Musical Remnants (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Decemberists) by Joshua

My very good friend Laura is as I write this trying to get over a breakup. She’s doing incredibly admirably, and certainly far, far better than I’ve ever done with one. But she said something to me the other day that I realized was so true I had lived by it always but could never admit it. We were talking about the various tv shows we’re into right now and she mentioned she has yet to finish Game of Thrones and the reason was at first she didn’t want to because her ex had introduced it to her. But then she said, “Then I realized that’s bullshit. It’s too good not to watch.”

Damn, girl. You said it. I have always felt that way about music I’ve been introduced to by my ex-girlfriends. Well, at least the stuff that’s really good, that is. I’ve only ever been in love with a few women in my life and they’ve (mostly) given me some music that I can’t help but love and will probably never stop listening to. Below is a chronological list of the three women I’ve been in love with the musical remnants I’m left loving. And as an added bonus, these are songs that I listened to during the period of being heartbroken or trying to get over them.

Paul Simon said on the title track of Graceland “Losing love is like a window to your heart – Everybody sees you’re blown apart, everybody sees the wind blow.” Maybe this is true. Certainly anyone riding in my car knew this to be true when they heard these songs come on…over and over again.


“Sympathique” by Pink Martini

Both Claire and I grew up studying French for at least 10 years or so, and I doubt we can still both speak it. But I know exactly what each word of this song translates to. This band was introduced to me by Rahnia as a teenage favorite, a local band where she grew up (Portland, Oregon) who has since risen to semi-national prominence. I’ve kept up with them ever since, but this album and particularly this song will remain with me because of how depressing it really is. The chorus translates to this: “I don’t want to work / I don’t want to eat / I just want to forget / And then I smoke.” That tends to be how I feel after every breakup and this, the first really hard hitting breakup, may have started that trend.


“Long Black Veil” by whoever wants to a do a version of it this week

This song is trouble, as was Lee. We never actually dated, which makes this story rather pathetic. I was desperately in love with her and she either didn’t know and didn’t care or did know and liked to manipulate how I felt about her. I became the “good friend” that no one ever wants to be, stuck in the zone of perpetual melancholy and self-pity. It lasted years. At some point, I found this song and attached all the significance of my unrequited love and her antipathy towards me into singing it all the time. Whenever I sang it, all I could ever think about was her and how happy we could be together. Listen to the lyrics. That’s an extremely dysfunctional thing to think about a song that is about going to the gallows to protect your adulterous lover. I still get requests from people who went to St. Mary’s for me to sing this song, and I do it. But hopefully I’ll never be drunk at 3 am and want to play it when I’m by myself again.


“The Hazards of Love 4: The Drowned” by The Decemberists

The first song I listened after we broke up was “Tears Dry on Their Own” by Amy Winehouse (an artist she also introduced me to) but I doubt there is a band I like as much that I’ve been introduced to by any significant other than The Decemberists. And I hated them at first. But once I started really loving them (and her), we went and saw them in concert and they played all the way through the album this is on. The experience was incredible. I rushed out and bought the album and listened to it all the way through many, many times. But I always turned it off before this song, thinking it to be really boring. It wasn’t until a couple months after we broke up that I actually listened to this song and how desperately heartbreaking it is, in both lyrics and simple, sparse guitar lines. The guitar part is not the usual broken lines that Colin Meloy loves, but rather big, wide open chords with some small arpeggio grace notes to accompany it. It’s straight up gorgeous. And heartbreaking. And now I’m stuck with it forever.

February Round-Up: Love, Live Music, and Casio Keyboards

Claire: Happy Leap Day everybody! This month, we celebrated the many sides of love with good songs, bad songs, alternative songs, even sexist songs.  We laughed, we cried, we celebrated the musical stylings of Fergie, we rediscovered the band Next, we talked about Casio keyboards—and we wrote about it.

Love and Stuff Lists:

We also launched out First Show/Worst Show series and heard all of your magical tales about seeing the Grateful Dead (jealous), the Steve Miller band (not jealous), and Cobra Starship (confused). If you haven’t submitted your First Show/Worst Show yet, click here.

First Shows/Worst Shows:

Our friend/guest blogger/sometimes copy editor Noura Hemady wrote an awesome blog about seeing the Old 97s at the 9:30 Club. But as I read it, I realized that she had totally forgotten about an Old 97s show that we saw together at the 9:30 Club. We had a huge fight and I threw shoes at her. Not really. Instead I wrote about the LOST SHOW from Noura’s illustrious show-going life, and our one-off series about the Old 97s, DC, growing up, armpits, and prostitutes was born.

