By The Landlord
"I always had a secret crush on Diana Ross … perhaps she will marry me one day." – Michael Jackson
"I have a crush on Steve Tyler." – Lulu
“Full disclosure here - I had a terrible crush on Smokey Robinson." – Linda Ronstadt
“I've got a crush on my backing singer." – Amy Winehouse
It's another tradition – that ever-so-romantic last-minute dash to the late-night Shell garage for overpriced flowers or chocolates. But what's really at the heart of this international festival based on an early Christian named Valentine who was martyred in 269 AD for secretly helping soldiers, who were forbidden, by law, to get married? It's the secret love, the teenage obsession, the one that cannot be uttered in person, that dare not speak its name, except through the medium of a mysterious written message, words forged in in passion and torment, designed tantalise, trigger and inflame the feelings of its intended.
And after all, often what is a love song, but a secret lyrical love letter that cannot be expressed in any other way?
However, it's an action that can often backfire, lead to embarrassment or misunderstanding, and unleash a plotline that can kill or twist onwards with agony and ecstasy, and is not only great for plays, books and films, but equally for song. Or just lead to absolutely nothing happening at all.
At the age of 15, I agonised over a Valentine's card that I painstakingly wrote to a girl who got off at the same bus-stop after school each day. I'd been thinking about her for a year. I knew where she lived (just down the street from me) and eventually plucked up the courage to hand-deliver my magnificent missive through her door late at night, so no one saw me. The next day we both left the bus as usual, and with my heart going at about 200bpm, I was about a hundred times more nervous than John Gordon Sinclair on Gregory's Girl. She then turned to me, cool as you like, smiled, and said, "Thanks for the lovely card." And that was it.
The machinations of secret admiration and love has fuelled many great works of literature – Jane Austen's Dr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Emily Brontë's Heathcliff for Cathy, F Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby, most of Dickens and Trollope, and a whole cavalcade of characters keeping their various loves secret in James Baldwin's Another Country. They all harbour a secret love in their present or past that must find its way out in the future, leading lovely ambiguity in language and action. But let’s now turn to the musicians:
We've heard a few remarks about secret, or not so secret crushes above, and songwriters are no strangers to experiencing, or expressing secret admiration and clandestine cravings. Wandering minstrels in royal courts have played with that line of ambiguity to cheekily hint at who is sleeping with, or wants to sleep with whom. And even the famous and successful despite access to excess in areas of life, are not immune to wanting that little bit more. Perhaps the most famous example is the slow-burning love triangle of Eric Clapton, who fell in love with George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd, waiting for a decade or more before his best mate split with her to eventually marry her himself. Mind you, he probably got off with everyone else while he was waiting, and certainly wrote a few songs about his constant cravings.
The Rolling Stones were never short of a bit of secret admiration, which often ended up in less-than-secret shagging. Of course Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had their famous relationships, and Mick in particular fancied everyone else's girlfriends and wives as well as his own, and did his best to act on it. But in an interesting twist, his own muse, Marianne Faithfull, while no doubt at one point was entranced by the clever, lip and hip-twisting tiny-bummed Jagger, in her autobiography, confessed to spending a night with the guitarist songwriting partner, a night she said was the best of her life.
And then there's Fleetwood Mac, a band whose inter-relationship longings and inter-noodlings was less of a love triangle of secret admiration, more a drug-addled messy multi-dimensional rowing rhomboid of romp and circumstance.
Secret admiration and repressed passion might seem a particularly British trait, but interestingly, after last week's topic about Paris, coincidentally two of the greatest works, in theatre and then film about secret admiration come from France. Perhaps this is surprising, as we might expect cultures with the romance languages to have not difficultly in expressing love directly, but not always. Amélie (2001) starring Audrey Tatou, or to give it it's full French title, Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, is a wonderful intricate and amusing story of a reclusive, eccentric character who plants love letters and other objects to bring happiness and other repressed admirers together, eventually leading, more by chance than design, for her to find her own mystery man.
And finally, the great play by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, about that huge-nosed hero, swordsman and wordsmith who harbours a secret love for Roxane, but selflessly helps his tongue-tied friend Christian seduce her with his own words in a famous scene below a balcony as shown here in the 1990 film version starring Gérard Depardieu. Oh the irony upon irony, spoken underneath the balcony:
From Rostand’s play: “A kiss is a secret which takes the lips for the ear," he says. "Take it, and turn to facts my fantasies,” with tragic irony. "“My heart always timidly hides itself behind my mind. I set out to bring down stars from the sky, then, for fear of ridicule, I stop and pick little flowers of eloquence.”
And in a final tragic scene, when it's all too late, Roxane realises the truth: "How obvious it is now – the gift you gave him. All those letters, they were you … All those beautiful powerful words, they were you!.. The voice from the shadows, that was you … You always loved me!"
So then, it's now time to unleash your own stories of secret admiration, successful or otherwise, with song suggestions on this subject. This week's man of letters, skilfully written, no doubt, is the superb severin! Place your songs in comments below for consideration by 11pm UK time, or earlier if called in, for playlists published on Wednesday. Was it you all along?
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