Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gary Lewis and the Playboys -- "This Diamond Ring" (1965)

This diamond ring doesn't shine for me anymore
This diamond ring doesn't mean what it did before
So if you've got someone whose love is true
Let it shine for you

Shortly after I interviewed the up-and-coming author/critic/blogger Brienne Walsh for 2 or 3 lines, she announced that she had gotten engaged.

Click here to read part one of that interview.

And click here to read part two.

Brienne is no one's fool, and the timing of her announcement -- just before the 2 or 3 lines interview with her was published -- was clearly no accident.  You can't blame her for wanting to maximize the publicity that she can garner from being featured on 2 or 3 lines.  I just hope she realizes that her life will never be the same after she becomes a cog in the star-making machinery that is my wildly popular blog.

Brienne Walsh, out on the town
Brienne's life is an open book -- or, to be more accurate, an open blog -- but as she has written, there are some things that even a frank, honest, no-holds-barred blogger like her is tempted to hold back from her readers:

I always said that when something happened to me that happens to many other women, I’d be brutally honest about it.  I’d say the things that no one else wanted to say.  I’d talk about the horrifying things that leaked out of me after I gave birth. 
But now that I’m sitting down, deciding what to write about my own engagement, I’m having a difficult time sharing details about it.  Because there is a part of it that’s very personal.  I know that it seems like I share basically every personal detail about my life on the Internet. But there’s also a huge well of myself that exists in a place that I don’t talk about with anyone. 
But Brrienne bravely decided to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about her engagement in her wonderful blog, A Brie Grows in Brooklyn, which is my second-favorite blog in the whole world.

Brienne on a recent
trip to Beijing
And since I'm not a guy who's in the habit of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I'm going to turn her story into a 2 or 3 lines post.  (Don't worry, Brienne -- I'm going to stop milking your blog for free content after this.  At least for a while.)

Let's begin at the beginning:

I guess I’ll start this post by saying what it’s all about — Caleb and I got engaged on Saturday night.  I wish I could say that it was a complete surprise, but I’m two months pregnant, so it was either get married [so I would be covered by Caleb's] health care, or give birth with the help of my sister, a pair of scissors, and a bathtub in a motel room.

I'll admit that I bought it -- hook, line, and sinker -- but it turns out that Brienne was just kidding . . . and if you have a problem with someone kidding about an unwanted pregnancy, you may not be A Brie Grows in Brooklyn material.

I’m 100% kidding about being pregnant — wasn’t that joke so not funny in retrospect? — because Caleb and I got engaged for reasons of love alone. . . . Everyone says that when it’s right, it’s right, and you know, and Caleb and I knew it was right the first time we kissed at an orgy. 

(Sooooooo romantic, n'est-ce pas?  My female readership numbers are going through the roof after word of this post gets around!)

Like a lot of women, Brienne has mixed feelings about marriage.  She wants it to be "something that will complement, rather than define" her life.  Like Virginia Woolf, she wants a room of her own -- not only a room where she can write, but also a room where she could be her own person and live her own life.

But as she admits, there's something about love and romantic proposals and diamond engagement rings that seems to be hard-wired into her psyche.

The very young Brienne Walsh
It would be a complete and total lie to say that I haven’t been thinking about my engagement since I was a little girl.  My sister and I used to practice it all of the time in the attic.  I would wear my Cinderella costume, and she would wear a Peter Pan outfit belonging to my little brother, and I would draw a moustache on her face, and she would propose to me on her knee, and then we’d go to bed in a home we built in the closet. 
I read Brienne's account of what led up to her engagement with great interest in part because I have two daughters, and both of them got engaged this summer.  (I'm pretty sure neither of them is pregnant, although one of them -- I'm not going to say which one -- is getting a little thick around the middle.)

Brienne's story begins with a trip to Savannah, Georgia, last summer, where she saw a ring she liked in a pawn shop.

When I tried it on then, I paraded around the store, holding it up in front of my face.  “I want it,” I told Caleb.  I already knew that we’d get engaged eventually back then, and I thought, “Why not right now in a pawn shop?”  We had just moved in together.
Then I went to the bathroom to give Caleb time to buy it.  A few minutes later, in the car, I asked him when he was going to give me the ring, and he told me that he hadn’t bought it.  At first, I didn’t believe him, so I searched all of his pockets.  When I realized he did not in fact buy the ring, I started bawling.
(By the way, who the hell goes to the bathroom in a pawn shop?  I asked Brienne that question, and she gave me this answer: "I GO TO A BATHROOM IN A PAWN SHOP WHEN I WANT A DIAMOND RING.")

Brienne's fiancé, Caleb, had a friend who lived in Savannah go to the pawn shop this summer to buy the ring and ship it to him.  He held on to it for over a month before popping the question, which he did one Saturday night after taking Brienne to a movie and dinner in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Since Brienne had no idea that he was going to propose at the end of the evening, she was being her usual crazy self that night.  (Scratch that -- Brienne doesn't like it when men call women "crazy," so let's say "usual difficult self" instead.)

The entire car ride over there, I ranted and raved about how much I hate Williamsburg. “Who are these f*cking people?” I screamed at idiotic looking people when they tried to cross the street.  “What are they doing here?!?!”  Then I started with the, “WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD COME TO WILLIAMSBURG ON THE WEEKEND??”

