Soundtrack for a Breakup

The five songs that got me through the first terrible week.

By Leonard Marshall

April 21: The Smiths, "I Know It's Over"

I hang up the phone and sit in bed, staring into space. It takes a minute to start thinking again, but once I do, I cry for a bit. When I manage to get up, I walk to the kitchen to tell my parents, who, characteristically, turn down the radio and stop chopping vegetables mid-slice. They'd listen for as long as I felt the need to talk, but right now, I can only manage a mumbled recap before shuffling off to bed. It's only seven o'clock, but nothing else seems especially doable. I'm twenty-two years old, and my girlfriend has just broken up with me. For the past two weeks, I've come home from work and spent the evenings on the phone, having horrible, exhausting conversations and trying to convince her that I'm a worthy partner. I guess that part is finally done. After a year of debates and anger, tenderness and sex, food, airports, buses, and trains, my relationship is over.

Pop culture almost always gives grief too much respect. (Steven Seagal's brow furrows as he buries a friend; John Cusack walks poetically in the rain.) For me, it mostly feels like wanting to throw up, accompanied by numbness — punctuated by remembering over and over again the awful thing that just happened. It doesn't feel like death, exactly, but like nothing pleasant or even interesting is likely to happen between now and then.

Pop culture always gives grief too much respect.

I guess that’s what Morrissey is getting at in the song that lowers me into sleep. "Oh, mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head," he croons, endlessly. But in his words, it feels less nihilistic than comforting. He puts some of the dignity back into this feeling, reminding me that "It takes strength to be gentle and kind," a nice thing to remember when you feel like shit.

April 22: Megadeth, "Tornado of Souls"

MP3: Tornado of Souls

Nice try on the sleep thing — I get up red-eyed, after tossing and turning since two in the morning, unable to shake the thought of my (ex!) girlfriend having sex with other people.

In fact, she's already sleeping with someone else — an ex-marine, of course. ("I'm sleeping with someone else." Long pause. "Is it that guy Phillip?" Long pause.) Her explanation was that it didn't matter — sex means nothing, and I would understand that if I'd slept with more people. (This happens to be a bit of a sore spot for me.)

When I get to work, I try to focus, but my rage won't go away. I spent a year building a house with someone, and she spontaneously burnt it down. Besides wishing I still had the shelter, I'm also really pissed about the betrayal. I sort of wish that all houses would burn down. When I try to distract myself by reading an old Carl Sagan essay on the projected effects of a full-scale nuclear war, I find myself relishing the thought.

I should add here that I have the least existentially comforting job in the universe: I temp... at a temp agency. Nothing could be less permanent. It's also not a place that welcomes a lot of feeling — I've already seen the boss dressing down a teenage employee for talking about herself too much — so I hold it together at my desk for fifteen-minute periods, then run to hide in the bathroom, and cry my little eyes out. My coworkers must think I have some kind of bladder problem.

Driving home, I crank the volume on "Tornado of Souls" as high as it goes. Metal to the core, Dave Mustaine once described this song as "Dave meets girl, Dave loses girl, Dave kills people." His characteristic wail fills the car: "This morning I made the call — the one that ends it all..." The end of the relationship, the end of the world — all the stupid and damned, consumed in the same whirlwind of death. Needless to say I am not driving very responsibly.

Commentarium (28 Comments)

Sep 17 10 - 12:59am

This was fantastic. Very raw. Breakups definitely suck, but it's a little easier to transcend with the right songs. I was especially pumped about "Pep Talk" being on this playlist.

Sep 17 10 - 1:52am

Ugh, too bad I found this after I looked through/cried on every picture I have of me and my old partner. Good music, better writing. Thanks.

Sep 17 10 - 2:43am

My woman told me that it'd be easy for me to get over her, women love me so I can just get ass easy and that she'd be torn up for months and wouldn't even do anything with her life. Of course I knew to begin with she already had another guy she fell for waiting on the other side for her.. Me on the other hand, I care enough about the passion in sex to want to wait for another relationship...
To the point though, listening to The xx while having really dirty sex is fun....

