Episode 15 Looking at You
Words and Music–Richard Allen
Produced by David Barratt at the Abattoir of Good Taste
Vocal and Guitar–William Thaumatrope
Ukulele and everything else–David Barratt.
Sex or sexual passion is obviously enjoyable for its own sake and possesses autonomy from thought, which is why we talk about sexual appetite. Sexual arousal may just happen in the presence of the appropriate stimulus, just like the appetite is whetted by the sight of a delicious meal served to a neighbor. Aristocratic culture of course developed a sophisticated repertoire of sexual seduction and arousal to stage the pleasures of sex, just as it developed elaborate routines around the staging and preparation of food. The industrious middle class with its ethos of hard work and Christian ideal of sin made the pleasure of sex something shameful and hedged sex with social controls. Pop music (and movies) allowed sex to emerge from the shadows of shame, partly in response to shifts in class authority in the wake of a newly emergent consumerism. Pop offers a democratic expression of sex. In Britain, where I grew up, the efflorescence of pop music in the seventies was surely a response to the austerity of the war and postwar years: to the years of hard work and sacrifice. Pop spoke of exquisitely irresponsible pleasures borrowed from black American music via Elvis–the beat, the throbbing bass, searing guitar vocals in the upper register, aggressive self-display–Marc Bolan and David Bowie simply exuded sex.
Romantic love, often the subject matter of this blog, unlike sexual desire, is an emotion. Romantic love involves an extreme valuation of the loved person, of their qualities and virtues, that sometimes seems to border upon sickness because it can lead to the irrational detriment of the self or a breakdown in the loved one’s absence. But how is romantic love related to sexual desire? Some might claim it is an entirely separate thing; after all, one can enjoy sex without being in love. Yet there is a strong and intimate connection between the two: how often does love grow from sexual desire and sexual passion issue from love? It is a cliché that men begin with desire and grow into love and women begin with love and grow into desire, and each models in their own way the affinity between romantic love and sexual passion. The reasons for this affinity are not hard to understand for sexual desire feeds upon the idealization of the beloved, and the idealization of the beloved fuels sexual passion. The result is an experience of sex that is augmented and transformed in its depth and intensity.
The idea of marriage gets bad press in intellectual circles, though not just intellectual circles. And it is rarely the subject matter of pop songs! Marriage is a social institution that is deeply implicated in the preservation of patriarchal society through the exchange of women by men, especially through the dowry system that exists in many cultures. But it remains the only way we have of creating a framework of stability and mutual support between two people as they face the uncertainties and challenges of life, not least of which is raising children. Love and marriage are said to be yoked together like a horse and carriage. But how is sexual desire to be maintained in the wake of work, illness, and child rearing? Perhaps “marriage” at its best really provides a framework where love may be sustained even in the absence of its capacity to be expressed as sexual passion, or where the relative weight, importance, or satisfaction derived from sexual passion is attenuated. In such a long term context, romantic love changes its color: it either deepens or wanes.
When I think of you, you cannot guess
The love I feel, that I now confess
But who’s to know what our love can be
When I’m with you and you’re with me
I see your eyes, and behold your grace
I feel your lips upon my face
It’s only you who can let me be
The world embraces you and me
As we make love day turns to night
The moon awakes you are bathed in light
You close your eyes in ecstasy
I live in you, you live in me
Looking at you, looking at me
Our great circle of complicity
It binds us tight, yet leaves us free
Looking at you, looking at me