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Teach Me Tonight, by Sammy Cahn and Gene De Paul, performed by Al Jarreau (1981), encountered 1983

 Buy it here | See it here | Lyrics here

So, as recounted last time, I had met someone. When she came into my life that hot July night, I was raw with the wounds of my marriage. In my moments with her, passion deadened the pain. But still I clung to some hopes of salvaging the marriage.


It was as if I had simultaneously punched two timers, one on my marriage, one on my new relationship. Time was running out on both, and I was shuttling insanely between them.

S. and I had just entered marriage counseling. Many people who have set out on that road will recognize immediately what I mean by the timer. You have only certain reserves of love and patience, and you have to save the marriage somehow before those reserves run out. (Maybe a better metaphor would be the bomb counting down at the end of a James Bond movie.)[1]

But my affair also began with a short and preset duration; when I met her, the woman was in negotiations to take a job far away, and that was fortunate for me in a sense, because with my baggage her sense of self-preservation would probably have dissuaded her from allowing things to start between us – were there not a definite terminus ad quem. The affair could not extend beyond November 1, the date she was likely to start her duties on her new job.

Of course a condition laid down by the marriage counselor was that I had to be faithful as we went forward. And so I had hardly met my new love before I had to stop meeting her. I went to her and said goodbye – and stuck by that goodbye for the rest of the summer, knowing that her job-clock was ticking away, and seeing her face before me wherever I went.


But all that this self-denial accomplished was underlining for me how miserable and bleak things were at home. Again, I am telling only my own story, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say that I was breaking my resolution and my promises by September; I was suffocating, and I needed the air for a few moments, even if there was only a small supply of it left.

Sweet as they were, those stolen moments (a date at the racquet club, a walk in the park, a drink at a bar above the Harbor)  were all filled with foreboding; whatever we did or didn’t do, November was coming. I think in one mad conversation I begged her both to stay and to allow me to go on with my marriage. (Thank goodness she was too sensible to give that proposition a moment’s consideration.) So nothing would prevent November coming.

I started seeing my own therapist, a nice but useless man.

And the clocks went on ticking down.

The clash between conscience and longing was excruciating. There was an evening, for instance, my family went to the symphony, and the children were angels, and my son fell asleep on my arm, a living reproach to my fantasies of independence. There was the hiding of presents between me and my lover. There was lying. There was talking with my friends, who one and all gave me good reasons to fear a separation. And there was always the anger at home. Meanwhile the wonderful interludes presented me fully-realized illustrations of the alternative to all of this.

Four days before she was to leave, I snuck out from the children’s swimming lesson to have a coffee with her. She observed that I would probably be relieved when she left. And I knew it was true, not because I wasn’t in love with her, but because I was.

No Reserve

On what was to have been our last date, I blew my resolution (bred of counseling and of trying to make up my mind to revive the marriage), failed to keep any reserve, and just declared my love repeatedly. Having done which, I insanely bade her goodbye, went to a lecture (which was my official cover activity for the whole evening), and came home.

The very last day, Halloween, was similar in its mixture of mundaneness and heartbreak. I took advantage of an anomaly in my schedule (I actually did have to leave the car at an uptown repair shop) to pay an unscheduled visit to her on her last day of work at a midtown location. I got off the bus, found her at her office, we stood on the bus stop, embraced, and then I caught the bus the rest of the way downtown.

At 5:00 p.m., when I knew the plane was departing, I was in my office, on the 15th floor, with a western exposure. From where I sat, I could see that sun go down, all orange and lonesome. I knew that she was flying westward into it and out of my life. I was desperate, and could do nothing. Stirring myself, I tried to get a friend to come drinking with me, but he was busy.  So I came home and had dinner with the family, doled out trick-or-treats, washed the dishes, and tried to act as if nothing was wrong. Distracted and trying to be bright and competent. “I don’t know when or how it ends,” I wrote.

As the sun was sliding down the horizon, carrying her away, the song in my cassette player was Teach Me Tonight, in Al Jarreau’s then-recently-released version. I kept replaying it, and it made me feel a little better. Until you think about it, it might seem a strange song, both in subject and treatment, to have addressed what I was feeling then. But not when you think about it.

Read Into The Program

It’s a making-out song (I’ve already limned two of them in these pieces), featuring producer Jay Graydon’s brittle and bright arrangements that had so attracted me when I first heard his work with The Manhattan Transfer. In other words, a song sung by the man who’s got his squeeze within reach, and it’s making him as bright and happy as the shiny surface of the music. It’s even playful, tongue-in-cheek as make-out songs usually are,[2] conceiving of the beloved as a teacher, reading the singer into the love program, as it were:

Did you say, I’ve got a lot to learn
Well don’t think I’m trying not to learn
Since this is the perfect spot to learn
Teach me tonight
Starting with the ABC of it
Getting right down to the XYZ of it
Help me solve the mystery of it
Teach me tonight

For the singer, it’s uncomplicated; he wants something wonderful without reservations and he’s going to get it. Jarreau conveys the feeling beautifully.[3] The uncomplicated part was what got me, I think. Of course I wanted the sex. But more than I knew or recognized, I wanted my life to be straight again, easily explained, simple, honest. And on that Halloween it was anything but. Still, a man could listen and yearn.

And maybe aspire to more.


[1]. I was glad to read of a recent study that found that 75% of the marriages that go into counseling are saved.

[2]. Just think of the ultimate make-out piece, Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus (sung by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin). It may be borderline pornographic, but it is also self-consciously a performance designed to epater le bourgeoisie, and as such, a bit of a put-on. (The lyrics are well-translated here.)

[3]. The song has been recorded by hundreds of artists. Two of my favorite versions are by Frank Sinatra and by Amy Winehouse, though Winehouse, to be fair, seems to be channeling Dinah Washington. But I think Jarreau holds his own.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn

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