Sep 17 10 - 10:13am

love, love this essay. sometimes the music is all you have to get you through.

Sep 17 10 - 10:37am

I love, love, love breakup music. It's the only good thing about heartbreak.

Sep 17 10 - 11:47am

music can both be a curse and a blessing...

when you had a break-up, you like the loud break-up songs to sympathize with you

and hate the giddy nice love songs that reminds you of what you lost.

best to have many songs of both in your ipod.

Sep 17 10 - 1:50pm

Excellent essay. It needs some Magnetic Fields though!

Sep 17 10 - 2:06pm

There is such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.

Sep 17 10 - 3:20pm

Pep Talk saved my life once. And if you've been done wrong by and feel like marinating in it for a while try Clean Sheets.

Sep 17 10 - 4:43pm

Wonderful. I'd like to contribute 'worst song to listen to immediately after a breakup' to the list: Bright Eyes' 'First Day Of My Life'.
... turns out I'm a bit of a masochist.

Sep 17 10 - 5:54pm

Thank you. That is all I can say.

Sep 17 10 - 9:46pm

Bravo, sir. Bravo.

Sep 17 10 - 9:58pm

I'd say you'd have to include Lauryn Hill's 'Ex-Factor' in this, but that's just me. Nice list.

Sep 17 10 - 10:14pm

I'm probably showing my age here, but I was always a big fan of the Eagles Greatest Hits - the one without Hotel California.

Sep 18 10 - 7:47am

I willingly got into a relationship with a robot. He's leaving the country in December. I'm still with him but when I'm alone it already feels like it's over. Thank you for your tips on survival. I'll need it.

Sep 18 10 - 8:30pm
In Bed

I think one needs to be in the throes of post-break up low self-esteem to wallow in the suddenly realized genius of Smiths' lyrics like "I know that I'm unloveable/you don't have to tell me/message received/loud and clear." So true! (pause here to sob briefly).
Other times, it's like, "Geez, cheer up, dude."
in bed with married women

Sep 18 10 - 10:16pm
Ann Marie

This was so hard for me to read... I've been thinking about breaking up with my boyfriend for a few weeks now and had pretty much decided on it. They were all great songs but Dylan really got me. I'm in my computer lab crying now.

Sep 19 10 - 2:06am

This was awesome. Great list of songs as well. Alkaline Trio is usually my go-to band for breakups.

Sep 19 10 - 11:20am

When I went through a very hard break-up, Cat Power was constantly on rotation in my play list."Not What You Want" still brings me back to that time

Sep 19 10 - 4:16pm

Bob Dylan helped me get over my last heartbreak. I think I played "It Ain't Me Babe" a thousand times before I finally said, yeah, okay, I can be fine again.

great essay :)

Sep 21 10 - 5:52pm

That Dylan song is killing me.

Sep 23 10 - 12:25pm

I laughed reading this - not because I find breaking up amusing, but because I went through the exact same thought processes in my last break-up. The chocolate milk, the becoming a robot - word-for-word, I swear. The similarities are uncanny. Fantastic article, enjoyed reading immensely.

Sep 24 10 - 10:43pm

I like this article's writing more than the song choices - not that they were terrible. But far better breakup songs are out there. Three excellent examples from my last broken heart: 1) I'm Sorry I Love You by Magnetic Fields, 2) She Hates Me by Puddle of Mudd, and 3) One More Minute by Weird Al Yancovic ("...I'd rather clean all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station with my tongue than spend one more minute with you...")

