Songs about Jane (and us).
This love has taken its toll on me.
Months before marriage, I wore out the track encircling the football field at my small Baptist university. Four to five nights a week, four to five miles a night. One foot in front of the other, each step fueled by two forces: Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane, and a desire to be found naked and unashamed.
This runner’s highs came via Adam Levine’s piercing tenor, filling my brain with dizzy thoughts of tracing tangled flesh during Sunday morning love-ins. Lows came as my body lagged and leaned imperceptibly to one side, weighed down by the portable CD player I toted before the dawn of the ipod age.
Those days of nightly rounds fell before Maroon 5 indulged its tackiest musical instincts, and before Levine found a second home on America’s TV screens. Then and there, he was still a slender Southern California kid with an above-average Prince impression. And I absorbed every word of his glossy siren songs.
Like an athlete filling his or her head with musical motivation before the big game, my blood pumped electric. The long-awaited day drew closer, and I beat my body into submission, straining to become the sort of groom—and class of lover—I always dreamed I’d be.
Maroon 5’s songs grooved to the groans of unrealized creation. Sex consisted of flesh and fireworks and full speed ahead, love of romantic gestures exposed to the rain. My feet beat out laps in a fugue state, and all I could think of was clean sheets and clean slates, making love to remake yourself, unlocking the potential to satisfy and be satisfied completely.
These moments existed in the strange, often unnoticed part of the Venn diagram between purity culture and pop culture. On the surface, one rarely resembles the other. And yet, they share something at a molecular level. Both elevate sex to the status of an event.
Blue-eyed funk and my Baptist youth group bonafides found a common rhythm. That first day and night of marriage, and all the days and nights to come, started to feel like my Super Bowl—one with an especially sexy halftime show.
Nearly fifteen years into marriage, I still make near-nightly laps—around my neighborhood mostly, and my mileage varies. And I still sift my record collection for songs to get my mind right for another day in a life together. Now I tend to sit and soak them in, rather then let the beats lead my feet.
Maroon 5 rarely, if ever, enters the mix. More than likely, it’s Jeff Tweedy, all bloodshot eyes and murmured devotion: “I’ve got reservations / About so many things, but not about you.”
Maybe I turn the dial over to my friend Derek Nelson, as he croons “Things won’t go to shit / With you as my wife.” I might even save a little room for David Gray and his confession, “Honey, now if I’m honest / I still don’t know what love is.”
These lyrics might sound unromantic to some ears but, when the world closes in, they mean everything. The love songs I love testify that sex and romance, and everything swept up in them, aren’t events to attend or accomplishments carried out by the will of the body. These songs don’t center on my ability to make love, but the opportunity to make a life burrowing inside of love.
In some strange way, they all uphold an unlikely mathematical reality, one that finds its fulfillment in the way of Christ: the height, depth, length and breadth of a covenant gives values to every single moment of that covenant. The present-tense rush of the quick and tingly and breathless makes most sense with a past to inform it and a future waiting to greet it.
I no longer need songs to call me to the worship of women, or psyche me up lest I be found wanting. Now I know I’ll never live up to the portraits of lovers in pop songs; now I hear the truth in songwriter Dave Simonett’s line “Your paperback lovers could never pay the bills.” Rather than gear up for love, I long to dig into it.
And my wife is no icon. I love her less like a latent goddess summed up in three chords, more like the home which shelters me. She is the foundation, the four walls and every piece of furniture inside.
I love her like my favorite painting, and the nail that holds it up. Like the mess of sheets after a moment’s passion, and the blanket I pull up around my neck as I lay me down to sleep. Like light breaking through the upstairs window, and the basement where I take shelter from storms.
Don’t cry for me, Adam Levine. I still dig your record. Most songs hold up, even after 17 years and who knows how many miles. But this love has taken its toll on me, and I’m better for it.