Maaaaaan. I really don’t want to do this one. Who wants to talk about a song that makes you sad? It makes you sad! There’s no reason to spend anymore time with than you already have.
Earlier this year, the Lady lost her iPod in the locker room at our local gym. Given that February 14th was fast approaching and that she was taking a three hour flight to see her parents in Florida, I purchased her a replacement [seriously, shop refurbished on the Apple website. Stop buying new]. The purchase of a new iPod is always followed by the filling of said iPod with music, an activity that sends you on a journey of aural archaeology through your hard drives and CD collection to see what you might have been missing on your previous player. Which usually results in being reminded of all the darker cracks in your personal history you’ve tried to spackle over in the subsequent years, whether that’s a CD your ex-boyfriend recorded or the Empire Records soundtrack. This is the road I unexpectedly found myself as the Lady took a fresh look through her iTunes library last winter.
“What are you doing with this?” she asked, clicking the file and starting up that muddy kick drum and choppy snare for eight bars before those triple keystrokes come in and break your heart, every fucking time.
In 1995 I met the woman who would not be my first love, but the first love to love me back. I was the sort of kid who infatuated hard, I obsessed, I wrote poems, bought flowers, did all the things a steady diet of 80s sitcoms and teen dramas I was too young to be watching taught me I should be doing. You don’t realize until much much later how little that shit works. I was not expecting much better out of university. But when she walked in to Dr. Atkinson’s Writing About Literature class…
In the years that followed I never asked her what reaction she was trying to inspire with the silver-boot/kilt/stocking/thriftstore leather jacket/pigtail combo she came strutting in to class rocking, but I know what she got out of me: total and utter lust.
She was two years older than me, a weird amalgam of hippy pothead and future rockshow; she drove a blue Tempo named after one of the girls in ABBA; she got into fistfights with her mother. She was the first girlfriend every arty boy [or boy who thinks he’s arty] needs, that beautiful mess of a woman who you should know can only break your heart in the end, but you’re too young, too dumb, too blissed out on regular sex to know that, or to acknowledge it if you do.
And that’s what it was for Charlon and I. She was denied a student loan in 1997, so she moved to Toronto, since all of her best friends had skipped Windsor by then. I wasn’t enough of a reason to stay, and ambivalent as I was about Toronto then [as all good Windsor boys are] and terrified of the unknown, she wasn’t reason enough to leave. We made a valiant attempt at long distance, but that’s near impossible in the best of circumstances. For a pair of early twentysomethings, one of which didn’t drive and barely had a job, it was doomed. She called me on January 30, 1998 and ended it. This song, not even an official single, was one of the most played songs that year.
Brian McKnight is unfairly looked at as a bit of a punchline these days, with his variety show, his postmillennial shift toward AC, movie blockbuster soundtrack bait in the Diane Warren mode. But this…this is just…despair. The confusion, the fear, the uncertainty, the longing, the wondering if it hurts her half as much….he had my number.
Now, let’s not wallow too much, friends. Charlon is married now, mother to a beautiful girl who I apparently will be taking to lunch one day ten years from now, if she wants to learn what her mother was like as she came of age. We talk once in awhile, she’s not the villain in this story. I have the perspective now to know that we would never have worked, but that doesn’t erase the point on my life where this song is plotted. It cannot be erased. As the piano key downshifts to the verse [still my favourite part, from a songwriting perspective], I’m lying in bed in my parents’ house, totally powerless, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, four months from failing out of school, writing really, really bad poetry. And as soon as I hit publish, I hope I never have to hear this song again.
Honourable mention: I don’t know who this woman is, or why the powers that be at Indigo Books and Music thinks this song is a suitable selection for our in-house satellite radio, but it is utterly terrifying to me, and has a habit of playing after we close as I’m cleaning some abandoned section of the store by myself.