On Van Morrison’s underrated CD Days Like This, he sings a duet of “You Don’t Know Me” with his daughter, Shana. And the line “I never knew the art of making love/ til my heart yearned with love for you” stands out as a plaintive reminder that even an unrequited love affair can have a love song. Keb Mo’ sings: “but if nobody loves you/and you feel like dust on/an empty shelf/just remember/you can love yourself.” Reminding the listener the self-fulfilled also can have a love song.
Love, sex and music mingle in our culture as I guess they do in all cultures. Music is the backdrop for most romantic movies. It is our natural inclination to associate music with love and romantic feelings, an inclination a million marketing men and women have already discovered. You have only to think of the over-sung ballad from that epic sinker Titanic, or remember any one of a hundred old romantic movies (most came then, as they do now, with a popular song attached), or marvel at the popularity of sound tracks. Granted, many modern soundtracks appeal mainly women and are slanted toward the romantic ballad, but not all are that bad. “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls is a lovely song, and in some odd twist the video is more interesting than the movie.
As I began writing my reviews for this issue of Pif, which is dedicated to Sex, I started to wonder what people listened to get into the mood, particularly what they listened to while they did it. I e-mailed the members of my online writing group and asked them to share with me what songs they liked to hear while engaged in the art of making love. I asked any person I thought would give me an answer. That was my scientific methodology.
What I found was that most people liked to make love to classical music, usually putting it on to mellow the atmosphere. However, when pressed most were vague on titles. “Something with cellos. Something classical. Maybe violins.” One woman admitted to never using music, but said she had made love to a tape of nature sounds, crickets, bull frogs, night noises and such. How medieval is that? I wondered.
One woman liked Billie Holiday. One woman admitted to losing her virginity while listening to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” (I guess the lion wasn’t sleeping that night.) Then she confessed to other kinky behavior that even I find too shocking to share. A very swell gentleman then said he most definitely did not like bonky bonky fuck music. Personally, I think I might like bonky bonky fuck music, but that is another story…
Another woman admitted to getting hot while listening to Lyle Lovett’s cover of “Stand By Your Man” and then, after actually having sex to the song, is now repelled by it. The song, that is. Not sex. When you think of the bitter mockery of female loyalty in Lyle’s cover, though, her reaction is of no surprise. One twenty-one year old woman said, she liked to make love to classical, but liked to have sex to rock. That is one smart woman who can distinguish between the love and the sex – a skill most of us never learn. When pressed to describe the type of classical music she liked she even had a preference. She named Water Music by Handel.
I first became aware of Water Music while reading Sophie’s Choice by William Stryon. I can’t think of a single writer who uses music the way Stryon did. In his references to Water Music he sets up the contrast between the joy of living and loving, and the pain of Sophie’s existence. More than any other piece of classical music Water Music is perhaps the music of love and joy.
Sex is a joyful noise made in the service of life.
The birth of Water Music is documented by a quote from the Daily Courant of July 19, 1717 which reported: “On Wednesday Evening at about 8, the King took Water at Whitehall in an open Barge. . . A City Company’s Barge was employed for the Musick, wherein were 50 Instruments of all sorts, who played all the Way the finest Symphonies, composed by Mr. Handel; which his Majesty liked so well, that he caused it to be plaid over three times going and returning.” George I of Hanover was the King and when he took over the throne he brought along ‘A flight of hungry Hanoverians, like so many famished vulture.’ So wrote the Whig Minster James Stanhope. It could be that the King had sex on his mind that night when he requested Handel to play on.
I suspect Water Music is good for getting in the mood, staying in the mood, and doing it. There are many good recordings of the symphony. The one I own was recorded by La Grande Ecurie & la Chambre du Roy and conducted by Jean-Claude Malgoire. I like it better than others I have heard. Recorded in the church Notré Dame de Liban, Paris baroque musical practices were used to capture for the contemporary listener the timbre of the instruments of Handel’s day. The horns have a muted sound almost as if they are coming from some rare and strange, but extinct beast. The feeling of long ago and far, far away permeates the entire recording. It is a sure fire way to impress a new girl or a new boy. Or, perhaps, an old girl or boy.