If you’ve turned on a radio recently you’ve undoubtedly heard Gotye’s song “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The damn song will not stop playing. It’s the kind of song you hear the first time and think “yeah man, been there. I like these relatable lyrics & simplistic xylophone accents.” Then, after the millionth listen, you find yourself shouting “you’re just the watered down, pulp-free version of Sting & I hate you!” Even the Australian singer admitted to feeling sick of his own song.
But the immediate rise of this song’s popularity got me thinking about break-up songs/albums. To quote Rob Gordon “What came first, the music or the misery? . . . Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
In a few days I will be sitting across from three grown men defending my thesis. I will answer questions about my very personal, very break-upy, and very-sexual-at-times, collection of poetry. The only thing I feel confident and certain about my thesis is this: I’ve done nothing new. Loss, longing, heartbreak . . . I am walking on a well-worn, stupidly tear-soaked path. My thesis is, for lack of a better phrase, a break-up album. Plain and simple.
But part of me wonders how much I used these men for my own art. At some point did I cross a line from genuinely missing them, to simply using them for material?
The more I write about these men the less I feel I knew them. The more I try to capture moments, the hazier the memories become. And the more I try to save their touch, the farther they feel from me. Two of my poems are even called “The Moment She Realized She Didn’t Know Him At All” and “The Moment She Realized He Wasn’t Hers.” Ew. Cue the xylophone refrain. I’m gross.
One of the books I read in collaboration with my thesis was Adrienne Rich’s book, The Dream of a Common Language. In it I came across this quote, from her poem “Twenty- One Love Poems”:
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
I reminds me that, when it really comes down to it, I’ve done nothing new with my thesis.
Anyone who was awake for 5 mins of the ‘90s is all too familiar with the popularity of the break-through break-up song. We all know Jewel’s debut 1995 album, with songs like “Foolish Games” and “You Were Meant for Me.” We all sang along with Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” from Jagged Little Pill. You could tell Alanis was angry. She was sexy. And she clearly directed her song at one person (*cough*unclejoey*cough*). I loved it. I wanted it.
More recently we’ve had Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and of course Adele’s 21. If you haven’t found yourself driving at night, blasting “Someone Like You” while trying to hold back the ugly cry, you may be a robot.
21 is now the fifth biggest-selling album ever in the UK. My favorite from the album is “Turning Tables.” But in her Feb 2012 Vogue interview Adele was quoted saying “I am never writing a breakup record again, by the way. I’m done with being a bitter witch.”
No! Say it ain’t so, Miss Laurie Blue Adkins! But, then again, I understand. There were moments while editing the final version of my thesis I felt fed up with myself. Could I really think of nothing else to write about?
I fear I’ve done nothing new.
Did these men, who (in the grand scheme of things) had very minimal influence on my life, really deserve all this attention? No. And yet I continued to write about them. Part of me wants to take a card from Adele’s book and shout something like, Fack! Someone who probably didn’t deserve me in the first place certainly doesn’t deserve to know how much I cared about him.
But, like Adele, I also have to admit “If I hadn’t met him, I think I’d still be that little girl I was when I was eighteen. And the best thing is, I now know what I want for myself and from someone else. I didn’t know what I wanted before.”
And that, ultimately, is what a break-up album is about. Yes maybe it begins as a way of expressing confusion, anger, loss, revenge, hurt, denial, but in the end it has very little to do with the person who hurt you. It’s about figuring out your own shit . . . the shit forced to the surface when someone looks at you and says they don’t want their future to include you. When something officially ends you scramble to figure out a new beginning. In the words of The Beatles, “I don’t know why you say goodbye I say hello.”