High Fidelity: A Musical Time-Traveling Tale of Two Relationships
If we are lucky, we eventually meet and fall in love with someone who becomes our partner for life. Our better half. Our moitié douce. Along the road to meeting ‘our person’, however, we may date many people, some of whom we may remember better than others…
What’s fascinating to me is the role that the music du jour seems to play both in triggering our recollection of events and in modifying our emotional response to these events. I’m not sure if this is a peculiarity for the musically-inclined or a general phenomenon. (I need to inform myself better about the science behind music and the mind starting with reading the works of Daniel Levitin and Oliver Sacks.) In any case, I often find when I hear a particular song begin to play, I can become instantly transported back to a specific time, place, person, or emotional state.
How about you?
Do you remember the song that was playing the first time you & your now-partner were out at a bar dancing or cozied up at the corner table of the pub getting to know each other?.. How about when that retro radio station starts playing an 80s power ballad? Feel like you’re back at the junior high school dance all sweaty palms and giant teased hair? Or, what about that song that seemed to play everywhere you went, all summer-long, which, when heard now, instantly transports you back to those hot, lazy days spent at the cottage, beach, or just hanging out with friends?.. For those of us who are athletically-inclined, ever notice when you’re out running or working out at the gym with your i-pod on, the sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through your body the moment your favourite song starts playing, magically energizing you to run faster or push harder even when you thought you were exhausted? And finally, ask any couple about to get married about meaningful musical moments and chances are good they will readily cite several songs between them that they associate with a particular milestone or event in their relationship. (BTW, check out ‘The Wedding Singer’, if you’ve never seen it; it’s hilarious!)
To me, music can also serve as the chronological scaffolding against which a relationship narrative unfolds. Films make great use of music in this capacity all the time in order to more powerfully tell their story. (One great example being ‘Love Actually’.) I guess it’s of no surprise then, that I often feel like I am an actress in my own series of real-time music videos…
In the case of dating with its attendant highs and lows, the quotidian and the extraordinary, some of the music we are exposed to over the course of a given relationship can often evolve into an unofficial playlist or soundtrack for that relationship, creating a sort of musical memoir or timeline, whereupon hearing the first few notes of a particular song from that soundtrack, we may find ourselves inexplicably remembering some arcane aspect of that relationship.
With these ideas and observations in mind, and with inspiration from David Levithan’s (of ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ fame) poetic, pithy book ‘The Lover’s Dictionary‘ and the must-see, classic, comedic film, ‘High Fidelity‘, starring John Cusack and Jack Black, the following is a two-part narrative or double-sided vinyl 33 RPM record. A snapshot of two very different relationships. One long and the other, short. One ambiguous, the other not. One of two highly similar personalities and the other of two seemingly disparate personalities. Both of which, set to music. Each with their own prevailing emotional tone. And like the complexity of great music, not so easily deconstructed…
Side 1: The Long Relationship
♥ God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies (feat Sarah McLachlan)
You were new to the office. I’d already given out Christmas cards to everyone else. Although I hardly knew you, I suspected you were someone I would want to get to know. Since I was shy, I surreptitiously left a card for you in your mail slot — a sort of ‘welcome to the team’.
♥ Wherever You Will Go – The Calling
I didn’t know it at the time, but you were trying to get my attention. In the morning, before the sessions started, and after careful consultation with a close colleague, you had dashed out to the local bakery and bought me a large cylindrical tin of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. Since I know of no better way to start the morning off than with a hefty dose of chocolate, I wasted no time locating a large soup spoon and pried the lid off. (I hope I paused long enough to thank you.) You just stood there, watching me, completely amused by my child-like (or Cookie Monster-like) unabashed eagerness to break into that tightly-sealed tin. This was the first time you would learn of my chocolate addiction, which you would go on to indulge for several years.
♥ 03′ Bonnie & Clyde – Jay Z & Beyoncé
I remember the first time you asked me out to lunch. You called me under the guise of comparing notes on a business issue. Instead of resolving the relatively straightforward matter by phone, you instead asked me if I ‘ate lunch’. Recognizing the subtext, I excitedly began to do a little happy dance on the other end of the phone; it was if you had (finally) just asked me to marry you. (I hope I didn’t sound too emphatic or breathless in my ‘yes’ response.) This was your initially, cautious way of getting to know me better — an apparent working lunch. Except the ‘work’ part lasted only minutes; you were much more interested in cracking my hard, outer shell… We would continue our weekly or bi-weekly ‘clandestine’ lunches for two years, often only mildly concerned of the time… Our favourite spot was the atrium or eating al fresco on the adjacent terrasse overlooking the park below. What I remember most about that first summer of our series of lunch dates was how every day felt warm & sunny even if it was pouring outside; I was so happy being in your company.
