Happiness is an Option

In 1989, Kate Bush released The Sensual World. On that album is a song called “Never Be Mine.”

Let’s look at the first verse.

I look at you and see my life that might have been

Your face just ghostly in the smoke

They’re setting fire to the corn fields as you’re taking me home

The smell of burning fields will now mean you and here

Kate does something clever with that last line. By associating a scent with a memory, the listener does the same with her song. For almost everyone who listens to “Never Be Mine,” the song becomes a fixed point that conjures a moment in time.

And given the melancholy nature of the track, it’s probably not conjuring a happy moment in time.

I have a metric ton of songs and albums that I have mentally filed away as “sad” music. Welcome Home and Everything’s Different Now by ‘Til Tuesday. Play by Squeeze.  Laughter & Lust by Joe Jackson. Idlewild, The Language of Life, Worldwide, and Amplified Heart by Everything but the Girl. The October Project. Jordan: The Comeback by Prefab Sprout. “Alcoholiday” by Teenage Fanclub. “Cowboys and Angels” by George Michael. “I’ll Set You Free” by the Bangles. “Me and My Big Ideas” by Tears for Fears. Even “Blue” by Tom Bailey, a relatively new song that somehow stirs up the memory of being a lovestruck teenager.

Every one of those is an anchor. When they come on, they threaten to send me to the bottom of a deep, dark pool.

For the last 35 years – longer, really, if I’m being honest – I have allowed this. I had an appreciation for the comfort in being sad, as Kurt Cobain once so eloquently put it. There is a reason that depression takes the form of a fluffy cat in “Big Mouth.” There is something to be said for how cathartic it can be to let the sadness out (hello, “Inside Out”), and music is one of the best, most convenient ways to do that. The show “Shrinking” even made it a plot point, when Harrison Ford’s character tells Alice, a teen who’s grieving over the death of her mother, to allot 15 minutes per day to being sad. Alice found the saddest songs she could, and played them so she could cry. And they helped her.

Because of all of those things, I have allowed those songs and albums to be my sad songs, the warm blanket, the Depression Kitty.

But you know what? I think I’m done with that.

Every one of those songs and albums above (again, except for the Tom Bailey track) was released when I was dating either College Girlfriend #1 or College Girlfriend #2. These were trying times, filled with drama, much of it my own doing. I made horrific mistakes in both relationships, no question, but I also had valid reasons for breaking up with both of them. Still, it’s never easy to end something that at one point you thought would last forever. That’s a pain that lingers for a while, even if it’s the right decision to make.

It’s funny how I never thought about why I carried the weight of those mistakes with me for so long until now. It’s not like I can undo them. Did I do it so that I would remember not to make the same mistakes again? That’s possible, but that’s also giving me too much credit, because I’ve made lots of relationship mistakes since then. I think I just liked being sad now and then.

Not anymore. I have given those songs, and the memories associated with them, too much power for far too long. I’m taking them back.

After making this decision, the first two things that I picked to listen to were the ‘Til Tuesday albums, because they always loomed the largest. I met Aimee Mann once, and asked her to sign something FOR MY EX, telling her that ‘Til Tuesday was our band, and the look that she gave me was priceless. Without saying it out loud, she basically said, “I tried to warn you.”

So yeah, it’s nice to listen to these albums and songs with a different mindset. I should have done this sooner, I know, but that’s not exactly how my brain works. It’s all about timing and circumstances. I’m in a new place where I have virtually no friends of my own, so the urge to manufacture happiness is suddenly stronger than it has ever been. Better late than never, I suppose.

I will still think of the exes when these songs play – I mean, how could I not? – but as my daughter is fond of saying, they will hit different going forward. and I’m excited about that.

These songs are mine again.

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