I'd like to introduce Ezra, one of my favorite nerds. Ezra is a nice Jewish boy who grew up in New Jersey. A bright boy who happens to be the son of a psychoanalyst and grandson of philosopher Richard McKeon. He got into Columbia, Yay! where he majored in English. Upon graduation, he took a job as a middle school English teacher in Brooklyn. Such a nice guy.
Somewhere along the way, he picked up one of these:
The dude's now the frontman for Vampire Weekend, one of the hottest, hippest bands on the planet. I'm totally obsessed at the moment with the song Oxford Comma. Check it out:
Not bad, right? When I searched on Ezra's name for the first time, Google prompted me with "Ezra Koenig girlfriend." The guy has totally got it made. He'll probably wind up marrying (because nice boys do get married) a Victoria's Secret model.
There is no more valuable prop for seduction than a guitar. Vocals are necessary, but you needn't have a great voice, just a committed, impassioned delivery. I am in no way suggesting that Vampire Weekend is not hugely talented - they are. They draw on many different world music traditions, and their lyrics are insanely clever and catchy. But there's something about a man with a guitar that makes women throw reason out the window (and snap their knees apart).
I know a couple in their early 20s who have been on and off for four years. She's done but he wants another round. Last weekend, after hours of emo talk, at 4 in the morning he picked up his guitar and sang each of the three songs he's written about her over the years. It's worked every time he's tried it before. She didn't give in this time but the pull was mighty strong.
What is it about guitar playing troubadors? I don't think the virtuoso violinist gets any points with women, nor the soulful cellist. Definitely not the opera singer, or even the talented a capella singer, with rare exceptions. Certainly there's a cultural element, but I think it's more than that - something about the pouring out of emotion in song form that cuts straight to the heart (and the vag). The contrast of that confessional medium with what is often a complicated emotional nature is total catnip to women.
In This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin writes that Darwin believed music evolved as a mating strategy, preceding speech as a means of courtship - he equated music with a peacock's tail.
Jimi Hendrix had sex with hundreds of groupies, and in an era preceding birth control, would have fathered many children. Robert Plant had this to say about touring with Led Zeppelin in the 70s:
I was on my way to love. Always. Whatever road I took, the car was heading for one of the greatest sexual adventures I've ever had.
Levitin goes on to observe that even an ugly physical appearance isn't an issue, citing Mick Jagger as his prime example.
Cognitive psychologist Geoffrey Miller suggested that musicianship would have signaled sexual fitness on two fronts:
- Singing and dancing advertised stamina and good health.
- Anyone accomplished at music advertised that the male had enough resources to spend time developing an unnecessary skill.
In contemporary society, wealth and luxury send this message, but the allure of the musician is still powerful. Interest in music peaks during adolescence, and young males are often motivated by the desire to attract young females with their music.
It's also possible that evolution selected creativity as a marker of sexual fitness. Miller and Haselton's research has shown that creativity trumps wealth for human females. Wealth may predict who will make the best caregiver dad, but women give additional weight to males who possesses the best genes for fathering. One study showed that ovulating women prefer the creative but poor artist to the not creative but rich man.
There's also a clear genetic correlation between sociability and musicality. There is some evidence that people who lack genes for inhibition use a larger set of neural structures than others when listening to music. In general, then, we may deduce that highly sociable males are more likely to relate to music, and be inspired to create music. This is another indicator of genetic fitness.
Finally, the fact that musical tones are used frequently in mating by other species lends credence to the theory of music as an evolutionary adaptation. It may be that the male creates music to make a memory - whenever that same sound is heard again, the female will be reminded of that particular male.
Levitin concludes, "As a tool for activation of specific thoughts, music is not as good as language. As a tool for arousing feelings and emotions, music is better than language. The combination of the two - as best exemplified in a love song - is the best courtship display of all."
In contemporary society, the allure of dating a musician includes the real possibility of playing potential muse to a creative genius. I once had a roommate in New York who was dating a famous musician. He wrote a song for an album and called it Celeste, after her. She insisted that he change the name to It's You, which is how it appeared. I told her she was crazy - who wouldn't want to be memorialized in that way? (Perhaps it was the fact that her neighbor was his heroin dealer, and she knew the relationship wouldn't last.)
Allison Schrager, an economist based in New York, recently wrote Where Do Love Songs Come From? for The Economist. In it she explores the "conundrum of the muse," a role she found herself in when an ex-boyfriend TV writer modeled a character on her in a popular sitcom.
"The role of the muse—someone who can inspire something wonderful, moving and ever-lasting—occupies a romantic space in our psyche... More often than not, if someone creates art about you, it’s probably because the relationship itself was difficult and unfulfilling. Legend has it that the song You Give Love a Bad Name was inspired by Jon Bon Jovi’s brief fling with Diane Lane. Bon Jovi ended up marrying and having four children with his high-school sweetheart, but this lasting romance doesn’t seem to have yielded any memorable ditties.
In interviews with several composers and songwriters about the relationships that inspired their music, few said they wrote about happy, long-term relationships while they were in them."
Even when a love song is angry or angsty, it provides real evidence to the world that at least for a time, you captured the attention of this prize specimen. It doesn't matter if he's really no prize. We all want to be Helen of Troy.