My sister came up with a project the other day: a list of all the songs she and her various ex-boyfriends had selected as "their" song. Her favourites included such romantic musical gems as "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" by Bryan Adams and "Picture" by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock, and the purpose of the list was to prevent her from accidentally repeating any of these selections with her future boyfriends. (I was obviously asleep at the switch when this conversation occurred, because I somehow failed to notice the conclusive evidence that the jerk she’s been hanging around with lately as "just a friend" had become Something More. All you need to know about this guy, really, is that when offered the opportunity to select "their" song, he chose "Discovery Channel" by the Bloodhound Gang.)
Aunt Caffern’s list does a lot to explain why it’s so difficult to come up with wedding songs. All the best love songs are break-up songs; anguish and abandonment translate so much better into music than happiness and infatuation. To wit, one of my favourite mixed CDs is a melancholy mix featuring pensive, sad pieces by Dido, The Cure, Coldplay, U2, and even the Barenaked Ladies (in their quieter moments). It’s a great one to flip into the CD player on a sunny day when your heart is light, and an even better one for heavy days when the knot in your chest needs to be loosened by a few cleansing tears.
Listening to it today, though, as I drove home from a fabulous bloggy get-together that had brushed all the cobwebs out of my cobwebby soul, I noticed a pattern I had overlooked before. Instead of singing about rejection and heartbreak, men often sing about another kind of loss:
If I could read your mind love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel,
The kind that drugstores sell
When you reach the part
Where the heartache comes
The hero would be me.
Heroes often fail…
I never thought I could act this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone
And I just can’t get it back.
Makes me cry every time, that song. But Gordon Lightfoot isn’t the only one mourning lost love and yet paralyzed by shame because he’s the one who’s leaving. "It’s not cause I’ll be missing you that makes me fall apart," Steven Page wails, "It’s just that I didn’t mean to break, no I didn’t mean to break your heart." "Elise, believe I never wanted this," Robert Smith murmurs, "I thought this time I’d keep all of my promises. I thought you were the girl I always dreamed about, but I let the dream go, and the promises broke and the make-believe ran out…"
Failure and shame are the common threads running through these anguished songs, and it occurred to me that while women like Dido sing of unrequited love, of clinging faithfully to the one who abandoned them, these men are singing of what for them is the worst kind of heartbreak – the kind that’s all their fault.
When my melancholy CD was done, I popped in U2’s "Window in the Skies," a single-CD, just long enough to wind me through my subdivision and back home. Like all U2’s songs, it is a gospel anthem, thinly or not-so-thinly disguised. I am not a hand-waver in church, but when I’m driving in my car on a sunny Sunday morning with Bono’s tenor voice booming in my speakers, I’m capable of waving my hands like a Pentecostal at a revival meeting. "Oh, can’t you see what love has done?" Bono asks. "I’ve got no shame, oh no, oh no, Oh, can’t you see what love has done, what it’s doing to me? Oh I know I hurt you and I made you cry, did everything but murder you and I, but love made a window in the skies."
I’ve got no shame, he says. That’s a phrase we don’t usually use in a positive way, but as a commentary on forgiveness (both human and divine) it is surprisingly apt.