Me, You and the Music I’m Putting You Through
–by Sheila Squillante
For three years in my late twenties, after my divorce, I dated a man who almost never said my name. And it wasn’t as if he was simply subbing my given name for a series of affectionate nicknames. I wasn’t “baby,” or “sweetie” or “pookums.” I was simply the recipient of his speech, or a pronomial referent. I was “you” or “she,” or even “hey,” but never Sheila. I’m not sure at what point in our obviously quite doomed relationship I realized it, but once I did, I listened for it constantly. I began to obsess about it, telling my friends, “He never says my name.” It wasn’t his only withholding, but it hurt me in a strange, primal way. More than wanting him to suddenly become publicly affectionate, or to actually book his plane ticket to see me on his own, without my prodding for once, I wanted him to say my name.
I have, it seems, a pretty uncommon name for someone my age. I’ve never been in school with another Sheila, and in my whole life, the only other Sheilas I’ve met (with the exception of just last year, when I heard a mom on the playground call out to her “little Sheila”—which is how my family always referred to me) were either my aunt, after whom I was named, or women of her generation, 20 years older. Sheila is not a classic American name. It was a trend in the 1950s, and only ever reached #62 on those baby name charts would-be parents consult while nesting. I’ve always liked that. I like being a little unusual. I like my name, and it feels good to hear it spoken.
And even better to hear it sung. This man in my life fancied himself a singer. He wasn’t terribly good at it, but it didn’t stop him from writing and performing his songs out at dive bars in Connecticut shoreline towns. I don’t have to tell you that he never sung my name, either.
But others have. Not lovers, but real musicians. People with actual records, promoted and distributed by actual record labels (not shittily recorded cassette tapes with hand-made labels crookedly affixed, sitting in a pile on the bar after the gig, next to a sweating pitcher of Rolling Rock.)
Tommy Roe sang my name.
In 1962, he sang about my “blue eyes and a ponytail,” and about how we went for a ride and he felt funny inside. Was he ill? Had he eaten too much ice cream again? Poor Tommy. I hate tummy aches. I always mixed this song up with the one where the guy sings about the girl in an itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini (Wasn’t she cold? Why didn’t someone hand her a towel?) because maybe both songs were on the radio around my house when I was a kid, and my mom used to sing them both to me. Mom definitely sang my name and said it whenever she could/had to. Moms are good like that, even when they’re mixing your name up with your sister’s. 50-50.
Shaun Cassidy sang my name.
In 1978, he sang my name in “Taxi Dance,” from his album Under Wraps, the cover of which pictured the Tiger Beat heartthrob, pushing his hands against some invisible, flexible barrier between us, trying, obviously and to no avail, to hold me. This was the first time I encountered my name in a song all by myself, when I wasn’t listening for it, and it was shocking. Imagine me, lying on my back on the blue shag rug of my bedroom, headphones like vinyl grapefruits on my ears, when the first line of the song bleats through, “Sheila was a girl, misunderstood….” Yes! I am (eight years old and) misunderstood! Oh, Shaun. You get me.
Ready for the World sang my name.
In 1985, my name was actually kind of part of pop culture for a little while, since I shared it with the musician, Sheila E, who was busy showing Prince (who was actually my boyfriend at the time) what was fabulous what on the drums. And then suddenly there were these guys who sounded so much like a certain sexy purple someone that nobody could believe it wasn’t him singing, “Oh, oh, Sheila. Let me love you ‘till the morning comes….” And though the band claimed the song wasn’t about the drummer, nobody believed that, either.
The Smiths sang my name.
In 1987, the most important Sheila song ever uttered was penned by the band’s vocalist, Morrissey, whose lyrics, quoted inside of a Match.com profile, would lead me, fifteen years later, to the man I would marry and make babies with. But that’s not the only reason it gets top billing. Listen to those lyrics, Sheilas:
Is it wrong to want to live on your own?
No, it’s not wrong – but I must know
How can someone so young
Sing words so sad?
First of all, Morrissey is really listening to you. This song is a conversation, not a mere description of your cuteness or a lament that you’re not performing adequately in the fawning girlfriend department. And he’s noticed that you aren’t yourself these days. What’s going on, Sheila? Talk to me.
Sheila take a, Sheila take a bow
Boot the grime of this world in the crotch, dear
And don’t go home tonight
Come out and find the one that you love and who loves you
The one that you love and who loves you
It’s a call to action! A battle cry! A rebel yell! It’s a veritable Sheila Revolution! You don’t have to wait around for this guitar-strumming joker, Sheila. You can go find someone better (on Match.com)!
Take my hand and off we stride
You’re a girl and I’m a boy
Take my hand and off we stride
I’m a girl and you’re a boy
And while you’re at it, fuck traditional gender roles! Yes! Find yourself a dude (or a lady or a dudely-lady or a lady-ish dude or whomever the hell makes your drum beat) who wants to stride with you. Stride! That’s some serious forward motion there, Sheila, and that’s exactly what you are going to need in 15 years, after one practice marriage, and one doomed-from-the-start dalliance with a macho, laconic, emotionally unavailable dude who wouldn’t have known a Smith’s song if it bit him on the ass.
Morphine sang my name.
In 1993, they sang the ridiculous and prescient lines,
Sheila has a cat, she pets the cat
Puts a spell on the cat, a beautiful cat
Sheila has a cat, she pets the cat
Yeah, the beautiful cat says, Sheila, Sheila
I do have a beautiful cat. I have three, in fact. I play this song for my eight year old son and he erupts into peals of laughter. Mommy, you really put a spell on Iris?
Oh yes, my love. I am just that powerful. Sweet little Sheila, shredding on dance floor and drums, striding ever forward, making creatures everywhere do her bidding.
And it’s all in the name.
Sheila Squillante writes poems & essays in Pittsburgh.