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Love and Music: A Retrospective

on November 04, 2013, 2:48pm
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Marked song lead

Component is a section of  Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, Alyssa Pereira discusses love’s ever-lasting connection to music by relaying stories from Gareth Campesinos, Willis Earl Beal, and more.

~

When we met, we were wearing similar beaded black bracelets, working the day shift at a pizzeria in San Luis Obispo. Weird, sure, but we were weird, and in the years that followed, I fell in love with him. I finally told him so the morning after my 21st birthday, under my sheets, after he had gotten shitfaced and we got kicked out of Nickie’s Bar on Haight in San Francisco. He always kept things interesting.

He knew everything about me. He was the first person I told that I was bisexual, and though it was hard to explain exactly what I meant by that, I told him without hesitation because I knew he would love me just as he had before. A year later, after my house burned in a freak fire, he held me when I started to have anxiety attacks. He helped me piece myself back together. He laughed at my stupid facial expressions and he accepted my horrible quirks. He played drinking games with me to Ace Ventura and never let me win on purpose at ping pong. He was whatever the moon had always meant, as the quote went that he wrote on one of my birthday cards.

He was everything, as loves like that always are.

Before it went dark, he introduced me to “Blood” by The Middle East.

It was both beautiful and terrifying, and it struck me hard. Lyrically, it hinted at the possibility of doom and separation—something that for so long I refused to consider. When we fell apart, and I nearly did the same, I played “Blood” on repeat for three weeks.

Since then, it has become a relic of my guilt, my arrogance, and my cold detachment from him. It remains a scar on my conscience. It’s a reminder that he’s not the bad person I want to believe he is and that despite the neglect and promises we both broke, some part of me will always love him. It’s a living mark of that time in my life. I’ll grow up and he’ll grow up because life transpires as it does, but in “Blood” he was the one, if only for that brief span of time we mistook for adulthood.~

~

So much about projecting strength is giving the impression of emotional numbness—about holding back the people and things that force us to feel. But as my life happened, eventually I let him in. He sliced into the sheath. I let myself breathe in the wholeness of him and attached meaning to previously raw ephemera: poems, colognes, books, places, songs. Those sensory memories of him eventually tore me down. “Blood” was that vestige—my beautiful bête noire—for a long time.

It’s not a rare response, as I came to realize in speaking to other people about this phenomenon, people that are surrounded by music in one way or another. Some of them are artists, others are producers and sound engineers, but in any case, they have all felt the grab of a certain song in the same way as I have. All of us have felt retrospection in audio form suspend us in a chokehold—in that grasp of ecstasy, of pain, of bliss, of living at the peak of feeling for five minutes. There’s no living like being inside that vortex of emotional fury.

“Blood” cut me into crude, misshapen pieces. It reminded me that underneath that shield, I’m breakable. I hurt and love and suffer and fear, and most importantly, sometimes I am at the haphazard will of forces beyond my control. The marked song, as it became, contained the whole of everything about my person, and listening to it ruined me. It slowly replaced the whole of my relationship, triggering a series of evocative, intense flashes of moments with him. It wasn’t in a bad way or in a good way, as he told me once, but it became a temporal bookmark nonetheless. It created a nick on the line of my life, marking the spot where I grew. It delineated a span of time—an enclosed moment of being in both harrowing distress and unbridled ebullience. It condensed every emotion I had for him into five immensely painful minutes. It represented the loss of love, in all its violence.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 1.22.00 PMGareth’s email came a couple weeks ago, only a few days after I had asked him if he had any marked songs of his own.

The night before, I caught Fuck Buttons at the Independent, and I had spent that morning writing my review and questioning their music’s lack of human presence. I wasn’t convinced that the absence evoked any real emotion (which is something I think about whenever I cover anything remotely electronic), and I had just about finished my review when I saw his message.

It changed my mind about the show. I decided that what is implied by the extramusical is sometimes just as important to a song as its sound—that the implications to the listener contribute to the emotional value of the experience. I scrapped everything and started over.

Gareth David, Musician, Los Campesinos!
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone – “Jeanne, If You’re Ever In Portland”

I can’t remember if I played it for her, or if she for me. I think either way it was probably redundant in terms of showcasing a new song to the other, as we almost certainly both knew it before. We met at a music festival. The courting, if you can call it that, was conducted over the space of about 36 hours and was every bit the cliché that I try to disassociate myself from these days. But when recalling travails for the purpose of this piece, this is doubtless my most formative connection with someone. It’s the first time I remember meeting someone and thinking, “We’re a bit the same.” The programmed drums are skittish and the casio melody’s childlike, and both were fair approximations of how I felt, miles and miles and miles from home on a weekend away, having met this kind, pretty, intelligent girl. We hid out in the dunes on the beach while my friends paddled, and curled up under a blanket on the dirty carpet of the room in which her friends slept. And Owen Ashworth sings, “There’s kissing in Kansas, but that’s not home”, and there was and it wasn’t.