Sep 24 10 - 10:51pm

Oh, and 4) If Love is a Red Dress by Maria McKee

Nov 06 10 - 5:52pm

As the guy above wrote

Dec 16 11 - 12:54pm

I just recently went through a brake up which i'm still hurting about. everything you wrote about was right on key. I spent 2 years of my life with this person who ended trading 2 years with me for another guy 2 weeks into the brake up. it's only been a month and few days since the brake up...they're about to make their first month. reading this reminded me how i told my parents, how i broke down and hated waking up. Oh god not to mention the thoughts of her sleeping with him. Worse of it all is when you know it's happening and you're seeing pictures of them laying in bed think of the person who was basicly my wife. who was me and knew me better than anyone else in this now being consumed by lust by some other guy....that really does fuck a person up mentally. People call her a hoe, and such things...what kills me is that she is letting her self seem like that. She plans on leaving to north carolina with her new bf. she gets money from her parents each week since now she's living with him....bothers me. She msg'ed me yesterday and like you i was in a wtf kind of shock. she told me how she was over it and hated how it ended and how in the end she jut wanted her best friend back......i told her what i felt and it seemed to hit a nerve....all she said was stop, we need to stop talking about this. all the sudden she says her bf got home and wants to spent time with him....killls, i'm being civil about the whole thing.....i asked her to let me back off and give me sometime and she flipped out saying how she wasn't goint to sit there and be dropped by the person she called best friend. she delted me, blocked my nnumber and everything. Everyone keeps telling me that she's going to regret everything...i see where her downfall will be....rushing into a relationship after 2 years....with a guy who has a reputation not so good at that. then moving to another state to start a life with him. she thinks life is so easy, she thinks she can get a job.....i fell in love with her not bc of what she had or even sex. she didn't even complete highschool. i moved into college and did everything i was suppose to so that we could start something. i was always there to help her, to guide her and depend on. without and education, moving and's a death. I know that if things do happen like that she'll come back to me and say she needs a friend.....but i'm hoping by then i'll be 100% over it where i don't feel anything and just push her away, haha...sorry went into a rant about my life. anyway, great story and list. know this made me that much happier knowing i wasn't the only know to feel like this.

Jun 12 12 - 3:08pm

FINALLY something for guys who has experienced a breakup. This is wonderful. The best thing that even though I went through a few "girl versions" of this essay (in a desperate attempt to find something that I can relate to) nothing was even remotely close to the depth of content and thought put into it like this one. This is brilliant. From the depth of my heart, and I have only read the first page, thank you.

