Wildlife by Satellite
498 · 12 August 04
A Wedding Soundtrack
It might seem, for the first five seconds you think about it, that for two people as devoted to music as Belle and I, the difficulties of scoring our own wedding would mainly be perfectionist compulsions. We each have voluminous loves to draw from, and there is substantial overlap in our tastes. Picking music to get married to should be easy.
Except, of course, we're not picking music to get married to, exactly. Our ceremony itself involves no recorded music, nor is there much call for it in most of the rest of our event schedule. What we need is not a soundtrack redolently expressive of our love for each other, but dance music. More specifically, we need a couple hours of songs that will irresistibly entice our parents and our dangerously grown-up friends into convulsing like teenagers.
Except that it is still our wedding we'll be dancing at, so naturally the kinetic criteria need to be balanced with some cursory attention to lyrical content (breakups and ritual sacrifices, for example, not being the desired moods no matter how much good music they've inspired). And it's reasonable to stipulate that neither of us wants to hear, at our own wedding, anything we happen to personally detest, which is the negative way of explaining why our DJ will be an iPod in the first place. So coming up with a dance list took a lot more work than we originally anticipated, but I think we've done a decent job, or will have after we fiddle with it fifty more times to make sure.
The dance list, though, will now necessarily be only part of what I hear in my heart as we marry. There are deliriously perfect dance songs that hold no deeper meaning for me, profoundly relevant songs that we concede would clear the floor, and different songs that speak to each of us of our own personal resolutions but don't translate between us. I can't play you how it feels inside of me right now, and the music is a poor substitute. But it's more universal than a lot of other things I could try. Here, then, is one sequence of my bemusement and acceptance and joy.
1. The Go-Go's: "Head Over Heels"
In at least one draft, this is where our dance set starts. Musically, and most especially when dancing is at stake, we are both children of the Eighties. Both of us nodded at this one after no more than a measure. "We Got the Beat" may be slightly better known, but "Head Over Heels" is more ebullient and more onomatopoeic. It isn't, if you listen closely, actually about being in love, but it's about realizing that love is important, which is something, and if you listen to "We Got the Beat" closely it's kind of Orwellian, and I'd rather have dizziness than oppression. This may already be my favorite dance song of all time, and if we end up using it first, I will retire its number.
2. Joe Jackson: "Got the Time"
We disagree on a lot of individual dance songs, and on some whole dance moods, but we have one huge area of enthusiastic agreement, which you could reasonable characterize as "spazzy". There won't be a lot of competitive ballroom dancing at our wedding, but there will be a lot of fast songs to which we hope everybody will find it breathlessly easy to be hyperactively silly. Truthfully, neither of us were avid Joe Jackson fans when he was new, but we've both come around since, and his ended up being the first concert we went to together. He probably isn't where you usually start looking for dance songs, no matter how much I wish people would dance to the a cappella version of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", but in retrospect this jerky "1-2-3-Go!" sprint has more infectious pop-punk energy than most of the alternatives we would probably have proposed at the time.
3. stellastarr*: "My Coco"
As Belle and I were working through dance-list candidates, many of our more familiar standards could simply be discussed by reference. We remember what "Tenderness" and "Unbelievable" sound like. Newer songs, though, we usually had to play to ponder, buying the ones we didn't already have from iTMS and playing a kind of playlist Battleship with our wireless laptops on the floor in my study. "My Coco", one of the handful of current hits that survived to the final list, will to me thus forever be the sound of an immersive Saturday spent this way, trading songs and yelps and grimaces and sheepish deletions and the anticipatory wraiths of every other decision we will ever make together in our lives.
4. Edwin Starr: "War"
I think a wedding is not supposed to have political content, but if marriage is an affirmation of hearts thrown open, we must be doubly clear about what we are closed to and defy.
