Southern Sounds

Love is a many splendored thing with its share of consequences. When feelings of respect are in no way connected with feelings of desire, the consequences can leave one holding the bag, with its collection of doubts, remorse, what-ifs, and abandonment in times of real trouble.

(Photo by Jared Kelly)

Neil Young presents the troubled lives of two lovers in his 1995 song, “Act of Love.” One of many brilliant selections from the Mirror Ball album he recorded with Pearl Jam, “Act of Love” sheds light on tender and decisive moments in a relationship.  The tenderness unites the couple in the most engaging way. Their act of love, however, is anything but the dawning of a romance with vows and lifelong commitments. Instead, it’s the beginning of the end.

Tenderness, declarations, romance and great satisfaction. Life seems bright and filled with promise. Then a new life, the result of an act of love, is in the foreseeable future. The father-to-be can do without the distraction. The mother-to-be is left to her own devises. The promise she clinged to has fallen apart.

Neil Young’s “Act of Love” enables the listener to imagine two lives uniting, yet also absorb the gloom of a sour aftermath. It’s a powerfully suasive story.

The fruit of love was in the future

Around the corner and over the hill

The act of love was slowly pounding

Slowly pounding

Slowly pounding

. . . .

The holy war was slowly building

Heroes leaving for the great crusade

Seek reward in the ever after

Ever after

Ever after

. . . .

Don’t wanna have to lose you baby

Don’t wanna have to take you back

You know I’ll never lose you baby

Abuse you baby

Use you baby

. . . .

You know I’ll always help you baby

But I just can’t do that

I know I said I’d help you baby

Here’s my wallet

Call me sometime

So it all comes down to a few c-notes. That’ll take care of things, the guy thinks. Sensitivity and the value one should place on the feelings of others are out the window. She may not be a Natalie Wood, but he’s certainly no Steve McQueen with bells and banjos, as in the 1963 film, Love With The Proper Stranger. The Wood character, Angie, becomes pregnant with the child of the McQueen character, Rocky, a Manhattan musician. Angie seeks out Rocky, having not seen him since their one-night stand, needing his help with the cost of an abortion. It’s seven years before the procedure is legal in New York, so Rocky is not only asked to help with the expense but with finding someone to perform the abortion. Arrangements are made but when taking in the sleazy atmosphere of where Angie would undergo the procedure, Rocky shows real character, refusing to let her go through with it. He has hardly struck Angie as a  romantic but here he’s made obvious his concern for her. Rocky decides to share in another sort of risk with her which calls for owning up, and most importantly, placing value on Angie and the child she’s carrying. Such feelings of responsibility and love are missing from the father-to-be in “Act of Love.” He’ll get rid of her troubles with his money. What else could she want?

(Photo by Creative Commons)

Neil Young performed “Act of Love” with Pearl Jam at a Voters for Choice benefit concert in ’95 before recording it for Mirror Ball. There is, which should be expected from Young, some irony and perspective at work in this song. In an interview with Nick Kent in Mojo,Young says “See, personally, I’m  pro-choice,”but the song isn’t!” He elaborated more honestly than many politicians, saying, “This isn’t an easy subject to confront head-on. People who say that human beings shouldn’t have the right to dismiss a human life — they have a point. You can’t dismiss that point. But then there’s the reality. There’s idealism and reality, the two have got to come together yet there are always major problems when they do.”

“Act of Love” is among the best of Neil Young’s many straight-ahead rockers. The musicians in Pearl Jam, particularly drummer Jack Irons, push Young and he pushes right back. It’s an exhilarating performance, so much that  some listeners are simply swept up by the power in the music, paying little attention to the song’s lyrical content. Since the song rocks with such raw power, that’s understandable, far more understandable than, let’s say, politicians who campaign to further victimize those with plights similar to the woman in “Act of Love.” Just look to the state of Georgia, where one lawmaker, State Representative Bobby Franklin, is going far beyond the usual anti-abortion proposals. He shows as much respect for women as the father-to-be does in “Act of Love,” who believes handing the wallet to his lover should solve everything.

