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November 22, 2017

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O Captain! My Captain!

My high-school haircut is in mourning today: The Captain and Tennille have called it quits. This one definitely came out of left field, and while the last time I thought of them was when President Ronald Reagan was still in office, it’s hit me pretty hard. Why, you might wonder, am I grieving over the breakup of a couple I never met and that was capable of producing “Muskrat Love”? It’s complicated.

At the most simplistic level, I hate change. Those who think that evolution is what keeps us alive (beyond the literal, Darwinian sense) are cheerleaders for renewal and have very little attachment to the past. Memories to them are quaint ephemera, pleasant but nonessential. The future is what counts, in all of its unpredictable promise. But those of us who cling to the past are less enamored of seismic movement and don’t embrace change for the mere sake of it. Of course, some change is good (the Civil Rights Act, the 49th and 50th states, self-grip hair curlers), but the concept itself does not necessarily raise us to a higher plane.

But this doesn’t really account for my sense of sadness at the news that Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam are headed for divorce court. Maybe it’s something only a child of the mid to late ’70s can understand, someone who grew up at a time when everything was colored in glitter and elevated on platform shoes and orchestrated to the “thump-thump” beat of a disco hit. Personally, I had little use for Donna Summer and Studio 54 and all the really bad music that formed the soundtrack of my high-school dances (which, who am I kidding, I only decorated for and never actually attended).

When the Captain and Tennille burst onto the scene in 1975 with “Love Will Keep Us Together,” I was thrilled. This was my kind of music: kind of hokey, with a throwback beat and written by Neil Sedaka, a man who actually understood the mechanics of lyric + melody = magic. It wasn’t a song that existed as background music for your “Saturday Night Fever” (which was, in 1975, just a slight cold). And the best part about it, aside from the really cool hairdo that Toni Tennille sported, was the fact that the two people singing about staying together really were together. The year they came out with the song, Daryl Dragon and his lady got hitched, and it looked as if they’d stay that way forever.

None of us believed it, of course. Through all the appearances on “Bandstand” and on tour and in their television specials, we were just waiting for the second clog to drop. In that age of zipless whatevers (thank you, Erica Jong) and in the midst of the escalation of a sexual revolution started by the boomers (who looked ridiculous stomping down to “Disco Inferno,” because anyone older than 30 looks really bad twirling around in polyester), here were two nice people who actually had musical talent and loved each other. It couldn’t last.

But, impossibly, and against all of the show-business odds, it did. For 39 years, the Captain and Tennille sat at that piano and made beautiful music together. OK, perhaps beautiful isn’t an apt description for “Do That to Me One More Time,” which is the type of song that makes you wish you were the product of asexual reproduction when you hear it while driving in the car with your father. Still, it was sung by a woman who quite obviously adored the man who was accompanying her, and that counted for something substantial.

I was so enamored of this couple that I copied Toni Tennille’s haircut, unadvisedly as it turns out. While the modified Dutch Boy do, with bangs that were more impenetrable than the Berlin Wall, was actually flattering on the songbird, it didn’t make a chubby 15-year-old with Coke-bottle glasses look particularly appetizing. Still, it helped me camouflage the damage of a Lilt perm, and for that I was infinitely grateful.

So, to hear that this iconic couple of my adolescence has fallen victim to the scourge of separation makes me incredibly sad. Even though I know that many marriages end in divorce, and that second and third marriages are now a de rigueur part of the social portfolio of average Americans, I nonetheless cling to that quaint notion that some unions can withstand the erosion of time, grief and apathy. A man and a woman who make it through four full decades of cohabitation, ones that seemed from the outside like a kinship and twinship of souls, give you hope that some things survive.

And some things don’t.

I divorced my haircut long ago but always had affection for the lady who inspired it and the sphinx by her side. If only love could have kept them together.

Christine Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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