THIS IS MY Valentine’s Eve love poem to Regina Spektor.
So I broke the first rule already because I signed my name, but in love rules are meant to be broken. Right? And that is not least why love predates religion, because religion was invented to try and tame the untamable? For those of you who have somehow escaped the language of love as sung by Ms. Spektor, she is the Jewish Russian princess, Jeanette Winterson of pop.
Why Valentine’s Eve?
Come on! A Christmas Eve kiss is always better than one on Christmas Day? Because it is an eve and not a day. It’s like we don’t need Halloween Eve because Halloween is already an eve, and in the case of romance, she likes the evening. More because, though we are told (and we try to tell ourselves), that for good all round health we should be living in the moment, at all times, one of the most remarkable features of the human brain is it’s ability to anticipate. Having something to look forward to is a big part of what keeps us going. So it is Valentine’s Eve and it comes with all the anticipation of the night.
And just like Christmas or Easter, Valentine’s Day has its roots in the pagan festivals that were later co-opted by the Christian franchise as it spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. We can celebrate winter or spring without having to dwell on the journey of Jeezus from humble baby to being spiked on the cross, and being a punk romantic I have no ideological problem with Saint Valentine’s Eve, because Christianity certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on love.
But wouldn’t Valentine’s Eve be when he was in the cell waiting to be crucified?
You’re focusing too much on the detail. All I’m saying is that at heart there is still something really worth celebrating about love and romance, even when we are single, even when we fell like we don’t have a romantic bone left in our body holding us up–love is still in our genes.
You’ve been reading too many books about evolution again?
I’ll get to that, but this is for Regina. Cos she is a kindred spirit and she knows about love, and she went through all that anti-folk Bob Dylan Judas thing too. She knows about the joy, the ups, the downs, the hurts, the aches, the heartbreaks, the break-ups, the get back togethers, the make ups after fights, the smells, the break-ups again, the desolation, the finding someone new. Or as she says in November Rain, with melodic succinctness — and a nod to The Beatles’ The End:
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again
Okay so come with me on this. Without destroying any of the mystery let’s just go back a little ways. Well, all the way back and we just get even more mystery, which is good. From the evolutionary perspective of deep history, with no evidence at hand, but sound reasoning, I really would argue that love predates religion. That is, the networks of neurons that form in our brains and the chemicals secreted that make us dizzy with love, when we are attracted to a special other have adaptational beginnings going back millions of years.
In no particular or easily delineated order, as we became fully functioning bipeds with expanding brains: the survival trade off for no longer nesting in trees was a more social group to defend the camp; that food had to be hunted and gathered by walking and running long distances, the physique and muscles for which demanded a narrower pelvic canal; meaning babies were born before their brains and bodies got too big, meaning they needed much more hands-on attention in the first months of their lives; meaning a division of labor between males and females, necessitating something to encourage some commitment on the part of males to contribute in some way to the care-giving, or at least a good reason to bring subsistence back to camp; meaning at some point the hidden ovulation of the female evolved to provide the mystery and sexual glue to keep the male around, with the concurrent evolution of a whole host of brain chemicals, body shapes and a range of subconscious body language that cause two people to connect and fall in love.
Are you sure Regina’s gonna go for the science nerd bit?
No! I mean yes! I mean, I’m going to go to New York and meet Regina and pull my folding chair up next to hers, and I’m going to suggest I sit down with her albums and using her songs and lyrics I’m going to write a story, A MUSICAL, you know, like for Broadway.
You know there are narrative threads running through her work, from Love Affair to Fidelity to The Calculation to November Rain. Or it’s darker like That Time through Better, to One More Time with Feeling. Or, its melancholy like Folding Chair through The Sword and the Pen to Us to How. Patron Saint! Oh my goodness! Learning that true love exists. It’s all these threads overlapping.
You mean if Green Day can do it, anyone can do it type of thing?
No, it’s way better than that. It’s more like being a romantic poet but acknowledging all the new mysteries of creation that science keeps throwing up. If I can get back to my drift. Had we not become bipeds and evolved all the stuff that came with it, we homo sapiens, which for most of our history led a pretty precarious existence, would have dead-ended somewhere in the maze and gone the way of all of our closest relatives on the branches of the homo family tree. Our need to connect with someone evolved before we had the brains capable of giving a name to the feelings which language would later describe as love.
There are many adaptive reasons why our ancestors would need to evolve a means of communicating through what would become language, not least between mother and child, and the parallel evolution of our exposed eye whites —unique amongst our primate cousins, though we do not know about Neanderthals et al— opened the windows to our souls, whereby we hold each others’ attention, have a clue to each others’ intentions and gave us in all that staring into each others’ eyes, that is the means by which we know we are falling in love.
