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Michael Healy

JPII on Different Kinds of Human Needs:  Illustrations from Popular Music

Nov. 28 at 10:47pm

In Love and Responsibility, John Paul II makes some interesting distinctions about human needs and the different levels on which they operate.  He especially makes a point to distinguish between mere desire (based in need alone, i.e. in me) and love as desire (based in a value-responding affirmation of the other, in light of which I recognize my desire or need as centered in this specific person because of their irreplaceable beauty and value).  He says the following in his section on “Love as Desire” under his treatment of “Metaphysical Analysis of Love:”

On the natural level, man and woman need one another to complete their own being.  The sexual urge or sexual desire is an indication of this objective need.  But love as desire is altogether different from just desire by itself in which the other is just used as a means of satisfaction.  A man may, for instance, desire a woman in this way: a human person then becomes a means for the satisfaction of desire, just as a nutriment serves to satisfy hunger.  But this utilitarian attitude does violence to the dignity of the human person and to the whole truth about the human person.  Love-as-desire then is not merely desire.  Love is apprehended as a longing for the person, and not as mere sensual desire…. If desire alone is predominant it can deform love between man and woman and rob them both of it.  Therefore the true lover will strive to see that desire alone does not dominate and overwhelm all else that love comprises.

In other words, it makes a huge difference—and it’s a difference in quality or kind not just in quantity or intensity—whether I say “I need a woman tonight” or “I need my wife tonight.”  In the first example, it really doesn’t matter which one I get, just so my need is satisfied.  This is exactly like saying “I need a Big Mac”—it really doesn’t matter which one of the billions and billions served I end up with (as long as it’s an acceptable specimen).  But when it comes to “I need my wife tonight,” no other woman among all the billions and billions on earth will do.  I have seen and been touched and transformed by her uniqueness.  No one can stand in her place, nor “fill in” in our relationship.

Now, of course, this can be exemplified by contrasting isolated sexual desire with genuine love for a person, as is often done--since that particular contrast is so evident.  However, it is not only on the level of bodily desire but also on the level of the emotions that we can discern—albeit more subtly—a similar distinction.  Emotional needs may be more based just in me and my desires or they may be more based in, and go through, and be dependent on a genuine recognition of the value of the other person. 

In my opinion, we can see something of this difference through popular songs expressing nuances of desire and longing.  See what you think.

For example, first let’s look at “(I’m Just a) Lonely Boy,” written and performed by Paul Anka in 1959.  It was #1 for 5 weeks that summer--and only knocked off the top by Elvis’ “A Big Hunk o’ Love.”  Here are the lyrics:

I'm just a lonely boy, lonely and blue

I'm all alone with nothin' to do

I've got everything you could think of

But all I want is someone to love



Someone, yes, someone to love

Someone to kiss, someone to hold at a moment like this

I'd like to hear somebody say

I'll give you my love each night and day



[Chorus—Repeat verse 1]

Somebody, somebody, somebody, please send her to me

I'll make her happy, just wait and see

I prayed so hard to the heavens above

That I might find someone to love



[Chorus—Repeat verse 1]

 You can hear the song through YouTube [‪Paul Anka - I'm Just A Lonely Boy], and it’s worth it to catch the musical atmosphere surrounding the lyrics—even if you’re not a fan early cloying, sentimental rock!  This song could be retitled “Teenager’s Lament.”  It displays a certain immaturity, an insecurity, a vague unspecified longing, a desire to prove something, a self-centeredness, a desire to be filled. Despite talking about the other, it is more centered on “me.” 

On the other hand, let’s compare the above with a more mature, value-based longing—one centered on the other.  Though this is still a longing, not yet fulfilled, and it has to do with desires and needs, it is not so wide-open-to-anyone but focuses on someone as-yet-unknown--but still imagined as unique and irreplaceable.  Here are the lyrics to “Goodnight My Someone” from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. [YouTube here: ‪Goodnight My Someone-The Music Man]  This Broadway hit musical opened in December, 1957 won 5 Tony Awards and the cast album (released in January, 1958) was #1 for 12 weeks and on the best-seller charts for nearly 5 years.  Movie versions were made for film in 1962 and TV in 2003. The YouTube version above is Kristin Chenoweth in 2003, whom I think does an even better job on this song than Shirley Jones in 1962--though the '62 production in general is superior (especially the song and dance number in the library!). Again, listening to the music conveys more than just the lyrics. When you listen, notice that the melody, now in ballad form, is the same as the grand finale "76 Trombones!"  (No particular relevance, just an interesting fact, like my Billboard Chart info above!  Hope you enjoy!) 

Good night, my someone

Good night, my love

Sleep tight, my someone

Sleep tight, my love

 

Our star is shining its brightest light

For good night, my love, for good night

 

Sweet dreams be yours, dear, if dreams there be

Sweet dreams to carry you close to me

I wish they may and I wish they might

Now good night, my someone, good night



True love can be whispered from heart to heart

When lovers are parted, they say

But I must depend on a wish and a star

As long as my heart doesn't know who you are



Sweet dreams be yours, dear, if dreams there be

Sweet dreams to carry you close to me

I wish they may and I wish they might

Now good night, my someone, good night



Good night, good night

Here we find someone whose dreams do include fulfilling a need, but not in such a vague, self-centered way as Lonely Boy.  The focus is on the other, his uniqueness, his special and irreplaceable relation to the singer—whomever he is and will be.  The singer is more mature and other-centered than Lonely Boy.  Her need goes through the person she hopes is meant for her as a unique call and vocation.  It is a need, but based in a unique value-responding attitude and mutual self-donation that she hopes to share with another, even though still in imagination and anticipation.

“Lonely Boy” seems to me more like an example of desire, while “Goodnight My Someone” seems more an example of love-as-desire.  The difference is discernible even on the level of different kinds of emotional longing.


 

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