A friend of mine read somewhere that an “intellectual” is someone who loves anything as much as sex. My reflexive response was, “Well, I’m not an intellectual.” Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for signs of intellectualism, in both others and myself. I deduced that there are very few things that could equal sex in their appeal, since those things would have to be physically appealing, socially valued, intellectually enrapturing, and one would have to think about those particular topics multiple times each minute. In fact, it became clear this afternoon that there is but one thing—one glorious, sonic event—that can rival sex, and, in turn, make me an intellectual (whether I want to be one or not): vocal harmony. That’s right—I said it, and three back-up singers said it homophonically. I said it, and it sounds glorious.
(Writer’s note: You know what’s really cool? The word “homophonically,” which means “characterized by the movement of accompanying parts in the same rhythm as the melody,” can be broken up into “homophonic ally,” which is so mind-blowing that I might reconsider whether or not I like Maroon 5.)
(Writer’s note #2: The Justin Timberlake “Futuresex/Loveshow” is airing on HBO on September 3rd. If it’s technologically possible, I’m setting my DVR to record it twice.)
First off, this argument is ridiculous. Vocal harmony is nowhere near as interesting, pleasurable, important, vital, talked-about, or attractive as sex. But what it does have, and what makes it similar to sex, is that it occupies significant real estate in my mind. If the average human male thinks about sex once every seven seconds (that’s the most recent number I heard, although it’s probably more frequent than that), then this human male is singing and harmonizing just as often. There can’t be five seconds that ever go by without me either hearing harmony in my head or actually singing it aloud. I can trace this phenomenon’s lineage back to elementary school, when kids thought I was weird for singing to myself on the lunch line. Those are the same kids who, 15 years later, think I’m weird for having a massive child pornography collection. But I digress.
I never thought that singing to myself was weird; conversely, I thought it was my best option, since nobody else knew which harmonies I was hearing. To this day, the singers I love are the ones who hit the accompanying notes that make the most sense to me. And that’s where sex intersects with harmony: just like professional pornography, professional singing is about presenting your audience with the most sensical course of action. The most popular porn stars and the most popular singers elicit the same reaction: “If I had the physical attributes to [sing/be in porn], this is exactly what I would do.”
Which brings me to the most guilty of all my guilty pleasures—One Man Guy by Rufus Wainwright. Instead of telling you about it, I’ll just copy/paste the chorus:
'Cause I'm a one man guy in the morning
Same in the afternoon
One man guy when the sun goes down
I whistle me a one man tune
One man guy a one man guy
Only kind of guy to be
I'm a one man guy
I'm a one man guy
I'm a one man guy is me
Now, if you read the whole song, you’ll see it’s not about gay relationships. While Wainwright is the one of the more openly gay celebrities, One Man Guy is about self-reliance. It’s the take-power manifesto that Wainwright needed to write, since he’s had a very difficult life. He was raped and almost killed when he was 14, went temporarily blind from crystal meth a few years later, and spent a hellacious period in rehab. However, since he’s so unabashedly gay, and because he trumpets his relationships in interviews and the press, One Man Guy appears to be an ode to homosexual monogamy. Or, at least, that’s what it seemed to me for some time, and that’s why it was a guilty pleasure. The song became, in fact, a guilty obsession: I fucking LOVE One Man Guy. The harmonies on the chorus are brilliant, and the final twirling vortex on the last line (“I’m a one man guy is me”) is precisely what I need to hear.
Before I realized that the song was about self-reliance, I had this revelation: singing One Man Guy actually reinforces my heterosexuality, inasmuch as I can comfortably sample a song about homosexual monogamy and never get past the thought, “Hey, these harmonies in the chorus are great.” It may as well be a song about Kellogg’s cereal or paint thinner. Rufus Wainwright might be a one man guy, but I have a one track mind—and all I think about is vocal harmony.
When I first discovered One Man Guy buried towards the end of 2001’s Poses, I sang the chorus over and over to myself in public places: in libraries and shopping malls, on the streets and in the subways. I realized that, to anyone who doesn’t know the song, I probably sounded like a raving homosexual singing my undying loyalty to my lover. But I just couldn’t help myself. The song rocked my world. I thought about it every seven seconds.
Maybe even more.
Stay on the Seventh, Rufus