While driving from Albuquerque to my nome in Washington recently I had a lot of time to think about things and also a lot of time to listen to Classic Rock, which generally means rock music from the late 1960’s through the 1980’s. Unexpectedly, rock music, nineteenth century British literature and my own personal thought patterns came together to produce some reflections on the idea of ‘making love’.
One hears the phrase ‘making love’, or some variation on that theme a lot in rock music. The examples are myriad; “All I want to do is make love to you” (Heart), “I just want to make love to you” (Group Called Smith), “all I want is for you to make love to me” (Stones), “the love you take is equal to the love you make” (Beatles). I could go on and on and, dear reader, you probably could too. What these lyrics are really saying is “all I want to do is have sex with you”, or “all I want is for you to have sex with me”. And this revelation is not likely to make the headlines; it’s rock music after all, and rock music grew largely out of teen angst and teen angst, one way or another, revolves primarily around sex.
I would like to make it clear at this point that I am not writing this to bash rock music. I love rock music; grew up with it and sing it at work or in the shower or driving down the street to this day. Rock music has addressed many themes from the cultural to the social to the political, and has provided a soapbox for young thoughts on all of those issues. Neil Young chastises redneck conservative racists in Alabama for being on the wrong side of history while Lynyrd Skynyrd rips Neil Young and pecksniff wine-and-cheese liberals for their hypocritical tripe and suggests that they aren’t needed around anyhow. Rock music, while weighted more to one side of the political aisle than the other, is fully capable of making stands on any issue accompanied to great, driving, nerve jangling sound. Long live rock and roll.
Rock music is even capable of dealing with sex and love (two entirely different things) with sensitivity. Billy Joel’s “I love you just the way you are” and Eric Clapton’s “You look wonderful tonight” are songs that speak of a quiet, steady love of one person for another. Eric Clapton is the best musical performer in history, by the way. Carole King’s song “Will you still love me tomorrow” is a very honest look at the reality of sex from a woman’s point of view, for teens as much as for women of any other age. Is this guy who is all sweet words and consideration going to still ‘love’ the girl after he’s gotten what most guys want from the time that they start growing hair in their armpits and begin to sweat? That song, by the way, especially the version recorded in 1960 by the Shirelles, is one of the best songs ever written and performed. The answer to the woman’s question is more often than not provided by Van Halen; “My love is rotten to the core”.
While I was driving along through the vast, open landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Idaho, singing along to my favorite oldies, my mind wandered to the literature of nineteenth century England and the way in which the term ‘making love’ was used in that context. In the writing of Austen, Eliot, Trollope and others, that term is used to describe the act of courtship. When a man acts or expresses himself in any way that indicates an interest in a particular woman, and if the woman indicates that such attention is welcome or at the very least not unwelcome, this combination of events is considered to be ‘lovemaking’. I believe that the British writers of the nineteenth century had a much better grasp on what was meant by making love than do the lyric writers of the twentieth. The British writers were also aware that love could be rotten to the core. Lydia Bennett’s elopement and marriage to Wickham in Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” could be sung of by Van Halen, and the disappointment of Dorothea Brooke in her marriage to Edward Casaubon in Eliot’s “Middlemarch” could be sung of by many who sing of the morning after not carrying the same bright future as was believed to be offered the evening before.
Still, the English seemed to have a better grasp of what love is (and is not) and how it should be dealt with, and the primary lesson is that sex and love are not the same thing and have little to do with each other. Many people and most other life forms have sex. It doesn’t follow that that they necessarily love each other. I have seen my neighbor’s dog in action when its owner was breeding him with a female to create some pups for sale. I doubt that Fifi was wondering if Brutus would still love her tomorrow. I have seen teenage mothers with no male in sight who are no more concerned with the father of their pup than was Fifi with the father of hers. Love and sex were as far apart for that teenage mother and her former partner (of one night?) as night is from day.
In that old fashioned British model love was something that was not just felt, but worked on. If a male told a girl “I feel like making love” in a Jane Austen book he would have been quickly declared to be Bad Company and shown the door. Lovemaking involved feelings, sure enough, but also required a demonstration on the man’s part of an earnest sentiment to provide for, protect and respect the woman, and on the woman’s part to respect, support and be faithful to the man. Of course, the Brits knew as well then as we do now that this did not always happen. When Gwendolen Harleth marries Henleigh Grandcourt in Eliot’s “Danial Deronda” there is no love anywhere to be seen. Grandcourt in fact uses sex to further oppress and humiliate the proud but shallow Gwendolen, proving that his ‘love’ truly was rotten to the core.
I believe that the willingness of the British writers to confront that which was ‘not-love’ lends credit to their conversation about what love really was then and still is today. The social circumstances have changed greatly but the core of what love is has not. The problem is that we no longer seem to be very much inclined to talk (or sing) about it. One rich source states that “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous, love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek it’s own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.” That passage, taken from I Corinthians chapter 13 of the Bible, addresses love in general but the application to romantic love is obvious. Love is made, not felt. Would-be lovers create their love by building trust and respect and commitment to one another over time while simultaneously learning not to demand particular actions as the price for their love. “I’ll love you if you promise to not have sex with someone else” is a contract, not love. In it’s place should stand “I love you and there is no room in my heart for anyone else”, which eventually distills down to simply “I love you”. This doesn’t happen without work. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all; Edward Casaubon, Henleigh Grandcourt and Rosamond Vincy (also from “Middlemarch”) are all out there. That is why great effort must be expended in the process of making love; without the greatest care and patient development that love which you thought would last a lifetime will only bring a lifetime of trouble.
The lesson that I take away from this line of thought is that while there are no guarantees of success in making love, hoping and believing that love will come without care and effort is a fool’s errand if ever there was one. Statistics of divorce rates, adultery, single parenthood (the surest way into poverty in America), and the general estrangement and unhappiness that can be found in so many American homes is a testimony to the inadequacy of love based on hormones or calculations of relative advantage. In this case the nineteenth century English prescription of thought, effort, and care being used to build a relationship is likely to have a much higher success rate than the twentieth century musical prescription that “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right”.
So let’s put things into perspective. English literature provided a superior guide to lifelong matrimonial or relational happiness than does rock music. Rock music is great entertainment but a poor guide to lifelong matrimonial or relational happiness but hey, it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.