Love and Music

by Alafair Burke

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.  Even though this is a pretty stupid holiday — originally linked to romance through a tale of birds hooking up, now propogated to sell greeting cards — I still sort of like it.  Remember those little paper cards we used to exchange in grade school?

Those adorable but culinarily-suspect heartshaped Necco candies?

Those overpriced dinners at overbooked restaurants?  Oh, wait, that’s another entry on the con side of the ledger.

Anyway, I have enough fondness for Valentine’s Day that I wanted my blog to have some connection to the concept of overwhelming swooniness that we’re all supposed to feel this day.  The only problem is that talking about love sort of makes me want to hurl.  Don’t get me wrong.  I feel love.  I still get that little hiccup in my chest when I look at my husband when he doesn’t know I’m watching him.  But somehow I suspect most of you don’t want to read an entire blog post filled with sentences like that last one.  Ick, that’s sweeter than those Necco wafers.

A writer’s cynicism of the words we typically use to explain love might strike some as odd, but I think it stems from too many greeting cards, bad romance scenes, and sappy lyrics.  Love pulls you up weightless into the fluffy white clouds, turns you inside out, and then throws you on your ass, but in a good way.  Love is also so subjective that the previous sentence might not mean anything to anyone besides me.

I was trying to identify any other experience that feels like being in love.  The closest I came was that feeling you (or at least, I) get when in the presence of a truly magical musical moment.  I don’t simply mean ones reaction to a sappy love song (though this one happens to be a fave).

Every once in a while, I am so pulled in by musical talent, I can’t move.  I don’t want to breath, just in case the air moving into my lungs interferes with the magesty of that moment.  I want to stop time to linger in the perfection.  I want to be able to experience it again and again.

Have you ever had that feeling? I hope for your sake the answer is yes.

I suppose it would be impressive to say these moments came during O Patria Mia from the Verdi’s Aida.  But that’s not how I roll.  (In fact, I don’t know what O Patria Mia is.  I just found it on Google.)

My most recent love and music moment came last week when I saw Prince in concert at Madison Square Garden.  His incredible talent, the memories of listening to that music in high school, and my happiness about seeing him in New York with a good friend all culminated in one of those all-out weepy, goose-bumpy moments.  (Even though bootleg video won’t do the performance justice, I went hunting for a clip, which will probably be pulled by his copyright lawyers by the time you read this.)


Another performance that had me swooning was Fantasia’s tribute to Patti LaBelle.  I know.  It sounds as bad as a puppy on a unicorn, but, damn, that woman can sing.  And somehow through all those notes, she manages to convey the utter respect and love she has for Miss Patti.  Check them out and then try to tell me you don’t feel it.  (Make sure to hold out for the mutual lovefest starting at 2:04 and Patti’s awesome move at 3:39.)

And don’t forget Mary J Blige’s emotional performance of No More Drama at the 2002 Grammy Awards, which brought both the singer and members of the audience to tears. 

Maybe I’m totally out there, but the feeling I get watching a singer put every part of himself or herself into a single experience makes me feel … love(ish). 

So, here are my questions for the day:

1) Your verdict on Valentine’s Day: yay or nay?

2) Any musical performances that induce tears, chills, or paralysis?

24 thoughts on “Love and Music

  1. Barbie

    I'm in Brazil, so, no Valentine's day for me. But I like the idea, since people give each other candy and stuff. Also, I have a lot of Valentine's Day cards from when I was a kid and my dad lived in Canada (and back when he still loved me). They're cute.

    So, anyway, I think that when I was made, there was a gene missing. The one that makes people capable of feeling emotion when listening to music/seeing someone perform. I'm pretty sure I'm physically defective in that area, 'cause in my twenty-two years of age, I've never felt anything when seeing someone perform or listening to music. Everyone else seems to adore music and get so touched by it, but, to me, music is flat, meaningless, emotionless, which is why I'm pretty sure there's something wrong with me 🙂

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    Like a lot of things, Valentine's Day has become commercialized which is sad. It has become a day that you're supposed to feel love or show affection to your significant other. My personal belief goes along with how we celebrate birthdays: why only one day? Life and love should be celebrated every day — not in big grand gestures — but always to treat yourself and others special.
    My husband and I got engaged 14 years ago on Valentine's Day. This year I've asked him to please not spend money on flowers because it can be used elsewhere. We love each other; we know it. 🙂

  3. Sylvia

    Valentine's Day is also my husband's birthday. He was crushed to find out his mother had scheduled the C-Section for that day so she could "get a day off" from the family and other 3 kids at home. "I just thought I was special. Come to find out I was just scheduled." Yeah, get over it bud.

