BY ERIK CHRISTENSEN
February 14, 2014
Valentine’s Day? St. Valentine was a martyr; as some historians report, he was a third century Roman priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s attempted abolishment of marriage. Others cite the Hallmark-Card-like highjacking of the February pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Then there’s that hopeless romantic, Geoffrey Chaucer, who might have been the first to write about “St. Valentine’s Day” in his work “Parliament of Foules” around 1375.
Ok, so let’s forget Hallmark. Let’s forget those chalky candy hearts that taste horrible but are still irresistible. Let’s forget chocolate hearts, chocolate kisses and chocolate roses. Let’s get to—forgive me—the heart of the matter. Love is respect, and acceptance, and damn hard work.
We’re talking about a love that lasts.
So here’s my all-time, Top Five Love Songs for Valentine’s Day.
“My Funny Valentine”
Pick any of the hundred versions; for now, let’s go with Frank Sinatra. This Rogers and Hart musical number is simple and direct, with just the right amount of quiet confidence and realism. I will love you every day.
“But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day”
“Every Part of Me”
A song from 2011 by Texas songwriter/activist Steve Earle. A nakedly honest and open outpouring, not afraid to admit shortcomings:
“I love you with everything
All my weakness, all my strength
I can’t promise anything
Except that my last breath will bear your name”
“That’s the Way Love Goes”
A much-covered Lefty Frizzell country classic—one that always struck me as very honest about how the world works and graceful in its acceptance and resolve.
“Losing makes me sorry
You say, ‘Honey, don’t worry,
Because I love you, too.
That’s the way love goes.’
That’s the way love goes, dear
That’s the music that God made
To make the world to sing
It’s never old, it grows”
“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”
Bob Dylan has always spoken the deepest part of you, articulating your feelings that you didn’t even know you had. This guy has always spoken to the mysteries of your heart, and I don’t think there’s ever been a better opening to a song of pure admiration and enchantment:
“My love, she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She don’t need to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire”
Who in the world could’ve inspired such imagery? Who else could build on it and end the song with the following:
“The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and rainy
My love, she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing”
Jason Isbell is quickly shaping up to be the only serious contender for the next Bob Dylan title—someone who can shout rock and roll to peel the paint off the walls, and also write the most heartfelt, poetic ballads you’ve ever heard. “Elephant,” from last year’s “Southeastern” record, is the story of someone caring for a love who is dying of cancer. The “elephant” is, of course, death—the elephant in the room that they both try desperately to avoid. Real love sticks around during the good times and bad; real love hopes against all hope.
“She said, ‘Andy you crack me up,’
Seagram’s in a coffee cup,
Sharecropper eyes and her hair almost all gone.
When she was drunk she made cancer jokes,
Made up her own doctor’s notes,
Surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone.
I’d sing her classic country songs
And she’d get high and sing along.
But she don’t have much voice to sing with now
We’d burn these joints in effigy,
Cry about what we used to be,
And try to ignore the elephant somehow.”
Hug the people you love this Valentine’s Day. Devote yourself to those who bring out the best in you. Give these songs a listen and maybe check out the honorable mentions: “Smile a Little Smile For Me” by Flying Machine, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “In My Life” by the Beatles, “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis, “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers (Rest in peace, brother Phil) and “You Make Me Feel Brand New” by The Stylistics.
Erik Christensen Band plays at Front Street Grill in Coupeville from 6-8 p.m on Wednesday, March 19 and at Blooms Winery in Bayview from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, April 20.
Erik Christensen teaches English at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry and, 23 years ago, copied those Bob Dylan lyrics in a note to his then-girlfriend, who was impressed enough to marry him. Thanks, Bob.
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