Old 97s

A special shout out to our amazing Guest Bloggers this month: Eric Fish, Noura Hemady, and Miriam Doyle! Write more stuff for us. Seriously guys.

And a big thank you to our First Show/Worst Show writers: Andre Moshenberg, Rahnia Mersereau, Jamie Breazeale, and Maureen Noble!


In Which Fergie Saves the Day—Claire

The summer of 2007: My last summer as a college student. I interned in DC all day, took English classes at night, worked at a catering company on the weekends, and spent every other waking moment reeling from a breakup with my boyfriend of two years.  I was heartbroken, I was exhausted, I was smoking half a pack of cigarettes every day, and I was rocking a head full of muddy brown hair that I had dyed within an hour of the breakup (Life lesson: don’t be fast and loose with your post-breakup hair coloring).

Musically, it was a lucky time to be heartbroken. Amy Winehouse had just exploded, and I couldn’t get into anyone’s car without them saying “Have you heard this?” and cranking “Back to Black” or “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It was the kind of music that made me feel like “One day I will turn all this pain into art, ART!” instead of my usual “Tonight I will turn all this pain into pizza, which I will eat in my underwear, UNDERWEAR!”

In another happy twist of musical fate, my dad had given me Aimee Mann’s “Bachelor Number 2” and Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” at the beginning of the summer. I swished under the city on the Metro with “Calling it Quits” and “Down to You” blasting in my ears. I felt terribly deep. I imagined the many suit-sporting characters on the Metro coming over and asking “What are you listening to, over caffeinated tear-stained girl in half a catering uniform?”  “Oh just some Joni Mitchell,” I would respond casually, like this breakup was a time of great music-listening, poem-writing, maybe scotch-swilling, as opposed to a time of great toaster-streudel-eating and shower-crying.

I was working hard on the whole “change everything and get over this” game. I had a rearranged bedroom, the aforementioned new hair, the quick and joyless loss of ten pounds, and a well curated soundtrack. And though all of this was making me look thin and tired and very brunette, it wasn’t doing much to lift the breakup haze. Then it happened.

People ask Joshua and I a lot about our guilty pleasures. A real music snob will answer in a couple different ways. There’s the “no such thing” route. There’s the “what’s a guilty pleasure?” route. There’s the total lie route, where you pick a handful of clearly not questionable artists and add a time frame to their name (“Early Bonnie Raitt” or “Late Brian Eno”). And there’s the truth, which does not in this case set us free, but instead makes us blush. That summer, no matter how hard I tried to listen to the right music, a very wrong song got through to me: “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” by Fergie.

I don’t know why the artist known as Fergalicious was the one to break me out of my spell. But when that song exploded, it got under my skin. I sang the chorus constantly for weeks, and was basically half a step away from getting “But I’ve gotta get a move on with my life” tattooed on my upper arm. Singing it made me feel the kind of wistful empowerment I imagined a girl who was a breakup instigator would feel, even though I was firmly on the other side of that equation. The lyrics said everything I wanted to say: I miss you. You’re totally wrong for me. I’m going to go start my new awesome life with my backup band, the Black Eyed Peas.

That was my first, and last, experience as a Fergie fan. Though Joni Mitchell and Aimee Mann have stood the test of time, Fergie faded out for me. I gave you a hair dye lesson already, so lets close with a music lesson. Don’t be afraid of bad music. When you need something to get through to you, it doesn’t have to be beautiful or fraught: it can, on occasion, be something that belongs on a teen movie soundtrack. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Big girls don’t cry.

Top 5 Breakup Stages, as Songs

JOSHUA: It has been said that when we lose someone, we go through five distinct stages of grief: Bargaining, Denial, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. We like to this this extends to breakups as well. You know it to be true. First, you bargain with each other to try to save the relationship (we’ll simplify this process and just call it what we know it to be: breakup sex). Then, you deny that it’s over or you think you can get your partner back. After that horrific part is over, you focus all your anger in the world at your ex: Everything in your whole life is wrong because of that asshole. Then you sink into a deep, dark hole of depression and wish the world was over so you could get away from your feelings. Finally the scotch runs out and you step outside into the sunlight one morning and realize you’re over and done with it. Sometimes this takes days, sometimes years, but eventually you do actually run out of scotch you get over him or her. And for each part of this ordeal, we’re here with songs to describe and illuminate.

