“Come What May, Do You Ever Long For…?” Buddy Holly, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Semantics of Longing

There may not be a perfect love song out there. Ne-Yo said it well in his 2005 hit, “So Sick of Love Songs,” in which, perhaps ironically, he writes a love song to indicate how tiresome they are (Yes, Ne-Yo. Yes they are). Tunes like, “All You Need is Love,” or “Alone” come pretty close, but nothing can compare to the original young lover’s sweet lyricism – Buddy Holly.

buddy

Since I heard it again, a song I’ve known since childhood, I’ve begun to appreciate it for what it is – the soft melodies, the gentle background clapping, that slow, Texan twang – I’m talking about “Everyday” (1957). If you hear the first two lines, you’ll immediately remember, as though Buddy Holly’s easy crooning is imbedded in your DNA already. It’s the song you’ve heard a million times, even if you don’t know it, one that feels instantly familiar.

Everyday, it’s a’gettin’ closer

Goin’ faster than a roller coaster

Though he was only active for a year and a half, Buddy Holly will forever be memorialized with the iconic legends of music – Little Richard, Robert Johnson – original pavers-of-way. But what strikes me most is that, whether the song came out in the nineteen fifties, or last week, the lyrics still resonate with some of humankind’s deepest desires.

Love like yours will surely come my way…

Everyday seems a little longer
Every way, love’s a little stronger
Come what may
Do you ever long for true love from me?

This is such a beautiful thought! To call out for love, confident it will surely come, to ask the bearer of said gift, precious and fragile, “Do you ever long for true love from me?” Longing is one of the most intense emotions, falling just short of grief and desire. But the song is optimistic, and so the longing is sure to be satiated.

But what about other archetypal, musical cornerstones in which the longing never does find respite? Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the Phantom of the Opera. Christine, a beautiful young soprano with an elusive vocal coach, is caught up in the miry web of her dark tutor’s magnificence, which is second only to his madness. In power ballads just as pivotal to world music as “Everyday,” Christine and the Phantom express their desires to each other, until, at last, in Wandering Child (1986), the conflict comes to a head.

The female lover is, of course, infantilized. She is “lost.” She is “helpless.” She is “yearning for [his] guidance.”

At last, she is able to vocalize the intensity of their relationship.

Angel, oh speak

What endless longings

Echo in this whisper?

The concept of longing began in time immemorial, but its revolutions can be seen in these two songs – the longing for “true love from me” has now turned on its head. Now, the longing is endless, a distant echo, a low whisper, unfathomable.

Too long you’ve wandered in winter/ Far from my fathering gaze.

How far we’ve come from the self-determinization of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday!” When he speaks of his love, he points out, “Everyone said/Go ahead and ask her.” The act of asking itself implies choice. But in Phantom, the song’s refrain insists that the woman in the equation is “Yearning for my [the Phantom’s] guidance.” All agency is removed. Christine becomes hapless, hopeless, and eventually, wanton.

Lack of agency in the “weaker sex” need hardly be contained in the Phantom’s score. One has only to rewind to 1982, and listen to the King of Pop’s partnership with the King of Rock for another strange love anthem.

mine

In “the Girl is Mine,” Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney commodify a woman they both seem to be dating by repeating, over and over, “The girl is mine. The doggone girl is mine.” Here’s a brief taste of the wildly thoughtful and lyrically diverse mantra:

The girl is mine
The doggone girl is mine
Don’t waste your time
Because the doggone girl is mine

She’s mine, she’s mine
No, no, no, she’s mine
The girl is mine, the girl is mine
The girl is mine, the girl is mine

The girl is mine
(Mine, mine)
Yep, she’s mine
(Mine, mine)
The girl is mine
(Mine, mine)
Yep, she’s mine
(Mine, mine)

Don’t waste your time
Because the doggone girl is mine
The girl is mine

I hope you’re all thinking what I’m thinking:

heheh

We’ve now transgressed, delineated, or perhaps even derailed the love train. Now, the woman’s longing is no longer in question. And she’s gone from woman, to child, to object being fussed over by powerful men. Paul and Michael go on to discuss the possibilities of “fighting” for her,” as though she were a trophy at the end of a joust.

I’m not arguing that music has necessarily regressed since the days of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” But there is something about that song that’s so perfect. Even the longing has its own kind of innocence. And I think that’s what interests me the most, as I sit here thinking about longing, about desire. To long – to long – what is this? Is it a sigh after a storm? Is it the pause between sentences, the space-holder that occupies everything you wish you could say? The dictionary defines the term longing as, “A yearning desire.” And so now, I have to look up yearning, because yes, longing is desire, and yes, longing is yearning, but desire can exist without yearning, while yearning cannot exist without desire. And so, I have done it. Looked up the word, in this very moment, as I write, and yearning is defined as, “An intense longing.” Thanks for that sick loop, Dictionary.com. Really helped me out there.

Remember when Kramer started going on about yearning in Seinfeld, season 3?

"Do you ever yearn?" "Yearn? Do I yearn?"
“Do you ever yearn?”
“Yearn? Do I yearn?”

I don’t think of longing in terms of yearning, exactly. There’s something about yearning that seems vaguely pious. You can yearn for justice, you can yearn for peace. But if you are longing, and if you are a woman and longing, then perhaps you’ll find a Buddy Holly-type, who promises love in return for yours, but, just as likely, you’ll be punished for daring to want, for deigning to long. Women are typecast. We are gatekeepers. “Rapper” Kid Cudi, in an almost asinine and paradoxical lyric, at one point, says,

A sexy lady who’s pure, she’s got the cure.

