I HAVE AT TIMES referred to myself as a “champion loneliness queen” (or in darker days a “torn-up emo f*ck”). It’s just that I’m so good at it. I thrive in times of romantic uncertainty, and in the clear, crystalline realization that something is over. In a way I’m addicted to relationship-related sadness. I find it more interesting than when something is actually, for once, going well.
Although I sometimes veer toward the indulgent, I do believe that the aptly named “sitting with it” is often the best remedy for a bad breakup. I think the next most important steps are usually body modification, new routines, and travel. Travel is a big one. And while it’s possible the only voyage you can take right now is an interior one, that’s what this whole life is, right?
So, to Matador, with love: A breakup guide to get you through this Northern Hemisphere winter, the loss of an important love, and any nostalgia for places you’ve never been. Listen to this while you burn some sage, and see if you can let go a little more.
“Me Voy” by Julieta Venegas (Mexico)
Start soft. Start with whimsy. “I’m going,” sings Venegas. “What a shame, but goodbye.”
The Tijuana-bred, accordion-toting chanteuse taught me to speak Spanish with her simple phrases, and in the process she’s imparted a lot about letting go. For the first circle of pain, start with “Me Voy.” Start by leaving.
“This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush (UK)
Off of her 1989 album The Sensual World, this song isn’t about breakups, best friends, or comfort food.
“This Woman’s Work” is about miscarriage — a theme far more tragic. Still, the refrain, “I know you have a little life in you yet, I know you have a lot of strength left,” has worked many alchemical wonders for me through separations past.
This is a song that will coax out your tears, whether or not you want them released. I can’t think of a better musician to anchor and inspire during life-changing experiences than the fabulous Kate Bush.
“Change the Sheets” by Kathleen Edwards (Canada)
I see breakups as long trips: journeys into want, acceptance of bitter realities, and finally, a new home.
“Change the Sheets,” with its upbeat beginning and tragic lyrics, feels like a takeoff, that moment when you understand the collateral of everything you’re leaving behind and the lightness of starting anew. From the aptly named album, Voyageur, which was co-produced by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), it has travel at its core.
Edwards’s plaintive chorus, “Change this feeling under my feet, change the sheets and then change me,” reminds me that though you can never run away from yourself, you can certainly change the ground you’re walking on.
“Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill (USA)
If relationships are a time to enjoy a second childhood (because all of those ancient pains and hangups come up when we finally get comfortable, right?), then perhaps breakups are their older, wiser, moodier adolescent counterparts.
Reputedly Hill’s love letter to Wyclef Jean, “Ex-Factor” leaves little room for emotional gray areas. She’s hurt, she’s frustrated, and she understands now just how destructive their romantic cycle — he runs, she beckons — has become.
Listen to this while you’re in the thick of it, the worst pain, the most definite sense of betrayal. Rejoice in having found your mid-breakup jam.
“Segundos” by Lido Pimienta (Canada by way of Colombia)
(Cover of Adriana Calcanhotto)
Lido Pimienta’s version of “Segundos” sounds like a drum circle, and I’m not talking hippies and patchouli, but rather the ancient and endless meetings of humans to tell stories, share jokes, and grieve collective tragedies over fire and animal skins.
“My heart and my footsteps will walk on in circles behind your trail,” sings the Colombian-Canadian artist over a hypnotic four-four drum pounding. Her voice is low and assured; its tone suggests an unrehearsed honesty.
In this “modern love is war” era, communities have largely been supplanted by intimate, dyadic cohabitations, also known as “getting serious.” For many of us, collective history and memory are composed largely of the rises and falls of our romantic relationships. The campfire, the cardiac beating of drums, have been largely reduced (and condensed) into the meeting of two people, rather than two hundred or even two thousand.
“Five String Serenade” by Mazzy Star (USA)
(Cover of Arthur Lee and Love)
A breakup can be a great opportunity to come into your feelings and face your own shadows.
As your process winds down (although perhaps it’s more an ebb and a flow than a linear release), chances are you’ll still be reminded of the past during your day-to-day activities. The speaker in “Five String Serenade” describes sitting at an easel, trying to draw, only to be interrupted with thoughts of an intimate “you.”
Make space for those intrusions. They mean something.
“Veo la Tele” by Capullo (Mexico)
Capullo is a mega-banda from Northern Mexico, and “Veo la Tele” was just released in January. Call them nu cumbia, art rock, or indie merengue electronica (they call themselves musicos degenerados) – it doesn’t really matter.
Capullo uses synthesizers that sound like they’re straight out of a ’90s Nintendo game. They’re part of the flourishing indie music scene in Northern Mexico, seen by many as a response to regional violence.
Capullo’s songs celebrate moments of teenage angst — like waiting for your honey to get on old school AIM and send you a message, getting dumped after a month of bedroom makeouts, and wanting to steal a popular girl away from her jock boyfriend (See “A Quien Amas en Realidad Es a Mi,” their collab with Lido Pimienta).
“Veo la Tele” is about distracting yourself with TV so you don’t think about calling your ex. Ultimately, the main character in the song gives in and dials up, but the object of her affection doesn’t answer. It all got me thinking: There’s something kind of Sisyphean about continuing to love someone long after they’ve left.
RECENTLY I WAS catching up with one of my best friends, and lamenting how I felt “doomed” to live feelings and attachments I no longer wanted. He lives abroad, so our conversation was mostly virtual. The next day he wrote me an email. It said,
- “I think every love leaves rocks, & on normal days the plain is flat, & on great days the slope is down, & on the worst, upward crags…& if stone’s the sign of a lack, be happy that it too represents that empty space which you’ve filled with your own growth, because like you said, it makes us better people, richer ironically, denser, streaks of painful gold, removal of false pyrite.”
Good luck with the crags, Matadorians.