Some songs just stick with you.
This song reminds me of the relief felt after the end of a bad relationship. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, to the point that I’ve tried to save relationships that just weren’t worth the effort. Once the initial shock of losing someone wears off, the realization that I’m happier without them in my life is actually uplifting. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Sometimes what you had just isn’t worth making a fuss over. Honestly, this song is worth playing when any source of stress disappears from your life.
The Get Up Kids: Action & Action
I discovered this song while driving home after a particularly long night during my stint as a cable technician. I recall the moment quite clearly: the sun was setting in the distance as I drove east on Techny toward Waukegan Road, and I was listening to WLUW (Loyola College Radio). I was feeling depressed, because a close friend and I had been doing nothing but fighting for weeks, and if the friendship hadn’t already ended it was close to exploding. A listener called in and requested the song, and within seconds I had pulled over so I could write its name down.
It’s hardly a secret that I am often a whiny brat. At the time I was a stereotypical emo kid, though the term had not risen to prominence yet. Years later, a girlfriend would refer to The Get Up Kids as “whiny and neurotic,” which I guess isn’t wrong, but I still like a lot of their stuff.
Tegan and Sara write amazing love songs. The challenge for me was not whether to put them on this list, but which of their songs to include. Other songs I considered included Love They Say, Where Does The Good Go, You Went Away, and You Wouldn’t Like Me.
Part of me will always be an awkward kid that just wants an uninterested girl to like him back. This song reminds me of yearning for affection and knowing I should give up on ever expecting it. That’s not actually what the song is about, but that’s how it makes me feel.
Here’s a tangentially related personal fact: when I was in preschool, I came home crying one day because a girl I had a crush on wouldn’t talk to me. PRESCHOOL. I don’t really remember the moment; my mother reminded me of the fact years later. That feeling still resonates with me. I’d like to think I have thicker skin these days, but I’ve probably just gotten better at holding that sort of thing in.
Kind of the opposite of Breakin’ Up, Stay does double-duty as a song that resonates when I’m feeling lovelorn and as the first time I realize I was into geeky girls. I remember the moment perfectly: my family was on vacation in Door County, and we were watching Saturday Night Live. Lisa Loeb was the musical guest, and as she sang on stage, the my thought process was basically this:
- She’s cute.
- She’s kind of a dork. Especially with those glasses.
- Wait, I wear glasses. Is that why I think she’s cute?
- Those glasses may be too much.
- I’m enough of a nerd. I don’t need to perpetuate the nerdiness this far.
- I still like her. I should stop.
- I need to like popular pretty girls.
- But she’s so cute!
- Also, the glasses.
- Fine, I like her, but I’ll never admit it to anyone.
Oh, to be a teenager again. The internet tells me this happened on October 7th, 1995, but I remember being much younger. In particular, the girls I remember thinking I should like were all from junior high. But maybe I am just merging old memories. The basic feeling is still strong in my head: stop trying to be what people want you to be and just like what you like. It wasn’t the first time I had the thought, but from around sixth grade until this point, I was trying too hard to be someone else. This is one thing that helped be get back on track.
The Smiths: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
It never ends, does it? My friend Dmitry introduced me to The Smiths with this song. No matter what you achieve, the want for something more or something else will follow some people forever. I can’t say I’ve ever felt perfectly happy, save a few moments that are long past. I don’t think it’s that I am never satisfied, it’s that the things I want most in life seem to forever elude me. I’m told my standards are too high. I disagree.
The lyrics “Why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or I die?” pretty much sum up a frustration I feel on a daily basis. I am too nice. There are any number of people who have made me think, “I am better off without this person in my life,” but because of either circumstance or personal weakness I have not jettisoned them. Part of me really wants to.
Finally, “What she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed” is pure genius. No way around that.
The Decemberists: The Engine Driver
This is the first Decemberists song I heard, and it immediately became one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s a song about accepting what you are, even if it isn’t what you want to be. It’s about feeling trapped in a situation you can’t handle, and about how the things that trouble one person are trifling to another. It’s about hanging onto something long after it’s healthy — for both the holder and the held. The part that really speaks to me, however, is this:
And I am a writer, a writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
And I’ve written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones.
Either you get that or you don’t.
Smashing Pumpkins: Tonight, Tonight
Number one with a bullet. Where do I begin? Tonight, Tonight is the first song I ever really loved. It’s the first song I ever connected with. I have yet to find a song that I feel defines me better. It was on nearly every mix tape, mix CD, and mini disc I ever made. I’ve dissected it, interpreted it, reinterpreted it.
Tonight, Tonight resonates with me in a way no other song ever has. It’s earnest and hopeful, a song suitable both for feeling downtrodden and victorious. It begins with stirring violins and the tick-tock sound of the instruments that accompany the opening line of “Time is never time at all” fit almost too well. Everything about this song comes together perfectly. I sometimes avoid listening to this song, because I never want to get tired of it. When I do listen to it, it’s all I want to listen to, over and over again, on repeat. I sometimes wonder if I would be the person I am today if I’d never heard it.
I could honestly write a whole essay on this song alone. In fact, I think I’m going to.