Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tunes for the rueful and wiser

Last night my soon-to-be former roommate and I were discussing men and music. “You need to be listening to the blues,” I advised. She looked dubious for a moment. “Not the ‘throw myself on the train-tracks’ blues,” I hastened to clarify. Then she nodded and remarked that actually, yes, she had been listening to the blues a lot at work — and enjoying them.

There’s something about that music form that strips away a lot of the crap that wraps our heads in cotton, leaving hearts all naked and blind (in love). Which is a contrast to jazz, I’ve realized. Not all jazz — not the sense in which Blue Train yesterday made me long for a larger living room so I could turn up the volume and fill the place with such purity of sound. That other jazz, the songbook kind. The too-short (maybe too vast?) catalog of odes and paeons to love and the beloved. Some people pull it off so you don’t gag — sometimes I’m really quite smitten, and it taps embarrassing longings. Diana Krall mostly makes it work: she’s just pulling a lounge-singer act, see, and doing her job quite well.

But others ... Well, let’s just say a night not long ago I was trying to do my work at the coffee shop when this jazz-songbook album started. The woman was no Nina and while it wasn’t as bad as Kenny G or Josh Groban I realized by the third or fourth song she’d pretty much cobbled together Krall’s repertoire, though singing it closer to the earnest heart of romantic mysticism. Not that the singing was so bad, but hearing such songs sung like that I almost felt continued listening could further damage my soul. This is what got me in this fix to begin with!

If such jazz gets you there — to wistful, inchoate longings for the one relationship you’re secretly sure will eclipse any pleasures a heaven could offer — it’s blues that take you back. The blues of Etta James, Robert Cray, B.B. King and countless others who strip the crap away right down to rejected love and foolish lust and fickle folly in general. Today’s Spooning Fork though musically closer to jazz has more of the wisdom of such blues.

Stitched Up’ from Possibilities
John’s got a problem, it seems — the club from which he’s singing is full of beautiful women, one of whom he woulda made a play for, back in the day. Seems she wasn’t at all opposed to it — may have even said his name, implying interest. But he can’t be sure.

And in any case, our boy’s not the same chap who once would have fallen for such a “flawless” girl. He had to walk away. Given her beauty, “Who’s to say she’s single, who’s to say she’s on her own? Girls like that don’t sleep alone.” He’s sure not the first one to think that. And if he’s not the first, he “sure won’t be the last” to spend his whole life lookin’ behind his back. And he don’t think he’s up for that.

No, a woman like that would stitch him up, string him out, trap him in, lock him down — basically, deprive him of his mind.

I reckon I know the type men have in mind when they sing a song like that. For women it’s the musicians, the artists, the men of charm, of wit, charisma ... We can spend years falling and falling and falling again for the many-splendored men slightly out of our league but close enough (or kind enough) we imagine the love-drug fix they would supply is attainable, sustainable. “Love drug” is my cousin’s phrase, actually. We were talking about the sort of comes-with-jumper-cables man each of us has spent many a long year pining for. Which she described as providing an almost-chemical fix.

Sure, liking them may have felt true to yearning and desire — may have even felt demonstrative of serious endurance — but the truth is, men who spark women’s hearts easily tend to spark many a heart that way, as John says. So fortitude or folly, which is it? Is such an explosive charge worth all the other groupies and hopeful ones in his entourage? As far as I’m concerned, the benefits of a man who sparks you deep and sure may be totally cancelled out by all the hassles of his drama with other women and the mass of them you deal with (not to mention the void when he’s in pre-spark mode with morning breath and dirty feet and underwear he should’ve changed by now). For him to be worth that trouble, he better have some other, uncommon virtue that remains when you strip away all the glamour a jazz-songbook catalog teaches foolish hearts to crave. As Susan Tedeschi sings (most recently), “I’m tired of my tears.”

That’s what the blues teach you: there’s part-of-life ache and trouble, and then there’s the tears that’re all your own (unnecessary) choosing. I may be tradin’ me out some soft-jazz recs soon, and replacing them with straight-up, honest blues. It’s gettin’ time I saved my heart for someone with more durable, stable qualities than just super-charged personality.