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Jewish World Review June 26, 2000 / 23 Sivan, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

They're not singing our song -- WALNUT SHADE, Mo. --- If men are such unfeeling jerks -- and for the sake of argument today, why don't we just concede that we men are -- then why are we the ones who always sing songs about our hearts breaking in two because a woman has left us?

And why are women the ones who sing the songs about being strong as a mountain lion and free as a wild stream and ready to move on?

It's true, you know; it's true now and always has been. Men -- who are supposed to be uncaring, interested only in sports and beer, happier with a one -- night stand than with a heartfelt commitment -- sing the songs that admit to anyone who will listen that their souls are crumbling and burning over the loss of a woman.

Sinatra, tough guy that he was, set the tone. Have you ever listened to his "Only the Lonely" album? If your own heart is breaking as you hear Sinatra confessing to his pain, you're best advised to have a psychiatrist sitting a few feet away. Your agony combined with Sinatra's is enough to send you out the nearest window.

And it continues today, in all forms of popular music, but especially in country music. Turn on the radio as you ride down the highway. Guys with deep, gravelly voices that sound as if they ought to come out of leather lungs are telling the world that one woman has had the power to knock them to their knees.

In a 10 -- minute span I heard a man sing about two teardops that meet on the way to the sea -- one a happy tear, from a bride on her wedding day, one a sad tear from the man (presumably the singer) she left for her new husband; I heard a man sing about laying out pictures of his now -- gone girlfriend on the floor and spending the evening looking at them and remembering, as if he is on a date with her; I heard a man sing about the anguish of seeing his beloved walk down the street hand -- in -- hand with another guy.

Meanwhile, the women of country music seem quite content to sing hit songs on a single theme, which can be boiled down to: I'm going to strap on these high -- heeled shoes and walk out of here and be happily rid of you. These songs -- sung by robust -- looking women who stride the stage with the authority of John Wayne after having shot the bad guy -- are usually belted out with the swagger and bravado of a soccer anthem, and tend to dwell on a message that can be paraphrased as: "I'm leaving, pal -- and, oh, by the way, have I mentioned that I don't like you?"

There's nothing very new about this -- the woman-as-cocky-romantic -- victor motif in music has been with us for years, hiding in plain sight. Because women's voices, at least in the old days of popular music, tended to he wispier and softer than men's, perhaps people didn't pay all that much attention to what the women were actually saying. But think about the lyrics of that not -so- long-gone era:

"My boyfriend's back and you're gonna be in trouble" "Lipstick on your collar told a tale on you" "You don't own me " Even when the woman singing the song was indicating she might be willing to stay with a guy, she was badgering him in rather harsh tones: "Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad."

What if Johnny didn't want to get angry? What if Johnny was quite happy to sit at home and have a nice, gentle conversation with the woman he loved? Not good enough for her. And meanwhile, even Elvis, who one would think could have had his pick of any woman in the world, was singing harrowing tales of seeing an old friend with the only woman Elvis cared about: "and Marie's the name, of his latest flame."

There are exceptions to every rule -- there are songs women sing that lament their own broken hearts. But more and more, it's in the context of: My heart is broken, which is why I'm going to go out and get myself a man who's handsomer than you. After which I will tell you about it. In excruciating detail.

And male singers? They're watching those two teardrops race to the sea.

What you'll hardly ever hear a woman sing about these days is being in love with a specific man with a specific name. In other words, a person. To sing a song like that would evidently be too unbelievable in today's world of men and women.

You would think the antidote might be a return to "I love him, I love him, I love him, and where he goes I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow."

(Not you, buddy. The new guy. You go on and enjoy your teardrop race.)

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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