…With the lights off after a long bike ride after breaking up with your girlfriend of two(ish) years
Everyone has felt a little sorry for themselves at one time or another. We’re all human; we know what it’s like to have to work with these goddamn brains sometimes. I’ve experienced a lot of what psych majors would call Cognitive Dissonance. Simply put, it’s an internal disagreement. Relationships are tricky, and there are more emotions at play than balls in Quidditch (seriously what the fuck who came up with that). Here is a humiliating story of when I was in high school: Senior year I started dating this girl, sweetest, most beautiful girl ever. We continued dating even though I moved 800 miles away for college. Even though I (possibly) loved her, and it was actually quite effortless to maintain our relationship long distance, I felt like I was missing out on some experiences I could be having if I was single. So that summer I made a difficult decision, one that I would come to rationalize many different ways in the following years: I broke up with her. It was an impulse, an instinct, but I didn’t want her to miss out on things because she was in a long distance relationship. I wanted her to experience her life without me holding her back. At the time, this notion was only half formed and I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance. I wanted to be with her, but I knew leaving was the right thing. Thus I was sad and thus, this soundtrack.
Carry Me Ohio – Sun Kil Moon (Ghosts of the Great Highway, 2003)
Carry me Ohio is a thick miasma of sorrow and regret: a song that admits guilt and begs for forgiveness. Off the (masterpiece) debut album of Sun Kil Moon (Mark Kozelek’s band after Red House Painters), this track really stood out to me. I never knew why until I listened to it after the breakup. At that time, it clicked: a square peg in a square hole. Kozelek has a knack for conveying a sadistic sadness, one that lays over you like a 90-ton wool blanket. A blanket that is itchy and cold and I get the sense that it is blue (for some reason.) The tears begin at “can’t count to / all the lovers I’ve burned through / so why do I still burn for you / I can’t say.” Several failed relationships later, I’d be asking myself that very question over and over again. This song turns even the most adamant defenses into jam and jelly beans. It made me cry like a baby, and I have a beard.
Impossible Germany – Wilco (Sky Blue Sky, 2007)
I don’t know how Mr. Tweedy did it, but the lyrics to this song are formidable. And it all stems from the line: Impossible Germany / Unlikely Japan. The rest of the lyrics might be a tad cliché, but with that line lurking in the background they become so much more lush and mysterious. For me, the tears in the song come from the fact that there is hope. In the first part Tweedy sings this is important / but I know you’re not listening. Then at the end of the next part, he sings nothing more important / than to know someone’s listening / now I know / you’ll be listening. It reminds of something someone once told me: Happiness doesn’t come from something you attain, but from something you already have. It’s just a matter realizing that you have it. In the song, I don’t think anything’s changed between who’s singing the song and who it’s being sung to. A profound paradigm shift has occurred. What seals it all together is Nels Cline’s impossibly expressive guitar playing, the solo that comprises the second half of the song is the best guitar work you will hear on a Wilco track, period. The reason for that isn’t masterful playing or difficult hooks, it’s the emotion that Cline somehow packs into each note. I guess you could say that he’s got soul.
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Galapogos – Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
This song has two tear-jerking moments, the first at tell me I am still / the man I’m supposed to be, and the second at and if we die right now / this fool you loved somehow / is here with you. That second line literally changed my life. For the first time I considered, if I died right now, what would I regret the most? I tag this as the saddest of all of the Pumpkin’s songs, which is considerable because Billy Corgan is one sad dood. If you plan on listening to this song in public, please wear sunglasses. So people won’t see how sad you are.
These Days – Nico (Chelsea Girl, 1967)
In addition to being a good song for crying in the shower to, you could also use it to take a pensive walk. Nico even suggests that in the first verse. This song is brimming with regret: you can hear in the descending bass notes of a folky picked electric guitar, you can hear it in the violins, and most of all you can hear it in Nico’s voice. This song is more of a slow burn, but the dam breaks at please don’t confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them. It’s good to be aware of your failures. Cheer up Nico.
New Light of Tomorrow – Husky Rescue (Country Falls, 2005)
As the title would suggest, this too is a song for hope. The lyrics almost sound like a prayer at times. You gave me hope amidst my sorrow / may it be tomorrow that I could love again. There isn’t really a decisive moment here that’ll cause tears to stream down your face, it comes more slowly in the little piano rift that haunts the periphery of the song. It’s a simple, sometimes strange song that’s very easy to brood to. And by the way, remember that whiskey always goes well with brooding. When you can’t find a date, medicate!
Lullaby – The Cure (Disintegration, 1989)
This song drags out a very specific episodic memory in my mind. I won’t bore you with the details, but they directly involve a car, a girl, and the prom. It’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds. I remember when that girl first heard the song, she asked me something to the effect of, is this song about eating children? Well, yes. This song is kind of scary. No argument. If you sort of ignore the lyrics, the song has an extremely melancholy sound. The memory it represents was a happy one, and so listening to this song after the break up caused extreme self-pity. It didn’t help that it just happened to be a sad sounding song. I know what you’re thinking: John, this is a personal song, it won’t affect anyone else like that. You’ve locked me out of your soundtrack and I can no longer relate. To that I say: then find a song of your own! I’m a busy guy and I need a shower. (Not to cry, I just smell sorta bad)
After the breakup my father consoled me by saying: Your heart never lets you get away with decisions you make with your head. To which I replied: fuck you dad. So if you take anything from this soundtrack, let it be that feeling sorry for yourself makes you an asshole. I know, I’ve been there. Since feeling sorry for yourself is sort of an inevitable part of being human, seek solitude wherever you can find it. Could be a bike ride, a shower, the mountains, a boat, the moon, whatever.
Here are a few songs I considered but left out:
Against All Odds – Phil Collins
Horseleg Swastikas – Silver Jews
I Won’t Cry – My Morning Jacket
Fever Dream – Iron & Wine