As with many things along this wedding planning journey, choosing a song for our first dance has been more fraught than I had anticipated. We don't have "a song." Jason's a musician and worked in the music industry, so we have an entire relationship soundtrack. We have a pile of ticket stubs and mix CDs and memories of countless nights spent discussing music and pop culture music history. We have nights spent belting out classics over Jason's guitar. We have countless picnics and music festivals that have inspired spontaneous dancing, of both the goofy and romantic sort. But we don't have a single definitional or singularly emotional song. We also probably can't have amplified music for our ceremony, meaning our first dance song could be the only song of the evening to represent us, our relationship, and our shared musical tastes all while providing the soundtrack to one of the (supposedly) most romantic moments of our wedding.
That's a whole lot of pressure for one little song and for two to four long minutes on the dance floor.
I'm not sure any song can live up to those expectations or needs. And, once I add in Jason and my differing expectations and needs from that song, I'm pretty sure the first dance song pressure collapses in upon itself, leaving nothing but a knot of confused fear and hope.
Music is so integral to how Jason experiences life. For him, he sees the first song and that first dance as an incredibly personal moment and a way to step into the music - just us together- to experience a romantic moment apart from the insanity of the wedding day. He thinks fondly about friends' first dances and how they've leaned into each other, whispering something private while sharing in this personal song and moment. For him, this first dance is intensely romantic, and the song we choose should reflect that. It should reflect our tastes, yes, but it should also fit the feeling of that romance and mood.
As for me, I don't see anything romantic about a dance during which 150 pairs of eyes are, kindly but intensely, examining the way we hold each other, the way we dance, and the meaning behind that dang first song. When I think of this song I get nervous, not inspired. I get the feeling that we'll have a much more romantic dancing moment during the last dance, when we're sharing the dance floor with other couples and everyone's a bit too tipsy and tired to train their focus on us and our potentially nervously clumsy feet. Since I can't believe in the romance of the moment, it's therefore important to me that we choose a song that represents something honest about us and how we see love. I don't want anything that hints at soulmate-type BS because marriage and reality is harder than that, but I don't want a song that's depressing either. I want something that recognizes that this relationship takes work but makes both of us better somehow. All while fitting within a musical framework we can dance to. And hopefully not written by an artist who makes me shudder.
We actually had a song we'd both agreed on, for a while. But, when I started to think about What It All Meant and how nervous I was, my convictions fell apart. Again, we don't have "a song," but we have bands and concerts that have meant a lot to us. The Death Cab for Cutie concert at the Hollywood Bowl was one of those perfect summer concert evenings. And listening to Jason's vinyl collection while cooking and drinking wine is one of our shared pleasures. During one of those vinyl nights, we were both in just the right mood to properly appreciate and share the Iron and Wine acoustic cover of Such Great Heights by Ben Gibbard's Postal Service collaboration. And, when we read about how Ben Gibbard describes "Such Great Heights" as the first positive love song he ever wrote, inclusive of it's complexities and longings, we both thought to ourselves that we might actually have found "a song."
But then the doubt crept in. It's four minutes long. Although Jason swears we can edit it somehow, that just feels like four terrifying minutes of eyeballs and discomfort to me. Also, I want to hit Kaiser Permanente, UPS, Target, Ask.com and Grey's Anatomy for all using the original Postal Service song in their commercials. Yes, these companies all licensed the song is because it's an obviously great song, but it has cheapened the song for me, even if I love it when artists can actually earn real money for making great music. I justified it though, because the Iron and Wine acoustic version has a completely different feel: instead of drawing you in with a perfectly selected and timed cacophony of upbeat sounds, it pulls you in with the intimacy of the stripped down acoustic beauty and subtle complexity of the lyrics. And then, with further research, I found out the Iron and Wine version became a big deal due to the Garden State movie, and I hate Garden State. Fortunately, I'd lived abroad when the movie came out so the film didn't have a chance to ruin a song I love, but it had a chance to solidify the awful connection for everyone else we know who wasn't living abroad. I'm having a very difficult time getting past what everyone could think about us if they assume we love a song because of Garden State and it's trite attempts at saying something Important about finding yourself and the emptiness of modern 20-something life (or some such crap.)
Somehow, this first dance song became more than a song. It became a way to impart something important about us to our guests while also creating the backdrop for an important moment for us. And I don't want the song to impart UPS or Garden State, but I also don't want to give a damn about what our guests think about song that we both love and which felt right before I started researching and overanalyzing it.
And I think, maybe, we're all overanalyzing this first dance song a little bit. It's become one more wedding detail to obsess over because it feels so weighted with importance but, ultimately, it's a song that can't possibly be all things to both partners. We're both different people who want different things from a first dance song to begin with, and that's okay. There's no way the symbolism will work for us (as a reference to important moments in our relationship, our musical tastes, and with Words that Matter and feel Real yet Romantic) and which will be interpreted with similar symbolism by our guests. And that's okay too. Because ultimately, it's just one dance. One dance of many during that night and throughout our lives. Jason and I didn't have "a song" before the wedding and we may not have one afterwards.
Instead, we're taking a suggestion from Emilia Jane and we're going to dance to a bunch of songs in our living room and see what feels right. We'll choose songs that fit both our needs well enough and then we'll see how it feels to dance to them. Such Great Heights isn't out of the running, but we need to find out how four minutes actually feels. We'll see how we feel, apart from anyone else's expectations or interpretations and we'll find something that works well enough for us. Because in the end, it will just be us and a song. It's not us and Symbolism. It's not Us and our Relationship. It's not a reflection on our Marriage or Wedding. It's a song we can both agree on and hopefully relax into while in the middle of all the mixed up reality of messy wedding day romance and public performance.