Caleb had planned a fairly elaborate agenda for the evening, but Brienne wasn't entirely cooperative:

Then the movie ended, and Caleb said he wanted to take me to Cafe Colette . . . . Not knowing that Caleb had planned like a whole walking tour of all of the places we had fallen in love in Williamsburg, where he lived when we first started dating, I had worn stiletto heels and an outfit that made me look like a demented teenager at a Beyoncé concert.  “Let’s walk there,” he suggested.

"Caleb, are you kidding me right now?" I asked him.

As the evening progresses, Brienne starts to wonder if Caleb is going to propose:

During dinner, I kept on asking him, “Are you going to propose to me tonight?”

He looked me in the eyes, and said to me, “I’m really sorry, Brie, but I’m not proposing to you tonight.”

Now, the ability to lie straight might seem like a negative quality for someone to have in a relationship.  But being able to fool me so absolutely is something that I actually admire.  Caleb was having fun with it.

"Did you get me a ring yet?" I asked him while we ate. 

"I have one on layaway, but I’m still paying it off," he said.

"Wouldn’t my finger look pretty with a ring on it?" I asked him a few minutes later.

"Stop making me feel bad," he said. 

By the time dinner was done, my pants were feeling a little tight, and I had a fever, and I wanted to go home. “Can we go home?” I said to him.

"No, Breezy, it’s our date night!" he protested.

"Please?" I said.

"Let’s just go to the water for one second," he said. 

"Ugh," I said. "Fine."

Brienne once more asks Caleb if he is going to propose -- and once more he denies it.  (The whole thing is reminiscent of Peter repeatedly denying knowledge of Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.)

On the way to the little beach on Grand Street . . . he pointed out the corner where we first said “I love you.”  We had been dating for, oh, two weeks or so.  But we both knew.  The words had been on my lips for days, begging to come out. . . .

"Remember when you said you loved me there?" he said.

"Are you going to propose now?" I asked.

"NO!" he said. "Seriously, it’s not happening, I’m sorry."

But moments later, Caleb moves in for the kill:

We kissed a few times — we kiss all the time.  “Thank you for the perfect night,” I said.  Because even though I complained a lot, it really was my ideal evening — dinner and a movie with my best friend who also happens to be the love of my life.

Then, all of a sudden, he pulled the pawn shop ring out of his pocket, and slid it onto my finger.

"Will you marry me, Brienne?" he said.

I couldn’t talk for minutes afterwards, because I was hysterically crying.

Brienne appears in about a dozen pictures in this post.  Her engagement ring is featured in most of them -- including this one:

Which brings me to today's featured song . . .

"This Diamond Ring" was written by Al Kooper -- a certified rock music genius -- Bob Brass, and Irwin Levine.  (Years later, Levine wrote "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree.")  The song went to #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100"  in 1965.

Gary Lewis & the Playboys started playing at Disneyland.  When famed producer Snuff Garrett brought them into a recording studio, he didn't allow them to play their instruments -- instead, he used some of the famous "Wrecking Crew" studio musicians who played on so many hit records in the sixties, including drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, and keyboard player Leon Russell.

"This Diamond Ring" is sung by a guy who bought an engagement ring for a girl who later jilted him, and so he's trying to sell it to someone else.

Brienne's pawn-shop diamond ring presumably ended up in a pawn shop because something went seriously wrong between the man who bought the ring and the woman he bought it for.  You could look at the ring as jinxed by that relationship gone bad, I suppose.

But there's another way to look at it.  Brienne and Caleb have rescued the ring from a sort of purgatory.  They've turned the ring's bad karma into good karma.  Instead of being a ring that was purchased by a couple whose love didn't last and is now sentenced to life in a pawn shop, it's now a ring that belongs to a couple that's very much in love.  The ring has been rescued from life in a pawn shop, and allowed to fulfill its purpose -- as a symbol of love between a man and woman.

Brienne wanted that diamond ring and everything that it symbolized.  But at the same time she didn't want it.  Accepting that ring meant she had chosen to follow a particular path -- and once she started down that path, it would be very difficult for her to change her mind and go back to the fork in the road and take a different path:

The moment was so beautiful.  But it was also strange. . . . So many other possibilities just stopped existing.  It’s almost like I could hear a thousand motors die.  My path in life lay before me clearly.  I’ll marry Caleb.  We’ll start a family.  We’ll lead a happy life.

But what about that other girl?  The girl whose identity wasn’t tied up in marriage?  The girl who just wants to make it, so badly it hurts her, as a writer?  The girl who whispered secrets to other people?  The girl who had unfulfilled loves?  Imagined other lives?  The girl whose mother had always said to her, “You can do something extraordinary.”  This is the private part that I can’t share.  It will hurt Caleb. . . .

[T]he decision to me feels very spiritual.  I’m going to take a vow.  I imagine this must be the sort of thing that a priest or a nun wrestles with when they choose to marry God, and remain chaste for their lives.  It’s an incredibly powerful commitment.  It’s an incredibly beautiful one.  I am choosing one possibility over infinite possibilities.  I have to look inward now, and be honest with myself, and come to terms with the choice I have made in my life.

The day after Caleb proposed, Brienne and he went to spend the day with her family:

My father, who is not an overtly emotional man, gave a speech.  “All I ever wanted for my daughters was to meet good, decent men who loved them,” he told Caleb. 

I don't think Brienne's father meant that literally -- that all he ever wanted his daughters to do was to get married.  I think he meant that he didn't care if the men his daughters married had a million bucks in the bank, or had attended Ivy League colleges, or were a particular race or religion -- if they were good, decent men who truly loved his girls, that was plenty for him.

Well said, Mr. Walsh. 

Here's "This Diamond Ring":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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