Sex & Love

Saying “I Jew”: Wedding Music

One of my favorite things about wedding planning: fantasizing about the playlist. I’m borderline tone-deaf and haven’t played an instrument since I quit piano in sixth grade, but like pretty much everyone except Vladimir Nabokov, I’m insanely susceptible to the … Read More

By / February 20, 2008

One of my favorite things about wedding planning: fantasizing about the playlist. I’m borderline tone-deaf and haven’t played an instrument since I quit piano in sixth grade, but like pretty much everyone except Vladimir Nabokov, I’m insanely susceptible to the emotional appeal of music. In this week’s New York Review of Books, Colin McGinn argues that we’re all saps in the face of a good song because music plays a big part in our sexual selection:

Musical ability is like the peacock's tail: a trait that advertises fitness and health, without directly aiding in the serious business of survival—a luxury that only the most vital can afford to possess.

In other words, we’re a musical species because music for us is a form of erotic display. McGinn spells out the implications:

Why, after all, is the love song the most popular form of music in the world? Because love songs are about the very thing that the music instinct is designed for—the selection of mates.

I don’t know how directly this conforms to my own taste in love songs, since for me the pinnacle of romance is famously-celibate Morrissey warbling about being hit by a bus with his lover. (“To die by your side/ Is such a wonderful way to die” – Darwin would be so disgusted.) But if our brains are wired to get all gushy about music, then no wonder wedding music is such a big deal that the Knot has devoted an entire section to it.

Some of the Knot’s ideas are hilariously awful. For one thing, their list of “hipster” wedding songs is straight out of modern rock radio circa 1997: Alanis Morrisette, Sarah McLachlan, Savage Garden. Also, they seem to be strongly in favor of ironic first dances, whereas I tend to believe that if you're dancing to the Monkees' “I’m a Believer" for reasons other than pure sentiment, then you aren’t ready for the lifelong commitment of marriage.

Then again, my own ideas aren’t much better. If I can’t have my celibate death-by-bus gloom-ballad, then my second choice is Ryan Adams’ “New York,” a song my fiancé and I listened to a lot when we first moved in together. But “New York” is best known as the unofficial theme song of 9/11. Romantic! And while I’ve also always been a sucker for Cat Power’s “Sea of Love,” Juno pretty much killed that one forever. My fiancé, meanwhile, seems to think our song is “Punk Rock Girl” by the Philadelphia 80’s band the Dead Milkman, which is adorable until you try to imagine dancing to it — romantically, no less! — in front of all your relatives.

Judaism doesn’t give you many guidelines in picking out wedding music – it’s far less helpful than the Knot in that respect. There’s really only one rule: No “Here Comes the Bride.” The wedding march from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin is verboten because Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer and a sort of unofficial Nazi house band. It happens, by the way, that shortly after the heroine in Lohengrin marries her beloved, he leaves her and she dies of grief, so antisemitism aside, it’s a pretty lousy precedent.

Previously: DIY Weddings