Love & Sex

Love Song Yearbook: Ten Songs That Shaped My Idea of Love

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The young me learned a lot about love from Operation Ivy.

The music we like when we're young shapes us in a lot of ways. It might give you a lifelong disrespect for The Man, it might make you a hopeless romantic. In Love Song Yearbook, we're interested in what songs shaped your idea of love at different ages. In the inaugural edition, Nerve editor Alex Heigl looks back on playlists past to figure out what songs influenced his thoughts on love through the ages. Want to submit your own Love Song Yearbook? Email with "Love Song Yearbook" in the subject line.


1. Age four – "Stand By Me," John Lennon

My dad was a big John Lennon fan, so in addition to the Beatles, I heard a lot of later Lennon. I've been told that I would dance to this song on repeat for as long as my parents could stand it, and it still stirs something primal in my brain. Looking at the rest of this playlist, devotion remains a constant sticking point, so this probably set the template for that.


2. Age six – "Sally's Song / Finale / Reprise," Danny Elfman/Catharine O'Hara
The Nightmare Before Christmas came out when I was six, and I was absolutely obsessed with it. I think I made my parents, babysitter, and then one of my friends' moms take me. Nightmare had a love story for weirdos, and I was already identifying with same. The way the forlorn "Sally's Song" changes into a love song at the film's close ("For it is plain, as anyone can see / we're simply meant to be") still gives me chills whenever I watch it (which I do every Christmas, and sometimes Halloween).


3. Age eight – "As Time Goes By," Dooley Wilson
My mother's favorite film is Casablanca, and it became kind of a yearly tradition to watch the film whenever our family got together for the holidays. I have a distinct memory of watching one of my uncles sing, "And when two lovers woo / They still say: 'I love you'" to his wife. I thought it was gross at the time, but it was also one of the first times I remember linking love and marriage. (Previously, I assumed it was some kind of domestic partnership created to feed me and get me bikes.)


4. Age nine – "My Girl," The Temptations
My mom listened to exactly three things in the car: oldies radio, French music, and the original London cast recording of Les Miserables. As I got older, I realized half the genius of Motown was making music that could communicate love to anyone at any age. My mom also reports that "My Girl" was one of my first introductions to figurative language: the first time I heard it, I asked her why the man was talking about the weather in a song about a girl.


5. Age thirteen – "Black," Pearl Jam
I was still buying CDs at thirteen, but one of my early-adopter friends had a CD burner, and so we used to spend long afternoons at his house swapping CDs and making mixes. Ten was one of his older brother's favorite albums, and he insisted we both have it. "Black" was one of my first favorite "sad songs." Girls and crushes had started popping into the picture around this time, and "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life / I know someday you'll be a star / in someone else's sky" was just the kind of overblown, mawkish sentiment that a hormonal teen could really latch on to.

6. Age fifteen – "Bombshell," Operation Ivy

At fifteen, I discovered punk when one of the guys in my high school's guitar club started playing "Knowledge" by Operation Ivy. I got a copy of their album and it more or less blew my mind. "Bombshell" instantly takes me back to being a fifteen-year-old walking home from all-ages punk shows where I'd spent the evening getting bounced around in the pit or gazing longingly at some girl with gauged earrings who inevitably, I'd never see again. It's overstimulated and singleminded: basically every high-schooler ever. "I've retraced my steps a thousand times / Seems I've spent hours asking all my friends about her" — you and me both, Jesse.


7. Age seventeen – "The Disco Before the Breakdown," Against Me!

I had a hell of a chip on my shoulder at seventeen (and also now). I'd like to think it was from growing up in football-and-hunting-season Pennsylvania, but it might have always been there. Either way, an ex and I once melodramatically declared this "our song" because of the line, "And I know they're going to laugh at us / when they see us out together holding hands like this." Actually, I think it's about an LGBT relationship, but the point is that at seventeen, relationships are fraught because they're a bulwark against the rest of the world, and that's… bad. You can't put everything into a relationship or another person, because we're all so fallible, but that's something you can only learn from experience.


8. Age twenty – "Hold On," Tom Waits
The line "Go ahead and call the cops / you don't meet nice girls in coffee shops" says a lot about my freshman year of college. But "holding on" through all the ups and downs (in love or life, generally) is about the best advice I've ever gotten from anyone, and I try to continually pass it on.


9. Age twenty-three – "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," Paul Simon
"And she said, 'Honey take me dancing' / But they ended up by sleeping in a doorway / By the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway / Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes." Moving to New York is really difficult if you're not a trust-fund kid. It's even more difficult if you've convinced a wonderful, supportive girlfriend to move with you (for the first time!) into a giant duplex in Bed-Stuy with a bunch of alcoholic metalheads. That first year was rough, and that line is a really excellent distillation of feeling like a really bad partner in the middle of a really exciting place and time.


10. Age twenty-five – "California Stars," Wilco
"I'd like to rest my heavy head tonight / On a bed of California stars / I'd like to lay my weary bones tonight / On a bed of California stars." No matter how stressed or drunk or tired I get (and at twenty-five, I've noticed adult weariness starting its slow creep), my girlfriend's always there for me. She's really great, you guys. "I'd love to feel your hand touching mine / And tell me why I must keep working on." At the end of the day, that's all I'm looking for: intimacy and support. And waking up each day, I'm baffled, grateful, and thrilled that I will have that when I come home.


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