My husband Dan and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary soon and we have some great memories. Like many other couples I know, 'our song' is part of our history. While each couple seems to choose its song at different times and for different reasons, ours is A Whiter Shade of Pale and I'd like to tell you why.
One night in early 1968 we visited a night club in the giant city of Ibadan in the western part of Nigeria where we were both serving in the Peace Corps. It was a chance to get to a metropolis, get a restaurant-style meal, have a couple of drinks, hear some music and maybe see other volunteers who had headed into town for various reasons. Although I lived and taught biology in Ile-Ife and Dan worked with cocoa farmers in Ilesha, we were only about twenty miles away from each other and he had a small Honda cycle which he would ride to visit me and to take me places. We were friends at first; later we became (surprising us both) enamored of each other and we started to 'date'. I put that word in quotes because there was no such thing as dating traditionally in those circumstances.
The war was going on (Biafra), yet we were allowed to travel within limits. We worked hard, but often struggled for a sense of purpose. We could not resist the urge to enjoy ourselves and momentarily forget about the war and our doubts as to whether we were really making a difference by our work.
That night we chose the Oshumare Club in Ibadan, frequented by Nigerians and ex-pats alike, to have our night out of dining and dancing. We arrived at the club and were soon dancing to some new (in Nigeria) Western music and hearing one song, a great slow-dance tune, being played over and over.
Later in the evening, as we sat at our small table on the porch, Dan produced a pair of Nigerian gold earrings and offered them to me, telling me again that he wanted to marry me and that I'd have to wait if I wanted a diamond since there were none to be had on a Peace Corps volunteer's stipend.
He'd asked me to marry him before, but up until that night I'd always told him that I had so many things to do before I could think about marriage. He was nothing if not gently persistent, and today still speaks of his efforts as 'a real selling job'. But that night for some reason the time and the mood was right ... no, you cynics, I didn't say yes because of the gold, but did I, perhaps, because of the music?
We'd never heard AWSoP before, since we really did not try to keep up with western music (Nigerian music is fabulous) but it was playing that night over and over again and we danced to it each time, later in the evening as a newly-engaged couple.
Over the years many people, including our own grown children, have asked us why it's our song (they like it, though, and my son even had it played at his wedding for us). I think it was the slow musicality of AWSoP, the playing around the melody, the mysterious feeling it evoked rather than the words which made that song right on that night. When I later realized there was a – shall I say? – borrowing from Bach, I liked it even more because I believe that if you're going to borrow, borrow the best. I think we might have listened to the words, but were not too concerned about what they might mean, nor were we ever later on inspired to try to dissect them into phrases or figure out if they had some esoteric meaning for a special 'in' group. We each had our own bigger mystery right before our eyes – one another. Neither one of us is close to solving it yet.
So here's to AWSoP, a great song, and to Dan, an even greater guy!