Between radio airplay and my own copy of Earth Wind & Fire’s I Am album, I’ve been listening to “After The Love Has Gone”-one of their most successful hits,since I first heard it on one of my parents 45’s growing up. Musically it has a captivating and ascending melody,which is reflected wonderfully in the musicianship of what is widely acknowledged (much to my personal satisfaction) as some of the most talented musicians of their era. First off all,let me make two things clear: this particular song was written by David Foster,Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin-none of whom were members of Earth Wind & Fire. And in all honesty, it’s far from my favorite song or even favorite hit the band ever made. On the other hand it serves a very important function in my own understanding of how even hit music such as this impacts individuals psyche’s in very unexpected ways. This is going to be about two separate stories:one from my own personal history,and another relating to Earth Wind & Fire themselves-and a totally different song they made.
When my parents go married in 1979, they were on a cross country road trip for their honeymoon. One of the many hit songs that were playing on the radio at that particular time-along with Rupert Holmes “Escape (The Pina Colada Song” and Styx’s “Babe” was this Earth Wind & Fire song. And that was the song my father chose as “their song” during that time. On the surface it sounds very romantic. And on a strictly personal level it was. Throughout my childhood I responded to the song in much the same way to the song. Around the age of 16 when I was very musically committed to the 70’s funk era,I picked up a CD copy of EWF’s I Am to replace the cassette tape I’d bought a few years earlier. It contained a lyric sheet inside. When I actually read lyrics such as “something happened along the way/what used to be happy was sad”,”Can love that’s lost be found” and examined them within the context of the song title itself, I suddenly found it inconceivable that two people as committed to each other as my mom and dad had this as their wedding song. It put me into a place where I looked at their possible emotional feelings at the time quite differently.
Some years later I realized I was not the only one. About a decade ago now when I first saw the Earth Wind & Fire DVD documentary Shinning Stars, Phillip Bailey talked about admirers of the band coming up to him and saying that they got married to their song “Reasons”,and how romantic it was. Bailey was privately shocked by this and even mentioned thinking of saying to such people,”Have you listened to the lyrics?”. Again its a similar case. The beautiful orchestration of that song by the late great Charles Stepney,as well as Bailey’s angelic falsetto lead vocal are intensely passionate goes without saying. And musically “Reasons” is one of my favorite hits the band recorded. Still Bailey’s point has much validity as well,and is somewhat comparable to my won experience. Its hard to Bailey to recognize a song whose lyrics state,”all our reasons were a lie”,”all our reasons had no pride” and “I’m in the wrong place to be real” could be the least bit appropriate for a wedding-traditionally part of the beginning of a romance. At least with Philip Bailey himself saying this about “Reasons” led me to my important revelation about “After The Love Has Gone”.
As I’ve probably indicated,most people in the modern age listen to music on a strictly lyrical level. And the more simplistic a manner the lyric is illustrated,the more penetrating it tends to be. Of course generational and intellectual factors play a role in this as well. However finding romantic content in these two Earth Wind & Fire hits points to two things uppermost in my mind. One of them is how individual romance can render certain forms of art highly subjective. The manner in which a song is song and/or played may obscure it’s intended sadness or regret with hope and desire. And that’s probably a wonderful thing. The other factor in this might be generational. The baby boomers and previous silent generation had,without a doubt,an often broader perspective in listening to hit music,or any music for that matter,that they heard. Not always as bound by commercialism as either their own emotions or perhaps a form of generational rebellion. In any sense,if two people can find something joyfully romantic in a song as lyrically mournful and regretful as “After The Love Has Gone”,perhaps the whole concept of lyrical introspection in songs is more flexible than we’d like to think