    My 3 kids spent last night filling out the obligatory cards for classmates and taping candy to the envelope. Somehow Valentine's Day has become the new Halloween for candy giving.

    As an aside, a dear friend of mine was married on Valentine's Day – TWICE. Husband #1 and husband #2 (still married). I guess she's damn determined to make the date work. If you want to look for strange… husband #1 remarried and you guessed it, married wife #2 on Valentine's Day.

  4. Christine McCann

    Nay on the Valentine's Day for me. It's become just another Hallmark holiday. Though, I do still get a kick out of seeing the boxes of Valentines for the kids to give out to their classmates in grade school. The husband and I celebrate our birthdays and our anniversary.

    Love No More Drama…fabulous song by Mary J. Blige!

    Two songs/performances that immediately came to mind were:

    Susan Boyle's performance of I Dreamed a Dream on Britain's Got Talent and

    Regina Belle's tribute to Nancy Wilson in 1992 singing Sista/If I Could

  5. Rae

    I like the general idea of Valentine’s Day, as long as it’s not too goopy.

    As to goose-bump inducing musical performances, I can think of a couple:

    Aretha Franklin singing Nessun Dorma at the Grammys a few years ago. Story was that she stepped in at the last minute for someone who had to cancel. It was quite the moment.

    And Steven Tyler performing music from Abbey Road at the recent Kennedy Center Honors. He just flat killed it.

  6. Abigail-Madison Chase

    I love Valentines Day. In a world were many times husbands and wives are too busy to stop for romance it is nice to know that one day a year you can be treated like a Princess. I wish it was an everyday thing but in reality its not. Is itcommercialized Yep but so are birthdays and any other day or thing that people can make money off. My mate never remembers my birthday without a prompt or our anniversary but when the world celebrates Valentines Day so does he. Do I wish it was different yep is he a good man nope he is a great man that never remebers any day but Valentines Day

    My favorite song is Kem-Love Calls

  7. Kim C

    Nay on valentine's day. No real reason, just never liked it.

    Eric Clapton performing Tears In Heaven and Layla.
    Jamie Cullum playing anything live. There's just something about his piano playing that makes me swoon.
    David Gray performing Ain't No Love and My Oh My.

  8. toni

    I've never been a fan of the commercialized nature of Valentine's, in spite of the fact that Carl and I were engaged on this date. The ads that permeate the airwaves for the weeks before are so mercenary. One I heard yesterday in NOLA was a jeweler who had four versions of a "bow" styled pendant for a necklace–one with three diamonds, one with a few more, then another with a few more and finally, one completely covered with diamonds. Now, if they'd have just shut up there, that would have been fine, I guess, but they go on to say that, "You can prove how much you love her with your gift." So great–if someone can't afford the one with all of the jewels, have they just proven that they don't love her as much? It's like knowing you've failed before she even takes it out of the box, especially if she runs into someone else with the full-jeweled one. Geez. Way to make it romantic.

    I loved the Mary J Blige vid up above. When a performer forgets to censor themselves and goes all out, putting their heart and soul on the line, it's heart-stopping.

  9. Alafair Burke

    Sorry to be slow to comment this morning. I had to take poor Duffer to the vet. The good news is that it's apparently nothing serious. The bad news is he's still not acting like his usual, perky self. Always sad to see a little animal not feeling well.

    But, back to Valentine's Day and music. Too bad the Prince video got scrubbed, but I've got to respect the seriousness with which that man treats copyright laws.

    Rae, Did you see the five woman tribute to Aretha last night on the Grammy's. They all sounded terrific, but Jennifer Hudson tore the roof off. Christine, I also loved Susan Boyle even though every cynical bone in my body didn't want to. I like her version of Wild Horses a lot too.

