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

"In the '90s, the straight white male was being deconstructed for all his sins."

by Nick Keppler

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, or 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. Want to submit your own Love Song Yearbook? with "Love Song Yearbook" in the subject line.

Age three or four - "Girls on Film," Duran Duran
In its first few years, MTV could be enjoyed by anyone, including my mom, a thirtysomething homemaker in Ohio. Consequently, Duran Duran's "video album" (a VHS tape containing their first eleven videos) got frequent plays in our house, but she always fast-forwarded though one video. One day, when Mom was out, Dad told me and my brother to go play upstairs. Soon, I heard the first chords of  the song that usually prompted Mom to pick up the remote. The song was "Girls on Film," a softcore montage deemed too racy for MTV. I sat at the top of the banister and watched Dad lean back in his easy chair, staring at women in their underwear who were pillow fighting, sumo wrestling, pouring wine on each other, etc. From then on, I understood the basics: sex caused people to do weird things, and if you were interested in it, you sometimes watched videos alone.  


Age nine - "Black," Pearl Jam
Most of my heavy metal brother's music collection seemed too Satanic to interest someone into Animaniacs and Ninja Turtles, but he had a cassette of Pearl Jam's Ten and they seemed like they might be OK because — though I didn't really understand it — their video "Jeremy" had kids in it. Ten wouldn’t have alarmed anyone who was up to date on punk, metal or even college rock, but if the darkest piece of entertainment you'd ever encountered was Tim Burton’s Batman, Pearl Jam's volcanic doom was skull shaking. To me, they exuded young adultness; the stage you always assume is one birthday away when you’re a child. I heard tracks like "Black," a breakup song that skips the fond remembrances and goes straight for the shrieking despair, and thought, "Oh, shit."


Age fifteen - "Creep," Radiohead 
My family moved when I was in sixth grade. By the time I reached high school, I'd endured so much bullying that I decided to cease to exist socially. I never joined a club or went to a football game, and I ducked into the bathroom when yearbook photos were taken. It wasn't so bad; I felt like I had made the best truce possible between me and high school. Then I noticed a small, dark-haired girl with tiny hands and milky skin. She was a track star and an honor student and way above me on the social ladder — which forced me to admit there was a social ladder and the sting of my place on it. This crush wasn't like Corey and Topanga on Boy Meets World,  it was the feeling of existential dread Thom Yorke conveys in "Creep," that sense of worthlessness in the face of beauty.


Age sixteen - "Black Dog," Led Zeppelin
In the '90s, the straight white male was being deconstructed for all his sins. Kevin Smith,  Nick Hornsby, and WB dramas all portrayed guydom as a never-ending cycle of confusion, fuck-ups, and sulking. Then I went through a Led Zeppelin phase, which is a gift bestowed on all middle-class white males at sixteen. Between the Lord of the Rings stuff, the she-done-me-wrong ballads and the odes to groupies, Zep's catalog is one long tribute to male heterosexuality. Maybe straight men don't really need empowerment, but through cruising in my first car and singing along to "Black Dog," I found it in Zeppelin. 


Age eighteen - "Time Has Told Me," Nick Drake
I met C, my first love, on a music-related message board. Like me, she was clinically depressed, and had both a habit of moping around and a stack of classic rock CDs. The only artist I could introduce to her was Nick Drake. When I convinced my mom to drive me through two states to meet C as a graduation present, I arrived bearing a mix CD. On it was Drake's "Time Has Told Me," which included the lines, "Time has told me / You're a rare, rare find / A troubled cure / For a troubled mind." I got to have the ridiculously teenage experience of playing for someone a song that perfectly described how I felt about them. 


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