Growing up, I learned about love from my family, especially my parents and grandparents. I learned through their actions (and sacrifices) and their words (“I love you”). Looking back I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up in such a loving family where I always felt that people cared for me.
But there was another kind of love that I was clueless about when I was younger – romantic love. Like most kids I learned (or thought that I learned) about love through music, especially rock and roll. One of my earliest memories of romantic love happened when I watched the ever-popular movie of the time, Grease. I still remember the scene where Sandy, played by Olivia Newton-John sang the ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You” to Danny, played by John Travolta. While I could sense the love and devotion of the characters, I was absolutely clueless about love.
Around that time, I remember a very famous love song that my mother used to play all the time, Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” I knew it was a love song by the mood and tone of the music, but I had no idea what “light” had to do with it. And I knew is that it sounded cheesy and really sappy. If this song was about love, I wanted no part of it.
Another love song I remember hearing on the radio back in those early days was 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” a crazy, trippy song that caught my attention every time it played in the car. Whatever love was, the singer kept saying – even shouting at times, that he wasn’t in love. I was still oblivious to (pardon the Huey Lewis song reference) the power of love at that point in my life.
Also around that time, while hanging with my friends, we threw on their parents’ early Journey album which featured “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” While I knew what love was, I didn’t know that it also involved touching and squeezing. What was that all about? I also remember listening to early Foreigner and their song “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” It was a love song…I could tell by the tender, soft mood of the song and mention of a surviving love. But I had no clue what the songwriter was “waiting” for or even that love could survive or even not survive, for that matter.
By the time I was a teenager, I began to understand more about romantic love. I’d heard hundreds of love songs by that point in my life. Which reminds me of a Frank Zappa book I read in my teen years, The Real Frank Zappa Book. I barely knew who he was when I read it but I remember something Zappa wrote that stuck with me (I am paraphrasing here): love songs are, single-handedly, responsible for most of the depression and psychological problems that adults face. While he may have exaggerated this a bit, he might have been onto something.
I was also beginning to learn a little about love through the music I listened to. I remember a song off Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason called “One Slip,” which had an interesting line that has always stuck with me:
“Was it love or was it the idea of being in love?”
Wow, that was deep! As a teenager, this profound thought hit me at an important time. That song somehow planted a seed to help me distinguish between real, genuine love and infatuation. It also forced me to question whether the love in my life at that point was genuine. I figured out pretty fast that it probably wasn’t.
Another of my favorite bands from my teen years, Queensryche, also wrote a song about love that made me think – “I Don’t Believe In Love” off their platinum-selling concept album, Operation: Mindcrime. It was a bit disturbing to hear their singer, Geoff Tate, profess that he didn’t believe in love. ‘Huh, you don’t believe in love? Are you crazy?’ I thought. I later realized that it was the character in the concept album who believed this after learning that the woman he loved died. By that time, I was learning that while love could be a wonderful thing, it could also be challenging and painful.
Now that I’m older, I take the lyrics in “love songs” with a grain of salt. These days, “love songs” have become more explicit and the lines between love and lust have become blurred. In some ways, I worry about our youth being exposed to all of this. But I suppose our parents and grandparents felt this way when Elvis was popular.
Say what you will about love songs, they aren’t going away anytime soon. These songs can offer us an opportunity to feel the beauty of love and sometimes its complexities and pain. But if you listen closely, you might hear some nuggets of wisdom that you can somehow apply to your life situation and possibly provide some comfort.
Creative commons photo courtesy of suchitra prints.