fred astaire - "a fine romance" (from the let's face the music and dance lp, available for purchase here.)
folks, i've borne witness to some sad things in my day. one of the saddest, and the unlikeliest, was a girl standing on the roof of a car, singing & dancing, w/o any music, to "if i can't have you." i tell you, it broke my heart in about six places, i'm still tallying the damage.
the dancing was slow & deliberate; the singing was unsure & overdone, so much overdone that you just wanted her to stop, not b/c it was unpleasant but b/c of what it disguised--pain & helplessness, mostly. she would pause, figure out her next step, ask aloud what the next line was; she was singing & dancing to keep from crying. it was a heartbreaking attempt to recreate ironic distance through performance; it was a dress rehearsal for the heartache to come.
"a fine romance" makes for an appropriate song to go w/ the theme. it's a performance from a performance; it masks romantic disappointment w/ clever rhymes & mild irritation. the opening line ("a fine romance with no kisses"), says so much about many things: malls, lunches, lakes, swimming, picnics, kindness, affection--all the things lovers do, only w/o the piece of paper, the formal acknowledgement, that one is in a relationship. ("substitute," "consolation prize"--other songs suggest themselves.)
that agreement is held by another, one who is in breach of contract, derelict in his duties, failing to perform. and performance is what matters in "a fine romance"; one needs to sell it : stare directly into the camera w/ a hangdog look, emphasize the punchlines. play pretend, in other words, refuse to see the breach, pretend to oneself that words mean what they do even though actions suggest otherwise, hoping that that will suffice. it's a bleak state of affairs.
bleaker still : i remember reading in a general theory of love that a dog prefers its owner, even if he's a bastard, to other people who might treat them better, take them out for walks, give them more treats--it's the same for humans. i saw someone come to a realization about their condition, make bold claims, renounce more harmful ones; and i hung my head when that resolve crumbled. it was pavlovian : a cell phone vibrated, sounding like the crack of a whip; a cruel master made nice after he had been earlier rebuffed; emotions pitched like a ship in rough seas. maybe he realized that beating the dog w/ a stick wasn't getting results anymore; time to put a treat at the end of it and dangle it before her.
it's enough to make one long for some innocent manipulation from days gone by, when people never got worse than being colder than yesterday's mashed potatoes. it's painful to see someone you esteem so highly selling her self so cheap, her self-worth determined by an unforgiving, miserly eye. what can one do? absolutely nothing. like so many things, this goes back to elvis : she has to do it for herself ... or wait until he's done her in entirely.
oh, there is one thing. you can refuse to enable. for the most part, one has no choice, that little lamb is marching right off to the slaughter, w/ a song on her lips, any pride or self-respect or dignity she once possessed to be sacrificed to satisfy the insecurity of a little nothing.
but you can at least decline to be the chauffeur.