Guys and Dolls and God After Darwin

Recently I discovered the old news that a songwriter hero of mine had divorced from his wife of 24 years. At concerts, in song lyrics, she had always felt present, even when not physically there or mentioned by name. I had read dozens of interviews with him, and even had a few conversations with the two of them when my nonprofit day job included working with them at a summer music festival. News of their divorce left me feeling duped. I had been hopeful and naïve enough to see them as forever joined.

The aforementioned songwriter hero remarried a woman who also plays music and tours and performs with him. With this bit of observational data, my brain kicked into gear producing a theory about what makes love last, especially for artsy singer/songwriter types like my aspiring self. That brain, desperate to protect my own marriage, noted that just like Songwriter Hero 1, the longish first marriage of another songwriter I admire ended in divorce and sequelled with marriage to a woman who now sings and performs with him.

This led me to posit that love, at least for musicians, works best when the lovers share their life’s work. I thought of Robin and Linda Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller, and young but oh-so-fitted lovers Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose.

There it was – my comfort that all would be well for me and my marriage, because my husband Nathan and I make music together, and have been doing so quite happily ever since we met fourteen years ago. I shared the bracing news about my newly-composed theory of happy musician lovers with Nathan, who listened patiently to my list of loving couples and then said simply, “Sonny and Cher.”

Oh yeah, I said, crestfallen, and Sam Phillips and T-Bone Burnett. Oh, and Gene Eugene and Ricki Michele.

There are many more happy musician lovers and many more sadly parted ones who could be added to these lists, but just these were enough to get me off my work towards a grand unified theory of marriage for musicians. As an interesting aside, I learned only recently that Tom Petty was married for 22 years to his high school sweetheart, who he married just before he hit the road and got famous. Who would have believed an international rock star could last so long with one woman? I suppose we could discuss Bono too.

But let’s not. Instead, I’m going to rehash another post of mine. Labels, when it comes to human beings, are mostly unhelpful. No one I have mentioned deserves to be stuffed wholesale into the niche of classification called “musician” or “artist” or even “happily married” or “divorced.” These are descriptors, words we use to talk about what someone does or what has happened in their life or how we perceive things to be going for them at the moment. I don’t want to flatten people under labels.

I also emphatically do not want to flatten anyone, including myself, under the past. The book Nathan and I are currently reading together, God After Darwin by John Haught, is throwing its light all over my thoughts these days, including these thoughts about love and splits. Haught speaks of a metaphysics of the future. The future, he says, is always arriving, always presenting itself. This, he says, is the fundamental spirit of religion – that rather than calling anyone back to a “perfect past” (the mythic but poetically instructive Garden of Eden) God instead is drawing humanity towards a wide-open future.

Long after the adrenaline rush of first love faded in my marriage, the future keeps arriving, every moment. True, someone called Julia has been married to someone called Nathan for twelve years now, but confidentially, new people keep showing up in the house, and they don’t spend much time pining for the old ones.


  1. …and almost Linford and Karin.

    It’s old news, yes. But years old as it is, it’s still hard to hear ‘Nothing Like a Train’.

    Hope you and Nathan are well. We’re working on a date to visit Sarah, Micah, and the kids; would love to see you fine folks as well.

    Faith evolves…and it will continue to until further notice.

    We’ll let you know when that changes.

  2. Oh Julia. Less than half an hour ago I was puttering through my kitchen making lunch for myself, mulling over the way I’ve been trying to label myself lately and also how I’m resisting it. I remembered that old post of yours. Now that I mention it, it came to mind for the first time this morning as I was making my bed with thoughts circling around feminism and abortion.

    It seems like too much coincidence to read this now. And I know it’s probably starting to sound cliche when I say, “Me too.” But, well…I can only tell the truth. (This might help to explain some of it: 😉

    One thing I’ve noticed lately is how much I struggle now with even what I considered desirable or positive labels from my past. Tags like “smart” and “pretty” are hard to live up to. And I see how I’ve been labeling my own children, especially my daughter. I’m trying to change.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I’m even more glad that you “got a little bloggy.”

    • Thanks for that link, Jodi. I liked the last line – “In science, you move closer to the truth by seeking evidence to the contrary. Perhaps the same method should inform your opinions as well.”

      But maybe I just liked it because it confirmed my current mode of asking questions 🙂

  3. Sorry to comment on such an old post, I realized recently that I did not keep tract of your blog, so I am now catching up. Thank you for all you write, it has been helpful to me.

    Regarding labels, an email this morning made it clear that I had flattened someone with a label, and it was actually hard to let her out from under that. Reading your post now helped me realize what I had been doing. It wasn’t that she was different from my label, just a reminder that a whole lot more was there also.

    I’m not prone to forcing labels on people, yet sometimes it just so hard not to… 🙂 I’m usually pleased to see the label come off, even when it proves me wrong.

    • Hi James! You are always welcome to comment on any post – something I dislike about the immediacy of blogging is that the “old posts” are quickly “old” and forgotten – so it’s great to keep some conversation going if readers think an older post merits it.

      Now, sorry for my late reply to your comment! I think you make a helpful clarification – that “labels” are not always wrong, just usually (I daresay “always”) incomplete in identifying a person – or maybe even in identifying anything, as it seems the more one studies or relates to anything, the more complexities open up.

      • I agree, it seems impossible to actually get to the “bottom” of anything. There is always another layer, another wrinkle, or another way of looking at it. Sometimes that’s refreshing, and sometimes that sucks.

  4. Oh boy, James! Your comment so reminds me of the book I recently read, “The Myth of Certainty” by Daniel Taylor. He says that reflective people can get stuck reflecting all the time, never willing to take the risk and commit to a point of view. What you said is so true – there is always MORE to any idea, person, etc., etc. The challenge is to commit to a point of view and yet hold it loosely, always interested to hear other perspectives, willing to rethink a position.

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