A Net in the Night
A Net in the Night
Guitars, by Rupert Holmes (1978), “encountered” 1983
Sometimes fate intervenes. In the midst of my unhappy marriage, on an extremely hot July night, at a party in a friend’s backyard, I sat down next to someone. Unlike my studied seductions of the previous two years, this was unsought and unforseen. In fact I was, uncharacteristically, trying to avoid another woman’s attentions, and parking where the seats on either side of me were already taken so that I could not be followed. It was only polite to talk to the woman beside whom I had plunked myself.
Don’t Stop Talking
But we did not stop talking. It seemed we had enormous subjects in common. A friend who saw the two of at it said we seemed “intent.” But there was so much to talk about with her: books and movies and shared friends.
Of course I was honest; there was no studied avoidance of mention of my wife. (I had come alone on account of the anger between us, which had by then escalated, on this occasion, to fury.) But likewise there was no disguising the rapidly growing interest I felt, an interest it seemed clear was returned.
All I knew was, I did not want to stop talking to her. She drew me in with her sparkling eyes. And heaven knows I only had eyes for her.
As the party began to break up, by rights we should have gone our separate ways, if for no other reason than that she had a tennis date early the next day. But I begged her to stay up late and have a drink with me. And my lucky stars were with me, because after a moment’s consideration, she said yes. We would separately drive to a restaurant in an apartment house near the one in which she lived, also not far from where I lived.
As we walked out together, our host, who knew a good deal about the way I was living my life at this point, followed us out, his worry barely disguised. Apparently there was nothing subtle about what was happening: “Who was that woman leaving with Jack?” someone had inquired in our host’s hearing, as he sprang to follow us. He didn’t want her to get hurt.
But he was too late; the magic was already at work.
One Promise Kept
As we sat in the bar at the restaurant, I was speaking of my family, and she interjected: “It sounds as if your marriage needs work.” Demolition work, I thought.
It was late now, and it didn’t feel as if we had begun to scratch the surface. I invited myself back to her apartment, heedless of how late this would make me coming home. All right, she said, but don’t you make a pass at me. I was beginning to want her very badly, but understood that that was the price of admission, and agreed. (And I knew without even having to reflect that if I made myself untrustworthy at this moment, it might ruin everything.)
We went out into the sweltering night, and over to her sweltering apartment. And the conversation continued. At last, even I had to go. At the door I turned around, and we kissed. And, true to my promise, I walked out, down the apartment stairs, and out the front door.
Halfway down the block, I started almost seeing her face in front of me, thinking how beautiful she was, and how much I’d enjoyed being with her. Still, I got in the car, and even drove back to my house. By now I was thinking, lawyer-like, that my promise was discharged already. If I returned …
But more than that, I just wasn’t through being in her company. I wanted to be near her.
It was only a few blocks. I parked my car quietly in front of the house, and walked back to her apartment. My plan was to ring her doorbell and then – I had no plan beyond that. I was focused on that doorbell. I would press the button and see what happened.
When I got to the apartment doorway, though, my determination began to fail. I knew this was crazy. I was afraid. The middle of the night was just the wrong time to call if I wanted to continue the relationship intelligently, but I felt that if I didn’t act now, I might burst.
There was a moment, maybe a whole minute, of indecision. In theory I could call in the morning, or the next day, or the next week. I could do whatever married men do to push ahead decorously with an affair. But I had a strong feeling that it had to be now, that my whole life was passing through this moment, about to be determined.
My heart pounding with apprehension, I pushed the doorbell button. I heard her voice on the intercom, and said I was back, and could I come in? And she said yes.
There was no song I was listening to at that point which brings it back for me now. A mutual friend who was there at the party later said jokingly that strains of Some Enchanted Evening could be heard. Strangers in the Night would work too for that joke. But in later years I came across the song that now infallibly calls that night to mind for me: Guitars, by Rupert Holmes. To understand why, you first have to hear it, and practically no one has, as it comes from an obscure 1978 album that fetches over $100 now. So click on this link and hear it for free.
I Feel the Pull
If you’ve done that, you can see what I mean. I have to quote the lyrics a little:Taut and tight, there’s a net in the night. The evening is strung with strings. Power lines intertwine with the vines, The telephone wire sings. My pulse is racing. I need to place you in this web of silver cords. My heart is pumping in time to the theme that resounds in the stars; I have to love you tonight while the earth is alive with guitars. Drawn like steel across a drum, My nerves begin to strum like a storm. Drawn to you, I feel the pull Of strings that ring so full and so warm. Highly strung, we’re in love and we’re young; The evening is laced with light. Weave our way through the strange interplay Of bodies that brush the night. My heart is pumping in time to the theme that resounds in the stars.
The vines and the telephone wires and the guitar strings are all one in a dazzling poetic metaphor, all ligatures that simultaneously vibrate in a siderial harmony and draw the lovers together. And that was exactly what it felt like: that the two of us were being drawn to each other by invisible and harmonious forces.
The music too conveys the sense of it, moving from the pulse of a single guitar hitting an E note that is gradually picked up by what sounds like a host of guitars, and weaving an intricate web of harmonies, leading up to a flourish by all the guitars that sounds like a pack of cards being shuffled by a magician with perfect hands. And that is what falling in love feels like: a sight, a glimpse, something simple, that effloresces rapidly into something compound and intricate, and dazzling.
Her name was Mary.
. An amusing if irrelevant story: I’d been trying to avoid the other woman in part she was there as another guy’s date. I much later learned that her actual capacity was as a “beard” to the gay politician she was accompanying, so there was nothing actually bad faith about her showing interest in other people.
. I seem to recall a story that Holmes actually invited a group of the best session guitarists he could find to play this song, but I cannot substantiate it now. The liner notes list only two guitarists (Steve Khan and Elliott Randall), but they are credited as playing “lead electric guitar,” and I’d swear the guitars in the song are acoustic. So the story may be true.
Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn