Saturday, June 13, 2009

Breakup: A Mixed Tape for Driving

During the 1989-1990 academic year, I was in college and at the end of another mismatched relationship: this guy being the jealous, possessive type, which did not suit me in the least. At this point, we'd broken up—his fault and my own; neither of us was blameless—and things were still a bit raw and messy. As is the case for so many of us in these moments, music was the cure. Songs were the balm used to soothe, the bubbly champagne-like celebration of freedom, and the arrows we conveniently slung at each other when we'd used up all of our own words. I remember the progression of our relationship in music, starting with "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes and ending with "Train in Vain" by the Clash. These songs were much older than our short-lived romance, but they fit. As for contemporary albums, in 1989, Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever hit the charts. I remember that a girlfriend from high school was staying with me at the time of the album's success. As a humorous side note, there had been some unfounded rumors about us—about the nature of our friendship—back in high school, and as luck would have it, some other alumni had matriculated to my college and had befriended the guy who'd become my ex. Go figure that when my friend showed up on campus (and in my apartment), the rumor mill cranked up again. My ex wanted to know whether what he heard was true. In response to this green-eyed question, my friend and I had a good platonic laugh behind closed doors—especially the doors to my car, where we cranked the stereo, rolled down the windows and pushed back the sunroof, then proceeded to belt out the lyrics to "Free Fallin'," which nicely summed up how I felt, the wind in my hair and a certain freedom back in my life. With a gender reversal, I was the song's narrative persona: a bad girl 'cause I didn't even miss him; a bad girl for breakin' his heart. Along with Tom Petty (the other great anthem of his being "I Won't Back Down"), there was also Sínead O'Connor and I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, in 1990. That album featured relevant songs such as "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance." I remember these ended up on a mixed tape—back when that's all we had: the hours spent taping onto cassettes, not the digital world of playlists, iPods, MP3s—and that the compilation became known as "the breakup tape." When I was sad about the split (which I still sometimes was), or especially if I was deemed in danger of an unhelpful reconciliation, my friend and I would push the tape into the car's player and go for a drive. Anywhere, really, but preferably someplace in view of the Hudson, the Catskills. And before long, we'd be "Runnin' Down a Dream," feeling fine and "like anything was possible" once again. The cure-all in my teens and twenties was simple: a good mixed tape to put me in a singing mood. Come to think of it, often enough this still works (though there's not a cassette to be found in my house). Only the songs themselves are different now.

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