♥ Clocks – Coldplay
It was a summer of seemingly endless sunshine. You were glued to the Tour de France — you were always a huge fan of Lance Armstrong. Like the familiar piano riff refrain or a cyclist in the Pyrénées barreling down the steep descent, there was no turning back. I knew I was falling for you. Little did I know I had actually boarded an unpredictable rollercoaster ride.
♥ Fallen – Sarah McLachlan
Undeterred by the remnants of Hurricane Juan swirling eddies of brightly colored leaves and horizontal rain in our path, we soggily make our way to the Hill, our shared inverted umbrella having surrendered to the gale. I keep stopping to take photos while you instinctively reach for my bag and take the umbrella, my devoted ad hoc photographer’s assistant. We seek shelter inside the great halls of Parliament, then climb to the top of the Peace Tower to take in the panoramic views of Ottawa and Gatineau, then amble like Jack & Jill down the rolling grounds to the Supreme Court, before retracing our steps down the street to check out a black & white urban photo exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. Finally, we make our way over to D’Arcy McGee’s to warm up in a cozy corner of the pub with a pint of Guinness (you) and some food. Forget Paris or Rome — during that rain-soaked afternoon, Ottawa was the most romantic city in the world.
♥ Turn Me On – Norah Jones
I twisted your arm to skip the business function you had to come with me to see The Group of Seven exhibit over at the art gallery. You knew nothing about art, which surprised me; you were so intelligent, so well-read. I was studying a painting when you leaned over and whispered into my ear about how phallic you thought Lawren Harris’ ‘Old Stump, Lake Superior’ painting was.
♥ White Flag – Dido
“I can’t bear you being angry with me” you said… “I would ask you out in a heartbeat”… “I like you much more than you realize”… I recall your pleading, emotional words uttered only weeks before as I now walk hurriedly down the hill in the pouring rain, tears streaming down my face. I can hardly see. I have to catch my train home. You had just revealed you were involved with another woman.
♥ Take on Me – Aha
You reflexively cranked the volume on your car stereo. A wide grin spreading across your face as you grooved to the beat. I cringed like a teenager embarrassed by an uncool act committed by a parent. You were trapped in a musical time warp, happy to remain firmly ensconced in the 80s of your youth. These were your comfort, care-free years, it would seem. I wonder, were you truly happy then?
♥ I’ll Be – Edwin McCain
I had just taken you out for a birthday lunch at a Szechuan restaurant downtown that we both loved. Afterward, you had to go back to the office and I had to catch a train. We lingered on the busy street corner against the blowing snow. As I began to secure the hood of my wool coat over my head, you leaned in to kiss me. You brushed my mouth. You had never kissed me before. I wasn’t sure if you had meant to kiss my cheek and simply missed. Two-cheek kissing was just a cultural norm in this city, a social greeting akin to a handshake.
♥ Du Plaisir – Don Juan soundtrack (Félix Gray)
You asked me to go to the premiere of this French musical pop opera with you. You had been given two tickets by a business associate. I thought, how romantic this was going to be: it was almost Valentine’s Day. You suggested we meet at the theater. I suggested we walk down together. At intermission, you quietly asked me for change to pay for your drink. Your colleagues were amused; they asked how long we’d been married. You became very uncomfortable.
♥ Come Away with Me – Norah Jones
You must have snuck into my office early that morning. The package was large, heavy, carefully wrapped with an envelope appended. I was not expecting anything from you, but I still held out hope. You had given me the most beautiful card along with the coveted David Silcox hardcover coffee table book on ‘The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson’. You couldn’t have given me a more perfect gift.
♥ Two Socks – The Wolf Theme – John Barry (Dances with Wolves soundtrack)
You pull me in, you push me away. You pull me in, you push me away. I don’t want to play your game anymore.
♥ Mr. Brightside – The Killers
Perhaps it was in the spirit of solidifying our new friendship. You suggested we go biking sometime. Come again? We never exercised together previously, and even though I recall you saying that you used to cycle competitively when you were younger, you did not strike me as the athletic type. A fast half-marathoner myself, I was fit, but I knew biking was a completely different work-out from running. (I knew my competitive nature would also not deal well with being left in your dust.) You were handy, and offered to come by my apartment to tune up my aging bike. I straddled the crossbar to steady the bike as you examined the front wheel. We never did end up going biking.
♥ One – U2
Except for the music, we sit in a comfortable silence as you drive the familiar, winding route to my apartment. This is your favourite band. I am lost in my thoughts and the melody. You break my reverie abruptly like a non-sequitur, talking about the insectarium you keep with her. You happily proclaim how you & she are the ‘geek couple’. I feel a momentary pang even though I know we are just friends.
♥ Timeless – Kate Havnevik
I know the minute I cross that airport security threshold, things will never be the same. I am about to leave you, this city, my friends. It takes all my will to maintain my composure in the exchange of hugs and emotional good-byes… Alone, I dissolve into involuntary tears as the bewildered, uncomfortable security personnel awkwardly expedite my processing through the checkpoint.
