Since I've been blissfully married to the Tiny Goddess for more than forty years – yes, we were "college sweethearts" – I think that I know a little something about love. But for now, here are five angles on love from some other experts: two songs, a movie scene, an entire movie, and a novel.
JOHNNY HARTMAN & JOHN COLTRANE – MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE
Written by two Englishmen (music by Guy Wood, lyrics by Robert Mellin), this song is one of warmest, sweetest love songs I've ever heard. The combination of Hartman's enveloping, masculine baritone and Coltrane's deeply felt, searching saxophone drives this song straight to the heart. Every moment of this arrangement works on the emotions. Little touches like drummer Elvin Jones' entrance with brushes release feelings into the music.
"The very thought of you makes my heart sing
Like an April breeze on the wings of spring
And you appear in all your splendor
My one and only love"
And Coltrane's sax is the perfect paraphrase of the lyric.
First recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1953 (it was the flip-side of "I've Got the World On a String" on Capitol Records), the song took awhile to work its way into the standard jazz repertoire. But Coltrane and Hartman's version made it a classic.
I played this recording at our wedding. It should be played at every wedding, I think.
CHARLES CHAPLIN – The Last Scene of "CITY LIGHTS"
This famous scene says everything about unselfish love. Chaplin was a great genius, probably still the most talented man ever in the movie business. But for all his extreme cleverness and facility, he could still find the center of the human heart like almost no other cinema artist, with ease and naturalness.
CITY LIGHTS (1930) is mostly a very funny movie that brings Chaplin's Tramp into contact with a blind girl and a drunken millionaire. There are plot twists and turns, and lots of great physical humor, but the last scene leads to one of the most touching moments in film history. Unbeknownst to the blind girl, the Tramp has financed the operation that restores her sight. And he returns from prison to see her for the first time.
In 1949, the critic James Agee referred to the final scene in the film as the "greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid." I don't know if anything has changed since then.
CITY LIGHTS was Chaplin's personal favorite of his many superb films. Orson Welles called it his favorite film. Stanley Kubrick rated it as the fifth best film of all time. I like it, too. No one has ever portrayed pure, humble, unworthy love like this.
SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS – (Written by William Inge, directed by Elia Kazan)
This is far-far-far from a happy romantic movie, but it is the most deeply felt romantic movie I can think of. It made a big impression on me when I saw it as a teenager, and it still stands up. I tried to capture some of the "ache" of the kind of teenage passion depicted here in WHAT IT WAS LIKE. That's why one of the climactic events of my book happens in a town called Loomis. It's a tribute to the Natalie Wood character Deenie Loomis.
Here is the famous "I'm not spoiled, Ma! I'm not spoiled!" breakdown scene.
This movie made in 1961 still cuts very deeply. It's far and away the strongest acting that Natalie Wood ever did. Kazan got the best out of everybody he worked with.
Love should be happy in real life, but the best art is generated from tales of unhappy love.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
I didn't read WUTHERING HEIGHTS until I was an adult. I guess as a young man I had ignorantly categorized it as a "girl's book." Was I ever wrong! This is one tough-minded book. The English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti referred to it as "A fiend of a book – an incredible monster ... The action is laid in hell, – only it seems places and people have English names there."
The relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff is one of most interesting, infuriating, and involving relationships in literature. As much in love as they are, their journey through this story of jealousy and vengeance, cruelty both mental and physical is very harrowing for the reader. You can't help think, "Why are they doing this to each other??" I wanted that sense of desperation in the midst of great passion to infuse my book.
I read the book years after I saw the famous 1939 William Wyler film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, and I was surprised that there was a whole "second half" of the book, concerning the second generation: Catherine's daughter Cathy and Heathcliff's son Linton.
No matter: the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is what matters here. It is one of the central romances in English literature. It shows how difficult, torturous, and consuming a great love can be. And that's why readers love it: you want to read about a love like this, but not actually have to live it.
WE BELIEVE IN HAPPY ENDINGS – by Emmylou Harris and Earl Thomas Conley
Now this is what real love is really like. I love country music, and one of the things I love about it is its ability to express simple truths. "Three chords and the truth" – that's Harlan Howard's famous definition of country music. And another Nashville master Bob McDill proves the truth of that formula with this wonderful duet.
The writer of thirty-one number one songs, Bob McDill has a gentle touch with a heartfelt lyric and the gift of an easy melody. Some of my favorite songs of his are "Amanda," "Don't Close Your Eyes," and "A Rake and a Ramblin' Man."
This duet – a Number One song in 1988 – captures what a long-term relationship is really like. It portrays how everyday forgiveness is essential to the health and happiness of a marriage.
"We believe in happy endings
Taking time enough for mending
The hurt inside"
Emmylou Harris has always been one of my favorite singers. She could harmonize with a rusty gate hinge, and it would sound good. So her blend with Earl Thomas Conley's rich baritone is just a natural.
For all the sturm und drang of romance that the arts portray, Real Love in the Real World is based on simple, everyday things: respect, understanding, and kindness.
Paying attention to the feelings of your loved one. Every day. Not all the fireworks and thunder.
I believe in happy endings. And I got one.