 JOSHUA’s List:

Bargaining: “In The Car” by Barenaked Ladies

Ambivalence, repressed anger, hope for the future tinged by the regret of the failure are all what this song is about. And break up sex is filled with every one of these and more. We don’t like that we’re doing this but we’re sure as hell gonna do it anyway. The worst part is that break up sex tends to be pretty awesome. Unfortunately, in this song, it’s pretty terrible.

Denial: “She’ll Come Back To Me” by Cake

What better way to put yourself in denial than a good, old-fashioned country song? Cake delivers with this. The sentiment is right on the money – the speaker is seeing his girl leave him for another dude as he sings, but has convinced himself that she ain’t going nowhere. It’s deluded, it’s idiotic, it’s classic denial.

Anger: “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette

I don’t think there is a better song out there to listen to when you’re pissed off about a break up, namely because it puts everything in perspective: You’re not as angry as Morissette is. Period. Unless your ex killed your puppy, I seriously doubt you have the ability to be as irate as she is in this song. Not only is the music hard and spiteful, but Morissette’s vocals are dripping with rage. She practically spits out every word, especially the line about scratching her nails down someone else’s back. Shit, I didn’t do anything bad to her and I felt those nails.

Depression: “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” by Frank Sinatra

You’ll hit this point eventually. It’s the point where it’s 3:48 am and you’ve polished off most of a bottle of scotch and you’re unable to think about anything else. Sinatra knows that point very well, and this song is both a reflection of being at that point and the perfect musical expression of living through that point. His voice is tough to stomach because it’s just so, so dark and depressing. Be careful using this song, however. If it’s 3:48 in the am and you’ve polished off most of a bottle of scotch and you’re unable to think about anything else, don’t listen to this song. You’ll die of sadness overload.

Acceptance: “Tears Dry On Their Own” by Amy Winehouse

This is the kind of acceptance only Amy Winehouse can do: She’s happy for the time they had and she knows she’s the one who fucked up. She’s dealing with it but it’s tough. But the song looks at the end of relationship very logically and pragmatically and that’s the kind of lack of emotion you want to really get over your ex. You’re never gonna really move on if you’re always listening to Frank Sinatra, let’s be sure; this song actually helps. And it has a badass drum sample from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which I can only hope is a meta-reference to acceptance: She’s so over it that she’s ready to be in a great relationship where there ain’t no river wide enough to keep her from getting to him.

CLAIRE’s List:

Bargaining / Breakup Sex: Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”

Right away, Liz Phair gives a pitch-perfect description of that awful feeling of waking up with a start, probably mid-hangover and post-mistake-making (the likes of which you may only remember in bit and pieces over coffee and hash browns). She captures that in between moment of still being in the relationship, at least enough that you’re still falling into bed together, but wanting to move on…except that want for someone new hasn’t trumped the original want for your ex, yet. A really well written whirl wind of emotions—shock, regret, that feeling that this is all things will ever be, forever. I love Phair’s near-monotone voice here, and how it only sounds angry when she sings “I can feel it in my bones, I’m going to spend another year alone,” and later “…my whole life alone.”

Denial: Warren Zevon, “Reconsider Me”

This is a weird one for me, because I think “Reconsider Me” is also a beautiful love song (and one of my favorite songs, ever). But it’s all pretty heartwrenching–Zevon’s wide eyed optimism is hard to hear; that line “And I’ll never make you sad again, cause I swear, that I’ve changed since then” always makes me tear up. There are people who I wish would sing me this song and mean it. And those are the same people who I probably wouldn’t forgive; because if you really listen to this song, something went seriously wrong. This is not just a “Sorry we bickered!” song.  This is a “Sorry I made a total mess of your life!” song. If you put this on the jukebox and dedicated it to someone you wronged, I’m not sure she would come back to you. But I think she might think a little better of you. I would.  (For all you Zevon fans—in my mind, “Accidentally Like a Martyr” is a sequel to this song. Someone did not get reconsidered.)

Anger: Lucinda Williams, “Joy”

Empowered, feisty, catchy. Lucinda Williams is mad as hell, and she’s not going to take it anymore.

Depression: The Weepies, “World Spins Madly On”

Like Liz Phair, The Weepies get it right from the first line. That image of waking up and having that jolting memory of exactly what’s going on, and how unbearably terrible it is, is so painful that I think we all block it out. Even hearing the beginning of this song gives me a small shudder of awful nostalgia. This song also outlines the experience of being so unbelievably depressed and heartsick, but still having to go on with day to day life. A spot on ode to post-breakup depression.

