This is another post about music that inspired/helped me write my latest book, and it might contain some spoilers. (I try not to spoil things, but you know…)
This post is going to focus on my character, Jake Coleman, male vulnerability, and how I know I’m late to the party when it comes to discovering Hozier, but what can I say? I’m an old person now, and like the worst of cliches, I don’t often get exposed to new music unless I go searching for it, because my kid is still in the stage of life where his musical exposure comes from me and J (old people), and he hasn’t introduced me to anything new on his own yet.
So I sought new music in November to flesh out Jake’s story. I didn’t have much in my musical knowledge cache to express raw, open male vulnerability in love, which is what I needed for Jake, so I went looking for some. I actually typed ‘songs sung by men about vulnerability in love’ into Google. And I got a whole bunch of Hozier in my results. I know not everyone is a fan of his, but I am. I heard those lyrics and felt like I’d been missing out, not really knowing about him sooner. I had a similar reaction to his work as I’ve had to Bill Withers and Springsteen and Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple and Counting Crows and REM and Pearl Jam and Ben Folds and Sara Bareilles and Ani DiFranco and Stevie Wonder in my musical discovery past. Those lyrics are powerful, for me. And I was really impressed about just how emotionally deep and wide open and unguarded the songs were. I know it’s typecasting, but men, even when they write with naked honesty about vulnerability in love are normally mourning it…lamenting it…’why does she make me so ‘weak?”…’why must I want her so badly?…why can’t I just *break free* of these feelings of connection?’
It struck me just how rare I’d heard a love song written and sung by a man that celebrated an intricate, complicated connection with a woman. I can name dozens about lost love, or celebrating how sweet and easy things are with the woman in their life, or (like I said) grieving the loss of some part of themselves in sacrifice to the woman they claim to love…that she makes him ‘weak.’ The connection makes him weaker. Restrains him. Imprisons him almost.
Hozier’s stuff doesn’t have any hint of that in it. At least not in my interpretation.
He celebrates connection, while recognizing the darkness life serves us all. When I hear his work, particularly this song, I hear that the connection makes him stronger; the connection benefits him; the connection gives him more; the connection is the refuge from the darkness life serves him.
I’m not sure why more men aren’t earnestly celebrating commitment and connection, because marriage DOES benefit them and make them stronger. Married men are happier. Married men live longer. (There are studies out there, so Google them, but I’m not linking the sources here…these music posts already have their share of links). But I had a hard time finding this kind of work before I started paying attention to Hozier.
My guess is that men are still largely socialized to reject vulnerability, particularly in love. But Jake doesn’t. (And Hozier clearly doesn’t either…look at these photos. He even photographs ‘exposed’ and ‘wide open.’)
And men are still largely socialized to be stoic and independent (read; not cooperative, compliant, and connected) particularly in their romantic relationships. Men aren’t supposed to need care…not even really from themselves, but definitely not from someone else and DEFINITELY not from a woman. If they aren’t feeling penned in in a committed relationship…if they aren’t feeling suffocated by a woman’s care and attention…if they are ‘catching feelings’…they are teased and mocked. Still. I see it happen to J. I see it happen to my friends who are men. I hope we’re moving away from it enough that I don’t have to see it happen to my son, but it doesn’t look that way right now, unfortunately.
There’s still this odd societal norm that men (despite its empirically proven benefits) are expected to feel averse to and harangued by commitment to and care from women. There’s still, ‘Take my wife, please,’ energy out there, where men are supposed to not really like and appreciate the women in their lives, at least not around other men, and if they do like and appreciate the women in their lives, they aren’t supposed to show it. Except MAYBE in private time with HER (and that’s a maybe).
There’s still animosity and friction when men work for women in the workplace. To ‘let’ a woman decide…lead…make structure…is somehow weak. And that’s at WORK, where they are financially compensated to accept it. It’s even ‘worse’ if it’s in his private life. The man who is moved by or willingly follows/concedes to/pleases a woman is ‘less than.’ He’s failing. So there aren’t a lot of songs written and sung by men rejoicing in being loved and nurtured and cared for by a woman, or exulting the woman they love. At least not that I could find. But that rejoicing isn’t absent in Hozier’s songs. And not in Jake Coleman’s soul. He is very clearly moved by the women in his romantic life. And I mean…I personally find that attractive in a man. The fearlessness that comes with open desire to please the woman he loves. That’s not weak or less than. Like the women in Jake’s life, I think it’s a sign of strength.
I had lunch with an old friend between Christmas and the new year and we talked about a man from our mutual past who fancied himself a ladies’ man. My friend mentioned that this man has held the belief that he can easily manipulate women to get what he wants from them/to have any woman he wanted since we were kids. He’s never really respected or appreciated women, or how a real connection would benefit him and improve his life. He plays right into all the socialized, stereotyped views men are supposed to have about relationships with women…and he doesn’t have one. He’s never really had one. He’s almost 43 and single and never been married.
I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with a single man who’s never been married, regardless of his age. But I find irony in his ‘confidence’ that he could have any woman he wanted with his current and historical attitudes and behavior, and mocks men who openly love, respect, and want to please their committed partners. Men like Jake Coleman.
I wish more men were brave enough to own their vulnerability in love and value the strength that comes with romantic connection.