We hung out a couple of times after that weekend, over the course of a couple of years. I wrote a couple of songs about her, and now I’m writing this and really it feels like they’re not my memories to write about. We exchanged letters in the weeks after meeting and parting. She wrote beautifully, in miniature handwriting on bound pages trimmed to fit perfectly inside decorated matchboxes, but there was never more than letters and phone calls. We were never an item, and I selfishly, drunkenly tried to re-conjure that weekend a couple of times when the band I’m in caused me to be in the same city as her. We’ve not spoken since and probably five years have passed. About two years ago, a mutual acquaintance sent me a message to say he’d seen her for the first time in a while and that she had asked him to say hi to me.

I’ve had relationships that have inflicted much greater collateral damage, spread over far wider periods of time, but this is the one that set me up for being me, I think. I’m very happy now, and I’m certain she is too, and I’m grateful to have had a brilliant song imbued with larger emotional significance. Hi.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 1.14.43 PMOn the first day of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, I spoke with Matt. The city was reveling in its annual saturnalia, as it does every Indian Summer. It’s one of the great things that happens in the Bay Area that makes the rent payments worth it for a lot of people. The last time I had gone to the festival in 2012, I sat on the grass watching the Barr Brothers play “Beggar in the Morning” and worrying if I would see my ex at that set, since it was one of the last bands we had seen together at Le Poisson Rouge in New York a few months earlier. Later that day, I caught a glimpse of him in passing, which was incredible—the newspapers had estimated 750,000 people attended.

This year, I told myself I was too busy to go. Instead, I sat in my kitchen and talked about love and music with Matt.

Matt Schmalfeld, Musician, The Audacity
Big Star — “Blue Moon”

Big Star’s “Blue Moon”—the whole of the Third/Sister Lovers album in general– really speaks to me, I guess, because it’s a pretty romantic album. [That song] in particular though—it’s really slow and the words—it’s just really loving. I associate it with my current girlfriend. There’s always a little bit of hesitation in getting into a relationship on both sides. You have to take a little bit of a risk to see if it will work out, and that’s how the lyrics begin: “Let me be your one light/ And if you’d like a true heart/ Take the time to show you’re mine / And I’ll be a blue moon in the dark.” It’s very sweet-sounding, like love song stuff, saying that you’ll be dependable—that you’ll take the leap of faith to let that happen. That’s about as dramatic as I get.

That song in particular speaks to that girl. I’ve loved that song for a very long time and it just fits [her]. When you asked, that’s the first song that came to my head—it immediately made sense to me. One of the other guitar players in our band showed me that record and I’ve liked it for years (there’s so many other good songs on that album too), and I almost get teary listening to it. Every time, it’s just so emotional—raw vocals. You can tell that a lot of thought is going into those words.

marisafrydman Love and Music: A RetrospectiveThe day before I spoke to Marisa, I was a bridesmaid at my cousin’s wedding, surrounded by earnest, uncomplicated love. My cousin is one of those rare women who has no idea just how beautiful she really is, and as she beamed in step with her new husband for their first dance, it occurred to me that this song would now always hold the meaning of this moment for them.

Two years before, in another world and another chapter, Marisa and I had been seated next to each other for a few months while working at SPIN. We developed a sort of camaraderie as young women looking for our way in a tough industry, and we shared many of the same struggles in that respect.

Love is sometimes so flickering, especially in New York, and I’m sure she caught glimpses of mine diminishing. Hers was about to begin.

Marisa Frydman, KFUV Producer, New York City
Pretty Lights – “Finally Moving”

He came around at the perfect time. After a few years spent with a post-graduate hangover in my hometown, I moved to New York City to finally pursue my dream career in music. Although he is a chemical engineer, he’s the only person who I have met to date whose passion for new and innovative music matches my own. We spent our first few weeks together talking about our favorite songs and going to concerts, discussing festivals we want to travel to and what we absolutely can’t stand on the radio. One of the songs that he introduced me to during that time was “Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights. While the song used the same vocal sample that was featured in Avicii’s “Levels”, a big hit at the time, Pretty Lights’ version struck me in a new and optimistic way, like I had something great to look forward to for the first time in a while. Aside from looping a smooth and sexy groove, that song signified that a force had finally taken my life off of the pause button, and I was moving forward.