Acceptance: Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”***

Alright Dylan haters, I know this is a list-killer for you, but hear me out. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”  is an incredibly well written, elegantly composed “screw you” to all exs, awful or otherwise. It reflects on the dismantled fantasy of the relationship. It pairs acceptance that it’s over with a bit of passive aggressive snark. And it acknowledges that even acceptance comes with a twinge of wishing it had all worked out. Also a very quotable song when you’re feeling smug.

***So, why is there a picture of Dylan and not a video? Because I refuse to link to any of the horrible versions of this song on YouTube. But if you need to hear a cover of this song, or if you’re looking for a sign of the apocalypse, go listen to Ke$ha’s cover. Yeah. It’s a thing.

First Show/Worst Show: Maureen Noble

First show: My first show was at Merriweather Post Pavilion circa 1971/72 – Bread. I went with my older brother and my older sister. They had lawn tickets. I was about nine or ten years old and everyone was getting high on the lawn. It was such a mellow concert. Ah, David Gates. Is this what all concerts would be like in the future? If… only.

Worst Show: Recently I was almost held at gunpoint to watch The Steve Miller Band perform at an outdoor pavilion much like Merriweather, here in Chicago. The seats were in the pavilion and were about $75 each (unbeknownst to us at the time). It was horrifying to watch these old fat dudes on stage trying to recapture something. Something. Anything. Please. These guys needed to be somewhere in Florida listening to Jimmy Buffet and sipping something girlie. I was embarrassed for them. I wanted to demand that they pay me double to have had to sit there and listen to horrific new songs. Midlife crisis at age 65? Wow.

Want to see your First Show/Worst Show on the Charm City Jukebox? Click here.

More First Show/Worst Shows:

Top 5 Worst Seduction Songs

JOSHUA: There are some bad songs out there, but even bad songs can be good to get down to. These, unfortunately, are not among those. Please, please, please  avoid these songs when sexy time happens. It can end only the worst way possible: Your partner laughing maniacally at you and leaving. And calling you names. And spontaneously combusting,  Spinal Tap-style. Trust us, we would do that if you played any of these.


“I Got It,” by Eddie Murphy

What you want? Eddie Murphy’s got it. What you need? Eddie Murphy’s got it. Throw in some last minute grunting, and you’ve got another non-hit by Eddie Murphy. This song makes “Boogie in the Butt” sound like “Lets Get it On.”

“Talk Dirty to Me,” by Poison

I would question the intentions of a guy who wants you to talk dirty to him in the basement, behind a locked cellar door. Does he have a bedroom? A car? Whatever happened to the old man’s Ford? …Does he even live in this house? Things to think about before you follow Bret Michaels downstairs.

“Too Close,” by Next

The band Next tells us what we already knew: Nothing says “Lets do this” like an accidental erection.

“Any Way You Want It,” by Journey

I know it sounds like the background music for a car commercial, but some hardcore seduction lies behind that wailing voice and 80s beat. The weirdest line in this song is “Then we touched/ Then we sang about the lovin’ thangs.” Really? What, were you skirting second base and thought “Hey, you know what the ladies love? The majesty of song!”?

“Power of Seduction,” by Daryl Hall

Almost unbearable to listen to—and I listened to a lot of Wham and Poison this morning to write this list, so that’s saying something. Daryl Hall’s voice is weirdly strained, the lyrics are a hot mess, and it sounds like he made this song on his 5 year old nephew’s Casio keyboard (“Go play with trucks while I work on my solo career. And toss me a juice box while you’re at it.”)  You really need Oates, buddy. But don’t try to get him back with this mess.


“With Arms Wide Open” by Creed

It’s Creed. “Hey baby, let’s get this sexy time going with Scott Stapp singing about Jesus and babies!” No.

The Rite of Spring by I. Stravinsky

Tough. Very tough. I don’t think the time signatures involved existed before Stravinsky wrote this symphony. Then again, if I found a girl who got her rocks off to this symphony I think I would marry her. But I can’t imagine the average person being able to even like this piece, let alone feeling sexy to it. (Note: The video above is just one movement of the symphony.)

“Mr. Mastodon Farm” by Cake

Normally, I love Cake. I even love this song. It even has a decent beat to it. But honestly, it’s really, really tough to get busy to an atonal vocal track totally out of sync to the beat that lyrically is either having an acid trip or an existential breakdown over a goddamn pigeon. Or both. I suppose they aren’t mutually exclusive.

