Popular culture

How I fell in love with Taylor Swift Big Time

If Taylor Swift was sitting next to me on a bus – an unlikely confluence – I wouldn’t know she was a famous singer, an idol for millions of young people (who call themselves Swifties), and especially young women . But I fell in love with her.

Popular culture – which I was never very familiar with, even when I was writing about cinema and theater – gave me a bigger and bigger place over time. The truth is, I’m more familiar with the evolution of technology than I am with the history of pop music, more comfortable with Turner Classic Movies than with this year’s releases.

It comes from a man who was paid by the London Dispatch to follow Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to London when they were filming ‘Cleopatra’ – and doing a whoopie – in 1962.

I might mention that when I met the most famous lovers of the day, they were having lunch in a pub near my house in the leafy district of Dulwich in south London. They were everything you would want from lovers: they glowed, looked at each other, and were so clearly in the grip of enchantment that I didn’t hire a photographer or fulfill my assignment for the newspaper. It was an active dereliction of duty, but they were so convincing.

The romantic poet Lord Byron – who knew a thing or two about adulterous love – described an adulterous couple as “happy in the illicit indulgence of their innocent desires”. Taylor and Burton seemed lost in their affair, then it was adultery – they were both married, although later married twice.

As much as I’ve been aware of rich and famous couples since those days, I’ve considered them to be in bad taste. If you had seen Taylor and Burton in love, you would have dined at the table of the gods: love, fame, wealth and talent rolled into one sublime package.

Enter Taylor Swift. I had gleaned indirectly—as one picks up information on subjects that don’t really interest her—that she had had a string of lovers and that she almost ritually wrote songs about them. Self-indulgent, I thought. So many not-so-good modern singers seem to sing about themselves and their unhappy love lives. Sing what you know, so to speak.

So how come I’m head over heels in love with Swift? I said I didn’t know what she sounded like and I don’t think I would recognize her music – that is until I listened to the lyrics.

I met Swift and fell in love with her on one of those quote-aggregating websites. I tell you that woman is a poet, a remarkable poet of love and its turbulence.

Just take these lines from four different songs:

“Who could ever leave me, darling / But who could stay?”

“You are no longer my homeland/So what am I standing for now?”

“You kept me like a secret/But I kept you like an oath.”

“Cold was the steel of my ax to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send presents to their babies.”

They are so elegant and so true that they are among the great lyrics of the great love songs of musical theater, from the world of Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein and others of the age of gold.

I don’t expect to meet her and I don’t particularly want to. But if I did, I would say, “Keep writing, Taylor. You comfort young hearts and enlighten old ones.