Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dissecting Diane

Yesterday I was early to my therapist appointment (as usual), so I sat in her tiny, humid half-room pawing through a stack of outdated magazines. Faced with choices including 2006 New York Times Magazines and ancient copies of AARP, I settled on a 2007 issue of Marie Claire and flipped to the feature well. I'm not a huge fan of Marie Claire (especially after reading an incredibly confusing story about sex with a paraplegic in this particular issue), but then I stumbled across one of the most fascinatingly counterintuitive pieces I'd read in a long time: this profile on Diane Warren.

Dianne Warren, if you're not familiar, has been honored over and over again at music awards shows as one of the great songwriters of our time. The woman wrote "If I Could Turn Back Time"! (As well as a bunch of classic Michael Bolton and Celine Dion songs, and one of my personal favorites, "Tell It to My Heart," sung by Taylor Dayne. Check out a longer list of her songs on Warren's Wikipedia page.) According to the profile, though, the woman whom we would expect to be home watching Lifetime Original Movies and self-medicating with chocolate is actually a fabulously foul-mouthed, tacky-home-decor-loving, parrot-owning force of nature who -- wait for it -- has never been in love.


Warren is single and couldn't care less, even though she had a seven-year live-in relationship with a man in the music biz back in the day that she describes as not "love," but instead "comfortable." She loves her music and her work, but relationships? Not so much. I found this absolutely riveting.

For me, it was especially fascinating because I consider one of her songs a turning point in my early relationship with N. Remember that Aerosmith song "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing"? It was on the soundtrack to that terrible action flick Armageddeon, it was nominated for a Grammy, and it apparently sold like hotcakes. The lyrics are sort of crazy, though: "I don't wanna close my eyes/ I don't wanna fall asleep/ 'Cause I'd miss you, baby/ And I don't want to miss a thing." When I first heard it at age 18, I thought, "What does that even mean? What would Steven Tyler be missing if he fell asleep? This song is nonsensical."

Around Thanksgiving last year, N and I were sleeping in the same bed, and he fell asleep first. He usually falls asleep first. I listened to him breathe, and I ran my eyes over his skin, his hair, and his person, and I realized I was in love with him. I knew it was probably ill-advised, and I think I could sense I was in for a world of hurt, but I loved him then intensely and completely, and I have never since stopped. In that particular tangible moment, just like the lyrics say, a song flooded all of my synapses -- loud, as if I were cranking the radio in my Chevy Nova 10 years ago. It was that damn Aerosmith song: "I don't wanna close my eyes/ I don't want to fall asleep/ 'Cause I'd miss you baby/ And I don't want to miss a thing."

Ten years after the song's release, I finally understood the lyrics.

Toward its end, the Marie Claire story mentions "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing." As it turns out, not only has Diane Warren never been as in love as the song would have us believe she was, but she also got the inspiration for the song from a quote that James Brolin gave about his love, Barbra Streisand.

I hesitate to say that my mind was blown by the seeming hollowness of the song, because I don't think any of us are under the illusion that everything we hear/see/experience isn't manufactured in some way. Even my love for N, by putting it to a soundtrack, was manufactured at that time, by using someone else's words to describe my feelings rather than using my own. Having just been to a wedding, though, I know that this goes on all the time. People use other people's music to describe their feelings -- the couple I just saw get hitched used "Angel Eyes" by the Jeff Healey Band for their first dance in order to express their love and happiness to their wedding guests. People having trouble in their relationships are compelled buy those pastel cards at drugstores that have long passages about "loving you always" despite "mistakes I have made." Those card authors even get a byline above where the card-giver signs his or her name.

So all of this got me thinking about imagery (bridal veils, hands clasping, a couple walking in the park) and patented words and phrases ("baby," "piece of my heart," "in love with you") that all of us -- at some point -- will either use or buy into or expect at some point. How do imagery and songs and crazy Christian upbringings (I'm sorry, maybe that's just me) affect our expectations?

Because I feel for someone, does that prevent me from feeling for other people at the same time? What makes us want to couple? Biology, arguably, but studies show that men are only romantically in it for nine months, and then they move on to the next woman. People still marry, but for what reasons? If you don't need financial support, is there a compelling argument to pair up? Emotional support? Moral support? Desire for children? But if it's just support, where does sex and attraction fit in? Can you have support and attraction/great sex? Or are they mutually exclusive? Is a little bit of a chase always going to make things hotter? And does a good, strong relationship have to be just a little bit boring in order to feel stable? Is there really such a thing as "the one"? Or are we all biological creatures oozing against each other to fulfill what desires (sexual, emotional, or procreational) we have at the time? And, if so, doesn't that make the concept of "love" a little...impersonal?

Maybe Diane Warren has the right idea.

But you can bet that -- at some point -- most of us will choose to believe her songs anyway. I think that, despite everything, I still want to.

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