“Without a soundtrack, human interaction is meaningless.” – Chuck Klosterman
A Bad Drunken Typist
Breakups are always difficult. It doesn’t matter if one is fifteen of fifty, whether you are the dumper or the dumpee, have been dreaming of this moment or dreading it. Contrary to my baldness I am not Dr. Phil. I don’t pretend to know anything about people beyond my own experience, but for me the end of a relationship is the end of a dream and the beginning of uncertainty. Am I broken? Will I recover? Will anyone want me? Is that the last sex I will ever have? Am I a horrible, unlovable person?
This is where Klosterman’s quote, which I have taken completely out of context, is perhaps at its most profound. Nothing brings certainty to an emotionally uncertain situation like a soundtrack. Music allows us to put our individual pain in the context of a collective experience, which somehow makes it more tolerable.
Melody was my first real girlfriend and thus my first real breakup, and it was entirely my fault. What freshman boy is going to turn down the slutty blond eleventh grader on a church hayride? Not this one, and if one older woman wanted to play “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” with me beneath a blanket and a starry sky, how many others were willing to do the same? Sorry, baby. I know it hurts to say goodbye, but it’s time for me to fly.
Several months passed and the only older woman in my life was a Bo Derek calendar. I saw Melody in the stands of a varsity football game.
“How you been?”
“Can I sit down?”
Smooth. She kept her eyes locked on the ball field, sang the chorus to the Gap Band’s “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” repeatedly until I took the hint and left. Three middle-aged black dudes could speak for fourteen year old Melody when she couldn’t find her own words.
I started calling her again and eventually broke the ice. We reconciled telephonically via a dramatic shared reading of Chicago’s “Hard To Say I’m Sorry.” I found the whole business so moving that I ran out and bought Chicago 16, and I hated Chicago.
My next real girlfriend was Agnes (pronounced AWN-YUH in a sort of Southern-French mash-up). She’ll be getting ink soon enough so I will remain on topic and just get to the breakup song, in this case Billy Squier’s “In the Dark” — perhaps not an obvious choice but it had a lot going for it:
Billy looked lonely and mopey on the album cover
The song was angst-ridden but rocked
Agnes’s and her friends’ nickname for me was “Billy Squier” thanks to the resemblance between the packages in our respective Levi’s. (Hey, I’ve had worse nicknames.)
Next was Sherri, the poor girl who tolerated my teen angst for the majority of high school. She dumped me — rightfully so — when the depression and self loathing that would color the next twenty-five years established its beachhead. I alternated between trying to win her back with “I Melt With You,” “Yesterday,” and Jack Wagner’s “All I Need” (she was a General Hospital fan) and trying to piss her off with “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and Tears For Fears’ “The Hurting.” These were borderline bipolar mix tapes.
Without question, though, that breakup belonged to A Drop In the Gray’s “Turn Me ‘Round.” The band only released one album, 1985’s Certain Sculptures, but I really dug it. “One day I / Will see your face / As I pack away / Your memories.” Yes, yes. This was just the cure for my broken heart.
The last of my young self’s breakups was the hardest because it was my first real relationship. That first adult relationship is a killer. It’s the one where you are mature enough to do adult things like shack up, buy a couch, attend funerals together, etc., but you are too goddamned naive to proceed with emotional caution. When that relationship plows into the railing at 150 mph there’s no roll bar, no seat belt.
What makes that car crash even more horrific is the lack of life experience at that age, and thus all of your cues for how to behave are prepackaged. In my case, aged twenty-four and two thousand miles from home, I discovered one evening what my soon to be ex would not tell me for another month. I let pop culture be my spirit guide that night: the hundreds of songs, books, and movies that were my template for a jilting. I picked up a six-pack and a bottle of tequila, turned on Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and typed until I passed out beneath the kitchen table.
She came home the next morning and we went to brunch in Century City. For the length of Santa Monica Boulevard between Hollywood and Beverly Hills I played that song over and over.
“Why do you keep playing that?”
“I don’t know. I like it.”
“Well stop it. Are you sick? You don’t look too good.”
“I’m fine. Just a headache.”
That was a fantastic breakup for music: Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”; Peter Murphy’s “Cut You Up”; and Lenny Kravitz’s Mama Said, which is a brilliant breakup album even if you aren’t leaving Lisa Bonet.
Enough. I have to save this juice for the near future when I will write about her at length. The Great Unnamed One, all hurricanes and peach orchards.
Here’s the thing: We are all being left all of the time, sometimes romantically but more often not. Our friends move on, our children grow up, people die, jobs end, and empires fall. Even our bodies leave us eventually or we leave them, depending on your beliefs. Regardless, “Rock of Ages” (traditional) and “Rock of Ages” (Def Leppard) will be there to rub your back and kiss your forehead. Your playlist will be there for you if you want to wallow or vent, find strength or seek denial.
I know that what you are going through is difficult, but you are going to be okay. The Gap Band told me so.
I love being reminded that there have been soundtracks for so many portions of my life…those portions marked by people (or even the idea of people) coming and going.
I’m old enough to know better, but I still use music to torture myself when I am feeling sad and insecure. The pain is exquisite.
Ain’t it just?
“The Great Unnamed One,” is still unwritten?! Wow, I am more excited than when I first was hooked by tales of your Father.
As your lawyer, I suggeat you do a Tequila shot, then nurse a beer while you nurse this necrotic love song.
Magnum opus. «wrings hands»
Ah, The Great Unnamed One. That story is a brute. I’m looking forward to tackling the beast.