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The Sounds Of Love

MR PORTER asked a cross-section of New Yorkers to open up about the artists (from Messers Sam Smith to Bob Dylan) who provided the soundtracks to their great romances

Everyone has experienced that unforgettable sight-and-sound moment, when a life-affirming, lust-inducing beauty walked into view accompanied by a soundtrack that burned itself into your memory. It might have been at a school dance, when a pair of hip-huggers slinked into view as Mr Robert Plant wailed in the background, “You need coolin’, baby, I ain’t foolin’”. Or when a glance across a beach bar in the Caribbean yielded a dark-haired, long-limbed vision as Mr Bob Marley’s distant vocals echoed out, “I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love”.

We tuck these moments away in our emotional wine cellar where they mellow and mature over time. The music that provided the soundtrack might not even have been about love, but gradually it takes on its colour and flavour. Like a long-forgotten scent, it becomes a deeply evocative thing.

Everybody has different experiences of love, so the soundtrack to each of our romantic lives should, in theory, be as unique to us as a fingerprint. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we decided to investigate this a little further. We travelled to New York to meet a few people and ask them what music – specifically, which record – springs to mind when they think about love.

Mr Adam Kallen and Ms Jaycee Gossett

Mr Kallen, 42, and Ms Gossett, 37, met on a blustery October day in 2012 at a Juice Press on the Lower East Side. He’s a California-born entrepreneur and co-founder of the Brooklyn bike-lover’s Mecca, Jane Motorcycles; she’s a New Jersey-born dance and yoga instructor, TV host and wellness expert. They have just become engaged. The record that’s provided the backing track to their relationship thus far is the joyous, good-vibes-for-days, Marley-esque All People by Michael Franti & Spearhead.

So, aside from a shared interest in green juice, what else do you two have in common?

Jaycee: “We’re both very active, both like to take care of our bodies. We like working out together.”

Adam: “I’ll be honest, I like to indulge in unhealthy eating sometimes. Jaycee is a little more regimented in her health…”

And yet he’s the one from California?

J: “Ha ha! Oh, I’m definitely more of a hippy than Adam is.”

You must be the one who introduced Michael Franti to the relationship, then? (Mr Franti is known for very rarely wearing shoes.)

J: “That was me! I took him to see them in concert…”

A: “I’ve gotta admit, I was not overexcited to go.”

J: “He wasn’t a happy camper.”

A: “I knew, like, one song. It was kind of a reggae song. I was like, whatever I’ll go! But seeing them live is a completely different experience. It’s hard to explain. There’s this incredible energy, this vibration.”

J: “There’s a beautiful message behind his music, and it’s very aligned with the way we view life – and the life we’d like to live, together and individually. His music is like a love song to everybody.”

It’s nice, because a lot of love songs come from a darker place.

A: “This is not a break-up album. He wrote it when he was falling in love with his girlfriend.”

J: “In fact, they’ve only just gotten engaged in the last couple of weeks.”

As have you – congratulations. Do you know what your first dance is going to be?

J: “Oh, we haven’t planned anything yet.”

A: “Michael Franti has to be in there somewhere, though, right?!”

Mr Harry McNally

Mr McNally, 30, is a native New Yorker and a bit of a modern-day renaissance man. He spent his early twenties designing a streetwear brand called PegLeg NYC, and now works as an artist, photographer and freelance fashion designer. He’s also in a band called That Work, which he describes as a cross between LCD Soundsystem and Hall & Oates, and he harbours ambitions to work in film scoring one day. He chose Lauryn Hill’s seminal 1998 record, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

What does The Miseducation... mean to you?

“It came out just before I got into high school, around about the time of my ‘romantic awakening’. I’d play it the whole way through and lie in bed daydreaming about the girls that I had crushes on.”

Love is a theme that runs through the record.

“Yeah… and it had great skits, too. There’s that one about a teacher asking a classroom of kids what they know about love. The whole album is an exploration of what love is, often from the perspective of people who are only just beginning to understand it, so naturally it spoke to me.”

Young love is a unique thing.

“Yeah… it all seems so crazy, looking back on it. It’s exhilarating and debilitating at the same time. It happened to me when I was in ninth grade, and I was totally infatuated. It sort of pained me at the time because I was aware that we were so young.”

It seems that the music most people find romantic isn’t necessarily a love song, but something that reminds them of a certain time and place.

“Absolutely. I don’t think that it’s necessary for a song to have a certain meaning for it to be romantic; it’s all about the context in which it’s experienced. As a songwriter you can write lyrics that express a certain sentiment, but in the end, music is subjective. The listener interprets what they will.”

