Soundtrack for a Breakup: '90s Edition
Five songs that got me through a particularly rough patch of the Clinton administration.
1. Weezer, "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here"
"How's it going with Nicole?" Tim asks.
"Better, I think. She seems more into it these days." I actually have to turn down the Weezer that I'm loudly playing in my room to make sure I can hear what Tim's about to say. But for a moment, there's just silence on the other end.
I know it hasn't been easy with Nicole recently, but I love her, and if we could ever get back to the feeling of our first months together, it would be worth it. What I don't know is that yesterday, Nicole stopped at a local bakery, bought three cupcakes, invited the baker back to her apartment, and promptly blew him. Tim, on the other hand, does know this. Once he collects himself, he quietly clues me in to the fact that my girlfriend spent the past evening giving head to a complete stranger, who by some random chance happens to be an old friend of his.
I hang up numb. And then I have what is surely the least rational and (in retrospect) most hilariously '90s thought possible at such a delicate moment: "But I got her tickets to Alice in Chains Unplugged!"
2. Alice in Chains, "Down in a Hole (unplugged)"
Not only had I gotten her tickets, but when work had prevented me from going at the last minute (I know) and she couldn't find anyone to take my spot, I'd generously invited my fun, handsome new co-worker Darren to join her. They'd had a great time at the show while I worked late. I'd smiled at my desk, thinking of them enjoying it. Tickets and and a new fun friend! Double gift! With a touch of grim foreshadowing!
I walk the twenty blocks to her place, practicing my lines. "I am embarrassed to have tried so hard with someone so pathetic." A winning mix of scornful disapproval and emotional detachment, I think. I knock, and as she opens the door, my script falls away. I opt instead for an uncontrollable shower of tears and snot. Regrettable.
"How could you?" I sniffle.
"What did I do?"
"You know what you did! You cheated! And after I got you Alice in Chains tickets!"
"What? I can't believe Darren told you!"
"Darren? I was talking about the baker whose dick you sucked last night!"
Two dudes. Two consecutive nights. Awesome. Time for some more tears.
3. All, "Breakin' Up"
A few hours later, I sit in the narrow space between my bed and stereo, bawling and scanning my CDs for the perfect breakup song. Something to hit those exact note of frustrated rage that I have in mind. The Offspring? Nope. Rancid? Definitely not. Dinosaur Jr? Not even close. Ah, here it is. I pull out All's Pummel and skip to track 11. "This is it, man," I say to my friend Aaron, who's arrived to console me. "'Breakin' Up.' This is exactly how I feel." The song starts with over-compressed guitar and these immortal lyrics:
What if we could talk it over
If only we could somehow find a way
Maybe we could just start all over
If only we weren't breakin' up today
It's amazing how our appetite for allusion and metaphor is inversely proportional to the emotional duress we're under. When my life is in perfect balance, I'm all about Ted Hughes poems about depression. But when the hurt comes on, nothing soothes quite like high-school-diary directness.
4. Ween, "A Tear for Eddie"
Hours later, I've grown sick of musical catharsis. I'm tired of crying — my eyes are worn out and dry. I need a break from my wallowing, and that's what Ween's Chocolate and Cheese can give me. The first few songs deliver, and I smile at the silliness of it all. Then, bam, "A Tear for Eddie" comes on and I, like Eddie's friend, am back to tears. Despite appearing only a couple of tracks after a song called "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)," "A Tear for Eddie" is among the most gut-wrenching instrumentals I've ever heard. I've been ambushed.
5. Ash, "Kung Fu"
Two months later, I find myself at Irving Plaza, catching bits of Ash's performance when I'm not staring at my friend's cute French colleague. I'm still aching from Nicole's double dose of infidelity, but this smiling French pixie, with her hair all Björked up, has me wide-eyed and nervous. I make fumbly conversation — what was Paris like? do you like New York? — and feel like a clown, but she tilts her head down while keeping eye contact in a way that makes me feel like we have a secret. We get an annoyed "shhh" from someone nearby and smile at each other. Our hands touch as Ash launches into their single "Kung Fu." Then I take her hand and kiss her as she turns to me, and Nicole, Darren, and the baker recede into the distance.