You begin with something innocuous. Any boy band will do. The message is simple: you are pretty, and I love you. These songs draw the ire of my father, a physicist and classical musician.
“Baby, baby, do ya wanna wanna,” he mimics in a nasal twang. “Is that all they’re saying?”
“Yes, Dad.” I sigh.
He thinks Mozart is a bit poppy. I’ll never get him to appreciate Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” And yes…that’s basically all they say: “Love will tear us apart. Love will tear us apart.”
But when you’re seventeen, is there anything else? Lie on your bedroom floor, smelling the detritus of old socks and stare at the ceiling while your heart breaks like a geode to reveal, not a crystal center, but crumbling sand. This moment is a touchstone. Save it. Press it between the leaves of an old book. Do not make it smaller than it is. You survived this; you will survive everything.
Eventually, you will have to get up off the floor, and to do that you need a friend. Ian Curtis is not your friend, but Morrissey might be.
I’m a novelist. I don’t like dumb lyrics; I listen closely.
Morrissey sings, “if a ten ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine,” but he pairs it with the refrain, “there is a light and it never goes out.”
And yes, he repeats the line seven times.
Is that all he’s saying? Is there anything else?
During your freshman year in college, you will take an English class in which you will be required to employ the term “ironic distance.” Sitting across from you is a boy so beautiful he makes crocuses bloom out of packed snow, but you have learned the vocabulary, and you know how this ends, so join me if you know the chorus to this 1990s one hit wonder.
“So much for all your highbrow Marxist ways,
Just use me up and then you walk away.
Boy, you can’t play me that way.”
(By the way, if you know that tune without seeing the video, you’re my new BFF.)
White Town: because no one does “funny and tortured” like 90s gays.
Then one day you stop to tie your shoe, your knee pressed to the muddy grass of spring, and when you look up her hair is haloed by sunlight…or his. It doesn’t matter. What is true is that in this moment we are all twelve year old boys, all desire and humility, already on ours knees. It is not a marriage proposal, it’s noblesse oblige.
I’ve always espoused that there is more to feminism than saying no, so “hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me…in a boy’s dream.”
Somewhere on that muddy, spring-soaked path, between the edge of her gingham skirt and your breath caught behind the knowledge of words, is love.
Love is always a country song, and you don’t have to be seventeen to love this one.
“Ah, home. Home is wherever I’m with you.” Listen to the crescendo on “ah home.”
Do I have anything else to say about love? Only this: I grew to my father playing Chopin, the piano grieving through the strains of Joy Division. I grew up with music, so I grew up with my heart full. I grew up with love.
Like the music?