s a corollary to this idea that we learn “heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss” from pop songs. It’s that we also learn about love through them. Yet most of what we learn is some wispy, moon/June cookie-cutter emotion that’s miles wide and fractions of an inch deep. Nevertheless, songwriters and singers keep recycling the same platitudes, and listeners keep lapping ‘em up as if they were new.

Do we listen to pop music because we’re stupid about love, or are we stupid about love because we listen to pop music?

There’s got to be more to love than the stuff most love songs are about. And there’s got to be more to love than Valentine’s Day, frankly. More than cards and flowers and chocolates and the other totems we’re told to spend money on today. There’s got to be more to it than sex. (Which singers, songwriters, and listeners frequently confuse with love—right?)

So what’s love supposed to be about? What’s a love lesson worth listening to, one worth learning?

This: “The Dutchman,” popularized by Steve Goodman but written by a fellow Chicago folksinger, Mike Smith. This is the greatest love song ever written, because Smith understands that love, to be worth anything, has to endure through everything: not just the tribulations of thwarted infatuation, but the most difficult barriers life can put up. Only when it can do that is it a love really worth singing about.


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