Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Anniversary Musings: Love in the Western World, a.k.a. Lives of the English Majors

I mentioned on a prior post that my husband Michael and I recently celebrated our 38th anniversary with a very recherche product (which shall remain nameless) from Good Vibrations.


But mostly when we amaze each other, it's on a more everyday level, like still finding things to talk about and rediscovering ourselves along the way. Like a few nights ago when we were talking at dinner about the Big Serious Book I'm trying to find time to get into, Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. Actually, I've read about 100 pages, and it's pretty great -- kind of a history of almost everything around us, by examining how different societies around the world developed different survival characteristics at different rates, and how this helped them develop hegemonies over each other and bash each other around.

Anyway, I was telling Michael about how much more reliable sharpened steel weapons were than stuff that's mostly good for bludgeoning -- when both of us realized we didn't know anything about the technology of making steel, except for the word "tempering." And that actually, the only thing we knew about tempering was from the theme song of a 1950s TV western series called "Jim Bowie," about the guy who invented some kind of steel knife. Which led us into an effortless, word-perfect chorus of:

Jim Bowie, Jim Bowie, he was a bold adventurin' man
Jim Bowie Jim Bowie, battled for right with a powerful hand
His blade was tempered and so was he
Indestructible steel was he
Jim Bowie Jim Bowie
He was a fighter, a fearless and mighty adventurin' man
(no pix, but if you want to hear the tune, here 's the Youtube link)

Amazing what a person remembers. And more amazing what a couple of people remember together. But then, those Jim Bowie verses were really pretty good: clever to take the simple "bold adventurin' man" and then expand it so elegantly in the last line -- alliteration and slant rhyme both).

In a sense, though, Michael and I grew up together. We didn't actually meet until we were 20 (almost children, it now seems to me), but thanks to TV and mass culture we already shared an erotic and artistic imagination.

At 11 or so, we each, separately, spent large amounts of time staring at this cover on the paperback book racks that were springing up everywhere. Staring and having funny feelings. Yes, I know her button says "anti-sex league." But to each of us (and maybe a lot of kids like us) it screamed SEX!! We found an old copy in Michael's parents' bookshelves, and have the cover framed in our hallway, as a reminder who we were "before we loved," as John Donne put it.

Of course, sometimes we saw the same stuff entirely from opposite points of view. As a kid, Michael found the chorus of the TV show "Maverick" theme song a bit confusing.
Riverboat ring your bell
Fare thee well Annabelle
Luck is the lady that he loves the best
Natchez to New Orleans
Livin' on jacks and queens
Maverick is the legend of the west.
(again, you can hear it here)
Why are the two apostrophes jammed up together, Michael asked me -- one to the riverboat and one to Annabelle -- and then why does the lyric hurry back to 3rd person? It seems a little disjointed, he said.

Really? I said. You mean you don't get the brilliant, romantic immediacy of the "fare thee well" jammed in like that? I was genuinely surprised he didn't love it as much as I did.

I think it's a girly thing -- that for the instant in time it took to sing or hear that line of the verse I and every little girl who heard it was poor, spurned Annabelle. Years later, I didn't have to learn how to write the quick emotional changes of deep third person pov (as it's called in Romancelandia). The riverboat gambler Brett Maverick taught me how fast and flexible, how headlong, precipitous, and shifting love can be. There you are with Brett, and before you know it the riverboat's sailing and he's off to follow his life quest. Evidently not the same heartbreaker for little boys (though I'll have to ask the gay guys in my book group).

At which point the other night, Michael and I went to YouTube, to explore a few more of those boy/girl (or Michael/Pam) differences. An early favorite of his being the noirish "Have Gun, Will Travel,"
which was a little dark for me back then, but which probably had a lot to do with making Michael the brooding, pretentious young existentialist I was ready to fall in love with at 20.

Or for me, with this cross-dressing sequence from one of my childhood favorite movies, "Calamity Jane," which I saw when I was 8 and which thrilled me with its image of a girl doing stuff a girl wasn't supposed to. It probably had as much as anything to do with my writing a cross-dressing romance, Almost a Gentleman a gazillion years later. A romance (I have to add) whose new mass market cover is hardly about to cause any shy, word-drunk, imaginative eleven-year-olds to stare and sweat and have funny feelings in their stomachs. I doubt it will prepare anyone to fall in love. But then, Almost a Gentleman's no 1984, so fair's fair.

Great popular art of your childhood?

Romantic or erotic intimations from words or images?

Stuff that made you who you are before you quite knew what hit you?


Kate Pearce said...

Firstly congratulations! 38 years is amazing!

I met my husband when we were 14 and so we share a huge amount of memories and different perspectives of our parallel lives before we finally married years later. We can both sing a TV ad jingle from the 70's, remember the same teachers with differing degrees of affection and often ponder on how different our lives were despite the fact that we grew up only 5 miles apart.

As for influences, I was such a voracious reader that I soon realized that within a book was the perfect place to escape all the boring real life stuff. I especially loved all the historical novels, particularly Rosemary Sutcliff-she gave me a love and understanding of British culture which stayed with me until I felt brave enough to try and write for myself.

Sharon Page said...

Congratulations on 38 years together! My hubby and I met at university, in our 20s, which means that he can truthfully say that he had no gray hair before he met me. Which he does say.

We do say the same things at the same time. Since he's a bit older than me, we have some quite different memories of popular culture. Even 4 years can make a difference.

Your comments on covers was really thought provoking. I agree that the 1984 cover just screams "sex". I think the artists captured something provactive in those old covers. I have a similar vintage one from a copy of Rebecca and it's far more compelling than the 'photograph' cover on a later edition.

Thanks also, Pam, for your suggestions on my post of last week. I'm heavily into the second draft of the latter half of the book, rearranging scenes, tightening etc., so your thoughts really helped.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Glad I could help, Sharon. And thanks for the congrats, you guys.

Jane Lockwood said...

Congrats, Pam and Michael!

Because my husband and I met quite late we don't have much childhood stuff in common, although apparently I impressed him deeply quite early on by reminding him that "Mr. Postman" was recorded by Martha and the Vandelles before the Beatles got hold of it.

As for songs I remember from way parents, both classical music buffs, inexplicably had a recording by Larry Cross and the Canadians (you know. That Larry Cross....), a 78rpm with Davy Crockett on Side 1. It had its charms, particularly the line, Killed him a barrrrr when he was only three, but the other side was great. Sixteen Tons, which I remember most of:

I woke up this morning and the sun didn't shine (ba-boom)
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine...

Pam Rosenthal said...

Big Art, Jane. Definitely.