A many-splendoured thing

Peter Warland reflects on romantic music and the many ways to say 'I love you'


Peter Warland

“Falling in love with love is falling for make-believe.”

There’s no point in the following; I’m just nattering to myself.

Probably before ‘Greensleeves’ was penned back in the Middle Ages, songsters were composing lyrics about love. This was still going on in the Later Dark Ages when I was brought screaming unmusically into this weird world. According to legend, I was born covered with hair and the nurses called me Tarzan, and we moviegoers all know how Tarzan screams, don’t we?

Quite honestly, I have no idea what musicians write about today because, when we are forced to listen to the noise, I and my ancient companions don’t understand what they’re singing, if that is what they’re supposed to be doing. Why, even Elvis always sounded as if he were warbling  ‘Glove me tender’.

But, as I was attempting to grow up, 90 per cent of the songs that I learned were about undying love and thus tended to nauseate me until I fell in love with the first girl that would give me the time of day, usually whilst punching my lights out.

There’s an old tune called ‘It’s a sin to tell a lie’. Some of the lyrics include, “be sure it’s true when you say ‘I love you.'” What hogswallop! When I actually said those magical three words to the young woman whom I felt I ought to marry before someone else got her, it was because I realized that I had to if I wanted to keep her ‘on ice’. I’d no idea what it meant; I still don’t.

Anyway, later on, when I said those romantic words to my lovely wife, she would add, “For detrimental reasons”, misquoting a popular song at the time.

Quite recently I was appalled to hear Debussy’s lovely melody ‘La mer’, recorded as a song, named ‘Beyond the sea’, a love song.

And there was ‘If I loved you’, ‘People will say we’re in love’, ‘Somewhere, my love’, ‘So in love’ then, with The Beatles, ‘All I need is love’. It just went on and on ad nauseum.

I sometimes wonder if Oscar Hammerstein, the Gershwins or Rogers and Hart were ever really in love and why love has to reside in the heart. It’s probably because the lyricists would have a terrible time with sphincter or thyroid. Imagine ‘Peg o’ my thorax, I love you’.

Wouldn’t the word ‘affection’ do? Love is a sense of euphoria, which is a tough thing to keep up day-in and day-out.

Before I wandered off into continental Europe I carefully rehearsed the amorous expressions Ich liebe dich, je t’aime and te adoro, just in case, but I don’t recall practicing them; they might not have worked too well with grumpy truckers from whom I was attempting to hitch a ride; then you never know. Right?

Anyway, it just so happens that I was brought up in an area where it was all right to address any woman, especially an older woman as ‘love’. In fact, everyone called everyone else of the opposite sex ‘love’ even if they’d never met before. I recall, after a heavy date with a young lady with whom I was probably temporarily in love, falling asleep on a bus and being awakened by a stout, uniformed lady who, at the bus’s terminal informed me, “‘Ere you are, love” then waited while I stumbled off into the wet night.

I think that in those days ‘love’ just meant that the one being addressed didn’t annoy the speaker too much. I wonder if that is really the true meaning of the word.

However, last week, my good friends Sean and Seanna – a match made in Gaelic heaven – set off to visit their son, who lives abroad. Just before I drove them to the airport, Sean confided in me sadly, “The most exciting thing about this trip is going to be seeing our dog, Felicity, when we get back.” Ain’t affection grand?