5. Blondie: "Heart of Glass"
Our combined candidate list was just over ten hours long when we started comparing notes, so we had to somehow eliminate a lot. There turned out to be far fewer appeals to veto-power than I anticipated, actually, but there still were some. Belle was genuinely incredulous when I vetoed Rick James' "Super Freak", and I was similarly stunned and baffled that there was any question about "Heart of Glass". Both are, objectively speaking, eminently danceable and instantly recognizable and thematically inappropriate. But whether you find any given piece of pop-culture kitsch endearing or insufferable depends on such subtle nuances of timing and context. Or so we agree to believe, as we delete one song apiece while beaming at each other with oceans of love and thinking "I am marrying a complete idiot!"
6. M People: "How Can I Love You More"
Another thing we discovered (or confirmed) while winnowing is that I have virtually no tolerance for funk, and Belle cannot abide repetitive thumping, both of which have long and distinguished dance histories. We compromised with "Gonna Make You Sweat" and a wedding-edit good-parts abridgement of "Let's Go Crazy", but at some point during the day I suspect I'll still hear Heather Small's voice fluttering tantalizingly on the brink of promising everything, and Belle will be hearing Prince slithering through "Kiss".
7. Tori Amos: "Raspberry Swirl"
Perhaps the most basic problem our wedding dance-list highlights is that we both love art for its own virtues and characteristics more often than we love it as proxy for our own. Our favorite songs are stories, or denials, or encryptions, but rarely emotional ventriloquism. Even when we empathize, it is our commentary on other worlds, not vice versa. Would anybody get the joke if we played Tori's leering disavowal of original sin just because it's her only dance song?
8. Simple Minds: "Speed Your Love to Me"
Belle liked Abra Moore's "Big Sky", but not enough for it to be Our Song. It oversimplifies, and the less a song encompasses, the more precision we demand. "Speed Your Love to Me" is closer, a crashing romantic anthem we've both loved for twenty years. It has those sighing slow parts, though, and we have so many better dance songs in the same stylistic mode. And ultimately both "Big Sky" and "Speed Your Love to Me" are about the distilled thrill of feeling newly in love, which is an excellent thing to be reminded of as you marry, but actually not the essence of the ceremony. The real promises don't come during revelations, but after them. Getting married is an act not of dizzy euphoria but of heroic determination.
9. HIM: "In Joy and Sorrow"
There will be no bombastic heavy-metal power-ballads played aloud at our wedding, but it couldn't happen without them. This sounds inane, maybe, but I know that whatever I am able to commit to, in my life, I owe in part to my formative definitions of courage and strength. My most important examples have been people, of course, some of whom will be there with us in person and the rest in spirit. But so, too, some of how I am comes from stories and genres, abstract evocations instead of literal demonstrations. Some of what I am, I learned by reading Ivanhoe when I was six. Some of it I retain by remembering how to take the most overblown musical melodrama seriously.
10. Björk: "Hyperballad"
My day's internal soundtrack will need moments of atmospheric calm, and our marriage will need both defenses of solitude and loops of solipsistic isolation. Part of what we promise each other is to do what we can to each sustain ourselves, so that we are available when we are needed. This might be simple, if we were simple and asked for nothing, but for real humans it could be the most complicated and frightening part. In marrying, we both risk and dare relinquishing some of our authority as arbiters of our selves. We are not predicting commitment, we are stipulating it. We are promising to conquer and cultivate our terrors. We are promising, some mornings, to lie there and let the shards of a hundred breaking impulses and fears fall away from us, and then roll over and come back to love.
11. glenn mcdonald: "Bandages and Flowers"
And our wedding, above all occasions, will be our art, will be words we ourselves invent to say to each other. I will write Belle many more songs before we are done, and we will write some together, but so far I have written her one. When I wrote it, we'd been together for less than a month. When I hear it now, it sounds like I am promising her forever.
12. Tanya Donelly: "Keeping You"
"I swam into you beneath a beach of shards, and know you saw a passage in the sand", Belle wrote to me in a poem after an evening of listening to beautysleep on repeat. "Life is a dream we control", I wrote in a record review as the echoes of "Keeping You" died away. We went looking for dance music, and found our song. We got stupid computer jobs over a decade ago and we met each other. We spent all these years since looking for each other, and finally realized we could keep what we'd already found.