“A Lap Dance is So Much Better When the Stripper is Crying” by The Bloodhound Gang

There are so many things wrong with this song: The misogyny, the violence towards women, the racism, and the fact that it’s the fucking Bloodhound Gang. But what I really want to ask is this: Can anyone really get off to a Casio keyboard and spoken word? It’s like a cheap William Shatner album. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

“We Built This City” by Starship

Jesus. Tittyfucking. Christ. I can’t possibly begin to describe everything that is wrong with this song. I mean, there’s a reference to Marconi, and it’s pronounced wrong. I know I shouldn’t focus on that, but seriously? I mean, imagine if you met a beautiful woman/sexy man at a bar and went back to their place for some good times. You are probably a fair bit inebriated (would you have met a girl/or dude at a bar and gone back to their place if you were sober? Yeah, I thought not.) and certainly you’re in for some fun. He/She puts some music on and it’s good. Hot. Sexy. One thing leads to another and you end up in the bedroom. You both desperately strip each other’s clothes off and reach for the good bits…And this song comes on the playlist. You try to laugh it off and look away for a second. But when you turn back he/she has their eyes closed and is silently mouthing the words to “We Built This City.” He/She then leans in to kiss you again.

If you’re anything like me (you are, you read this blog), you laugh in their face or punch them (or both) and leave.

The Old 97s and the Summer of Polyester Armpits—Claire

Here’s how the summer after college graduation started for me: At graduation, standing in the line in our caps and gowns, waiting to proceed, all the other English majors rattled off what they were doing next. All but three of us chirped “Law school!” or “Teacher!” I looked at the other two kids who had offered a nervous laugh and a shrug as their career goal and was fairly certain we were all screwed. If my family hadn’t been waiting in the audience, I’m sure that Susie Shakespeare and Tommy D.H. Lawrence and I would have gone to the local dive bar and tried to figure out how none of us got the memo on teaching and lawyering. Then we would’ve all gotten “Personal Agency” lower back tattoos. (Although once they found out I was Claire Post-Colonial Literature, they probably would’ve banished me from our English-major-failure club with a loud “Take your feminist explorations of Edwidge Danticat somewhere else, hippie!”)

Anyway.  In the month and a half after graduation, here’s what I acquired:

  • A resume that liberally used words like “Managed,” “Led,” and “Directed.” (Which we all know are verbs that apply to most intern tasks, right?)
  • A very sparse wardrobe of earnestly officey basics that said “Hire me!” and “I like primary colors!”
  • A response to “What’s coming up next?” that went like this: “Oh you know, I’m looking, and the job market, and jobs, and do you know anyone with a job, can you get me a job, job job job, jobbity job job?”

And then it happened. After weeks of darting in and out of DC, my face usually smushed into someone’s polyester-clad armpit (polyester takes that DC heat and turns it into a BO so powerful, it could create policy change), I traded in my resume-peddling and dwindling bank account for a brand new job in Dupont Circle. Suddenly after moving in very slow motion for half a summer, life sped up. My lease on my college apartment was up in a week, my boyfriend was in Asia for the rest of the summer, and my job started immediately. I had stepped into the next part of my life.

During my last week at the apartment and my first week at my job, my high school friend Noura Hemady (whose Old 97s post went up earlier today, go read it!) met me in College Park to go to an Old 97s show at the 9:30 Club. It was a silly evening: we were staying at my apartment, which I had already moved out of, so my room was empty except for a bed and a pile of blankets for Noura to nest in. I had rushed home from work and spent the rest of the night in my too-officey outfit. And when we finally made it to the show, my boyfriend started calling me from China, and no matter how quickly I rushed out of the 9:30 Club, the mob of Old 97s fans kept precluding me from leaving, so I missed every call. But here’s what I remember most about that night. I was standing against the railing upstairs with Noura, watching the Old 97s, as we both drank hard cider from long-necked bottles. I looked at her, at us, and I was filled with this really good feeling. I remember thinking “This is what my new adult life is going to be like! This is it! I’m a grown up, and everything is great!”

Did it turn out like that? Of course not. I didn’t know then that I was in the wrong job, in the wrong city, and that for the next year, I would grow up a lot over mostly unpleasant things. But for a moment, as I watched the Old 97s, I got to feel like a grown up in a totally innocent, blissful way. I’ve gotta thank them for that. And Noura, who probably forced me to go to that show.