Now, someone explain to me, how is one to be “sexy” and “pure” in the same breath? Is it the innocence and the hope of conquest that makes a guileless girl sexy? Is it like the babydoll dress, or Ariana Grande, sexy in an “I want to take your innocence” kind of way? Additionally, I think my roles just expanded. As well as being a child and an object, I must also be an antidote?

This is an irritating objectification, but hardly a new one. Matthew Arnold, in a poem entitled – yes! longing! – reduced women to sooth-saying Medicine Women as far back as the 1800s.

notes_longing

How many tropes, how many archetypes must I fully embody before I’m able to express my own desire, and to take ownership of it, whatever that looks like, without becoming a sheath for his sword?

And yet, at my own peril, with full knowledge, with near-certainty that my body will be seem transactional – you take me to dinner, I, ostensibly, open like a gift – I long.

Everyday seems a little longer

Every way love’s a little stronger

Come what may, do you ever long for

True love from me?

What is it that I am even longing for? Is it love? I have been loved. I have been loved wildly, ecstatically. I’ve been loved relentless. I’ve been loved like Heaven’s Gate opening by way of pudding and arsenic. I’ve been loved like saran wrap tightening around a face. I have been loved bloody and blue. Don’t ever tell me I haven’t been loved – I know love when I feel it. I have good eyes. I can see a church by daylight.

But my longing isn’t Buddy’s sweet, satiated experience. It isn’t the truth. And it certainly isn’t pure. It’s more like Christine, wandering among tombstones, asking of her oppressor, “Angel, oh speak/What endless longings/Echo in this whisper?”

So, perhaps we go back to the beginning. Perhaps we talk about those original love songs. I mentioned “Alone,” by Heart.

I first heard this song – I am, perhaps, a bit ashamed to say – on American Idol. It was Carrie Underwood’s breakout performance. I don’t like Carrie Underwood, but I like this song, and well, let’s be honest, she nailed it. And these lyrics, too, are somehow both vulnerable and empowering – the full declaration of agency –

I’ve waited, and I was going to tell you tonight

But the secret is still my own

And my love for you is still unknown

Alone

The autonomy of the speaker is further elucidated in the chorus:

Til now, I always got by on my own

I never really cared until I met you

And now it chills me to the bone

How do I get you alone?

This is a declaration of independence. And it is a treatise on longing, though it never says the word – the implications are there, in the pitch, in the tone.

Something about longing in music draws me to it. Is it because I, too, have felt endless longing? Or is it because I was always told, as a young Christian girl, not to long? We do not yearn. We sit with our spines straight. We cross our legs and hold our knees together, never mind the way boys sit, the exact opposite, with their legs spread wide, oblivious.

sit

And you have to understand – I’m not even talking about longing in the sexual sense, though of course that exists on some plane. I’m talking about longing. About the longing that chills to the bone. The longing that is endless. The fathoms below. All those dark places of the heart. I don’t even know what I’m talking about, but I know what I feel. I feel it when I see the young Indian boys, with their long hair dark, their skin bronzed and brown. Is it, then, a longing for acceptance within my own community? To see someone I can identify as me, someone who may share the same cultural and ethnic background, someone with similar values and experiences?

photo cr: Erv Schleuffer
photo cr: Erv Schleuffer

Of course not. Brown skin and black hair don’t guarantee a thing. It’s just an aesthetic. But we grow up in love with the outside, hoping it will reflect the interior. Hint: it usually doesn’t.

This longing exists, too, in church. During worship, we put our arms up. We throw ourselves backward and forward. We babble nonsensically, speaking words that don’t exist in any language. I can do it, too, my tongue taking off in streams of automatic Tower-of-Babel times. We get filled with the Spirit. I get it, too. And we go into a different space, a place of worship.

I think human beings were, at some level, created for worship. If you aren’t worshipping God, sometimes by blatantly saying the words, “I worship,” you’re worshipping your favorite musical god, the writer god, or, if you’re Kanye West, yourself, spouting off with, “I AM a God! In the French restaurant! Hurry up with my damn croissants!”

de0c414da7176481b739b5b5a6ef5d72.500x500x20

I also long, and perhaps even pine, when I think about the future. About once or twice a month, I have my semi-annual freak out about whether or not I’ll get into Princeton. Since I’ve never applied to Princeton, this point is rendered moot, but try telling my brain that. This is where my strongest desires lean – to get a doctorate.There’s no, “Love like yours…surely…com[ing] my way.” There’s my dream. My doctorate. Me. Misty. Outside of the context of relationship. I’m in a relationship with my future. And this is, perhaps above all, my deepest and most piercing longing.

It’s so difficult to write about longing without going over the top! “Deepest,” and “piercing,” are sophomoric terms. But longing is, by necessity, melodrama, and so I succumb.

There’s one more meaning for the Buddy Holly song. It involves takes the lyrics outside the romantic context, and replacing them within the context of my own, ever-blossoming dreams.

Everyday, it’s a-gettin’ closer

Goin’ faster than a roller coaster

I believe, I think, even now, in all the good things of the present leading to good things of the future. Every day, it’s getting closer.

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