Love Stinks

A warm, fuzzy roundup of depressing anti-Valentine's Day anthems

I'm writing this column on a plane, listening to "Brick" by Ben Folds Five. Regardless of what you think of Ben Folds Five, "Brick" is a nice tune, so sad yet so catchy, a pop song bereft of platitudes, a pop song that's about something other than hooking up or breaking up, not that it isn't a pop song about love. "Brick" is a song about a relationship under stress, sung by a boyfriend describing his girlfriend's abortion and the ways it challenges them both: "Driving home/ To her apartment/ For the moment we're alone/ She's alone/ I'm alone/ Now I know it." In the 58 minutes it takes to fly from the S.F. to the O.C., I've listened to this song four times.

I am not looking forward to Valentine's Day. Even when I've had a girlfriend in the past it was a source of strain, what with the immense pressure (thank you, Hallmark) to make the day special and all. I'd take that headache over being single, mind you, but the fact is that any way you slice it it's a shitty holiday. And kids, what do we do when something's shitty?

[Chorus of children's voices:] We grumble about it!

Thaaaat's right.

In association with Hasbro and Hazmat, the makers of Barbie and chemical spill solutions, respectively, I present the following roundup of depressing, anti-Valentine's Day anthems.

"Suspicious Minds," Elvis Presley. Covered by everyone from No Doubt to Waylon Jennings to the Fine Young Cannibals (ooh-wee, and what a cover the Cannibals did), this Elvis classic is the ultimate snapshot of a relationship cracking under the pressure of mistrust: "We can't build our dreams/ With suspicious minds." Ha! Damn right you can't, you jealous, insecure nimrods. "Why can't you see/ What you're doing to me/ When you don't believe a word I say?"

"Go Your Own Way," Fleetwood Mac. This one's kind of self-explanatory. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were on the fritz when the band recorded Rumors (which is a contender for best anti-Valentine's Day album), and this song's pretty much the kiss-off. What's amazing, though, is that Nicks remains mad to this day. If you watch some of the live concert footage from the late '90s, she still sings songs like this directly at Buckingham. Creepy.

The "long face" song, Joanna Newsom. Newsom has been playing this new tune live for the past few months. To my knowledge, a recorded version has yet to appear. I'm not sure of most of the lyrics, or for that matter the title, because I've only heard the song once, but once was enough: "Oh, how I miss your precious heart," she sings over and over again. I'm quite certain it's a breakup song, not bitter and desperate, just sad and reflective and poignant. You can most likely hear Newsom perform it on Feb. 25 and 26 at the Swedish American Hall.

"Case of You," Joni Mitchell. A lot of people think this is a love song, but they're wrong. It's a song about someone saying, "Hey, douche bag, if you're leaving me it's for your own sake, not mine, so don't give me this bullshit that you're doing this to protect me from you. I could drink a case of you, motherfucker, and I'd still be on my feet." Joni Mitchell was too sweet and gentle to use the word "motherfucker," but you can tell that's what she meant.

"New Partner," Palace. I know of no other song that so eloquently, tenderly, and regretfully explains to an eager ex-lover that, for better or worse, you have moved on and that's that. "There is some awful action that just breathes through my hand/ Just breathes from a deed so exquisitely grand/ You were aaaaaalwaaaaaays on my mind," coos Will Oldham over guitar chords warmer than fresh-baked bread. "But, oh, I've got a new partner riding with me/ I've got a new partner now."

"Famous Blue Raincoat," Leonard Cohen. My shrink told me a few months ago that part of breaking up with someone is listening to Leonard Cohen. So I did. (I never was much of a fan before.) Now I know why I pay my guy the big bucks. My take on this song is that it's Cohen writing a letter to a friend with whom his wife cheated. The wife comes back to Cohen, but she's different, and he's both thankful for the change and pissed when he realizes how it came about. "Love bites" is the moral of the story, which brings us to ...

"Love Bites," Def Leppard. This cock-rock ballad has a lot in common with "Suspicious Minds." OK, no it doesn't. But the two tracks are about the same thing: mistrust. "When you wake up will you walk out?/ It can't be love if you throw it about." Isn't it cool to think that the road connecting Elvis and Def Leppard and Jay-Z is paved with this love shit? (Whoops, not Jay-Z. He's got 99 problems, but a bitch ain't one.)

"Colors and the Kids," Cat Power. This is by far my favorite Cat Power song. From 1998's Moon Pix, it's an existential tune centered around two lonely, reverberated piano chords and Chan Marshall's hushed wail. In my mind, the song takes place after a breakup, when you just don't know what the fuck you should be doing: "I could stay here, become someone different/ I could stay here, become someone better." But then again, as the pained melody suggests, things may just get worse. What to do, what to do.

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