[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
One of the best romantic messengers is, of course, music. And then when it's over and you are at the bottom of the well, there is music for that situation, too. When you are on your feet again and ready to get back into the game, there is also a soundtrack to herald your great return. Basically, when it comes to matters of the heart, there is a song for that. In fact, there are a bunch of them.
The ecstatic insanity of romantic pursuit can be so enhanced by music that entire romantic conquests, victories and ruinous, crushing defeats can be tied to songs to such a degree that it's almost unbearable to listen to them again, as they bring back the memories so vividly.
Many of us can connect to songs many major moments of our lives. Hearing them again, especially if it's a song associated with a breakup, can elicit a strong response.
I don't want to generalize, but I wonder if it's the breakup songs that lodge more firmly in the memory than the songs from happier moments. I think that humans have a huge capacity to carry pain and sadness. There are things that haunt us our entire lives; we are unable to let them go. The good times seem almost effervescent and dreamlike in comparison with the times that didn't go so well.
Some songs are a salve for the wounded heart, others prolong the misery but somehow help ease the torment, some are painful reminders that cannot be visited for years afterward. (One is reminded of the song “Don't Play That Song [You Lied],” written by Ahmet Ertegun and Betty Nelson and sung by Ben E. King.) There are songs that are incredibly evocative but don't necessarily fall into any of these categories, they're just happening. Let's discuss, shall we?
Survival Sounds Dept.: The great singer and songwriter William Bell co-wrote a song called “Any Other Way.” You can find it on his Soul of a Bell album. It comes complete with that amazing Stax rhythm pocket and perfect horn lines. The song basically tells the girl who dropped you — via a third party — that you are just fine, thanks. In fact, you wouldn't have it any other way. The truth is that you're not fine. You play this song a few times and feel pretty good, and then you fall apart and leave another incredibly embarrassing phone message.
In Agony and Pouring Gasoline on the Flames Dept.: While I was still reeling from yet another humiliating romantic failure, a few songs have left my speakers enough times to the point where perhaps I needed a professional to look me over. From the iconic Thin Lizzy album Jailbreak, there's the song “Running Back.” If you're not ready, this one will level you.
The guy in the song is in a band and he knows it's over, yet he tells her that he'd come running back to her again. You're going to have to play this one at least three times just to catch your breath. From Dinosaur Jr.'s very excellent Without a Sound album, “I Don't Think So” has had me howling in misery as I hit the repeat button.
Probably Never Play This One Again Dept.: Many years ago, at least 70 or so, I had a very close and intense relationship with a girl that went for a long time, on and off for years. We were young and went through a lot of things together. To this day, we are very good friends and we know each other very well.
When it was really over, there was a song that became unlistenable to me on an album that I played often then. Still, after all these years, I can't listen to that song, and have not heard it all the way through for more than a quarter-century. From the Black Sabbath album Vol. 4, the heart-atomizing song “Changes” is still too much for me to take. Just thinking about it bums me out.
They Obviously Were Thinking of You When They Wrote It Dept.: There are some songs that I have been listening to for years, which address relationships and never lose their appeal. Nor do their wisdom and power to evoke deep thought diminish. From the must-have album Raw Power by the Stooges, consider “I Need Somebody.”
This is a classic Iggy Pop lyric; the title tells you all you need to know. “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is a song by David Bowie that was heard in the 1982 film Cat People, starring Nastassja Kinski, whose looks in that film could have either cured cancer or caused global conflict. It is a great, hungry song of romantic pursuit.
I will include two more here, as they are some of the best damn songs I have ever heard. Again, by the master Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, from their rockin' album Fighting, the song “Wild One.” An achingly beautiful tune by a man who wrote so many great songs, it's hard to believe.
To end on a happy note, one from a true musical genius, Roky Erickson, “Starry Eyes.” I have been told it is his favorite of all his work. I have seen him play it. It's about as good as music gets.
Of course, the best music is what you are going to listen to next. It's all freedom rock to me!