Sunday, May 11, 2008
A thread that runs throughout the book Girls Like Us (see post below) is that of pregnancy -- furtive, feared, unwanted. (I had the chance to cut through a large swath of the book today, because I have just found out that I am pregnant again myself, and I had to spend the morning in hospital to have some spotting investigated; there is no conclusive diagnosis yet, but if you are inclined that way, I could really use your prayers for the baby and myself right now). The fear of pregnancy is a constant shadow falling across the liberated lives of the "girls" profiled, along with their cohort. The repertoire of the so-called Child Ballads introduced by the female folksingers of the late 50s and earlly 60s (named for the musicologist who collected them, Francis James Child) is, to an astonishing degree, made up of songs about babies born in secret who are dispatched by their mothers (think "Mary Hamilton," sung by Joan Baez, pictured with her sisters on the left in the famous poster above). This was a theme that dovetailed with the lives of the young singers themselves, who, though "liberated," lived in fear of becoming pregnant; a strong social stigma, and certainly a career-ending one, was still attached to out-of-wedlock birth at that time.
Joni's relinquishing of her child seems to have colored her entire life to follow, and she constructed elaborate justifications to explain her act, later telling an interviewer who blindsided her with a question about her daughter (in what seems like stunned incoherence): "People are too possessive about their children, too egocentric with their children, anyway. I reproduced myself . . . but at the time I was penniless. There was no way I could take -- she would have been -- I was not the right person to raise this child . . . I couldn't keep her. It was impossible under the circumstance. I had no money when she was born, none . . . none of the music could have come out . . . I would have been waitressing or something . . . fate did not design this to occur." She also blamed her first husband, Chuck Mitchell, for her signing of the surrender papers; evidently, he did not offer to take care of Joni and her daughter with the conviction that Joni needed in order to bring her child home from foster care.
Then in today's New York Times comes this article, about a new memoir by Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan's erstwhile girlfriend, who appeared with him on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Suze also became pregnant during their time together, and Dylan encouraged her to get an abortion, which was not then legal. This, the article notes drily, "strained their relationship."
I wonder why these sad experiences are not looked at collectively, forty years later, for the irreparable losses that they were. I wonder why these women are not universally sympathized with, and why their men's auras are not tarnished by the callousness they displayed. I wonder why the loss of children is tacitly accepted among many in my own cohort as a modern complication in the lives of modern women, which have become sadder and sadder, I believe. Some of the comments on the last post suggested that abortion, the increase in which is undeniably a logical outcome of the sexual revolution, was somehow not a life-changing tragedy. Why can't we see it for what it is -- in fact, a culture-changing tragedy?
I continue to admire the artists I'm reading about in Girls Like Us, but I find myself aching for the choices they felt they had to make.