We have been together for over a year now and that song has been on my iPhone since the day he first played it for me—it still is today. Even if things eventually turn sour, that song will forever remind me of him and the progress we have both made from that point.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 1.17.59 PMI spoke with Migui on a dreary day in October. It was that uncharacteristic biting cold that happens only rarely in San Francisco, and I was very late to SF MusicTech at the Hotel Kabuki. Geary Street was a wide wind tunnel. My long hair was dreading from the determined gusts and my bag was so heavy, but I managed to tuck myself into a corner outside a dance classroom a block down from the hotel to read his response. Migui and I are from neighboring cities, so he’s known me for years.

If connections in our youth are the first defining factors of our emotional growth, he and I would be of similar minds.

Migui Maloles, Producer, Infinite Studios, Alameda, California
American Football – “The Summer Ends”

Back in high school when I was young, I fell in love with a girl. It didn’t end well. Breaking up was difficult, and like a lot of other broken-hearted teenagers, I found myself listening to a lot of straight-up emo. American Football had this nine-song self-titled album that was basically the musical embodiment of that point in my life. All the songs were explicitly emotional and about the end of a relationship, and every lyric sung and melody written on the album spoke for what I was feeling but not able to express. The opening song was one of the most depressingly straightforward and honest songs I had ever heard. It’s bittersweet: sad, but hopeful. The key and time signature play the perfect role in the melancholy pathos of the song, and it kept me rewinding. That record still gives me the imagery of the falling leaves with the oranges and reds of that despondent autumn.

With songs like “Summer Ends”, and lyrics like “… on the autumn night we realized we were falling out of love…”, American Football were trying to manifest the feeling of heartbreak and autumn sonically, and did it masterfully. I still listen to the LP from time to time and it makes me nostalgic. Listening to it doesn’t invoke the same feelings I got playing it as a kid though—I don’t get all sad or depressed over that relationship. Today [it] just reminds me of simpler times: the age of innocence and puppy love.

willisearlbike_THUMBWillis is open and introspective, which are things I greatly admire about him. Though he might say otherwise, I think he internalizes emotion and human connection in a way many people don’t understand, and I had a feeling that his insight on marked songs would be quite unlike the others.

Working out a time to speak with him proved difficult, as he had been touring around Europe, but I was able to catch him one afternoon when he finally touched down in New York. As soon as he answered the phone, a loud ambulance drove by. After an awkward silence spent waiting for the sirens to pass, I asked him how he was. He responded that he was confused. I asked him if he knew I would be calling, and he replied that he did, but that he’s just always in that sort of state. I laughed—I know the feeling, especially these days.

Willis Earl Beal, Musician
Ray LaMontagne – “Forever My Friend”

Just before my girlfriend and I broke up, we were listening to this song. It was about this guy who’s really hopeless—his relationship is falling apart, but he’s trying to encourage [the girl] that they would always be friends. It seemed like a death nail for our relationship. Every time it came on—my girlfriend loved Ray LaMontagne—it was just really foreboding. Most of the emotions I feel are not really in one direction or the other. I spend most of the time in between emotions—just on the cusp of feeling miserable or just on the cusp of feeling great, but never really arriving at either one.

I’m not much of a Ray LaMontagne fan, but that record was really truthful for me. He’s just one of those shadow characters that shows up in your life. I didn’t ask for him. I didn’t go looking for Ray LaMontagne. But his music represents a part of my life.

You have to understand, I don’t have many songs I associate with her. Most the time, we don’t like the same types of music. We communicate with each other on a very human level. I prefer it. She’s more coffeehouse and I’m more dissonant type stuff. That particular record though, he was just basically saying, “I’ve fucked everything up and I’m going to continue to fuck everything up. I don’t know why and I wished there was someone who felt the way I felt. I wish someone felt the way I feel. And I just have to accept it.” And it’s like he’s pleading, but he’s not pleading with anyone in particular—he’s pleading with the darkness. He tried to plead with this woman, but she won’t have it. It’s really just the kind of weepy crap I’d turn away from, but it came into my life when I needed it to come into my life, and I listened to the whole thing. It’s an emotional record.

~

At the end of our conversation, I asked Willis where that woman was now. She came back to me, he responded curtly. We’re married now.

Today is my 25th birthday. People tell me that this is the year I’ll grow up.

I don’t know.

Every once in a while, something from the era of “Blood” stirs me—the smell of spiced coffee, a 707 area code, the hum of a valved voice like his—but like the song, they feel different as time moves. They sting, but not like they used to, and they’re abrasive, but it’s a dulled pain. Sadness from that lost love has become such a beautiful thing. Today he’s in Peru, and this morning he wrote me a sweet note to wish me a good year, even though he doesn’t know me anymore, or what a good year for me is. “Blood” has come to represent a part of a story that doesn’t quite feel like mine anymore. The bookmark of us is folded away inside a previous chapter. I said thank you anyway.

I turn the page. I switch to another song. This is the year I grow up.

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