More To The Picture Than Meets The Eye . . .  According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Bill Torpy, Franklin, a Republican who represents the northeast corner of Cobb County, works hard at winning the approval of his conservative with a capital “C” constituents. Last month Torpy wrote that Franklin introduced the first 21 bills of the 2011 session. The lawmaker covered his bases, proposing legislation that allows guns in churches as well as doing away with drivers licenses and requiring Georgia to pay all its debts in silver and gold. While Franklin may have stayed up nights pondering his notions, he is far from being the only state legislator to propose loony laws. For more than a century, many Georgians have made it through the winter months finding amusement in the farcical pronouncements coming out of the state capitol. But Bobby Franklin is one for the books. If his constituents truly studied his proposals, they might wonder why he considers many of them, that is, the women, to be regarded with suspicion by the state.

One might speculate Franklin has declared hostilities against the women of Georgia as two of the bills he’s introduced in the current legislative session make it appear that, potentially, all mothers, daughters and sisters are liars and/or felons. The mildest of the two bills calls for changing the rape law to replace the word “victim” with “accuser,” not exactly a simple matter of semantics.

But Franklin staggers belief with House Bill 1, his annual anti-abortion legislation which this year includes a provision demanding each miscarriage in Georgia be investigated as to its cause. Perhaps Franklin* is confusing the flesh and blood women of today’s Georgia with a fictional Georgia woman, Scarlett O’ Hara, of Gone With The Wind fame.

(Photo by Creative Commons)

In Chapter 56, Part Five of Gone With The Wind, there’s an incident which may have occurred to Franklin. Things had been tough for Atlanta’s most infamous couple, Scarlett O’Hara and her oft-absent husband Rhett Butler. Away from Scarlett for three months, Rhett returns to Atlanta, obviously forgetting what happened with him and Scarlett the night before he left her. However, Scarlett remembered and she knew, in Margaret Mitchell’s words: a child was coming from those moments of high rapture.

Scarlett shares the news with Rhett. When he asked who the happy father was, she replied that he knew it was his. Scarlett’s mood got ugly. Again from the book: “And I don’t want it anymore than you do. No – no woman would want the children of a cad like you. I wish – oh God, it was anybody’s baby but yours.”

That outburst couldn’t have done much for Rhett’s ego; he was hurt by what Scarlett said, but he was adept at getting in the last word: “Cheer up,” he said, turning from her and starting up the stairs,”maybe you’ll have a miscarriage.”

Scarlett’s anger flared. She aimed to strike Rhett, but he threw up his arm to stop her. Scarlett then lost her balance and tumbled all the way down the stairs. She lost the baby, a baby, according to the book, that she wanted more than any of the three children she had already given birth to.

Perhaps Representative Franklin would prefer not to connect Scarlett O’ Hara as inspiration for his miscarriage provision. He could’ve been-like the young men at the Twelve Oaks barbeque- so in awe of her beauty that he couldn’t fathom her not wanting to carry a child to full term. That’s despite Scarlett plotting early in her first pregnancy with Rhett to seek an abortion.**

(Photo by photo by carbonated on Flickr)

However, Franklin could refer to the 1949 film, Beyond The Forest. A bored and vindictive Bette Davis is desperate to leave her small town Wisconsin doctor (Joseph Cotten) to marry  Chicago industrialist Neil Lattimer, who will give her “everything deluxe.” But the Davis character, Rosa Moline, is pregnant with her husband’s child, hardly the thing to make her appealing to a handsome man with money to burn. So one day, she jumps out of the car her husband is driving and throws herself down a hill. Her plan worked in that she lost the baby, yet backfires as she develops an infection and dies while against all odds trying to board a train to Chicago, where her industrialist friend, may or may not awaited her arrival.

The evil portrayed by the great actress Bette Davis is palpable and can be lightly thought of as what could inspire such legislation as Representative Franklin’s. But that misses the point of the representative’s shameful ploy. People like him pander in the most disgusting ways to elements claiming to be pro-life, all the while promoting a sense of anti-humanity. It brings to mind Neil Young’s comments on the clash of idealism and reality.

