"It's just that romance, with its dips and turns and glooms and highs, its swoops and swoons and blues, is a natural metaphor for music itself" – Nick Hornby, Songbook
We had been a thing for about three days when Jen gave me the first mix tape. I was immediately taken by the cover art; she had found this great postcard of an old billboard sign painted on the white brick side of a truck stop: Brains, 25¢. Drive In.
I’ve held on to that tape for twenty years.
It’s an amazing selection of songs, but overall they’re very blue and moody. They’re all about love. Hearing it now, it’s a wonder the 22 year-old me didn’t take a cue and run like hell. That was my normal response to any sort of intimacy, even the happy-go-lucky sort. But I didn’t. Brains, 25¢. Drive In was the greatest gift ever. My new girlfriend had put a spell on me. I was ensorcelled.
It was a wham-bam-doozy of a spell, too. One with super sticking power, the Gorilla Glue of love. We’re still together, still mad for one another to this day.
So what were the songs, you ask? These are the songs, annotated with an absolutely precise approximation of the thoughts that crossed my mind and the words that tripped my lips the first time I ever heard them.
Hip Hug-Her – Booker T & The MGs
Excuse me? Is that an invitation? Maybe we should slow down, start out with a cocktail, and see where this thing goes.
Wicked Game – Chris Isaak
You don’t want to fall in love? Phew! Me neither! I’m totally with you on that. This is our song, baby. Nobody loves no one. And since we’re in agreement, there’s really no harm if you want to spend the night.
Crazy – Patsy Cline
OK, hold on. I’m getting some mixed tape signals here. You’re crazy for loving me? So what are you saying? Are you literally crazy? Or figuratively crazy? On second thought, maybe you should sleep at your place tonight.
Sweet Thing – Van Morrison
Shit man, this has got to be one of the greatest songs of all time. This song makes me want to run as fast as I can through the rain with my arms outstretched and a big, sloppy, goofy smile on my face. And I will raise my hand up/Into the night-time sky/And count the stars/That’s shining in your eye. What did you say your last name was again?
You Are The Everything - REM
No, YOU’RE the everything! No, YOU ARE! Honestly, how did you know I love REM? Peter Buck is the MAN! Geez though, this mandolin music is making me sleepy. Or maybe it’s the pot. Whatever, I’m drifting off to sleep with my teeth in my mouth. What does that even mean? Can I make you some coffee?
Come Hell Or High Water – Everything But The Girl
Do you mind if I fast-forward?
Cruel – Prefab Sprout
What kind of a name is that for a band?
I Met You – The Proclaimers
Scottish people ROCK! They pronounce things funny, and wear cool glasses! You know, Scotland has its own martial arts? Yeah, it’s called Fuck Yu. It’s mostly just head butting and then kicking people when they’re on the ground.* Hey, that makes me feel a little frisky. How about you?
A Certain Someone - The Sundays
This is my ex-girlfriend’s favorite band. What? Was that the wrong thing to say?
I Am Stretched On Your Grave – Sinead O’Connor
Umm. This song is a little intense. You’re not going to get all Glenn Close on me, are you? I’m hiding the knives, just in case.
Somewhere Down The Crazy River – Robbie Robertson
“That Voodoo stuff don’t do nuthin’ for me.” This song is sorta’ hot. Seriously though, why do we still have our clothes on again?
Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting
Ack! Please tell me you’re not one of those vampire lovers. Ok, fine, whatever. No, I haven’t read Anne Rice. No, I will not bite your neck.
Temptation – Tom Waits
Now is the time when we tango around the apartment to the grumbly warbling of the dude who gargles with glass. Now is the time for lambada.
Is It Possible To Get Pregnant Without Intercourse? - Tom Waits
“I think the question I get asked the most is, uh…well, I mean it happens a lot, enough that I would remark on it. A lot of people come up to me and they say ‘Tom, is it possible for a woman to get pregnant without intercourse?’ And my answer is always the same. I say ‘Well listen, we’re going to have to go all the way back to the Civil War.’ Apparently a stray bullet pierced the testicle of a Union soldier, and then lodged itself in the ovaries of an 18 year old girl who was actually 100 feet from him at the time. Well, the baby was fine, she was very happy. Guilt free. Of course, the soldier was a little pissed off. When you think about it, it’s actually a form of intercourse, but NOT for everyone. Those who love action, maybe.”
Castles Made of Sand / Little Wing – Tuck & Patti
Can we rewind it and listen to that Tom Waits thing again? That was brilliant.
Friends - Led Zeppelin
Oh, please. Now you want to be FRIENDS? I’m not buying it. Fifteen minutes ago you were stretched on my grave. Let’s stop playing games, shall we?
Summertime Rolls – Jane’s Addiction
This song makes me want to have sex. And sushi. Not necessarily in that order.
Edge of the World – Faith No More
Have you actually listened to the lyrics of this song? I mean, on the surface it sounds like another routine declaration of lust, but the dude admits he’s “forty years older”! And he’d kill his mother to be with you?! I’m seeing warning flags.
If You Want Me To Stay – Red Hot Chili Peppers
I call this Music for Bumping Bits.
Mon Cheri Amour – Stevie Wonder
Is there any Bob Seger on this tape? How about Supertramp?
The Madison Time – The Ray Bryant Combo
Now when I say hit it/I want the big strong basketball/With the Wilt Chamberlain hook/Hit it! – 2 points!
I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song) – The Ikettes
Where did you find some of these songs? Did you raid your grandparents’ record collection or something?
I Could Write A Book – Harry Connick Jr
Sinatra! I love Sinatra! Especially Nancy Sinatra. Huh? This isn’t Sinatra? Who the hell is Harry Connick Jr.? He sounds just like Sinatra. Is he aware of that? Is he purposefully mocking the Chairman of the Board?! I think this Harry Connick Jr. is going to end up sleeping with the fishes, that’s what I think. By the way, on the subject of writing books, I’m a writer. In other words, I don’t have a lot of money, and future prospects for prosperity are grim. If you’d like to leave now, I completely understand.
Too Marvelous For Words – Rosemary Clooney
You’re still here? Great! I don’t know about you, but these old jazz standards make me feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie.
Them There Eyes - Billie Holiday
Hold on there now! I’m starting to get the impression that you really like me.
Driving – Everything But The Girl
I know this song. They play it at my dentist’s office. Ouch! That’s my weak arm you’re punching there.
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian
I’m just going to fast forward one more time.
37-2 Le Matin – From the Betty Blue soundtrack
Betty Blue! Great movie. Great nude scenes in that movie. Kind of depressing, though. Doesn’t Betty go nuts? Wait a minute. You’re not implying that we’re like Betty and Zorg, are you? Four songs ago we were Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. I’m confused. I think I lurve you. I think I loave you. I definitely luff you, two F’s. Geez, I hope that sushi gets here soon.
*Affectionately and anachronistically quoted from the movie So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993).
There’s a pretty good chance that Sean Tabb resembles the guy your sister dated in college. He gets that a lot. There’s an almost equally good chance that he DID date your sister in college, and just doesn’t remember. He does his parenting, husbanding, living and writing from his home in Portland, Maine. Check out his website at http://punctuatedequilibriumblog.wordpress.com, or follow his drivel on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pithnvinegar