15 Songs That Make Me Think Of My Ex
Nerve readers look wistfully into the distance, then ask you to change the station.
The Mountain Goats, "Psalms 40:2"
When my ex and I drove across the country together, we listened to the Mountain Goats constantly through many adderall-fueled twenty-hour drives. On the last night of the trip, we spent the night in a Red Roof Inn, having sex and panicking about the future, before driving the rest of the way to Santa Fe, where I was dropping him off to go to school.
When we broke up, I couldn't bring myself to listen to the Mountain Goats for months. So when they came out with a new album, I was stoked; new songs I could enjoy with no associations with the ex! I put on the new album, and when the second song came on, I heard, "We checked into a Red Roof Inn, stayed up for several hours and then slept like infants in the burning fuselage of my days." So much for no associations. I swear John Darnielle is in my head.
Roxy Music, "Just Like You"
A suicide-hotline operator once called a squad of cops and paramedics to force me into a mental hospital. You quickly get to know people intimately in a psych ward, thanks to group therapy, hours of downtime, and the general emotional mushiness of the environment. I got close to a dental hygienist who was drying out from a manic episode. She gave me her number when she was released. Two days later, I was waiting for a bus to take me home. I turned on my newly de-confiscated Discman, which resumed playing Roxy Music's Stranded. "I know it sounds crazy/ But what can I do/ I've fallen head over heels, over you," Bryan Ferry sang on "Just Like You." Years later, long after the relationship blew up due to the to-be-expected erratic behavior on both our parts, that song still makes me want laugh and/or cry.
Prodigy, "Smack My Bitch Up"
It started as a joke, but then it stuck. My ex and I were driving around Los Angeles when "Smack My Bitch Up" came on the radio. I joked, "Wow, I bet this is some couples' song." We both had a big laugh and agreed that from now on, it would be our song. After that, whenever the dulcet tones of "Smack My Bitch Up" filtered through the speakers we'd share a laugh. Now, more than ten years later, whenever I hear that song, I think of him and have a bit of a smile.
Cinematic Orchestra, "To Build A Home"
One of the cheesiest "think about your ex" selections possible, since its sole reason for existing is to make girls weep. And that I did. Back when I was a second-year graduate student, I had the misfortune of falling in love with someone completely inappropriate. We broke up, we made up, we rinsed and repeated several times over, before finally calling it quits in the fall of 2005.
Then came Facebook! We found each other again! Only he lived in Boston and I lived in New York. So we proceeded to torture each other some more with ambiguous email exchanges from afar. Often these would include song suggestions. When he sent me "To Build A Home," I proceeded to walk around the city for a few hours and cry, imagining the thousands of hidden messages that he meant for me to decode via its lyrics. We never got back together. I think that once I heard "To Build A Home" in an episode of Ugly Betty. Ugh, I hate myself.
Airiel, "In Your Room"
Jim and I met in London while he was visiting from Sydney on a working-holiday visa. I moved to Sydney with him once his visa had expired. He didn't share my taste in music, but "In Your Room" struck a nerve in both of us. The innocent, dreamy lyrics, paired with the shimmering guitar flowing through the nine-minute running time still reminds me of seemingly endless summers spent together. It's a song that doesn't sadden me to listen to in hindsight, but one that takes me somewhere between here and now and there and then.
Young Money, "BedRock"
I know. I'm slightly — okay, hugely — embarrassed by it. But let me explain: my ex and I took a road trip from upstate New York all the way down to Florida for spring break our senior year of college. Our relationship was already going down the drain, and I guess this trip was a last-ditch attempt to save it. (Didn't work.) "BedRock" played constantly on the radio while we were on the road — and was the only song we listened to in its entirety and sang (er, rapped?) to each other every time it played. Those two-minute jam sessions ended up among the few highlights of what turned out to be the Most Awkward College Spring Break Ever. What can I say? We had a thing for ridiculous lyrics and Lil Wayne.
Bon Jovi, "You Give Love A Bad Name"
On her thirtieth birthday, my wife demanded a divorce. I was devastated at the time. It took me a couple days to start telling my family and close pals. Their unanimous reaction? R-E-L-I-E-F. To keep my own wits during the separation, I hosted a monthly divorce theme-song contest via email. The best submission I ever received was the aforementioned hit tune. In a nutshell, it summed up our stormy relationship. Since then, I've remarried and enjoy a wonderful home life. Whenever I hear this Bon Jovi song, I smile, because I truly appreciate "heaven" after having been through "hell."
Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here"
When I was a freshman in college, I had a long-distance boyfriend from my hometown. Although I saw him almost every weekend, of course it wasn't enough. During one long phone conversation, he told me to listen to "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd, because it reminded him of us. I thought it was really sweet at the time. But now whenever I hear it it reminds me of how ridiculous we were, because it's not like we were never going to see each other again… we just had to wait a week.
Ben Kweller, "Thirteen"
Back in the day, when I thought making a mix CD for your significant other was the most original expression of love, I put this song on one that I made for my first serious boyfriend. Maybe it's Kweller's croon, but to this day, I swear a tear will roll ever so dramatically down my cheek whenever I hear the song. It reminds me of the beginning, when things were passionate yet carefree — before jealousy, distance, and conflicting ambitions got in the way. More than anything, it brings me back to that amazing first year, right before everything fell apart.
Dave Matthews Band, "Crash Into Me"
The first time my ex and I really hit it off was on a cruise together with mutual friends. The last night of the cruise, we stayed up all night talking and lounging on lawn chairs on the deck. We must've fallen asleep (or been doing other unmentionable things in the dark) because we were suddenly "awoken" by a hint of sunlight and the song "Crash Into Me" playing over the pool loudspeaker. We spent the next five minutes watching the sun rise and belting out Dave Matthews. As lame as it sounds, I still get goosebumps whenever I hear that song.
Bon Iver, "Flume"
Weekends, I used to go visit her in the little town she lived in, three hours away. Then I'd have to get up and go back to the city for work on Monday, and she'd have to give me a ride to the train station. We never managed to sleep much on Sunday nights, sick with separation anxiety, and then we'd haul ourselves out of bed when it was still dark out and mournfully shiver out the door. It was winter; you could see our breath in the car. As if the whole thing wasn't sad enough, we were generally listening to Bon Iver, watching the world fade slowly from black to dull blue to dull gray. No wonder we broke up. That first track on For Emma still makes me feel queasy.
Ja Rule, "Living It Up"
I kissed my first boyfriend in the high-school hallway after fencing practice. A week later, we were headed to the holiday dance at the local Boys and Girls Club "together," meaning we showed up and left with separate groups of friends, meeting only to exchange gifts and hold sweaty palms together through a few songs. When "Living It Up" came on, I knew it was the perfect song to slow dance to. I believed a lot of things about high school then: that there would be plenty more perfect songs to slow dance to, that big things would happen, that me and this kid would last longer than the box of chocolates he got me for Christmas. I would know better eventually.
The Mamas and the Papas, "California Dreamin"
In 1962, I was in high school, chasing this girl. I was one of the poor boys in town, and she was rather well-to-do; needless to say, she never had time for a guy like me. But by 1967, I'd done a tour of duty with the Army Rangers in Vietnam; I was built a lot differently, and had a completely different attitude from that of the skinny teenager she remembered from high school.
There was a party at one of the lower-rent apartments downtown, and when I showed up, looking to get laid, there she was, sitting on the floor against the wall with a joint of some of the worst dope I'd ever tasted. I reached into my hip pocket and pulled out some excellent Kona Gold. "California Dreamin" kept playing over and over on the stereo. That night, the sex was more than good — it was for spite. I still smile when I hear "California Dreamin."
The Fugees, "Ready or Not"
I was seventeen, driving in my boyfriend's Oldsmobile, leaning close to him across those classic and arguably unsafe bench seats. "Ready or Not" blasted through his more-expensive-than-the-car-itself sound system. I'd heard the song many times before, but right then it seemed synchronized to my internal soundtrack. (You know, the soundtrack that plays "Eye of the Tiger" when you're preparing for battle, or "Going to California" when you're on the plane to, uh, California.) Anyway, we dated until I was twenty-one and had many songs we called our own. But I never told him about that one and how it reminded me of falling very hard for him.
Third Eye Blind, "Semi-Charmed Life"
For some reason, my ex soundtracked his life like it was a '90s bar mitzvah. We used to spend our nights drinking forties in his basement while his parents were home, blasting alterna-hits to cover the sounds of our adolescent base rounding. Yet, no matter how intensely we were making out, if "Semi-Charmed Life" was playing, we would always break apart just in time to shout "doo-doo-doo" in each other's faces.
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