Break-ups and Bad Music

When we last saw our hero he was depressed because his girlfriend ditched his ass.

What was wrong with me?

Why am I listening to Journey? I hate those guys. Yes, they can play, and yes, he can sing, and yes, those are competent songs, but… WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???

Why has Steve Perry become my high priest?

It’s been a mystery
And still they try to see
Why something good can hurt so bad
Caught on a one-way street
The taste of bittersweet
Love will survive somehow, some way

These lyrics are very 8th grade. Even when I was in 8th grade I didn’t write or listen to stuff like that. Who are they and what are they trying to see? Caught on a one-way street? Well, then turn around, you boob.

In 8th grade… hmmm… I think I was listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love, which was like:

Oh Dolly Mae girl you must be insane
So unsure of yourself, leaning from your unsure window pane
Do I see a silhouette of somebody pointing something from a tree?
Click bang, what a hang, your daddy just shot poor me
And I hear you say as I fade away

Such a difference! One is a movie. One I can see opening up before me. The other is a series of clichés that serve as carrier waves for rhymes.

That is the measure of how down I am. I’m 23. I’m sitting in my Chevy Citation, in a parking lot in Hauppauge (that is pronounced “Hah pahg,” nothing more interesting than that) and I’m crying. Perhaps it is raining. Or maybe it is the tears from my eyes making it seem like rain and even looking back at that awful time years later my contemporary processing of the event is some massive cliché caca-ball. I don’t even know what I’m talking about.

I hated my job. I was was working for my dad. Somewhere there was the siren call of the recording studio, but I was ignoring it. Instead, I was alternating between slamming my head into the Scilla of imagining my ex-girlfriend screwing another guy… named Randy… who I knew really well… and spirally downwards with the Charybdis of what did I do wrong? What did I do wrong? What is wrong with me? Am I that ugly? Ugly as I feel?

Truly, the song that best explained me, her, it, the break-up, the bomb ditch I lived in, was a Mott the Hoople tune by Ian Hunter:

Oh I wish I was your mother
I wish I’d been your father
‘n then I would have seen you
Would have been you as a child
Played houses with your sisters
And wrestled with all your brothers
And then who knows
I might have felt a family for a while

She had a bunch of sisters and brothers. They were Midwestern Irish and had beer for breakfast. I really liked her parents. I knew what Ian was talking about. To love so much that you wanted to be their family. Cognizance that your love is flowing out of your own hole. Surely that is of a magnitude greater than:

Here we stand
Worlds apart, hearts broken in two, two, two
Sleepless nights
Losing ground, I’m reaching for you, you, you
Feeling that it’s gone, can’t change your mind
If we can’t go on to survive the tide, love divides

How did these guys combine sleepless nights, losing ground and the tide going out? I don’t understand the physics of that particular planet. Did they congratulate themselves on writing “two” three times?

But… I know that feeling of a someone ramming a fist into your chest and ripping your heart out, but I think it’s better expressed by The Judybats:

Hearts cannot be broken, they’re small squishy things
They don’t break like glass but they bruise easily
This one you bruise

Anyway, I drove home from Hauppauge through the blood clot of cars known as the Long Island Expressway. And Journey, with high priest and high-voiced Steve, are on the radio:

Highway run into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round, you’re on my mind
Restless hearts sleep alone tonight
Sending all my love along the wire

Oh my. Run, sun, wheels, the image of two twin beds with twitching hearts on them, what the hell am I listening to??? And why am I listening to it? I’m driving for chrissakes and I’m not feeling the car metaphor. Why not this Elvis Costello thing:

It’s the last thing I want to do
Pull the curtains on me and you
Pull the carpet from under love
Pull out like young lovers do
You swore you wouldn’t shout
If it’s not your punch, then it’s your pout
Days in silence try my temper
Nights spent drinking to remember
How memories are always tender

It’s all rhymes, yet it’s all motion: a house being pulled apart and the fighting of the couple embodied in the verbs, the jabs of repetitive P’s, and Mr Costello’s typical brilliance at flipping clichés inside out — he’s not drinking to forget, he’s drinking to get back to the time before the fights.

The time before… the time before May, 1985, when I drove home from college, by myself, sick to my stomach. Did somehow I know I would never see her again? Was a part of me in touch with the future? Was it a warning? Was it a tap on the shell of a napping turtle? To wake it up? Urge it to pull in the soft parts?

The road to my parent’s house was narrow and winded through the dark — there were no lights on it other than those which came from houses cuddled in the woods.

I almost ran over a raccoon. I didn’t see it until it looked at my car, the headlights catching its eyes, its retinas glowing a surprising, metallic blue. I didn’t know raccoons had eyes like that. I remember thinking that I only saw those blue raccoon eyes because it was night. There was a long moment, and I made a bizarre connection: I didn’t know what I was made of until I was so down I was a puddle. I knew I would began to solidify and stand up again.

Why the months of shallow, cliché music? I think it was because… there’s nothing real or felt about a cliché. It’s just words. It could be a muffin recipe. Who feels “Love will survive, somehow?” You don’t feel that. You don’t see that. You don’t sense the footsteps of that. That doesn’t crack you across the bridge of your nose. That doesn’t lurk in your head like a certain redhead seen from behind brushing her hair. This Rick Derringer lyric lurks:

Cheap perfume, sweet perfume
Lonely smell that fills the room
Roses in your low-rent tomb
A picture made of cheap perfume

This doesn’t:

A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on

Who in their right mind wants someone else’s pain of reality when you’ve got more than enough on your own? Ian Hunter, Elvis Costello, these lyrical heavy weights would have killed me. I could barely shoulder my own shit, let alone invite Elvis Costello over to share his divorce. So, it was Journey for me! Make it a double! Serve it in a sugar cone.

A few months later I heard this on the radio:

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die

It’s become a cliché in its own right — the Smith’s song for people who’ve never heard of The Smiths.

That song… I got it. Rather, it got me.

Love is a gift, however you might find it, or lose it.

I grew to forgive someone who only did what was her right and prerogative to do, to live her life as she wanted, with me, without me. Her choice, with no malice intended.

And I stopped listening to Journey on purpose. And finally followed the sirens that were calling me to the recording studio, where I had the time of my life, at a very steep price. Hmm… Not quite a rhyme, but a couple of clichés.

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