What are you listening to right now?

“I’ve been listening to a lot of music without vocals recently. I’ve always liked Philip Glass, and he’s back in my rotation pretty heavily.”

Are you a romantic guy?

“I would consider myself interested in romance. You’d have to ask someone else, I guess!”

Anybody in particular?

“There is someone. It’s still quite early but it’s going well. I think so. I hope so.”

Mr Nick and Ms Megan Solazzo

The Solazzos grew up a few miles apart near Alpine, the last town on the New Jersey Palisades. They first met in 1979, when Nick was 24 and Megan, 19. Mr Solazzo “fell in love with her at first sight”, but the couple weren’t to marry for a further 22 years. The album that they’ve chosen is Aja, the 1977 funk-rock classic by Steely Dan. 

You’ve chosen Aja…

Nick: “…but really, it could have been any number of records. You’ve got to remember that we grew up with the Stones and the Beatles…”

Megan: “I mean, he’s seen Hendrix how many times?”

N: “Twice. Back when I was 13, 14, the Fillmore was just getting started on the Lower East Side. But by the time we got together, it was…”

M: “Studio 54! We were there every night. We used to close the place.”

You guys were real party animals, then?

N: “Hey, nobody’s thinking of getting married in those days. Maybe if we weren’t so wild back then, we would’ve done…”

M: “And it would have been a disaster!”

N: “I remember one time getting invited to her parents’ for lunch. I’m sitting there and her father says to me, ‘I hear you’ve been spending some time with my daughter, I assume you’ll be getting married?’ Big Sicilian guy, very intimidating. Came across as more of a statement than a question, the way he said it. So I look over to her as if to say, ‘you wanna… get married?’ and she looks back at me like, ‘absolutely not!’”

M: “Ha ha!”

N: “Anyway, here we are 36 years later.”

So, getting back to the record: are there any particular tracks?

M: “Oh, there are so many great songs on that record. We just picked that record because… well, because it’s Steely Dan. It was very popular back then. It was of the time.”

N: “Plus, they played at our wedding.”

They did? Really?

N: “A good friend of mine knows a few musicians, and he put a band together. Jon Herington from Steely Dan was on guitar, Crispin Cioe on sax, who’s played with the Stones. We didn’t expect it at all.”

Are you guys romantic?

M: “Oh, yeah. Definitely! Absolutely.”

N: “Well… we don’t have nicknames for each other, or anything like that.”

M: “We’re not corny.”

N: “But we’re best friends, and we’re in love…”

M: “Yeah. There’s not much that we can do about that.”

What’s love?

M: “…it’s a lot of things. But after a certain point, it’s about mutual respect and commitment. It’s about deciding, this is it. And being OK with that. Being content. Not wanting anything more.”

Mr Ian Basilion

Mr Basilion grew up in Long Island. He works as an art director for The New York Times. He is a 28-year-old, single, gay man who describes his romantic history as “a game of musical chairs that I keep losing”. He has nominated Mr Sam Smith’s 2014 hit album, In the Lonely Hour.

What makes this record so special to you?

“Well, I’m the kind of guy who seems to be perpetually single. I have a long track record of unrequited love, and I guess this album speaks about that in a way that I find easy to relate to.”

Do any particular tracks resonate?

“Well. I’m a New Yorker, and in this city it often feels very easy to date, but very hard to have a relationship. People my age aren’t looking for someone to build a life with; they’re looking for someone that fits the life they already have. It can all feel very… ephemeral. Like a succession of moments. The song ‘Stay With Me’ expresses this beautifully. It has this bittersweet quality: it seems to say, ‘this isn’t what I want, but it’s better than being alone’.”

Heartbreak, solitude, unrequited love… don’t you find that In the Lonely Hour walks quite a well-trodden path?

“Maybe. But what makes this album different, to me at least, is that it’s written by an openly gay artist.”

How so?

“Pop music written from a gay point of view classically tends to be all about empowerment and pride. About ‘celebrating being different’. But things have changed in the past few years. The gay community has reached this point of mainstream acceptance. And I feel as if it’s only now that we’re free to listen to and enjoy the kind of ‘mainstream’ love songs that everyone else has been listening to for years.”

Do you fall in love easily?

“I do. And I fall in love with the idea of love, too: with the anticipation of it, with the hope of it and with the knowledge that it’s doomed, because nothing lasts forever.”

That’s a sad thought.

“But sort of beautiful, too. It’s romantic.”

And do you think that you’re a romantic person?

“Of course!”

