How many of you can tell a bad breakup story? [A beat.] Ha, I thought there were a few of you. Well then … how many of you walked away from those same crinkled relationships with a few songs in tow? [Another beat.] Oh boy, too many to count.
The good news is you’re not alone. We’ve all been there too, and that’s what brings us together today. No? Okay, well it certainly gives us a foundation on this here holiday to digress on our wonderful pasts. C’mon, how else are we supposed to cope.
Waxing nostalgic and blasting pop music is our goddamn given right today and if we want to get drunk beyond our years and talk about our horrific pasts… well, then get the hell out of our way and let us bleed. After all, there’s a long line at the jukebox and the tamale man’s already left.
What now? Oh right! Pop music. Without further adooze, here are eight sad stories from bruised hearts and the many songs that survived the shitty John Dear letter.
Enjoy and Happ–
–Consequence of Sound
You can’t ride shotgun in someone’s car for very long without learning about what they love to listen to. In Peter’s car—a geriatric Toyota minivan he inherited from his parents once their three kids were old enough to haul themselves around—it’s usually metal that crashes out of the tape deck the second he turns the ignition. Prog metal, thrash, stoner doom, he likes just about all of it (not black metal, and don’t you dare say “nu” in that car). I was an indie kid and a metal fledgling when we became friends and, later, partners. I’d never even heard a Black Sabbath album all the way through. When you date a metalhead, you don’t just mingle your taste with theirs, you sample an entire culture.
Soon we were steering that van to show after show—gigs his buddies played at dive bars in parts of Chicago that don’t even have names, or stops from touring acts like Mastodon and Primus. The best was YOB, who showed up at Beat Kitchen one summer looking like a clump of Jewish uncles, chatting up the audience before their set. Onstage, they were less meek. Mike Scheidt is a volcano; the band is transcendentally loud. I feel transported after a lot of shows, but that one felt like church.
Even now that we’re just pals and not palentines, The Unreal Never Lived is probably the only album P and I get equally rabid about. It’s hard to single out a track to focus on—we’ve gone through the whole LP many, many times in that van—but “Grasping Air” is the heaviest and thus his favorite. That’s what happens when you date someone who’s been steeped in metal since puberty: you don’t share songs so much as you share mosh pits, bruised shoulders, deep cesspools of noise. –Sasha Geffen
“Going to Scotland”
The first Mountain Goats song I ever heard was “Linda Blair Was Born Innocent”. It was the opening track to what is probably the best mix CD I’ve ever received. This was 2006, and I was head over heels for an actress in my school’s summer repertory company. Our relationship was short-lived but intense, awash in white wine and mix CDs, and when she left, I had trouble accepting it for what it was: a fling of the summer variety. So, I wrote her a letter–an honest-to-god paper letter–filled with local ephemera and drunkenly scrawled snippets from the Mountain Goats’ “Going to Scotland”, a deep cut I had just discovered. By that point, though, our time had passed. She didn’t even know the song. And perhaps that’s why it’s “Going to Scotland” and not “Linda Blair” that stings with every urgent strum. It’s a reminder of that sad, futile time when hope defied acceptance, the sort of thing that tends to spoil what was otherwise a perfectly lovely couple of months. –Randall Colburn
“Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart”
In college, I dated a guy who lived in Berkeley while I was living in Eugene, Oregon. He was a punk rock guy, and I was an indie rock gal, but we bonded over Against Me!. We were together when New Wave came out and shared our first listen–he thought it teetered toward being too poppy, I loved it for its melodies–but we agreed that Tom Gable was still on point lyrically. One day, we were listening to the album in his car, and “Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart” began. We’d heard this song together many times; however, on this particular day, he commented that it reminded him of our relationship. To anyone who has ever heard this song, that is not the most comforting observation coming from a significant other; it’s about a doomed relationship, where both parties strain to fight a losing battle. His words created a rock in my stomach. I couldn’t believe he’d say such a thing, but what really hurt was I knew he was right. We broke up shortly thereafter. It was for the best, but every time I hear that song–as chillingly beautiful as it is–I can’t help but tense up and think about that night in that car. –Katrina Nattress
Is This It
Is This It is about wanting more. More from life. More from love. And more from the world in general. I grabbed the album in 2001. It was the start of my senior year of high school, and I spent hours lost in the indie rock revival that pumped through my Walkman. I couldn’t get enough. You can imagine the shock when I learned my CD was missing a track that was only present on the international release. “New York City Cops” was deemed too insulting following the 9/11 attacks and thus stripped from the American pressings. But I wanted it. Badly. I needed more songs. My girlfriend managed to track it down at a local record store and gifted it over. Heartbeats fluttered and hammered through my chest. Even the cover art was superior. I was in love.
