What is the Colour of Love, Love?

So I thought I’d write to the ether about one of my favourite things in the world—not only discovering new art, which I like aplenty, but making links between artists across time. When artists reference each other and wait for you to notice, and have the patience of saints and will literally wait decades for you to catch up. Cases in point:

 

What Colour is Love?

Disco Pigs vs. Terry Callier

“Disco Pigs” is an Irish play by Enda Walsh made in to a fairly decent film, which is actually up in full (albeit in pieces) on YouTube. It is a story about two decidedly lower working class kids born at almost the same moment, who live next door to one another, and who go on to call themselves “Pig” and “Runt.” They share a distinct and secreted experience and, like twins, have developed their own vocabulary. As they grow and change, their connection becomes more complicated. The girl, “Runt,” is deemed to have more potential and is sent away to focus on a more rigourous education. That doesn’t mean, however, they can live without each other.

There are some absurdist elements, but they’re metaphorical—such as the two holding hands every night through matching hollowed out holes in their bedroom walls. On one of these occasions,

Runt asks: What is the colour of love, Pig?

He says: What sort of love, love?

Runt: Dunno. But you know the way, things, they got a colour? I wonder what the colour of love is…

Pig: Jesus, Runt, you could read a t’ousand thick books and never know the answer to that quiz.

Runt: It would be a good one to know though, hey?

Pig: It’d be brilliant, Runt. It’s here, somewhere…

 

I’ve loved that film for years now, but never knew this song, “What Colour is Love,” by Terry Callier. What a song! It turns out, I’m learning, that Terry Callier abandoned his music career for the most part at one point, went back to school for a degree in sociology, and took a job at the University of Chicago. Cool! He died in 2012, but just a few years prior, Verve re-released his records, and just bless them for it. His melodies are haunting and his tremulous voice sounds, as times, uncannily like Nina Simone. He inhabited the world I might be least comfortable with—folk—with it’s pre-emo navel gazing and cult-Daddy business, all sunburned and burned out (i.e., “The Source Family“). But some things are worth saving. This is one of them:

So  many simple but resonant lines:

If love doesn’t last
Does it live in the past?
And a heart cannot live
If a heart isn’t giving

When it’s over, does it show
Does it leave an afterglow

I’ve thought a lot about that very thing. That somehow after something bad happens, there’s some kind of biomarker on you, that you’ve been flagged. Or that there isn’t any proof when you wish there would be, so someone, anyone, would reach out, someone who might have gone through the same thing.

But anyway. Do you think there’s a relationship here? Because I do!

 

For Coloured Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow’s Enuf by Ntozake Shange (book)  vs. I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love is Blue by The Dells (song)

 

I chose the book “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow’s Enuf” as part of a bookclub because, when I had a bookstore, people would always come in and ask for this ALL the time, and I’d been meaning to read it for years. It is a play but called a “choreopoem”—an invention by the author meaning a combination of dance and poetry. Produced for the first time in 1975, it has the hallmark of all good art: it is both of its time (ie., dated), and timeless (ie., transcendent). It is still being performed worldwide, and was made into a star-studded, sub-par feature film I’m going to implore you not to watch.

The choreopoem tells the story of seven distinct but nameless women: Lady in Red, Lady in Blue, Lady in Purple, Lady in Yellow, Lady in Brown, Lady in Green, and Lady in Orange. In turns, they recount their experiences growing up impoverished, marginalized, and at-risk. They are abused and neglected. But they are strong. Ultimately, it is about valuing self and sisterhood—two things I’m still trying to understand.

 

 

In the text, the choreopoem is anchored by the tonal landscape of an almost constant soundtrack. For my bookclub, I made a playlist of the specific songs mentioned in the book. The music feels perhaps even more dated than than the themes of the play. “Dancing in the Street” was mentioned early on, for example. That song is so co-opted, I can’t see it having ever been anything other than a jingle about, oh, people laughing their asses off about their white white teeth while fire hyrants break open and douse them in another tier of freshness you don’t have until you buy that particular brand of toothpaste. Or that heartless David Bowie & Mick Jagger cover of the song, mullets and all, filmed in <3 (no, not a heart) hours in a scheduled tear-down, likely for free.

But the band The Dells were promising, with their song, “Stay in My Corner.” This was riveting  for a few reasons. The first have to do with song structure The accelerating chord progression after the verse’s opening line is unexpected, as is the call and answer. The song is 7 minutes long!! In 1972, that was revolutionary! It builds like a live performance, and not one moment feels overly drawn. This song is often called an original “slow jam,”but it seems to have an undertow.

Like many of The Dells songs that have a veneer of wholesomeness—5 dudes in matching suits, harmonizing, barbershop style—I find the boxing metaphor kind of menacing. Or at the least chauvanistic. Or at least tragic. You get the sense the fix is in on this guy, and that he might be bringing the woman down with him. The whole song is basically about coercing someone into continuing to hang on, because he “needs” her, as he says 5k times. Most—but not all—of the men in the choreopoem are just as capricious, needy, petulant, stubborn.  And something could be said about the interstellar gap between boxing and dancing.

 

 

That leads me to The Dells’ dual-titled song “I Can Sing a Rainbow / Love is Blue,” which is not in the play but seems as much an influence. The song opens with the possibly inspid lines (and continues along these lines):

“Red and Yellow and Pink and Green Purple and
Orange and Blue
I can sing a rainbow
(I can sing a rainbow)
I can sing a rainbow, too”

 

While this song is not mentioned in the play, it seems linked in a slant way, in terms of the hybrid name each has and the prismatically splitting nature of our experiences. It’s as if Shange is saying I can be as expansive as any man. Apollo Heights say the colour of love is blue. Like a healing bruise. I refuse to believe it.