Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What'll I Do?

This post is inspired by the recent “Breakups” episode of This American Life (podcast highly recommended).

As the introductory anecdote explains, breaking up is one of the most common experiences in life,
"Like, everyone you know broke up with everyone they’ve ever dated, until maybe the person they’re with right now, if they’re with someone right now, but when it happens to you it feels so specific."

And to your horror you find that every breakup cliché really does apply.

Take breakup songs. They may be great, classic, even hit records, but when you break up it’s like they just appeared for the first time and were written exclusively for you (and your desire/need to wallow).

Anyway, I’m positive that there are at least 100,000 more and better examples than this sparse sampling (except for Berlin. Berlin’s is sovereign), but the following are my heartbreak’s greatest hits.

Stinging citations and the reasons why:
4. “Hard, cold and cruel is the man who paid too much for what he got…And if you need me to love you, say yeah you do. Darling please, don’t you know that I need you?” —Aretha Franklin
She’s like, “The price you’re paying is me. Can’t you see that? The price is too high! How can you let me go?” All the desperate honesty of a torch song, except not pathetic...until the 20th playback in a row.

3. “He walks away, the sun goes down. He takes the day, but I’m grown. And in your wake, in these blue shades, my tears dry on their own.”
—Amy Winehouse
Translation: "Okay, now I'm supposed to live without the SUN? Harsh. And yet, that's the way it is. I have to get over it. Get over it or die. I’m a grown up. My tears are no one else’s." This is sort of antithetical to standard breakup-song rhetoric which recommends a diet of unending depression.

2. “I know you’re probably thinking, what’s up with [me]. I’ve been crying too long. What did you do to me? I used to be so strong, now you took my soul…
You coulda told me you wasn’t happy. I know you didn’t wanna hurt me. Look what you’ve done to me now. I gotta look at her in her eyes and see she’s had half of me….” —Beyonce Knowles(allegedly), music by Curtis Mayfield.
I’m consistently amazed by Beyonce Knowles ability to relate to the masses. As much as it fries my brain to compute, somehow she does get the ladies. And for the ladies in love, sex is sacred. When you find out that the one you love is giving the loving to another (or otherS), on one hand it’s good because you’re forced to get it. It’s like, “okay, I see. You gave what was mine to someone else—what was half of me. It really is over.”
On the other hand, you’re forced to get it. It’s like, “I know you didn’t wanna hurt me, but look what you’ve done to me now. Someone else—someone who probably doesn't even matter—has half of me.”
That sentiment + the Curtis Mayfield score = Total Devastation.

And the award for greatest, simplest, bestest, most resonant sung emotion that could possibly speak to my reductive heart of hearts:

1. “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” —Irving Berlin
Seriously, what’s more heartbreaking than that? It IS heartbreak. In a nutshell. Greatest. Sad. Song. Ever.

I mean can you answer that question? What does one do:
…when I am wondering how you feel just now?
…with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?
…when you are far away and I am blue?


So, what other heartbreak gems am I missing? Please school me. I don’t mean to take pleasure in the misery of others, but if you could share what it was and why you cried that would be really excellent.

UPDATE: I'm not on suicide watch. This post was a long time coming and I'm slow to write. Just always wanted to speak on the topic. Enter This American Life, referenced above, then yesterday "What'll I Do" came up on the old iPod so I was reminded.
'Preciate the love, nonetheless, but don't worry. As a good friend of mine once titled a mix CD, "I Don't Need That N----"


  1. i'm working on a best of breakups to breakups...add the following to your list

    hurt so bad - little anthony and the imperials

    nothing compares to u - prince

    just like a woman - nina simone

    and for a pick me up

    i hold no grudge - nina simone

  2. I don't believe I've heard that Berlin song. Might have to find it and check it out. I'm drawing a blank on other songs though. Gonna have to think on it for a minute. That whole Amy Winehouse album is built for breaking up though.

  3. funny you posted this. cannot name one right now but I have been blasting some Timberlake "Cry Me a River", NERD "Run To The Sun" and "Stay Together" for the past day or so.
    Not necessarily break-up music but I'll think hard and come up with something.
    Sure, I'll come across something in the next week. Hit you back when I do.

  4. Girl, I feel you. I remember when I first returned to NY, damn Mariah was singing right to me with her we belong together, but you know what helped me, other than you and afua being the best friends ever...songs that remind me to tell that dude to go fuck himself. Keisha Cole is good for that,old and new. I think that heartache is what it is....its a constant twinging pain just throbbing within. Sucks. But take comfort in this..all those song writers and all those people who have gone through the same have survived as well. As will you. So, turn off the radio...didnt i leave a cd there once, a long ass time ago, that my sister made for me for this exact situation. Listen to it. other than that, the blog was well written and I love you!!!! Till soon.

  5. I agree with Keyshia Cole..."Let it Go" is my ANTHEM! It's not about wallowing in the past, it's about embracing the present and seizing the future! I know I sound 'life coach-y' but seriously, every new guy is better than the last. "If he ain't gonna love you, the way he should, then let him go...if he ain't gonna treat you, the way he should, then let him go."
    Enough about me, I'm adding you to my blogroll.

  6. but of course we shan't forget the immortal Sweater Song: "if you want to destroy my sweater- pull this thread as I walk away- watch me unravel- I'll soon be naked- lying on the floor- lying on the floor- I've come undone!" -Weezer
    I'm not sure if this song is about heartache or knitting... either way its poignant.