What Randy Newman Can Teach You About Love


I’m getting settled in. My fiancé and I moved into our new place a few months ago. We’ve finally figured out all the light switches. Sometimes I run the garbage disposal just for fun because it’s been almost ten years since I’ve lived anywhere that’s had one. I see my fiancé off to work every morning with a groggy kiss that lingers a little longer than necessary. In the evenings we trade off cooking duties (though, in all fairness to him, he does more than his share of the cooking) making one of a handful of regulars: veggie stir-fry, chicken tacos, lentil and barley soup and, when we’re in the mood, pancakes. Some nights we get lazy and order from one of the many Mediterranean or Mexican joints that speckle our new neighborhood. After dinner, he spends a little time on his computer while, a few feet away, I catch the tail end of a daylong Law & Order marathon on TV. After ADA Alex Cabot has put her last perp behind bars for the day, we each pick up a guitar or a bass or a banjo (we’re both musicians) and play together until we get tired and go upstairs to watch cartoons on my laptop in bed until we fall asleep.

We have a quiet life together built around habits and routines. We buy the same things at the grocery store every week. We revisit at least one of our old favorites every time we play music together. Law & Order is a bigger part of my impending marriage than I like to admit, but let’s be real: SVU is amazing. I had recently been feeling a little dismayed thinking about how predictable the days have become; how this is just the beginning and how we’ll spend the rest of our lives eating veggie stir-fry and performing authorless folk songs in the basement. I’ve never been fond of routine. I’ve always craved variety, movement and calculated risk. Everything was beginning to feel like it was clicking into place, like a bone set to re-grow tissue, forming a firmer shield against any future breaks. Am I living the rest of my life right now? I never thought I’d be engaged this early, I never thought I’d have a house to think about, wedding venues to vet, all in my mid-20’s. What did I get myself into?

Most people my age think of Randy Newman as the guy who wrote that song for Toy Story. He is that, but he also has a career stretching back to the late 1960’s. I’ve recently been on a Randy Newman binge (my gateway drug being Harry Nilsson), listening, in particular, to the albums he released between 1968 and 1972. Newman’s debut, self-titled album begins with the song “Love Story.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siZ5ihqLmTk&w=584&h=390]

“Love Story” tells a very simple narrative of a marriage from the proposal to the couple’s death by old age in a Florida retirement home. There is no swooning; there are no grand gestures. The song is a testament to mundane love. The kind where your husband takes you dancing some nights if he’s not tired from work. Where romance entails watching the late show together by the fire. Where “I like you” is the penultimate step to “We’ll get a preacher.”

I played “Love Story” last night while my fiancé was making dinner (we had pancakes). As I’m wont to yammer on about music like the nerd that I am, I explained to him that the couple in “Love Story” have a remarkably unadorned romance, living a plain and comfortable life together without fanfare or dramatics before they’re relegated to a retirement home to play checkers until they die together. He said, absentmindedly staring at a pancake ready to flip, “That sounds like real love to me.” And I think he was right. There’s a difference between romance and love, though they’re connected. Romance leaves you clinging to one, shimmering thread. Love holds you secure in its unvarnished cradle making decades of veggie stir-fry and Law & Order marathons into beautiful and happy reminders that that guy over your right shoulder teaching himself claw hammer banjo at a grating volume is the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen.

It would be naïve to think that a three-minute pop song is the panacea for my transient restlessness and need for excitement, but “Love Story” is a useful reminder that my restlessness is transient. If we’re lucky, my dude will be flipping dinner pancakes for me while I expatiate on some obscure scrap of music for decades to come. He’s just as surefooted and unworried about the future as the narrator in “Love Story.” So I guess I’m pretty fortunate. I’ve got a garbage disposal, I’ve got Randy Newman and I’ve got some boring old love.