These are a few of my…Breakup Songs

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View over Torrey Pines State Beach, Del Mar, California / 08.19.17 

There are many ways to break a heart. The newest method I’ve learned is when a man you’ve loved for eight years leaves you for the final time (for another woman) one month after your Mom is diagnosed with cancer. You really do learn something new every day.

Life isn’t kind enough to stop and let you heal; you have to do that on the run. Friends, family, work that inspires and distracts you is key, and…slowly…through the pain…you take away the things that made you better, even if, in the pain, you see time and youth wasted. Blame feels good for a moment, but the truth is no one leaves an eight year relationship without blood on their hands. I am certainly no saint. Human beings are tragic mishaps, which is why you can love someone deeply but can’t find a way to make it stick. That’s the crux of the human condition.

But if something is taken from you, replace it. If you can’t fill the void with something new, then stitch yourself together, mend the tear from what you have left. And if there’s power in numbers, then music is the way to reclaim mine–as the notes in each song add up to a rhythm that reminds the heart to beat, the lungs to breathe, and keeps the nervous system in check. The last time I had my heart broken, I remade myself as a music journalist and found my footing.

So in that spirit I’m launching a new feature on Nostos Algos with this post. These are a few of my… will be a regular(ish) series that shares a few of my favorite things by theme, and, if musical, will be tied to Spotify playlists. The playlist that corresponds here is titled “…favorite breakup songs, and is composed of songs previously featured on Nostos Algos because I’m stitching myself together with what’s sustained me for years. One exception to this is an entire album by Daughter, since this indie British outfit is my spirit animal. Content runs the gamut in tone, from angry to sad, nostalgic to uplifting, and the order is mixed because that’s the reality of emotions: they are not linear.

There are many ways to break a heart, but there are just as many ways to mend it. Here’s to starting that process by sharing it with you, since there’s power in numbers, and healing…one song at a time.

 

Daily Dose: Nat King Cole

When I was a kid, I suffered from night terrors that would prove to be a lifelong affliction. In the earliest one I remember, my childhood dog was ravaged by a roaming pack of wolves that crashed through my bedroom window and brought the fight into bed with me. Then, after the delinquent parents of some neighbor kids down the street allowed the viewing of an R-rated vampire flick, the night terrors got real weird, real fast. My mother had a stroke of genius and created “Monster and Wolf Go-Away Spray”, a mixture of water and a few drops of her perfume with which I would douse every nook and cranny of my room under the assurance that the concoction would repel unwanted visitors. Because fear is relative, the trick worked for a time, but, unfortunately, its effectiveness began to fade as I grew older.

In middle school I began listening to music while I fell asleep since night terrors one night often inspired insomnia in the next–a fear to sleep for fear of what may come. Mostly classical at first–movie soundtracks, Erik Satie, etc–but this was too light. Then I moved onto the harder stuff, like Bush, but that was too much. Then I found the sound that was just right: Nat King Cole. Jaunty and melodic, there are nothing but feel-good rhymes, sentimental songs, and finger-snapping tunes that come from his smooth and perfectly pitched voice. There was something about falling asleep to this aura that soothed me completely, and from that point forward I listened to music of his sort every time I slept alone.

As life has gone on longer and times they’ve gotten tougher, Nat’s voice has seen me through the roughest of it–namely the loss of the two brightest guiding lights in my life. As I wrote some time ago, Nat King Cole held a prominent role in the soundtrack I orchestrated for my father’s funeral when I was just 26. I also included him in the mix the night we said our final goodbye to a beloved grandmother just last year. These were deliberate choices, to be sure, but on other pivotal occasions he has found a way to appear free of personal selection.

Two years after burying my father, we sold the rambling ranch home I had grown up in and left Los Angeles for good. We packed my childhood into boxes and sold what didn’t fit, hauling the load to San Diego where we had summered all my life to be nearer my father as he followed the race track circuit south each year from June through August. Now the place was our permanent home, my mother’s mostly but also mine too, and after a long, exhausting day, my uncle suggested we go out to dinner. We showered up and ventured down the road to a restaurant my father had watched in each stage of construction, poking his head in for opening updates and assuring the owners that he and his girls would be their first diners. We were and the place was a favorite family eatery thereafter because it was good but also because it was close to home.

That night, I sipped my glass of wine, chatted with my mom and favorite uncle, and commented on the music playing softly in the background–a well-curated mixture of indie and contemporary music. Then it happened. Anathema to any music that played before or after it, Nat King Cole’s “Smile” came up in the queue. Since this is the song I chose to play at my father’s funeral, the one that played as my mother and I left the church, arm in arm, it stopped our table cold. No one said a thing since to speak would be to sob. We shook our heads, took an extra hard drink of our preferred poison (black coffee for mother, wine for we drinkers), and individually sighed heavily. We finally made eye contact, and my mom said “That can’t be a coincidence.”

Later that night I asked our waiter who had made the playlist for the evening. Turns out, it was Pandora–a randomly selected station that played randomly selected songs. Meaning Nat King Cole had found his way into our moment to soothe the fear of what may come, or perhaps he was sent to us from another stratosphere by a bundle of Stardust energy from beyond doing what it had always done best: protecting its girls.