It's not you, it's your music
Rachel Donadio’s essay in Sunday’s New York Times (“It’s Not You, It’s Your Books”) explores the touchy subject of reading habits in romantic relationships. Say you liked Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” or “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand and you find out your date didn’t. Poof. Instant turn-off factor. The disclosure causes the same illogical deflation as the sight of someone clutching a fork like a shovel. Some habits aren’t sexy. With books, it’s a matter of taste, so it’s even more important.
I love Franzen’s novel and I recently listed “The Fountainhead” as a favorite on Facebook. I’ve even taken literary taste one step further: I once dated someone based on a fictional character. In college, I devoured Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” shortly after my handsome boyfriend dumped me for someone else. Alone and depressed, I fell for Jane’s fictional soul-mate, the ill-tempered, secretive, ugly Mr. Rochester, and I began casting about for a real-life equivalent. I found him, I thought, in an athletic math major with a heavy brow, deep-set eyes, and twisted mouth. He looked perpetually pissed off, like a soul in need of saving. Two months later, I realized the ridiculousness of my assumption when I opened a love letter addressed to unsentimental me, “Dear Princess.” Yuck! He suggested we study the Bible together. Double yuck! His soul turned out to be a jet-puffed marshmallow.
If literary taste affects how we love, musical taste offers even more perilous landmines of incompatibility. You could craft effective personal ads by only mentioning certain groups and singers.
SWF Foo Fighters fan ISO Jackson Browne. Chinchillas, Van Morrison OK. No head games. No Coldplay. NO BARRY MANILOW.
Since classical music lovers tend to be the most passionate and opinionated people on the planet, this gets even more interesting. I know people who shudder at the mention of John Cage. They care that much.
Last fall, sitting in a Manhattan restaurant with music historian Joe Horowitz and journalist Stephen Marc Beaudoin, I confessed a love for choral music by Eric Whitacre. Joe put down his napkin and glanced out the window, immediately disengaged. Stephen leaned forward and said to me, “You know what your problem is? You talk about feelings too much. That man’s running a racket!” He then went on at length about what he described as the composer’s scam to make money off stupid, indiscriminating singers like me. If we’d been on a date, I would’ve walked out.
Adore Franz Schubert and Arvo Part? How about Johannes Brahms? Philip Glass? How long can you listen to the Goldberg Variations over and over again? Devotion to certain kinds of music can be a lonely existence. I recently popped in unannounced one evening in to see friends in Brighton. The husband was sitting in his living room, lights low, candles lit, listening to 1930’s John Cage piano music. His wife was upstairs, surfing the net.
That’s OK. In Donadio’s New York Times essay, one writer says her partner doesn’t even read. She says compatible taste is irrelevant. “The goal,” she added, is “to find somebody where your perversions match and who you can stand.”