Mr Adam Fulton and Ms Cyndi Ramirez

Mr Fulton and Ms Ramirez, both 29, met while working together at a bar seven years ago. He was a promoter (“not the sleazy kind”) and she was his bottle waitress (“not the sleazy kind”). They hit it off and started dating, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they decided to take things seriously. They live together in an apartment in the West Village near to The Garret, a cocktail bar owned and run by Mr Fulton. The pair also run a skincare brand, DAILĒ (usedaile.com). When asked to choose a record that sums up their relationship, Mr Fulton selected Mr Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love.

Why did Axis come to mind?

Adam: “It’s a melting pot. There are deeply soulful tracks alongside more playful ones, and there are experimental moments, too – in ‘Castles Made of Sand’ there’s a guitar riff that was recorded and then played backwards. It’s just a hugely diverse record, and I feel that it reflects the varied nature of our relationship.”

Cyndi: “We’re partners in life and in business; we have fun, but there’s a serious side to our relationship, too.”

What took you guys so long to get together?

C: “I think that we were both a little too young. We both felt that there was something there, something more than just 23-year-old lust… but we just weren’t ready to commit.”

A: “We had a lot of growing up to do. I certainly did. But at some point, we decided to get back together and give it a go.”

Do you remember the date?

A: “It was 1 November 2010.”

What happened on 1 November 2010?

A: “What happened the night before is perhaps a better question.”

Hallowe’en, right?

A: “Right. For some reason we hadn’t been speaking, but we started texting again on Hallowe’en night. I was dressed as Garth from Wayne’s World, and you were… Axl Rose?”

C: “No, I was an eighties aerobics queen. But I was wearing a bandanna.”

I can see the confusion.

A: “So we met each other, we made up, got a little tipsy…”

C: “…and drunk love turned into real love.”

Do you think that it is important to have similar tastes in music?

C: “I think it’s important to have a similar level of… cultural curiosity. But I don’t think you need to like the same exact things. That would be kinda boring, actually.”

Is Adam a romantic guy?

C: “He is. I’m not the kind of girl that expects flowers every day; I’ve never been one to have a boyfriend that’s super-gushy in that way.”

A: “I’d like to think that our romance is more of an everyday kind of thing. It’s in the small things, rather than in the grand gestures.”

Mr Max Blagg

Mr Blagg, 65, is a poet and writer. He grew up in Retford, a sleepy market town in the heart of England. As a young boy, he’d slake his wanderlust watching trains whistle by on the Edinburgh to London line. After completing what he describes as “a very undistinguished academic career”, he bought a one-way ticket to New York, where he arrived on 3 October 1971. He has lived there ever since. His chosen album is Highway 61 Revisited by Mr Bob Dylan.

Why is this record significant to you?

“I’d listened to a couple of Dylan’s previous albums, but this was really the first one that I connected with. You have to understand where I’m from: it was the 1960s, and I was listening to it in a small bedroom in a council house in the Midlands. It just carried me away.”

Are there any lyrics that you found particularly potent?

“‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ opens with a line that goes, ‘When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez’. At the time, I didn’t even know where Juarez was, but the music transported me there, to this magical, faraway place.”

Why do you associate this album with love?

“Well, it was a very formative time of my life. I was in love with a girl called Marilyn Hallam. She was an artist. ‘Artist’ wasn’t something that I even thought it was possible to be back then. My dad was a plumber.”

Was she a big influence on you?

“Very. She taught me about books, about poetry. She helped me to realise that there was more to life than North Notts… with the occasional visit to Sheffield, of course. Which is where I first saw The Who, by the way, in a club called King Mojo Club.”

Does it still exist?

“I don’t think so. It was run by a chap by the name of Stringfellow. Went on to be a businessman of some sort in London, I think.”

Stringfellow – as in, Mr Peter Stringfellow?

“Could be. Not sure. Maybe that rings a bell.”

Sounds as if you’ve been away for too long. Anyway, do you suppose that if it wasn’t for Ms Hallam and Highway 61 Revisited you’d still be there?

“I doubt it… I was a young kid in a small town, and I’d always felt that yearning to get away. Who doesn’t? But Marilyn was certainly a catalyst, as was Dylan. Along with Kerouac, O’Hara and the rest.”

What became of Ms Marilyn?

“She left for college while I was still in Retford. We wrote to each other for a while, until, of course, she fell in love with someone else. So, it didn’t end well. Typical teenage romance, I suppose. I was so mad! But she’s still painting, and she’s actually still with the same guy, an artist by the name of Clyde Hopkins. She’s stayed true to herself.”