Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Generational sentimental journeying . . .

I got an e-mail yesterday afternoon just as I was heading down to Staunton to put finishing logistical touches on WMRA's weekend Carl Kasell Caper. It was from Joe Matazzoni, arts editor at, asking me if I had any thoughts for Monkey See on Love Story, as its author Erich Segal had just died.

Monkey See is NPR's slightly, delightfully snarky pop culture blog. Its mission, according to itself, is ". . . to be both a friend to the geek and a translator for the confused." If you want to take a direct look at Monkey See (which I highly recommend), here's a link.

Erich Segal's career was as varied as careers get. He was a respected Classics professor, screenwriter (Yellow Submarine was in part his work), and also a long-term sufferer from Parkinson's. But Segal is best remembered by my generation for Love Story, a tear-jerking book and movie screenplay that, for a while, a lot of us took quite seriously.

Anyway, I always have thoughts; so when I got back from Staunton, I filed the following.

Remembering Erich Segal, Novelist and Sower of Sorry-Saying Boomer Angst

Erich Segal at Cannes, 1971.
Love Story author Erich Segal at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
By Martha Woodroof
Love means what?
I was 23 in 1970, when Love Story, that gonzo-selling book and movie, hooked my generation with its tagline: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." We (my fellow baby boomers and I, after crying ourselves dry at the movie theater) mistook this line's bathetic puzzlement for astute analysis. To our everlasting embarrassment, we credited author Erich Segal (news of whose death broke today) with deep thinking about relationships.
Now we boomers are a talky generation; late-night conversations about nothing were a staple with us long before Seinfield made nothingness chic. And as I remember it, I personally had many a late-night discussion about the relationship between love and sorry-saying. Most of these ended with us concluding one of three things:
  1. If you loved someone — as in really, really loved them — then you should give them a pass in the apology department.
  2. If someone loved you and you behaved somewhat skunkily, so what? Who me? Say I'm sorry? I don't think so.
  3. If you were the one behaving badly, then the other person (if they really, really loved you) would just know you were sorry. So saying you were sorry was not only less soulful, it was also redundant.
Then we moved on, grew older. And I hadn't thought about any of this for a while, so it wasn't until about five years ago that I had an epiphany: Segal's famous tag line wasn't written to impart wisdom; it was written to sell books and movie tickets. If my generation thought it had to mean something, then that was just another one of our many problems.
So here's to you, Erich Segal. You wrote one hell of a tag line — one that just may have been responsible for a couple of decades' worth of dysfunctional relationships.
Martha Woodroof reports and blogs for member station WMRA.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely wonderful. (C) is my favorite. You are ringing all these bells, Martha, but I've been so out of tune with pop culture I could never have told you where I got some of the crazy credos of my youth.

    Didn't know Segal was a classics prof. Will have to forward the news to my dad . . . .