Today's selection for the 30 Day Song Challenge was much harder than I anticipated, but for reasons you might not expect. It certainly is NOT the case that I don't have plenty of songs that remind me of someone. It IS the case, however, that when you say "this song reminds me of [some person]," you're pretty much obligated to explain why... and that's where things get complicated. You see, all kinds of things can be misunderstood or miscommunicated when you associate a person with a song. (Incidentally, this also happens when you try to associate a person with a book, as I explained a few years back when I was struggling with the very tricky adventure of trying to give people books for Christmas gifts without them somehow misinterpreting what the gifted book might be saying about them.) When I was trying to make my selection for today, there were a lot of people/song pairs that immediately sprang to mind. Yet, when I tried to think of how I would explain those pairings, the "linking" stories kept turning out to be either too incriminating or too ordinary. Alas, what to do?
In the end, I just had to reconcile myself with the fact that any selection for today's challenge was going to be a risk. All I can do is try to explain the association the best I can. Luckily for me, the person that I chose for today is my dad, who I'm pretty certain doesn't read my blog, which may give me a little bit more leeway here than I might have had otherwise.
Many, many years ago, when I was a teenager, I remember being in the car with my father on the way to or from something unmemorable. This song came on the radio, and my dad said to me (or to himself, or to no one in particular, I'm not sure): "This song reminds me of your mom." That was it. That's all he said. I didn't ask why or how or anything else about it. We didn't have a deep, heart-to-heart conversation. I'd be willing to bet that he doesn't even remember saying that. But still, even to this day, whenever I hear this song, I think of my dad. And my mom. I guess if I were going to be totally precise about it, this song reminds me of my dad being reminded of my mom.
Here it is, Billy Joel's "She's Always A Woman To Me" from his 1977 album The Stranger:
First of all, let me just go ahead and acknowledge the obvious: this is not an all-hearts-and-roses kind of love song. It's conflicted, complicated, equal parts romance and reserve, happiness and helplessness. That ambiguity is, of course, what makes it such a brilliant song. But it's that same ambivalence that makes you wonder if this is exactly the song that you would want someone to say reminds him or her of you. Over the years, I've thought about that a lot. And as I've gotten older, I've become more and more convinced that this IS, despite all its professed contingency, a song that I would be okay with someone saying reminds him or her of me. A lot of that has to do with the way that I think about my own mother and father.
That's my mom and dad to the left. They're really great people. (And pretty good looking folks, if I do say so myself!) I caused them more than their fair share of parental headache in my time, but they seem to have weathered it well. I can say, with total confidence, that I know that my mom and dad love each other. Almost half of the people my age or younger have single or divorced parents, but mine have been together for almost 40 years now. I can also say, with total confidence, that I know it wasn't all hearts-and-roses all the time. They married (very) young, moved around quite a bit early in their marriage, raised three children (one of which was a royal pain in the ass!), put themselves through school and built careers, took care of their own dying parents, and now have three adorable grandchildren. There's just no way to do that without a whole lot of pain and hardship, but there's also no way to do that without a whole lot of love.
I don't think there's anyone past 30 years old who believes that long-term relationships of whatever kind (marriage, domestic partnerships, even friendships) are uncomplicated. So, it neither surprises me nor worries me that Billy Joel's "She's Always A Woman" reminds my father of my mother. My mom and dad are not uncomplicated people. (I take after them both in that way.) Over the many years they've been together, I'm positive that they've had a complicated relationship. I'm sure they've learned how to push each others buttons in both good and bad ways. But they've stuck with it... and that's something that a lot of other people have been unable to do.
I'm going to pick out one of the more gentle verses of this song to focus on for a moment. It goes as follows:
She can lead you to love
She can take you or leave you
She can ask for the truth /But she'll never believe you
And she'll take what you give her, as long as it's free
Yeah, she steals like a thief
But she's always a woman to me
As convoluted as that verse sounds in its entirety, I'm not sure that there's anything in there that doesn't fall under my version of what real "love" is. Just take it line by line. I think you can find easy ways to recuperate the desirability of "her" in every line. She leads you to love? Definitely good. She can take you or leave you? Often not ideal, but nonetheless necessary. She can ask for the truth but she'll never believe you? Well, we all need to be held at guard over the things we try to pass off as "truth" sometimes. I mean, who wants a woman who is uncomplicated? My good friend, grad-school roommate and Philadelphian, Adriel Trott, once said: "You can only say you love a city after it's given you reason to not love it." I think the same thing goes for people. If you say you love someone who it's never been difficult to love, then yours is a vacant and shallow love, in my opinion.
I guess, in the end, what I respect about my mother and father the most is that they love each other in a way that is complicated. Sometimes more complicated than I can understand. But every time I hear Billy Joel's "She's Always A Woman," I think of the way my mother reminds my father of her. And it seems about right to me.
Or as right as any real love I can imagine would be.