I know, I could make a similar argument that the human characteristics, which since leaving Africa some 60,000 years ago have pre-disposed us until very recently to creating and following religions, had their roots much deeper in evolutionary time. It is safe to say religion became the glue that held the group together. As competition for food and water pitted one group of hunter-gatherers against another, it is self-evident that a united band, believing themselves to be chosen by the Gods and willing to die for the Gods, survived better in the long run than those groups that were less socially connected. However, religion as we know it, with rituals and song and dance and a central creation myth, could only have come about when homo sapiens had the brain to ponder their own existence, and in turn develop a language to codify a set of rules accepted by the group and passed on to the next generation.
Love on the other hand defies such codification. Try as we might, we still don’t really know what makes us fall in love with one person rather than another. That’s why we writes songs or make art about it. And as survival in the first instance requires two people procreating, it seems safe to me (given that I am no trained scientist) to say that the precursors of love predate the precursors of religion. Once we had language that enabled us to create religions, we also had the means to create language for love and this we can call that romance. And a thousand different culture wars have been fought between romance and religion, as religion took it upon itself to proscribe constraints upon the unconstrainables that make up love.
You know Regina’s married?
Yeh, but my love for her is platonic.
Whatever! Anyway, enter Saint Valentine, before he was a Saint, some tens of thousands of years down the line. There were at least three Christian martyrs called Valentine, and we have no idea which one provided the inspiration for Pope Gelasius when he established Saint Valentine’s Day in 469 AD as an annual celebration of love and affection between intimates. We can be pretty sure that in the Augustinian world of original sin, Gelasius meant it to celebrate love along strict lines of monogamous, white-on-white, Christian-on-Christian love, and within the strict confines of Christian marriage, in accordance with his job description of unwaveringly applying the religious glue to society from the highest office on Earth. Some of which still sticks to us today even in the post-Christian corners of the twenty first century.
As artists, Regina et moi, it’s kind of our duty to rewrite our culture, as we see it, from our own experience and feeling, as well as adding new empirical knowledge comes along. In tinkering with the myth of Saint Valentine as an ode to my true love Regina I am just updating the story to involve some of hundreds of thousands of years that went into making love, before the Christians even existed to break away from Judaism and invent original sin.
One legend has a third century Valentine defying the pre-Christian Roman Emperor Cladius Gothicus, who had decided that single men not tied to wives and children made better soldiers, so he banned all young men from marrying. This Valentine continued to perform secret marriages for young couples, until discovered and put to death for his trouble. Another legend has Valentine in jail on Valentine’s Eve, the night before his execution on Valentine’s Day, and he has fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter. So he writes her a note which says, from your Valentine.
In actual fact —that is in new creation myth fact— because her dad was the jailor, he managed to allow them some precious moments together on the last night of Valentine’s life. But the jailer could not actually let her–we’ll call her Gabriella–into the cell itself. As a Christian Valentine was troubled, because he and Gabriella were not married, and to be conjoined otherwise would be a sin. They had previously made out on some of Gabriella’s visits, so they made out again, but it was no good. Heaven was not as tempting for Valentine as Gabriella was and she was ovulating, and all the demons of hell could not keep them apart. They did it through the fortuitously spaced bars and as Valentine endured the slow death of crucifixion the next day in his babbling madness he spoke not so much of the glory of God as the joy of love.
It says here he was beheaded!
Details schmeetails! The point is a romantic poet who was watching, was inspired to write poems to his own secret love, assuming a fictional persona of Valentine to avoid discovery, and years later someone found the trove of poems and published them popularizing the association between Valentine and love. Or, even better we hear Regina softly cooing from the next cell as she overhears their plight. (editor’s note: get past the pre-amble to the song itself to get the ambience of the jail cell on that fateful night) Regina who is in there for blaspheming is best friends with the Gabriella so it’s all cool. And so it is Regina who sings of love and that is how the word got out. Meanwhile nine months later Gabriella had the love child, a girl whom she called Regina Valentina, after her two best friends.
You mean her two dead friends. Is that the best you can do?
NO! I can see it now: Love Conquers All…Except When it Doesn’t. That’s just the working title…and Regina Valentina is the hero of the piece.
Oh Yeh? So what’s the moral of the story?
Well it’s…it’s a testament to our hunter-gatherer heritage. As well as being born to procreate we are also born to be romantic, in the sense of being twisted by every evolutionarily turn, to love. And the two things sometimes are in contradiction with each other, but I mean before we had St Paul and St Augustine, and before we had self-help books, and all that zen crap that about “if you just love yourself enough, everything will come to you.”
Except when it doesn’t?
Exactly! Because sometimes it won’t! So the moral is: in our human condition, no matter how hard you try, you cannot kiss yourself on the lips.
Well think about it. Valentine’s gone but Gabriella’s copulins and her cranial nerve zero are still doing their thing. We really are born to love. It is like Regina says on the Begin To Hope album: we do it all again …
Do think it’s too corny if I suggest we meet at Veselka’s?