Love in song

Island musicians open up about the connection between romance and music.

Vineyard songwriter and vocalist Annie Cook. Courtesy Annie Cook.

Love is power, music is its melody, and together, they’ll send chills up your spine. I reached out to four Island musicians performing in Saturday’s “True Romance” concert at Pathways Arts in Chilmark. Some of the Vineyard’s most breathtaking voices will entertain in an evening of torch songs and love ballads starting at 7 pm, with doors opening at 6:30 pm. Featured vocalists will be event curator and performer Annie Cook, alongside Jodie Treloar Simpson, Sean McMahon, Siren Mayhew, and more. They opened up to The Times about love and music, and what makes it all click.

As an Island musician, what is your favorite love song?


Annie: “Sign Your Name” by Terence Trent D’Arby. My favorite lyric is, “Sign your name across my heart.”


Jodie: “La Vie en Rose,” in either its original form by Edith Piaf, or the English version by Louis Armstrong. It’s so romantic. But honestly, anything sung in French evokes such a romance. It could be a song about power tools … if it had a beautiful melody and was sung in French, I’d probably love it. There’s also a song, “Love More,” by Sharon Van Etten. It’s very simple, but incredibly powerful.


Sean: “Love” by John Lennon. The entire song is so short, sweet, and simple.


Siren: Right now, “Do You Love Me,” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started contemplating the practical side of long-term relationships. In my teens and early 20s, I admit to being somewhat impulsive when it came to love and lust, and I’ll own up to the fact that I didn’t always act in the kindest or most respectful ways toward my partners. I made classic mistakes and hurt people in ways I wish I hadn’t. Now that I’m older and have had time to reflect on my mistakes with past partnerships, I find comfort in the idea of practical love — a partnership based on support and companionship, wherein which slow-burning love and shared goals are the glue that hold you together.


What is the most romantic-sounding instrument, and why?

Annie: Spanish classical guitar. Listen to this and you’ll understand why.

Jodie: Really, any stringed instrument — violin, cello, etc. They can add such a nice touch of melancholy to a song, and I think that’s part of the appeal for me. There is so much aching associated with love, and their sound really captures that for me.

Sean: A hushed, lush human voice. ’Nuff said.

Definitely the cello. To me, string instruments are the most expressive, and I’m partial to low-frequency instruments. Low frequencies resonate with me most strongly.


What was your wedding song? And if you’re not married, what would your wedding song be?

Annie: If I ever got married again, I’d pay Siren Mayhew a million bucks (or something like that) to sing “At Last” by Etta James and “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna.


Jodie: “Thirteen” by Big Stars was our wedding song. I was crying the whole time we danced.


Sean: I’d like “Clair de Lune” for a wedding tune.


Siren: I’d probably have to go with either “Clair de Lune” or the version of “Benedictus” played by 2Cellos.


Have you ever written a love song for someone?

Annie: Ha. Yes. Love songs, lust songs, and of course the best kind of love song, which is the exquisite disaster. There are two from my 2013 album — “Love Noir” and “Liked U,” both about the same impossible love situation. I performed “Liked U” with my band the Devolvers, and the musicians have gotten a real feel for it. It’s got a certain sly humor. I made a music video for “Love Noir,” shot in D.C. in June 2013. We don’t play it as often because we need a keys player to do it justice. It’s a dark, melodramatic song that I call my James Bond theme song if the Broccolis ever called.

Yes, actually I wrote a love song for two friends of mine who got engaged. I wanted to get them a present, but as a recent graduate, I was pretty broke, so I decided that I’d write them something instead. They loved it. I played it for them and all of our friends, and everyone was crying. I’m actually in the process of recording it, and it will be part of my second EP. That song was actually the first love-related song that I’ve written that wasn’t about heartbreak or disappointment in some way. Come to think of it, I typically write about heartbreak. Writing from that perspective is easier to do than creating a positive, upbeat love song. Do heartbreak songs count as love songs?

I’ve written all sorts. Odes, sentimental retrospectives, romantic comedies, romantic tragedies, and seduction songs. The latter type has recently proven either powerfully prophetic, extremely effective, or both. One in particular went over especially well, I think, whose title and refrain is, “Hello, My Future Girlfriend.”


What do love and music mean to you? Where do they connect?

Annie: They are keys to joy for me, and music soothes and helps transcend the pain of love. It’s a critical art form that saves my soul on a regular basis.


Jodie: The lines between the two are completely blurred … it’s hard to separate them for me. Music can connect me to a love, and vice versa. They really do complement each other perfectly.

I’m a mystic. God is love. And the origin of all things seen and unseen is sound, the “Word.” That’s music. We wouldn’t have the varied states of matter without the vibrations that array them into their dance. Those vibrations are what us humans have for centuries called the “music of the spheres,” and what hippies call “vibes,” and what millennial hipsters have started calling “feels.”

The entire creation is dancing for joy, and the song at the heart of this quickening is Divine Love (some of a less anthropomorphic persuasion would substitute “The Law of Attraction”). On a very metaphysical level, love and music are connected. If that’s just a flight of fancy, then my heart has this to say, the heart is always yearning to love and be loved, and this is what makes us sing, and dance, and that is the source of all of our songs. And in turn, our love songs mold our expectations of love, increase our desire for it, and heighten our shared experience of it once we’ve found it.

Love is 100 different things. Love is every fleeting moment that passes between two people who claim to be in it. Not excluding love between a parent and a child, love between relatives, love between friends, all flavors of love. Love is everything and its opposite.

Love is a presence. An entity that exists as the magnetizing force that holds people together and keeps them coming back. It is a force that is unflinchingly present at all times. Love can be present during hardship, love can be present during grief, love can be present during family disputes, love can even be present during episodes of rage. Love can be present even when happiness, ease, contentment, and prosperity are not.
I wrote this poem just for this article. I didn’t plan on it, I don’t even write poetry, it just started to flow as I was forming my answer to this question. It seems to sum up everything I’ve learned about love thus far in my life.

Love is ugly, Love is beautiful,

Love is anguish, Love is joy.

Love is faithful and deceitful,

Love creates and Love destroys.

Love is found and Love is lost,

Love is ecstasy and pain,

Love is messy, Love is simple,

both exciting and mundane.

Love is tainted, Love is pure,

Love is fleeting, Love endures.

Love is open, Love is hidden,

Love is earned and freely given.

Love is sanctified on high and Love is unjustly forbidden.

Love is bitter, Love is sweet,

Love is fraught and Love is fair.

Love is noble, Love is humble.

Love is everywhere.

Love is tough and Love is tender, Love is thick and Love is thin.

Love is the fabric of existence.

Love is Every. Single. Thing.