Monday, December 04, 2017

Polyphony: December 2017

Administrivia: this post is the first of what I hope to be an ongoing series, combining three loves of mine: music, writing,  I'll be looking at songs in various genres to see what they have to say about love.


I thought about a Christmas theme for this one, but if there's a polyamorous Christmas carol out there, I don't know it. Unless it's Last Christmas, in which a woman gives her heart only to have it again the next, wait, that's serial monogamy.

There are lots of ways I could go here, and will, in time. I want to talk about how dominant the theme of monogamy is in love songs (hint: more than you even realize); I want to talk about polyamorous music, of which there is, um, more than you even realize. I want to talk about songs about cheating, songs about jealousy, songs about breakups, and much, much more.

But for this inaugural instalment, I'm going to talk about a special class of love song: the melancholy ode, not to the one who got away, but to the one you had to PUSH away.

The first song that comes to mind is from two years after I was born: Olivia Newton-John's I Honestly Love You.

This song was written by Jeff Barry ("Sugar, Sugar") and Peter Allan ("Don't Cry Out Loud",  "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)".

Maybe I hang around here
A little more than I should 
We both know I got somewhere else to go 
But I got something to tell you 
That I never thought I would 
But I believe you really ought to know

I love you 
I honestly love you

So much said, and even more hinted at, in this verse. So it's obvious she's in a relationship ("I've got somewhere else to go"); that she loves her friend ("honestly", an interesting choice of adverbs there); and that this love is affecting her "official" relationship ('Maybe I hang around here a little more than I should". She also "never thought" she would tell her friend about this. So why is she doing it now?  Is it because the weight of that love got to be so much it had to be expressed? Let's listen on.

You don't have to answer
I see it in your eyes 
Maybe it was better left unsaid 
This is pure and simple 
And you should realize 
That it's coming from my heart and not my head

I love you
I honestly love you

This resonates. I told a friend of mine I loved her at once point, two odd years back now, via text. Text is notorious for its inability to properly convey emotion, but I got a whopping heaping helping of emotion, namely fear,  in the nuances of her response. First, a very noticeable hesitation; then

do you love me
or are you "in love" with me?

It was very clear which answer she didn't want to hear, and so I gave the right one--which happened to be the true one, as well. I love. It's what I do. If you love me back, a very specific way, I'm apt to fall "in" love with you; but that's far from guaranteed.

This woman said what I could have. Maybe it IS better left unsaid, sometimes, if it's going to be awkward or confusing, and isn't THAT sad? Big points from Ken on "you don't have to answer"...because if you're saying "I love you" to hear "I love you, too", you've tainted your love with expectation.
So yes, "pure and simple". And heartfelt. "From my heart and not my head" though....there's a red flag. This line suggests things aren't quite as pure and simple as Olivia would like to think.

If her love doesn't have her head's blessing, she must think it's wrong, on some level. And in her world, the world of monogamy, if you think something is wrong, it probably is. He knows it, too: she can see it in his eyes. (Incidentally, I am following convention here saying "he"--there's nothing in this song that suggests she can't be singing to another woman.) Cue the protestation:

I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable
I'm not trying to make you anything at all 
But this feeling doesn't come along everyday 
And you shouldn't blow the chance 
When you've got the chance to say

I love you 
I honestly love you

I've actually said that second line. On more than one occasion. Because it's up to others what they are to me. I'll take my cue off each one of you. How you feel about me is irrelevant as far as my love for you is concerned, but how I act on that love is FULLY dependant on you.

Olivia's right. You shouldn't blow the chance to tell someone you love them. We all need to love and be loved.

If we both were born
In another place and time
This moment might be ending in a kiss 

But there you are with yours
And here I am with mine
So I guess we'll just be leaving it at this 

I love you 
I honestly love you

Right. In. The. Feels.

Just kiss him already. Oh, wait, you can't do that, because it's not allowed.

I've had one person (whom I have never kissed) tell me I met her too late, and one (whom I have) promise me "the next life". Beautiful words, those. Heartwarming. Sad, if you believe this life is all there is, but I don't. Olivia, here, is making the honest choice in staying faithful, even as she characterizes her love for her friend as "honest".

And that's where Mr. Polyamory here cringes just a wee bit. Because our love for our friends is honest, and why must it be restricted? I get it, I do...I just don't agree with it.


Plot twist: Peter Allan, who co-wrote this tune, has a decidedly...male...take on these lyrics. According to,  he has said:

"I thought it would be a really sexy song for a guy to sing - 'I'm not trying to sleep with you,'" Jeff Barry explained in More Songwriters on Songwriting. "I honestly love you. No one had ever said that before. And I thought any girl who would hear that would have to say, 'Well, can we just do it once?'"

Ah, the ol' reverse psychology trick. "I'm not in this for the sex", he says, in the hopes that saying it will produce sex for him. How honest is that love, again? Maybe this is why Jennifer Lopez suggests in The Wedding Planner (2001) that any couple using I Honestly Love You as a wedding song will likely be divorced within a year. Knowing the songwriter had this motive in mind kind of sours this music for me.

Olivia Newton-John is no stranger to love songs. Or lust songs, for that matter -- Physical spawned a steamy and provocative (for its time) video. This one seems to straddle a line. But honest love -- real honest love, free of ulterior motives -- is indeed something all too rare that should be acknowledged...and celebrated.

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