"Every new beginning comes
from some other beginning's end."
(Seneca, yes. Not Semisonic.)
Note to BoTB-ers: To skip the preamble and go straight to the Battle, scroll down to where the long Lost & Found banner is :)
When people of my generation think of love songs, they might think of Bryan Adams or Bangles or Peter Cetera or Air Supply or Richard Marx (if they're mainstream). The "pseudo-rocker" crowd might list Journey, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Tyler, Meatloaf, or Heart, while the "real" rockers might go for Def Leppard, INXS, U2, The Cure, Scorpions, Cheap Trick, REM. The really alternative ones might go for The Smiths or Billy Idol or Leonard Cohen or Fiction Factory or Cutting Crew or David Bowie or Echo & The Bunnyman or ... let's face it, we wouldn't have known them anyway.
A walk down memory lane...
Not sure I'd agree with "Best" as the right adjective here,
but... Still. Good memories.
The first love song I knew as such—the first song that carried meaning, that encompassed an actual relationship—doesn't even come close to any of the above listings. I doubt anyone might include it in the love-song category. (Unless you're a twisted, dark-minded oddity—in which case please let's be friends.)
On a quiet afternoon in December 1988—I was two months shy of turning 16—my first boyfriend brought me a teddy bear. It was an early (or belated, can't remember the exact date) Christmas gift. We'd been dating a couple of months. I remember what I was wearing: a pink denim overall. I remember what he was wearing: white pants with a near-invisible blue pinstripe. And he was carrying a sweater—it was December, and Cuernavaca can get chilly—of a multi-colored knit. We sat out in the terrace for a while, and when he left and I walked him to the gate, he said something along the lines of,
"You know Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here?"
I didn't even know what Pink Floyd was.
"You should listen to it," he said. "I dedicate it to you."
(I'm paraphrasing; translation and a quarter-century-old memory don't make for good verbatim recollection. Let me explain, just in case, that in Spanish, when you "dedicate" a song to someone, it means you want them to think of you when they listen to it. It means the song is saying something that you'd like to say to that person. Not sure if this is the way the word is used in English, too.)
This boy was, I believed at the deepest core of myself then, the love of my life. His presence lit up my world in ways previously unimagined, even impossible. The fact that he wanted to be with me filled me with a joy at boiling point that continuously threatened to spill and launch me into cartwheels or somersaults or, maybe, an aria.
If I only had the voice...
And so finding and listening to the message of this song—unknown, but with a highly promising title; I envisioned a lovely ballad of longing and chaste desire—became my obsession.
Eventually, a friend found a tape of her brother's that had Wish You Were Here (just the song, mind you; it would be a few years before I got to listen to the whole album), and proceeded to "borrow" it for me.
That staticky radio-station intro. The haunting twang of the first guitar. The smoothness of the second, answering one. The gorgeousness of the rhythm, the cadence. The first sound of Gilmour's voice:
So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold, steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
I have... no words. Going on three decades later, I still don't. I cannot explain what this song — these words — did to me. It was like a veil lifting. The lights dimming in the theater, the velvety rustle of the curtain gliding open, a spotlight illuminating a new world. A new universe. A new me, transformed (revealed?) by the music, the lyrics—and by the person who'd thought of me with it.
Perhaps I should've been offended. I know my friend was, on my behalf. This is not a song of I'll love you forever, or You're so wonderful, or Can't live without you. This is no song of tender gazes, of soft feelings. This is a dark song, of madness and absence and the power (and tragedy) of both. The lyrics are intensely personal—no facile applicable-to-anyone universality. They're not mellow or soothing; they're sharp, honed to cut to the marrow.
But not of the Thou my belovedst rose of beauty sonnet variety. Perhaps I should've been disappointed. Instead, I felt honored: I'd been given a wormhole to a depth of awareness I might not have known I needed. Listening to Wish You Were Here felt like taking a drink of water when you're not thirsty and discovering, as the water touches your lips, that in fact you're parched.
Wish You Were Here might not be a love song—but its gift was much, much purer, and lasting, than any Love of my life, Tra La La song could have given. What it meant was this: we, this boy and I, were special. As individuals, and together. We shared something that went far beyond skin-deep: we shared a love for the search of the profound. We weren't ordinary. And it was the promise that, throughout our time together, we would forever hold each other, and ourselves, to that higher standard.
We stayed together, this boy and I, on and off for some seven years (mostly on the last five), and then—like Pink Floyd and Roger Waters—we discovered we had different paths to explore. But that first relationship shaped us. For me, it translated into this: good music—the kind that connects with the less lighted, sparsely inhabited core essence of being human—became the cornerstone that seals the love deal.
Today I'm in a beautiful relationship with a man worth his weight in diamonds. A man whose love song list includes Metallica's Nothing Else Matters, David Bowie's Heroes, and Ravel's Bolero. And our story began over a conversation about—yep, Pink Floyd. (And Maná, but... well, he's since made amends.)
|If good music is what seals the love deal, then laughter is what keeps it alive. This my dushi has taught me.|
(We happen to have a lot of it. We even manage to laugh about the Maná thing.)
Wish You Were Here has been covered much less than you'd expect for such a landmark classic. Perhaps it's precisely because the original is so powerful, so... inimitable. Like first love, one might argue. (Perhaps that's a good thing.)
And, also like first love, it's unrepeatable: it was performed live in 1975 and never again until the water-parting reunion at Live 8 in 2005. Ten years after WYWH came out, Waters left the band. For two decades the original, with Waters' unique style on the bass guitar, lived only in the memory of vinyl and acetate.
For today's Battle of the Bands, I give you the ultimate Floyd fan battle: Gilmour vs. Waters.
Who does WYWH better, Gilmour or Waters? And what do you think of WYWH as a love song? Care to share the top five (or three, or ten) songs that speak to you of love? What do you think makes a really great love song? Do you agree with Cat Stevens that the first cut is the deepest? How did your own first love shape you?
Thanks so much for coming by, for taking part in the Battle and/or in the Lost & Found hop. You can find other epic Battles being fought at these blogs:
Several, like me, have paired their BoTB post with Lost & Found posts; here's the full list of the hop participants. Some extraordinary—inspiring, funny, sad, eloquent—posts of love lost (or found), and well worth the read. Have fun exploring, y'all!