Is desire a good thing? That's a very good question. The two dictionaries closest to me as I sit here at the keyboard are both Oxfords. The Oxford Canadian says it means "sexual desire". The Oxford Concise says "lust". The old Gage dictionary a little further down the shelf gives both "sexual desire" and "lust" as definitions.
The Latin root seems to mean to begin to desire.
Anyway, a few random thoughts about desire.
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
I was reading Will Friedwald's book on jazz singing. When he gets to Sinatra he notes an interesting contrast between Sinatra and Crosby:
Film critic Ethan Morden once described Bing Crosby as a "healer". His function in depression and wartime America was to soothe and to reassure. Frank Sinatra's mission has always been just the opposite. Sinatra shocks. Sinatra Jolts. Sinatra arouses our anger and passion by expressing his own.And then there is this:
His egotism, certainly, contributes, because so much of what he sings is about himself, and he doesn't try to hide his arrogance but instead makes it part of his performance: his casting of himself as the romantic lead of every love song he sings, for instance, and his dwelling on desire and want instead of self sacrfifice.I should note here that I love Sinatra and own about twenty hours worth of his music. That said, something has gone wrong here. The Serpentine One says that, although he does all sorts of things well, Sinatra doesn't do joy very well. Any happiness in his songs seems transient.
What he does well, is this:
There is something good and beautiful and true about that. (This is my very favourite Sinatra recording.)
The funny thing is that there isn't much to choose in the private lives of Crosby and Sinatra. Both have been subject to vicious attack jobs in print so you can think the worst of them and find "evidence" to back that if you want. That said, both are exemplars of virtue compared to most rock stars.
But there is something sad—necessarily sad—about desire when it is separated from love. Sinatra doesn't seem to have had any trouble seeing that. The problem was that he didn't know what to do about it.
Here is another song from his great record In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. There is something religious about this performance:
As someone I read once put it, there is moment towards the end when the music seems to hint that it has thought of an answer but it's too late, he's gone.
To head from the sublime to the ridiculous, Lady Gaga sings about desire and does it better than most of her contemporaries. That's not saying much but it is saying something. I recently found myself trapped ina room where I had to listen to a lot of contemporary dance music. None of it was exactly awful and some was even good. None of it was memorable.
But here is the thing, the one time I found myself actually paying attention I was surprised to find it was a Lady Gaga song called "Pokerface". I won't link, it's not that good. But the lyrics are fairly clever. It has only one trick, and it repeats it over and over again. The person at the telling us the story is bragging about her ability to veil her sexual desire but the very act of veiling it is increasing that desire such that ... well, something is going to happen. If that sort of scenario doesn't appeal to you, then you don't like sex.
Which is why it is sad to read this:
“I’m bluffin’ with my muffin.” Do these sound like the words of a chaste woman? Despite the sexually explicit images Lady Gaga conjures up when she sings about wanting to “take a ride on your vertical stick,” the singer recently announced that she’s celibate: “I’m celibate. Celibacy’s fine…It’s not really cool anymore to have sex all the time. It’s cooler to be strong and independent.”Much as I hate to be a pedant, this is one of those times when it's necessary. Chastity does not mean celibacy. To be chaste is to think and act in virtuous way about sex. Nothing about being celibate will make you chaste. Nothing at all. So, to answer the question, no it doesn't sound like the words of a chaste woman because they aren't the words of a chaste woman.
But something has gone wrong here hasn't it? And isn't it strange that the very advocates of sexual freedom seem to provide the greatest prrof of it?
More to come ...