NEOMIRRORIn 1982, a film called Best Friends, starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn was released into theaters. If you don’t remember the film, don’t worry, a lot of people didn’t go to see it, but the theme song from the movie became one of the most beloved classic American duets of all time.

Performed by James Ingram and Patti Austin, “How Do You Keep The Music Playing” was released as a single in 1983- my sophomore year of high school. It quickly rose to number 5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts and was nominated for an Oscar despite the movie’s overall lack of success.

Almost immediately the song was covered by numerous artists, including legends such as Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Shirley Bassey, Johnny Mathis, Aretha Franklin, and Barbara Streisand.  Other contemporaries like George Benson, Céline Dion, and Brian McKnight would later embrace the song as well.

There are very few modern songs that grab the attention of heavy weights like that who have lived and sung through the Golden Age of romantic song writing; and yet there was something about this song that was, and is, nothing less than timeless.

I remember first hearing the song on the radio.  There wasn’t a whole lot my young life knew about love. All I know is that the song immediately gripped me and the words have had a hold on my life ever since. Here they are:

How do you keep the music playing?

How do you make it last?

How do you keep the song from fading too fast?

How do you lose yourself to someone?

And never lose your way?

How do you not run out of new things to say?

And since you know we’re always changing,

how can it be the same?

And tell me how year after year

You’re sure your heart will fall apart

each time you hear his name?

I know the way I feel for you it’s now or never

The more I love, the more that I’m afraid

That in your eyes I may not see forever, forever

If we can be the best of lovers,

yet be the best of friends

If we can try with every day to make it better as it grows

With any luck then I suppose the music never ends

In a few days, I turn 45.  I have been fortunate to have the music of love serenade my life quite a few times. And each time it has come and gone I have reflected upon this song. “How do you lose yourself to someone and never lose your way?”  It has always been important to me to be me. In the struggle between the things we do for the love of another and what must remain to be true to you, ultimately, I always have, and, likely, always will choose to be true to myself.

I could never lose myself completely to someone or truly respect that someone would want to lose themself to me. There is a burden to the responsibility of love that I never quite felt comfortable bearing. I would gladly give my life for another but to hold another life in my hands has always seemed to be a power that no man should ever yield over another. And yet, people do so willingly all the time. My greatest battles in relationships have been against those traditions.

“And since you know we’re always changing, how can it be the same?”   I cannot say that any relationship I have been in the past was truly prepared for what and how I would evolve to look at things today.  I could not be who I am today and still be with my first wife. I am a world apart from the naive theological Bible thumper I once was- and happily so.

The relationships in between my first and second marriage were more secular, but also leaned more traditional than the role I would ever be comfortable as a man in a relationship today.

My second marriage is the most beloved of any relationship I have been in although it is the one that produced the most heartache.  Because it was never intended to become what it became. It challenged my humanity and spirituality in ways from which I still continue to learn.

The crucible of the chaos and madness of that relationship only served to solidify my beliefs and who I am.  I learned that it isn’t that we are always changing, but that we are ever finding the courage to peel back the layers to finally be who we truly are. And that can often be a messy and heartbreaking process which is why so many choose to hide behind those layers rather than live the fullness of who they are and risk losing someone.

In the end you are never sure whether your heart will fall apart each time you hear their name. Sometimes it does in a good way; sometimes in a bad way. It depends on how it all went down. For me, on any given day, it is 50/50.

And yet life moves on. You find new love and, more certain of whom you are, you want the certainty of that love as well. When the song speaks:

I know the way I feel for you it’s now or never

The more I love, the more that I’m afraid

That in your eyes I may not see forever, forever

It reflects the doubt that the failures of past loves can place within your spirit. Although we can reason why some things were for the best, ultimately, be it our own fault or that of another, or a combination of both, the spirit never likes to lose at love. Once it finally becomes sure of itself, it seeks that certainty from others.

The problem is that others are not always where you are, despite their love for you. And you end up viewing what you perceive as their doubt as a lack of love. You may well be Mr. or Ms. Right Now but there was also a time when you weren’t. Fear of them not being in your life forever makes you pressure the other person and fear of losing you forever makes them give in before they are ready. Eventually this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

But the song then leaves us with a hopeful bit of advice:

If we can be the best of lovers,

Yet be the best of friends

If we can try with every day to make it better as it grows

With any luck then I suppose the music never ends

What I find most amazing about the end of the song is how simple the answer really is yet how complex it seemed to me when I first heard it.  But then, what does a young man know about being a lover? What does a young man really know about being a friend? It is truly about making a commitment to try every day to make it better as it grows.

These are the lines that Sinatra, and Streisand, and Mathis wanted to sing. This was a new song with an old soul- written like it’s been here before. It has reverberated and echoed in and out of every love I have ever known in my life for nearly 30 years until, finally, I understand the fullness of what it means to me.

That I can see forever without losing myself or my way.  That you can only achieve the best by trying and that by doing so, the music never really ends. The songs of my heart are a never ending symphony of the loves that have shared it.

Knowing what I know now, the best years of my life are in front of me. The beats, measures, and bass lines are finally set. What remains to be written are the melody and harmony and someone who dances to the same beat. The thing about life is sometimes the person who joins you on stage, the last time you saw them, they couldn’t even sing.