Hurrying Sitting Still
Hurrying Sitting Still
Alone at Night, Composed and Performed by Michael Franks (1983), Encountered 1984
I have always thought that Michael Franks was the singer-songwriter-laureate of heterosexual male desire. A big claim, considering how competitive the field may appear. Or maybe not so competitive. There are lots of male takes on romance, and some on sheer horniness. And there are lots of caricatures of male erotic prowess, comic during the blues era, clownish and sometimes downright offensive in the time of hiphop. But the real feeling of being a man wanting and (sometimes, not always) getting sex from a woman – a woman regarded neither as an ideal nor as a mere plaything, but as an equal partner in the fun, which I’d like to think is how most straight men experience it, at least on their best days, well, fewer people have written about that. During much of his career, it was Franks’ main subject.
Winsomely and Variously
His greatest achievement, his Sgt. Pepper, if you will, was his 1983 album Passion Fruit, a highly varied set in which fully eight of the ten numbers dealt in one way or another with male desire. He managed to capture it winsomely and variously. Here, for instance, is part of his lyrics to Sunday Morning Here With You:…[U]p on the roof we are living proof Love’s nutritious Such delicious deja vu Sunday morning here with you Your kisses made with orange marmalade Apple blossoms toast and tea I cannot think of any place I’d rather I’d rather be My sleepy friend I always want to spend Sunday morning here with you I cannot think of anything I’d rather I’d rather do Lounging in bed Sunday papers read Windows open First day of spring hear the kettle sing Tea for two Lady in lace sunlight on your face Quite an eyeful Such delightful deja vu Sunday morning here with you
Or you can hear an account of a tryst on a Rainy Night in Tokyo. Or try Tell Me All About It, a charming variation on the “We have ways of making you talk” trope, in which the lover threatens to force declarations of love out of his partner with determined lovemaking.
On My Own
The song that always makes me think of the summer of 1984, however, is Alone at Night. In that number Franks evokes a man who would much rather be with a lover who is sometimes there, but apparently usually not.When I’m alone at night all I do is think about you Especially when I’m blue I just can’t do without I love the way you shiver my timbers I need you here to keep myself limber When I’m alone I contemplate every way I’d like to rendez-vous you I only hope s’il-vous plait you can respondez-vous Your amplifier’s already preset Let’s see of we can rattle the tea set When I’m alone at night Watching those reruns of Dragnet Catching those rays of electrode light Your love pulls at me like a magnet When I’m alone at night.
That was me. Before the marital breakup in which I now found myself, Mary, with whom I longed to “rattle the tea set,” had decamped to points west. Once my departure from my marriage had become definite, communications between us had resumed. Consequently, she was willing and able to visit me once that summer, but otherwise I was on my own. Well, as on my own as the slow onset of single-again dating allowed.
Then Comes Dysphoria
There was no contradiction between my feelings about Mary and my dating. It was all too clear to both of us that I was hardly in a state to settle down. I was raw and beaten up, and had some healing to do in the erotic department. Not to mention that I had a lot of things to work through in therapy before I could be emotionally reliable for anyone.
Not to mention that I had a whole life to reestablish on a different footing.
I wrote in the last piece about the ecstasy that had ensued when I first found myself in the new apartment. It was heady stuff while it lasted, a being-in-love-with-doing-it-my-own-way state in which even wheeling a cart down the supermarket aisles was an experience of happy independence. But that state didn’t last long. The main experience of that summer was much more summed up in Franks’ lyrics, which are a lot more dysphoric.
I spent a lot of time doing various equivalents of “watching those reruns of Dragnet.”
I spent a lot of time coping with the huge number of things a suddenly single part-time father must address.
I spent a lot of time being depressed. (I dropped 20 pounds that summer with no conscious plan of doing so, no diet, no plan of exercise.)
It didn’t help that the summer started with a huge fight with my therapist and my therapy group. They felt that I was committing all sorts of sins: not focusing on my children enough and showing myself too self-absorbed, too focused on sex, too willing to depend emotionally on Mary, too eager to avoid standing on my own two feet. I should be marinating in place for a while, they felt. I understand now exactly why they reacted as they did, though at the time I was just hurt and lost when they talked that way. But they did not persuade me. Time has changed my views about many things, but thirty years later when I look back to that fight, I still think I was right and they were wrong.
There was no denying the power of the feelings with Mary. We were now hundreds of miles apart, but this kind of attraction, if it persisted, a love that (in Michael Franks’ words) “pulled at me like a magnet,” could surely bring us back together and bond us for life. I felt that everything healthy in me was caught up in that pull. And if the reason I couldn’t simply surrender to it right away was that I needed to give other women a fair try and confirm that this wasn’t all a stupid rebound, then I should get down to that, because I didn’t want to wait until I was old to rebuild my life.
Call me a man in a hurry.
My therapeutic community disliked that hurry. But maybe I should have been forgiven my haste, considering the detours my life had already taken.
Anyway, the cumulative effect of the buzz wearing off, much loneliness, much busyness, and the group coming down on me was that I spent much of that summer in bemused solitude.
Alone at night indeed.
Things You Do When You’re Not Doing Much
And yet it was an incredibly rich time. You find a married couple who take you in, who listen to you, give you wonderful advice from their own experiences of divorce in their previous marriages. You find out that single people have their own entertainments and preoccupations, and you get to take part. You learn all about budgeting. You polish up on your negotiation skills as the shared stuff a marriage accumulates is divided up. You polish up on your parenting skills too. You learn how to iron. Your personality slowly changes, as certain behaviors adopted because they chimed so well with someone else’s behaviors have lost their raisons d’être, and maybe their appeal as well. You like to think you’re a nicer person because of it. You encounter people who are lost-er than you, women too fragile to make passes at, and you let your conscience be your guide. You have really bad sex with someone else whose mind is on someone else. You learn hesitatingly how to deal with the jealousy you feel when your faraway inamorata does her own dating, because fair is fair. You discover that there have to be these little silences on this subject between yourself and the woman you love. You go back to your hometown and debrief with your oldest friends. You try making peace with your mother over the things that turn up in therapy.
Alone at night, processing a million new things. In a way, just a way, it’s perfect. It wouldn’t do for a whole lifetime, but for the time being, alone is exactly what you need to be.
 My personal favorite song evoking horniness is Steve Forbert’s Don’t Talk to Me (1995).
 Not my own phrase; from Richard Rodgers’ lyrics (sung by Diahann Carroll) to Loads of Love in No Strings (1962) (“So far I’m not a wife so/ I organize my life so/ No one annoys me, no one enjoys me/ Unless we’re equal partners in the fun.”). The contemporary popular covers of the song (check both the Shirley Horn and Peggy Lee covers from the same year) omitted this passage, no doubt because in that era the idea of a woman aspiring to be “equal partners in the fun” – when the fun was explicitly premarital and almost explicitly sexual – was too risqué to articulate away from the cosmopolitan world of Broadway. And the song seems not to be covered anymore. So even the lyrics websites leave out the passage. So far as I know, you have to go back to the 1962 original cast album to hear it sung.