06 May 2006

otis redding - "try a little tenderness" (from the very best of otis redding, vol. 1 lp, available for purchase here.)

"what is this thing called love?" asks the title of, after "night and day," cole porter's most recorded song. telling detail : the majority of these recordings are instrumental jazz versions; but who could blame them for avoiding such weighty questions, especially when an inspired soloist is as voluble & profound as any lyric?

even more revealing, though, is that the thirty-bar refrain is composed of five questions. in my favorite version of the song, found on in the wee small hours, frank sinatra is set against a teasing & seductive clarinet line; he begins the refrain w/ the word "what"--reminding one that most pronunciation keys put it as "hwut"--and the emphasis he places on the word indicates just how hard he is trying to wrap his mind around the notion of love and just how indignant he feels, as if asking how love could have the effrontery to confound his attempt at understanding, not to mention the gall to make a fool of him. the final component of the refrain is a brief sketch that captures, terms of both pitch and emotion, the highs & lows of the love affair : i saw you there one wonderful day. you took my heart and threw it away. further questions? (how about : where is the perfect place to start one's investigation into love? songs for young lovers, in the wee small hours, songs for swingin' lovers, where are you?, sings for only the lonely, and no one cares.)

i too have been trying to get an answer to this question over the last several weeks. right now, i feel as if verbal expression is out of the question--though i'm sure i could draw you a picture of it (and i'm sure i have). i just started a recent book called a general theory of love, written by three psychiatrists, which takes a syncretic approach, combining elements of "neurodevelopment, evolutionary theory, psychopharmacology, neonatology, experimental psychology, and computer science," while comparing that research against "the emotional experience of [their] patients, [their] families, and [themselves]." it is anything but, pace stephin merritt, long & boring.

what have i learned from my readings so far, from my "vertical search" into love, as binx bolling would put it? love is, according to kierkegaard, that which "binds the temporal and the eternal," that which "is before everything else and remains when all else is past." love, st. paul tells the corinthians, "is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. love never ends." more compactly, stendhal writes, "love is civilization's miracle." love is, says roland barthes. besides that, what do we know?
i'd be glad to know what it is, but being inside, i see it in existence, not in essence. what i want to know (love) is the very substance i employ in order to speak (the lover's discourse). reflection is certain permitted, but since this reflection is immediately absorbed in the mulling over of images, it never turns into reflexivity : excluded from logic (which supposes languages exterior to each other), i cannot claim to think properly. hence, discourse on love though i may for years at a time, i cannot hope to seize the concept of it except "by the tail" : by flashes, formulas, surprises of expression, scattered through the great stream of the image-repertoire; i am in love's wrong place, which is its dazzling place : "the darkest place, according to chinese proverb, is always underneath the lamp."
so. i was dining this evening and otis redding's "try a little tenderness" came on, a song that will alway have a spot in my five favorite records ever. like sinatra's take on "what is this thing called love?" the horns that begin "try a little tenderness" seem to taunt, a little nanny-nanny boo-boo, but otis is nobody's fool, perhaps b/c he comes to not seeking to understand love, but rather to sing its praises.

as the last minute of the song commenced, otis in transports of love, i recalled one of my favorite lines from stendhal : "a man who is really in love ... speaks in a language unknown to him." in other words, glossolalia. in still other words, the authors of a general theory of love write :
the verbal rendition of emotional material thus demands a difficult transmutation of emotional material thuse demands a difficult transmutation. and so people must strain to force a strong feeling into the straitjacket of verbal expression. often, as emotionality rises, so do sputtering, gesticulation, and mute frustration.
but forget words, which seems to me right now the soundest advice you'll find in these pages, particularly when one could be listening to "try a little tenderness."


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