Jul 24 12 - 8:01pm
Juan Lomeli

Im only a teenager, but i was with this girl for a whole year. Within the first few months i had become very attached to her. I would kill anyone who harmed her. Literally, i dont mean id get mad, i mean whoever caused her any grief would get it back ten times worse. I loved her with every ounce of me, and she claimed she loved me back. We fought all the time over stupid shit, we probably broke up 4 times, but the longest we did was probably a day or 2. We couldnt live without eachother. We always got past things. We had planned on marriage and what we were going to do once we got out of highschool. Her parents...well mom loved me. Her dad was deployed in Jordan, so in a sense, i had to somewhat take a role as her boyfriend and her father. That may sound creepy but i helped her get through everything. Her and her mom always fought so i let her come stay at my place whenever she needed to. I made it obvious id do anything for her. Those random cute text messages, the cute little gifts, anything so she knew she was on my mind, and i was on hers. It seemed like the summer was the best thing that happened to us. During the school year we were always getting in trouble, me sneaking over to her house or bad grades because she was my focus during class and when i got home. I couldnt believe how in love i could be and how lucky i was to have someone love me back. Its the greatest feeling in the world. Id kill to get it back. But, back to the story. Theres this huge festival that goes on where i live called summerfest, and of course girls will be in their bootyshorts and what not, so i missed the single life a lot. Girls were actually coming up to me. So me and my girl got in little fight, but i made it much more than it really was. I told her we both needed a break, and how we should see one other person then get back together. Fucking backfired. Anyone reading this, realize what you have. Dont make the same idiotic mistakes i did just cause i made a permanent decision over the mood i was in. But of course she cried, she didnt want anyone but me. But i made it obvious i didnt feel the same. She finally stopped crying and quit talking to me for hmm..2 days? In those 2 days my man whore ass had already gotten with some bitch who wasnt even worth it. We ended kissing, the first day we hungout. I told one ofmy exs friends we kissed because i knew she would tell her we kissed, and i knew shed get jealous and come running back to me. She always did, it was a never ending cycle. But apparently she had gotten with some dude too. They hadnt hungout or anything but they were talking and flirting, and this kid was my idol. No homo, but he was the football legend of all of Washington. I always talked about him to my friends, and i made the mistake of telling my girl. She eventually stopped talking to him because hes not that great looking, so i talked to her about how we both saw one other person, and she didnt want me back. Which was weird cause she always took me back. So i decided to give her some more time, and she told my bestfriend about this new guy, and she knew he'd tell me, which he did of course. She said hes the most attractive guys shes ever laid eyes on, etc. They talked for a little bit, but the guy came to the conclusion he still loved his ex so they had to drop things. So i talked to her again and she still needed more time because she was so "devastated" i had kissed this other girl. Which is understandable considering the fact i'd kill anyone who even looked at her. She had told the girl i kissed she didnt love me anymore and how she was done, and of course the girl i kissed told me. I was so sad. I sat in bed cuddling with her picture for hours, til my family gave me an "intervention". It helped, but theres still a scar that no one can repair... She later said she'd change her mind and things would go back to normal and we'd love eachother again. Didnt happen. She started talking to a really fat ugly kid, cause his pictures on fb were somewhat cute. But she didnt see his whole body. But apparently he was really sweet to her, this that and the other. So she fell pretty hard for him, but i guess for some reason they quit talking and he was super sad. So she had talked to 3 dudes, i only talked to one. Let that be known has i continue the story. We had then gotten in a fight because she claimed i made her feel guilty. But we got over things, and she went back to the dude who left her for his ex. Let it also be known, instead of coming back to me and all the love in the world for her, she went back to the dude who has no love whatsoever for her, and she had only been with for a week..hmm lets see, a week, a year, no love, all the love imaginable..but, i couldnt argue. I didnt want to seem to desperate. She was always inviting me places with her and this new boy of hers. Wtf? So you can kiss and shit right in front of me? Fuck that. I knew she wanted to make me jealous, but i played along anyways. We went to the beach by my house, and. i saw her there, she looked so beautiful and happy without me... It kills seeing them happy without you. But i told her id fucking whoop the kid who was to show up any time now's, ass. She got scared and told him to go home, so i walked home because i was pissed. She then came up from behind me and hugged me. She told me she loved me and asked for a kiss. Of course i gave her one, i walked home serious but inside i was doing backflips 100 miles per hour. I got home expecting a text or something from her, but i didnt get one. So i text her all happy like we were a couple again, but she was very blunt about it. I asked if things were gonna workout, and she still told me no after kissing me and told me she loved me. So i cried like a fucking baby. All i wanted and needed was her love. But i could never get it. I guess she still needed more time. I text her goodmorning and goodnight everyday along with a cute i want you back song and never got any reply. I later talked to her bestfriend who was also my bestfriend on the whole situation, and i told her to tell my girl how i feel. She did, and went into explicit detail, god bless her for helping me. But she still wouldnt give me a second chance. All i want is her. My name is Juan Lomeli, and im asking everyone reading this a huge ass favor. Copy this and paste and share it on facebook, tumblr, twitter, do anything. Make it worldwide, call it help juan get his fucking girl back. I dont want the fame, i just want her to know how i feel. Make it so popular its all over newsfeed on facebook. And i know this is so long none of you will read this, and this isnt fucking fake. This is real fucking life. Once you share it, tell other people to share, make her know how much i love her. Tell your friends and they tell their friends and so on. PLEASE. SHE IS THE LOVE OF MY LIFE AND I NEED HER BACK. I KNOW THERES NO WAY I CAN REPAY ANY OF YOU FOR SHARING THIS BUT GOD IM BEGGING, JUST DO IT. DO IT THEN TELL OTHER PEOPLE AND MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE. ITLL TAKE 10 MINTUES AT THE MOST. PREFERABLLY PEOPLE IN WASHINGTON, SO ITS MORE LOCAL AND MORE LIKELY OF HER SEEING IT. SHIT, IF IT GOD AS BIG AS THE COUNTRY THATD BE GREAT TOO. BUT FUCKING PLEASE LET MY STORY BE KNOW. I LOVE HER SO MUCH. THANK YOU ALL WHO TRY TO MAKE MY STORY FAMOUS, i hope god has a good plan for you, considering your doing me such a huge favor.