Sunday, April 29, 2007

Driving Home

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.


mcewen said...

It's a 'battle of the sexes' that's unlikely to be resolved in my life time.
Best wishes

cinnamon gurl said...

Keen observation on the difference between a lot of men's songs about heartbreak and women's. Back before I met the love of my life, that sort of apologetic "Sorry I'm an asshole" was the hardest to forgive...

flutter said...

B&P, do you ever listen to Rob Thomas? I realize he's kind of a pop phenom, but at the heart of him are some of the most amazing lyrics.

Take your head around the world
See what you get
From your mind
Write your soul down word for word
See whos your friend
Who is kind
Its almost like a disease
I know soon you will be

Over the lies, youll be strong
Youll be rich in love and you will carry on
But no - oh no
No you wont be mine

luckyzmom said...

They want to make us women happy. We just want to be loved. One perfect rose.

Beck said...

And here I am, more cobwebby than EVER. I made the WRONG WEEKEND CHOICE!
I almost only listen to sad music, interspersed with music that my husband classifies as "completely unbearable." Poor him.

Lawyer Mama said...

Hmmm. Perhaps that explains why my husband can't stand it when I listen to "chick songs."

Mad Hatter said...

Have youever heard the Martin Sexton song, "Freedom of the Road"? It's the reformed version of the shame-full man of pop music returning years later to try to redeem himself with his son. Shoots me in the heart every single time.

So lovely to see you again. Lovely.

Catherine said...

Ah, "their songs." I wish my husband would make a list of songs that belong to him and his ex-girlfriends. The Main Previous Love made him a LOT of mix tapes....and I've been too afraid to make him one EVER lest I end up just making a song that takes him down memory lane with someone else....

How lame (of me) is that??!??!

Mad Hatter said...

Here it is:

Virtualsprite said...

Music just gets me, too. There are so many songs that I can't help but feel... I don't even know that I could put a sex to them, either. They're just all over the board.

Kelly said...

You know why I love this post, besides the fact that, as per usual, it's well written? Because I love getting to hear what other bloggers listen to. It's yet another window into the soul, and so very, very cool.

NotSoSage said...

Because I live to be contrary (couldn't you tell that about me?). Ever heard Stephen Fearing's "Beguiling Eyes"?

You have the most beguiling eyes
That I have ever seen
They can lift me up and spin me
Or leave me in a dream
And though the words you say are truthful
You know it hurts me when you say
That the time you spend with me
Is but a small part of your day

(So does that mean it's either "Babe I wanted to love you but I just can't" or "Every Step You Take"?) Sigh.

Regardless, I must hear that song when I am down in the dumps.

Lisa b said...

Beautiful day gets me like that every time. I had never thought of it as Gospel but why else am I waving my arms like that in my car for all to see?

Magpie said...

Here's my favorite dating/wedding/lover song:
Like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall,
Like the tick tick tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall,
Like the drip drip drip of the raindrops
When the sum'r show'r is through,
So a voice within me keeps repeating

Night and day you are the one,
Only you beneath the moon and sun,
Whether near me or far
It's no matter, darling, where you are,
I think of you, night and day.
Day and night, why is it so
That this longing for you follows wherever I go?
In the roaring traffic's boom,
In the silence of my lonely room,
I think of you, night and day.

Night and day under the hide of me
There's an, oh, such a hungry yearning
Burning inside of me,
And its torment won't be through
Till you let me spent my life making love to you
Day and night, night and day.

mr. b&p said...

To ensure completeness in the discussion of iconic male breakup songs:

Interesting, I think, because it turns the shame into a rebuke.

Julie Pippert said...

I love music. I suppose it's lucky my husband and I rarely argue over shared CDs. That's why this post makes me go Hmmm. :)

Karianna said...


So is this why I usually listen to male vocalists?

Omaha Mama said...

At the end of a friends' wedding reception, my hubby thought he'd be sweet and dedicate a song to them and their new marriage. Funny, all he could remember about the song was that he loved it and the lyrics "all these years". I rushed over to make him listen to the rest of the lyrics. Totally about adultery. Oops. Good thing everyone was too drunk to notice or care.

The great songs are the sad ones.

jen said...

oh, i saw him last year in an intimate was really terrific.
Mad's pic is a good one too.

Jenifer said...

Sounds like the bloggy get together was wonderful...

As I think about this I lean towards female artists in my moments of despair...I guess this is a classic gender divider for me.

V-Grrrl said...

This is why Sheryl Crow sings "Are you strong enough to be my man?"

rjlight said...

congratulations on the post of the day award! I usually visit ya from Luisa's also but this time I got you off of the Rising Blogger post! Thanks for finally showing me the words to that song. I realize now how much I had made up-- I would sing up to the kind the drug store's sell and then it became la la la. I hope that doesn't hurt your feelings -- I still like the song!