Thursday, November 27, 2008

Does He Or Doesn't He?: Frank Sinatra: "(Love Is) The Tender Trap"

Here is the second song that defines what love is – and instead of the windswept romanticism of The Four Aces, we have the more worldly-wise Sinatra to sing the definition. It is a cheery, squawky and practically winking song about you-know-what – one minute you see her eyes and hear her sighs, the next you are cuddling underneath a tree and then it’s the shoes-and-rice routine before you even know it. What is love? Love is a trap – a tender one, to be sure, but a trap nevertheless. Of course, only someone who is wary of falling in love would call it a trap in the first place, and the movie where this song originates (The Tender Trap) is about a guy who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em falling for a girl who will not stand for any of his nonsense; a girl who doesn’t automatically fall at his feet, wanting to do his cleaning or cooking just to be near him. Maybe he is willing to be seduced by ‘growing up’ or is tired of playing the field (he being Sinatra of course, and the girl being Debbie Reynolds)…but in the movie, this is a song he sings to Reynolds. Ponder that for a moment. A man sings a song about how love leads to marriage and how love is a trap – boom there it is, so to speak – either as a way of defending himself against what is happening, or protesting what he thinks may happen (it would help, I know, if I saw the movie). (It's kind of like a man singing "Absolute" in '85 - or any other New Pop standard addressing the nature of love.)

At no point in the song does Sinatra sound anything more than ready for love but also knowing; without having to say so, he has seen what love can do (his best friend in the movie, David Wayne, is married, has kids and lives in Indianapolis and is therefore ‘normal’ – perhaps his friend convinces him that being settled down is worth sacrificing his freedom). Celeste Holm is the fourth major character in the movie, an ex of Sinatra’s who is thirty-three and feels she must marry now or never; Sinatra proposes to her, but whether she accepts or not remains a mystery (if anyone knows, the comments box is open). The not-so-subtle message: men can marry when they want, women have to get married when they can. (I will note that the young woman at Cambridge who is there studying on a Fulbright is now twenty-three, is determined to find a husband while in England and considers herself on the verge of being a old maid if she doesn’t.) It is all well and good to know about the trap that is love, but there is volunteering to step into it, disappearing in a dot on the map, and longing to be trapped with no one available. (Hello, foreshadowing…)

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