Dearest Rachel –
This is probably what comes of driving to the ‘office’ as the weather chills, and the rains that fall are cold and unpleasant. As I’ve said, I’m no runner, and I have no desire to expose myself to that sort of weather if I don’t have to.
That being said, it’s such a short trip, but I wind up getting myself exposed to the same few songs on loop from my iPhone. I’ve touched upon most of them in these letters already, and ironically, none of them are ‘our’ songs from ‘our’ time. Neither is this one, for that matter. Which is not to say it isn’t important in its own right.
Let me start off with a few theories about music and nostalgia. For the most part, it doesn’t really matter how intrinsically good or bad a piece of music is; the ones we listen to between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five generally tend to be the ones that we consider ‘our’ music. Those songs that we listen to as we change from school children two adults are the ones that shape us – or at least, the soundtrack to the events that shape us.
As such, popular music, regardless of era, is always geared towards people of that age range. What that means is that, were you to put together a pie chart of popular music topics, I’d be willing to wager that no less than half would be what Paul McCartney referred to as “silly love songs,” even as he pointedly defied his listener to assert that there was anything wrong with that. The next largest chunk of topics – amounting to perhaps a third of the total – would be break up songs, because nearly everybody experiences a breakup and they blindly navigate their way through the minefield of love and relationships.
I say “nearly.” You were one of the lucky ones, and I’m not trying to flatter myself here. Indeed, in a certain way I was every bit as lucky as you, because you told me time and again how I was your only boyfriend. Oh, you’d had crushes before, back when you hadn’t even hit your teenage years, but as far as a serious relationship? It was just me. Which meant I had nothing and nobody to measure up to; you could never tell me how so-and-so did it better, or had more stamina, or was more thoughtful or creative, or what have you. As I’ve said before, it’s so liberating when there are no expectations placed upon you.
Anyway, break up songs. There’s not a whole lot that cover my situation here. Not too many teenagers lose their love through death, after all. There are, of course, exceptions (“Leader of the Pack” comes to mind offhand, as well as a few others from the 50s, with its nascent auto culture – and the fact that at that age, both in terms of the era and the chronological age of the lyrical protagonists, motorized vehicles were dangerous things used dangerously, so these things would happen), but by and large, I find myself relating my situation to any one of the larger breakup genre. Because let’s face it, the emotions of losing you aren’t that much different had you walked away as opposed to being taken. The only saving grace is that your departure was not of your own volition; you would’ve stayed with me had you lived. Ours was truly a “till death do you part” relationship, no matter what your parents thought of us as a ‘starter marriage.’
Sorry to keep bringing that up, honey, but that attitude they had towards us never ceases to amaze me. Such little faith…
But in any event, the emptiness you left behind is the same regardless of cause. And the emotions that one goes through in dealing with that emptiness really aren’t that much different with a loss as with a breakup. And “that’s what’s going on” here.
Now, you know this song wasn’t one of ours, as it came out after we got married. In fact, neither of us was aware of it for some time after its release. I think our first encounter with it was his part of a relatively mediocre anime music video (which no, I don’t have – like I said, mediocre) about Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. The main image I can recall was the scene involving her lying in a bathtub in a burned-out apartment after a terrible loss, staring blankly up at the open sky, as the lyrics spoke of being “shamed / lying naked on the floor.”
A quick aside here; there’s a word that’ll get your attention. And it’s not just because it refers to a state of undress, although that certainly is a part of it. I’d point out that the word ‘nude,’ while meaning the exact same state, doesn’t carry the same connotations at all. The latter word seems warm and intentional, while the other is cold and undesirably exposed. I’m going to suggest it’s that hard ‘k’ sound. English has words that, just by their very sound, pack a certain level of punch that their synonyms lack. George Carlin touches on this, observing how many of the seven words you couldn’t (and still can’t) say on television contained that hard ‘k’. It contains a unique, violent staccato to it that gives certain words a force they wouldn’t otherwise have, rendering that word an order of magnitude more dangerous and attention-getting.
Still, the song didn’t cut any ice with either of us at the time. It wasn’t until a few years later, when we used it as a lead-in to a sermon in church, that I sat up and took notice. At this point, of course, the focus line was “I’m all out of faith / this is how I feel,” which is getting much closer to my own current emotional state…
“There’s nothing where [you] used to lie…”
The interesting thing is that, when you watch the music video, it’s almost as if it’s meant to be a ‘making of’ video, where the action onscreen is constantly interrupted by the director and the tech personnel, showing the relationship of the singer and her beau for the simulation that it is; they’re just acting a part for the camera. As much as the lyrics are about a loss, when you combine it with the visuals, it feels metaphorical of my current search for ‘Megumi,’ and how in some cases, “I should have seen just what was there / and not some holy light.” I’m not going to find rescue in someone else’s arms – at least, not any time soon – and I shouldn’t expect to. It’s a gloomy message for such an otherwise upbeat tune.
And indeed, its upbeat nature seems to be what the singer is seizing on near the end, as everything is dismantled around her, and she starts dancing almost frantically, trying to convince herself that everything is okay when she knows full well that “nothing’s right”.
That does seem to be a prevailing theme in break up songs. The singer has to move on and pretend that everything is all right, but of course, it isn’t. And regardless of whether you walked out, or were taken out, “nothing’s fine” anymore. Those scars are there, and they’re there to stay. I can’t see them – nobody can – but they’re still there, leaving one with the thousand-yard stare of a wounded soldier.
Well, they do say that love is a battlefield. And the war is never over; I’ve got to, ah, soldier on.
Wish me luck, honey. I’m going to need it.