“Without a soundtrack, human interaction is meaningless.” – Chuck Klosterman
Breakups are always difficult. It doesn’t matter if one is fifteen or fifty, whether you are the dumper or the dumpee. The end of a relationship is the end of a dream and the beginning of uncertainty. Am I broken? Will anyone want me? Am I a horrible, unlovable person?
Nothing brings certainty to an emotionally uncertain situation like a soundtrack. Music allows us to put our individual pain in the context of a collective experience, which somehow makes it more tolerable.
Melody was my first real girlfriend and thus my first real breakup and it was entirely my fault. Several months passed, and I saw Melody in the stands of a varsity football game. I sat down and tried to start a conversation. She kept her eyes locked on the ball field, sang the chorus to the Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” repeatedly until I took the hint and left. Three middle-aged dudes in safari hats could speak for fourteen year old Melody when she couldn’t find her own words.
I started calling her again and eventually broke the ice. We reconciled telephonically via a dramatic shared reading of Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” I found the whole business so moving that I ran out and bought Chicago 16, and I hated Chicago.
The last of my young self’s breakups was the hardest because it was my first real relationship. That first adult relationship is a killer. It’s the one where you are mature enough to do adult things like shack up and go in on a puppy, but you are too naive to proceed with emotional caution. When that relationship plows into the railing at 150 mph there’s no roll bar, no seat belt.
What makes that car crash even more horrific is the lack of life experience at that age. All of your cues for how to behave are borrowed from elsewhere. In my case I let pop culture be my spirit guide that night. I picked up a six-pack and a bottle of tequila, turned on Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and typed until I passed out beneath the kitchen table.
That was a fantastic breakup for music: Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”; Peter Murphy’s “Cut You Up”; and Lenny Kravitz’s Mama Said, which is a brilliant breakup album even if you aren’t leaving Lisa Bonet.
Here’s the thing: We are all being left all of the time, sometimes romantically but more often not. Our friends move on, our children grow up, people die, jobs end, and empires fall. Even our bodies leave us eventually or we leave them, depending on your beliefs. Regardless, “Rock of Ages” (traditional) and “Rock of Ages” (Def Leppard) will be there to rub your back and kiss your forehead. Your playlist will be there for you if you want to wallow or vent, find strength or seek denial.
I know that what you are going through is difficult, but you are going to be okay. The Gap Band told me so.
Originally posted in an extended version at Why It Matters.