On suggestion from a beloved friend, we each made a playlist of 7 songs to soundtrack a break up. We had to be creative about it, so I made mine into a narrative about the stages of a break up. Here are my 7 songs outlining the trajectory of heartbreak, all of which I love very dearly.
01. The National - “About Today” (from Cherry Tree, 2004)
It’s all in the lyrics; you look back over a strange day spent with your lover, and you realise that this relationship is coming to an end. “Today, you were far away / I didn’t ask you why.” The hopelessness is all there, the realisation that the flame has gone out, that the last dance has been danced, that the last love has been made in this couple. Taking us right into the intimate bed time murmurs between a couple, the insecurity is underscored by asking plainly, “Hey, are you awake?” - “Yeah I’m right here,” - “Well can I ask you about today… how close am I to losing you?” The answer goes unspoken in the lyrics, but the mournful violin and delicately plucked acoustic guitar tell us all we need to know - this is the end.
02. The Antlers - “Putting The Dog To Sleep” (from Burst Apart, 2011)
Having decided that the relationship is coming to an end, you decide to try do it maturely, it’s something unpleasant that you agree has to be done - putting the dog to sleep. Despite this attempt at being adult, there’s still that immature, worried side that you can’t hide, and squeaks out in the moments of intense despair; “prove to me I’m not gonna die alone,” you plead. Ultimately there can be no guarantees of anything, except to be there for each other if it comes to it: “Put your trust in me, I’m not gonna die alone - I don’t think so,” you conclude as the ethereal voices swell and the gentle ripping off of the band aid is nearly complete.
03. Jeff Buckley - “Last Goodbye” (from Grace, 1994)
This is it, the final goodbye, the culmination of all the arguing, all the making up, all the tears and all the memories. You’ve packed your bags, you’re one foot out the door. There’s something kind of heroic about it, certainly something romantic - this is something you’ll remember for years to come, recount to your future lovers, maybe one day turn it into a chapter of a novel. You can’t help your heart swelling as you take one last look back through the door - wait a second, have you made the right decision? You’re in a state of complete turmoil; “Maybe it’s just because I didn’t know you at all,” you’re thinking one second, then you have a deep yearning to scream “kiss me, please kiss me! kiss me out of desire, not consolation!” and then the realisation “it makes me so angry, because I know that in time I’ll only make you cry.” And then you’re out of the door, gone, walking down the street, tears streaming down your face and being whipped off by the wind, and in the background you hear “the bells out in the church tower chime, burning clues into this heart of mine, thinking so hard on her soft eyes.”
04. The Walker Brothers - “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (from The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, 1966)
This is it. The reality of the break up. You’re alone. You don’t want to go out, you don’t want to see anyone, you don’t want to leave your bedroom - what’s the point? “The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, the moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky,” - what good is going outside anyway? This is it - blissful misery. The kind you read about in books and see in movies and hear about in songs just like this one. This is it: loneliness boiled down to a pop song. You need her; you can’t go on without her. But you can’t get her back, and the sun ain’t gonna shine anymore - so you might as well just stay indoors and spin this classic pop masterpiece again and again.
05. Dirty Projectors - “Little Bubble” (from Dirty Projectors, 2017)
Still encamped in your bedroom, unwashed for days, the fog is slightly lifting. You can’t stop thinking about the memories of your lost loved one, but this time the good memories actually seem to make you feel good. You remember what it used to be like waking up right next to your true love; “morning, about the break of day, here we lay, arm in arm and cradled by the dawn.” As you continue to indulge yourself in these memories you start to realise just how precious your connection was, and how delicate and intimate these moments between you were. It strikes you “we had our own little bubble for a while, we didn’t know one way or other for a while.” Then just as the bliss of these memories is reaching its peak you remember the reality: it’s over. “Dreams are dumb and meaningless,” you start to think, sinking deeper down under your dank duvet; “I wanna sleep with no dreams, I wanna be dead.”
06. Shellac - “Prayer To God” (from 1000 Hurts, 2000)
You’ve been doing much better. You’ve been getting out, seeing friends. You might even have gotten the number of someone with some potential. And then you hear about her - she’s with someone new. Not just anyone. Him. You thought you were over her, but the moment you hear that she’s moved on and happy, and with that fucking guy to boot, you’re livid. You go home that night and you get on your knees and pray to god:
“There are two people here, and I want you to kill them.
Her - she can go quietly, by a disease or a blow to the base of her neck…
Him - just fucking kill him, I don’t care if it hurts - Yes I do, I want it to.”
You realise the deep and dark bloodlust you have for the two of them - the reprehensible, ugly, disgusting pair of them. How the fuck dare they be happy? And as you imagine the gruesome, beautifully brutal ways they might be killed, all you can think is “kill him, fucking kill him, kill him already kill him,” over and over. How dare he touch her.
07. Grimes - “Flesh Without Blood” (from Art Angels, 2015)
It’s been a few months now since that last incident, and you have cooled down considerably. In fact, now when you look back on the relationship you actually laugh - “Remember when we used to say “I love you” almost every day?” You could never have stayed with that person - “You never liked me anyway.” In fact the more you think about it, the more you realise how perfectly OK you are with the whole thing; that person you used to love doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe they never existed in the first place, maybe you just placed so much expectation on that person and you forced yourself to see what you wanted to see: “I don’t see the light I saw in you before.” This moment of realisation builds up in you like a small typhoon, until you come to the ultimate declaration of freedom, expressed in Grimes’ perfect cartoon voice: “I don’t care anymore!”