    I'm going to track down these other suggestions too. Wow, what did we do before the Internet? Oh yeah, we got a lot more work done. Whatever…

  10. JT Ellison

    Breathtaking music – let's see…

    I'm listening to Rachmaninoff's Concerto #1 right now – add in 2-4 and you can get me swooning. Tchaikovsky Violin concerto in D, and Andrea Bocelli in concert brings me to tears. Nessun Dorma by Bocelli or Pavarotti will bring me to my knees. Romeo and Juliet by Dire Staits. And The Star Spangled Banner slays me every time.

    Dire Straits:

    Happy Valentine's Day!

  11. Debbie

    I stay away from most celebrations commercial. People without food and shelter don't need me mindlessly feeding the commercial machine. So My husband and I together offer up a, pbbt! We celebrate each other throughout the year. I'll find a treat at my keyboard, Häagen-Dazs® Mayan Chocolate in the freezer, and sometimes, it's not a product, but the time he gives me, the help, the way he makes me feel when I catch him checking me out like I was hot!

    As for music, Les Mis the novel, brought me to copious tears, but this song from the musical, along with just about all of them, is gut wrenching when performed by Michael Ball. I swear he himself is on the verge of losing it emotionally.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lady Marmelade never fails for me, doesn't matter who does it. That Aretha tribute reminded me that (even though it was the weakest cover last night) "Till You Come Back To Me" does that for me, too – Aretha, Stevie Wonder, Basia, doesn't really matter who does it, the song just kills.

  13. Tom

    Barbie, this is important – I don't think there's anything wrong with you. Our brains are made differently and optimized for different things. This accounts for the whole 'talent' or 'natural-born ability' notion. I suspect you have skills others don't.

    I like the way Valentine's day sanctions going a bit over the top. It can be fun, without killing the bank account.

    Music was my profession for a long time. Many things will stop me in my tracks, even after all these. The late song cycles by Gabriel Faure give voice to the enduring force of great, deep loves.

    But I have to tell you, the best 'Danny Boy' I've ever heard was by Harry Belafonte.

    Hope The Duffer is quick to mend.

  14. Kagey

    Can I say, where did the "Saint" go? When I was a kid (the 1980s) most things still said St. Valentine's Day. Where did the Saint go?

  15. JD Rhoades

    Valentine's day is fine within reason, but I agree with Toni…the jewelry ads leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    Performances that take my breath away: The Pogues singing "A Pair of Brown Eyes." Ray Charles' live version of "Drown In My Own Tears." Koko Taylor singing "I'd Rather Go Blind." Janis Joplin wailing her heart out on 'Ball and Chain." Duane Allman's slowly building blaze of a guitar solo on Boz Scaggs' "Loan Me a Dime." Van Morrison singing….well, pretty much anything, but particularly "Irish Heartbeat" with the Chieftains.

  16. Alafair

    Debbie and JT, Thanks for classing up this joint.

    These are all really good examples, but Dusty, I can't believe I forgot a shout out for my girl, Janis. I learned Bobby McGee when I was five years old. Parental drinking was probably involved but to this day, a sign that I've lost all self-control at a party is if I start wailing Janis songs. (Start an over/under for the next Bouchercon?)

  17. Rae


    Yes, saw the Aretha tribute – loved it. Which reminds me, have you seen Christina Aguilera singing "It's a Man's World"? You can find it on YouTube. It's awesome.

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alafair

    Sorry, commented earlier but it disappeared. Don't know what happened there. Hope The Duffer's OK.

    Songs that really do it? A lot time ago I heard Fiona Simpson live singing 'Love Has No Pride' and it's superb. Watching the Sarah McLachlan Afterglow Live concert DVD has a similar effect. She walks out and nails the opening song right from the moment she opens her mouth. Goosebumps time.

    I totally agree with Toni on the commercialism of advertising around this time – 'If you don't spend money on him/her, it mean you don't love him/her enough…' Yuck.

    Spare a though for the muslim population of Malaysia today, though, who were warned that celebrating St Valentine's day might cause them to fall foul of strict laws governing opposite sexes meeting in private.

    Oh, and for some classy music, I can highly recommend the adagio from Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez'. Lovely piece of music – Andy and I had it played at our wedding.

  19. Mit

    This is the emotion I WANT to bring to being loved/being-in-love …, and this too …, because – isn't that what love should be? Something that makes you smile in spite of yourself. Unable to control your foot from tapping. And even if you haven't been to the revival tent, don't you just want to get up and shout?

    Yeah … that's love. Revival shouting and dancing in the aisle. I'm sure of it.

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