Flash forward 10 years. I was seeing a different girl. She also adored The Strokes. Is This It became the soundtrack of lazy weekend days in bed, as well as a go-to when hosting friends for dinner. But that all came to an end, too. In fact, “Barely Legal”, “Someday”, and “Alone, Together” bled from the speakers as we decided to end things. Again, my heart thumped like a herd of wild bison. But this time it was shattered.
A part of me feared I’d never be able to listen to Is This It again. I had a similar experience with Miranda July’s 2007 film The Future, which is a movie I’ve not been able to finish because its tale of a grief hit like a cement boxing glove. But fortunately, I mustered the strength and returned to Is This It. When I listen now, I relive the soaring highs of my first love, as well the melancholy pit of a failed relationship. A co-worker gave me a vinyl copy of Is This It for Christmas. It was the American version. It’s hard to explain, but somehow that just felt right. –Dan Pfleegor
“Elvis Presley Blues”
If you’ve ever had the experience of loving someone that you just can’t seem to shake, like a bad habit, you know how uniquely miserable it can be. (“Fool me once…” and all that.) My first concrete memory of John is from when I was 15, when he took a picture of me and put it in our small-town high school’s yearbook because he “thought I was cute.” Fast-forward a decade, two reconciliations, three breakups, a shared love of folk music, and a cross-country move together later, and what is my 25-year-old self left with? Mostly a very nice Dutch oven that his parents bought us and a handful of albums and songs that we both loved. One of them is “Elvis Presley Blues”.
When we saw Gillian Welch together for the second time at the Strathmore in Silver Spring, Md., in August of 2011, Dave Rawlings played so fiercely and intently that dust, or smoke, rose from the strings of his guitar. I loved Gillian Welch because John loved her–I loved the way he would sing along with her in the car, knowing every word, and I loved the way his face lit up when she appeared onstage. I still love Gillian, instinctively and reflexively, and I love the deceptive simplicity of this song. When I hear it, I can’t help picturing how a very young Elvis must have looked on television for the very first time, when he “shook it like a chorus girl,” before my mind inevitably goes to the stark contrast of the way he was “the day that he died”–a sad caricature of his former self. –Katherine Flynn
Of all the traits I look for in a prospective partner, the ability to broaden my horizons by introducing me to fresh and fascinating perspectives is right up at the top of the list. But when it comes to my taste in music, I’ve always been stubborn, obstinate, and unshakably set in my ways. Here comes a confession: My name is Henry, and for the first 25 years of my life I was a Joni Mitchell hater. Something about her screechy, shrill voice just rubbed me the wrong way; listening to her sing was like hearing nails on a chalkboard. Whenever a Joni track started playing, I’d grimace and launch into an inflammatory tirade about how overrated she was as a songwriter. That is, until true love broke the spell of pigheadedness and stupidity.
I remember it vividly. My girlfriend was combing through the dollar vinyl at Amoeba Music when she let out an ebullient gasp. Sauntering over to where I was leafing through some folk 45s, she held up a copy of Blue as her lips parted to reveal a wry smile. She knew that despite my bias against Ms. Mitchell, I wasn’t one to pass up a bargain. I inspected the vinyl for scratches and blemishes, hoping to find a flaw, but it was no use. The record was mint; she’d caught me in a Catch-22. In the end, frugality won out over partiality. Before I knew it, I was positioning the record on my turntable.
“Maybe start with side two,” she patiently suggested, “And at least TRY and listen to the lyrics this time.” Interpreting this as a challenge, I closed my eyes and let the Canadian singer-songwriter serenade me with brilliant lyrical fragments of her journey across France, Greece, and Spain before “going home to California.” When Joni Mitchell dismissed Paris as “too old and cold and settled in its ways,” I felt like she was censuring me personally. What’s more, I knew that the criticism was fully justified. I’ve long since abandoned my vendetta against Joni Mitchell and can’t wait to discover what unwarranted prejudices my girlfriend will help me cast off next. Côtes du Rhône? Midday naps? Romcoms? Only time will tell. –Henry Hauser