Alternative Love Songs – A Guest Post by Miriam Doyle

Joshua: When I told Miriam about our love songs posts, she was so excited to put her own spin on it. And when I read her list, I was even more excited. Now that you’re reading my introduction, either you’re bored to death or you’re just as excited as I am to present this to you!

The Magnetic Fields – I Don’t Believe You

There’s a story that this song hints at, and it always seems to run counter to human nature, if not logical behavior. It’s directed at a person that the singer is clearly in love with, but he doesn’t seem able to believe in the possibility of that love being reciprocated, all evidence to the contrary. There is wooing involved, and clear indication of meaningful moments being shared, but Stephin Merritt’s reaction is still to pull away wistfully. Granted, his voice is more suited to mournful songs, but still. Really, who does that? Even when you know that getting involved with the object of your desire is the worst idea in the world, who can resist the incredible ego boost when that person you’ve fixated on says that they want you too? It’s far more human to seize such opportunities and revel in an erotic or romantic moment, even when one is well aware that it will end badly. So what’s up with this guy, and his perverse resistance to his obviously eager love interest?

Voltaire – See You In Hell

There are two sentiments here that aren’t talked about enough. 1. Feeling vengeful against a lover who spurned you, even before you get over the breakup. Fantasizing about reversing the tables when it comes to anguish is truly one of the most satisfying ways to waste ones time during the pining period. Yes, one day you will be over this affair, but wouldn’t it be super awesome if your ex realizes what a mistake they’ve made and you get to have the pleasure of rejecting them the way they have you? That desire doesn’t have to wait until after the sadness is gone, either. This ain’t no angry Alanis Morrisette stridently singing here, this is still Voltaire at his most mournful and with his softest stringed instruments. 2. Love doesn’t have to be healthy in order for it to be real love. Love songs so often idealize their subject matter as the most beautiful thing in the world, but real love can in fact be used quite effectively as a bludgeoning tool between two parties with baggage. There’s an awesome honesty in admitting that even in the longing dreams one has for a past lover that they’re still putting you through hell.

The Mountain Goats – Old College Try

As tragic as this song is, it is also amazingly romantic and devoted. Returning to the “true love isn’t always healthy” theme, this is about someone who has realized that they are doomed to be miserable with their partner, and resolves to stick it out anyway because they are still in love. It is a curious surrender, in direct contrast to the oft-expressed ideals about love forever lifting you up, and admonitions to escape relationships whose negative patterns have been set in stone. Even during a peaceful lull, sometimes you just know that a nasty fight can and will break out at any moment, because that is how the relationships works now. And yet, who can doubt the lingering presence of love upon hearing, “In the way those eyes I’ve always loved illuminate this place – like a trashcan fire in a prison cell, like the searchlights in the parking lots of Hell.” Sometimes passion does take on some surprising and inexplicable forms.

The Exciters – Tell Him

This song came out in 1962 and I think that it continues to be startling, when given a little thought. Growing up in a culture that is still rife with gender roles and standard narratives, one can’t help but internalize certain expectations. Men pursue, ladies are demure and coy and always tend towards subtle maneuvers over aggression, both sexes play head games and don’t wish to ever lay all their cards on the table at the outset of the mating dance. And then this adorable #4 hit song comes along advocating… what? Only that women should initiate when their feelings are strong (“Go out and get him… right NOW”). That far from trying to fan the flames of frustrated passion or maintain ones mysterious allure, you should actually be upfront. Of course, people do still play mind games and languish by the phone without daring to confront their uncertainty, but this song still gives me hope for a positive trend. And when it comes on and I’m alone, I’m always moved to shake my bum in a sudden burst of joyful assertiveness.

The Dresden Dolls – The Jeep Song

The Dresden Dolls can always be counted upon to have a unique approach to things, and they don’t let you down in this epically hilarious cabaret-style broken heart song. You’ll find no wistful sighs here. Instead, the listener gets a speedy escalation that starts out nostalgic, and then takes a turn for frenetic introspection that leads to car theft, vandalism, and eventual institutionalization. And strangely, it really seems to make sense and resonate. Breakups are not uniform, universal experiences. I believe I can safely say that I’ve found individual things to fixate upon with every one that I’ve been through. After listening to the Jeep Song a few times it takes on the feel of a very comforting affirmation. Hey, that ex was a total jerk, so in retrospect throwing eggs at their car in the middle of the winter was really a responsible, cleansing action to take. And the backup vocals are bitchin’.