It is Sunday, and I’m in Lenox, Mass. at a place called Tanglewood. I’m here with 4,000 other people who have gathered together to hear the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Some of these oldsters have bought themselves a cushioned seat in The Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed. Others have come with their own folding chairs, tables, baskets and blankets as they spread out on the Great Lawn. And almost everyone on the Lawn has some kind uncorked, barrel-aged beverage to get them through Beethoven and Shumann.
As I lie back on my blanket, close my eyes, I think about other musical events. My fevered, febrile mind immediately takes me to the Dixie Cups who came to the Citadel in 1966 (maybe 1967) for one of the formal dances called “Hops.”
The Dixie Cups consisted of Joan Marie Johnson, Rose Hawkins and her sister, Barbara Hawkins. They were from New Orleans and had remarkable three-part harmony. In 1964 they took a slow ballad, gave it a little bit of leaded petrol, and “Chapel of Love” climbed to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100.
The lyrics of “Chapel of Love” are not nuanced or complicated. “We’re going to the Chapel and we’re going to get married” are the often-repeated words and the “we’re” in those days meant a young man. It was a hit with every teenage girl because — in those long gone days — every girl looked upon marriage to a young man as her ultimate destination.
Most of the cadets in the audience had commissions in the U.S. Army and would soon be platoon leaders in Vietnam. The idea of marriage was not a foreign or frightening concept. It was, rather, what their own father did in 1944 before shipping out to the Philippines or to France.
The Dixie Cups were only one of many groups that came to The Citadel’s Field House in 1966. We also heard Dionne Warwick and the Lettermen, but “Chapel of Love” and it’s “going to get married” lyrics had particular relevance that would be acted on by many of the First Class seniors later that same year.
For many of my classmates the idea of marriage was bolstered by the notion of a 20-year-long military career. Assuming one survived Vietnam, there would be a salary, housing allowance, free medial care and, multiple, inexpensive nights at the Officer’s Club.
Importantly, there would be a life-long pension eventually sending many of my classmates to The Villages in Florida when they retired.
Many of my more perceptive classmates knew, or sensed, that having an attractive, capable wife would enhance their chances of rapid advancement. Maybe, if they were lucky, she might pin a couple of stars on his collar. Actually, eight of my classmates did become general officers.
Today, marriage is a less-desirable goal for many young men and women. Today the median age for marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men. This is in stark contrast to 1960 when those numbers were 20 and 23. These days an unprecedented percentage of Millennials will remain unmarried through 40. In the end the Millennial rate will be around 70 percent; down from the Boomer rate of 91 percent.
Today the prospect of reliable, life-long employment and a retirement pension is unlikely or illusive. While there is some tax advantage to a joint filing, any other economic advantage of marriage has disappeared. However, the cost of tuition for one’s heirs ($25,000 to $75,000 a year) is more certain.
It is clear that “We’re going to the chapel and we’re going to get married” would not have the same appeal today that it had in 1966. The “Dixie Cups” themselves had only one other song, “Iko Iko”, that made it to the Hot 100 listings. In fact, the Dixie Cups never made much money from any song they sang. It is reported by David Kirby in the Wall Street Journal that each Dixie Cup got $482.67 for the 3 million copies sold of “Chapel of Love”.
I know that some Chapel of Love-inspired marriages thereafter foundered. But some of those wartime marriages did survive. And just about every cadet — who was in the Field House that night — can remember the tune, and the lyrics, and holding a young woman in his gold-chevroned arms that evening. Just about every cadet can close his eyes, smell the perfume, and feel the sense of anticipation, excitement and determination to get himself over to the Summerall Chapel.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.