Franklin’s pandering is most tragically insulting to the women who suffer miscarriages. Has he no shame? His pro-life legislation veers way off course when considering the pain and heartbreak the miscarriages bring to the mothers-to-be and their families. The child-on-the-way is very real to them. Excitement in the families grow as clothing is picked out, and nurseries are prepared. Lives change in anticipation. Babies are on the way. But miscarriages occur often, as much as in a quarter of all pregnancies. So how does Representative Franklin plan on investigating so many miscarriages in such a largely populated state as Georgia? Even with all the funding cuts in vital government services, could Franklin convince his fellow solons to establish an agency to enforce his new law? Imagine a woman, distraught over losing her baby, finding an officer at the door, telling her, “We’re sorry about your miscarriage, Ma’am, but get your coat, we gotta ask you a few questions downtown.”

In the second verse of “Act of Love,” Young sings that “The holy war was slowly building” with “Heroes leaving for the great crusade.” Many of the crusaders he alludes to sincerely mourn the estimated 46 million abortions performed in the United States since the Roe v. Wade decision was made in 1973. Naturally, much of the opposition to abortion comes from those who profess the Christian faith. Abortion strikes the most thoughtful of them as a reflection of the nation’s decay and immorality. Painting each picture with the same brush, some regard many of the women who have pregnancies terminated as being harlots who only wish to maintain a fast lifestyle. Others are less judgmental, centering their thoughts on the unborn, not wishing to castigate those who’ve had abortions.

In History We Painted Pictures Grim . . . The holy war and the great crusades over abortion gained great monentum in 1980 with Ronald Reagan’s election to the Presidency. His backing by pro-life groups was solid, and even though he wasn’t much of a church-going fellow, he was the favorite of politically conservative Christians. With his Hawks & Doves album, released less than a week before Reagan’s victory, Neil Young offers thoughts both general and specific regarding the nation’s current mood. Some of the observations are very much like comments from the-man-in-the-street disillusioned with the country’s direction.  The mood of the nation is observed most directly on the album’s last two songs, “Comin’ Apart At Every Nail,” and “Hawks & Doves.”  Breakdown and polarization are central themes in “Comin’ Apart At Every Nail” when high unemployment and quizzical brass at the Pentagon are cited. Young offers hope and resignation as he  sings, “Oh this country sure looks good to me, but these fences are comin’ apart at every nail.” On the title track, determination to stand strong with America is voiced with a simple and rousing chorus.

Ready to go, willin’ to stay and pay

U.S.A., U.S.A.

So my sweet love can dance another free day

U.S.A., U.S.A.

Six days before the election, while the pollsters still gave Jimmy Carter an even shot of holding back Reagan, the new songs by Neil Young, especially the two jaunty country-style songs closing Hawks & Doves portended the shifts and changes America would experience. And the emerging polarization has since gotten uglier. In fact, many liberals now remember Ronald Reagan as a most affable opponent. Painting with a broad brush, they likely overlook that with Reagan’s last opportunity to make a Supreme Court appointment in ’87, he had to settle for Anthony Kennedy, after his first choice, Robert Bork, a critic of the Roe v.Wade decision, was rejected by the Senate.*** Kennedy has turned out to be more of a swing Justice on the Supreme Court than conservatives prefer, while Bork, if appointed, would have relished helping to overturn Roe v. Wade. It would have been a sure thing. Take a look at who else has been on the court. Do the numbers. Think of what might have happened. Neil Young’s characters in “Act of Love” could’ve faced the same quandary as did Angie and Rocky in Love With The Proper Stranger. So, when a guy says that politics don’t effect him, it’s obvious he’s not thinking matters through. Also,when people complain of a Neil Young injecting politics into his songs (and he’s done so, but unlike others, admirably and not predictably), they should think again, especially if they care about what’s been happening around them. In a recording career approaching half a century, Neil Young has covered a lot of history in a lot of great music. Given that it’s a time when people have the likes of Bobby Franklin in political office, thoughts from Neil Young appear well-worthy of consideration.

*Franklin was found dead in his home on July 26, 2011. He died of a heart attack.

**In the book, not the film.

***Reagan’s second nominee to that vacant seat on the Supreme Court, Douglas Ginsburg, seemed less controversial and more mellow than Bork. Perhaps too mellow, as he withdrew his name from consideration after it was revealed he had smoked marijuana as a college student in the ’60s and also while an Assistant Professor at Harvard in the ’70s.

 

 

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Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes' Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.