♥ Nowhere Warm – Kate Havnevik
Late fall. The commute home is long, mostly rural. It is a route I am well familiar with, traveling the 400-km round trip two to three times per week to try my hand at academic teaching. Thankfully, the surroundings are scenic — a tapestry of colors. I am driving alone, far from you, but you are nonetheless never far from my thoughts.
♥ If You Want Me – Glen Hansard & Maketa Irglova
Heavily bundled against the icy chill, I am running alone around the frozen lake. It is the middle of a long, bleak winter and the snow is blowing, an almost daily occurrence. The path is deserted and largely inaccesible by snowdrifts. All is quiet. A post-apocalyptic scene. It’s been 8 months since we parted ways. Do you think of me still?
♥ U Want Me 2 – Sarah McLachlan
I’ve had time to heal, to move on, to forget you. It is a warm, mid-autumn evening. We reunite as friends after more than a year apart over an intimate supper in a leafy neighborhood bistro. We catch up, falling into easy conversation as if no amount of time has passed. The food is wonderful and the wine we picked up, the perfect accompaniment. The comfortable, safe rhythm of the evening is suddenly shattered by the bomb you drop in telling me you’ve split with her… For a moment, I no longer discern your voice or the ambient noise around us. Did I just hear you speak the words I thought I would never hear? And if yes, what does this mean? If anything. My mind starts racing. Since when do fantasies become a reality? There is still residual heartache, anger, unresolved feelings from a protracted, unrequited love. The old familiar chemistry rouses itself regardless, like resuscitated embers in a long burning, slowly dying fire. Are these feelings real or are they simply the last vestiges of nostalgia or a yearning for the happier, uncomplicated days of the past? You invite me back to your place.
♥ Winter Song [Album version] – Sara Bareilles
You meet me at the train station that morning. Your tall, lanky figure striding elegantly across the platform to greet me. My original flight home for Christmas had been cancelled. I have a 4-hour lay-over before my new flight leaves. We decide to go see ‘Valkyrie’ downtown. You apologize for your compulsive, running, whispered commentary about the history behind the plot. I don’t mind.
♥ Hot N Cold – Katy Perry
I am back in town on business. It is a cold, late January day. We are just friends. You offered to put me up for the night at your place. You join me and a mutual friend for supper. I notice you’d become quite close with her since I’d left. I hate that it bothers me. You hardly look at me the whole time we are at the restaurant. By contrast, the two of you seem wrapped up in your own private conversation, only peripherally aware of my existence. Une complicité notable. I know my friend would never pursue you, but would you dare pursue her?.. The meal ends, and you begin to make entreaties to her to join us at your place. She knows better. She says she has plans, a date. This piques your interest. You spend a few minutes asking her about this date. You and I finally head back to your place. I am still feeling confused by what I observed… You leave me in your cold living room for what seems like hours as you decide the moment we enter your house that you have to shovel snow off your walkway (and perhaps that of all your neighbours’). There is no food in your fridge. The bathroom is not cleaned. Why am I here?
♥ Mad – Ne-Yo
The night is fading fast. I have just returned from a low-key supper out with friends. It’s my birthday and still I have not heard from you. We had not spoken in weeks after that last phone call. I had done my best to push you away once and for all, more for my benefit than yours. It was for the best, I thought. Even so, I never expected you to comply. A loneliness envelops as I decide to call it a night. Then the phone rings. It’s you… Three hours later, I sleepily, but contentedly (if not a bit guiltily) shuffle off to bed.
♥ Young Forever (feat. Mr. Hudson) – Jay-Z
You would’ve preferred the Alphaville version. I hate that you chose to leave. Your children are beautiful; I can see you in your oldest. I hope they will be ok without you.
♥ Quelqu’un M’a Dit – Carla Bruni
The same trees stream past my window. Same sign posts. Same traffic snarls. Nothing is overtly changed even though everything has. I am driving home in a cab from the airport after a surreal weekend of attending your memorial service and then flying out across the ocean to give a presentation. Life goes on even when one is extinguished.
♥ Le compteur – Karkwa
It felt strangely like a homecoming of sorts. Meeting up with old friends and colleagues again. I was dreading seeing everyone, sharing stories, reliving the trauma… Staring out the window of the decelerating train, the city and its familiar skycrapers come into view against the dull, still-grieving, grey sky. How changed the city seems without you in it.
Side 2: The Short Relationship
♥ Miss Independent – Ne-Yo
It wasn’t meant to be a competition, just a group training run. I found you intriguing, but probably way too cool for me — if you even were available (unlikely). We chatted during the warm-up and then you took off with the rest of the speedster guys. I tried to catch up to you, but you were too fast. I contented myself with admiring you from afar. You were very tall and more solidly built than most of the guys. You also cut a powerful stride.
♥ Whatcha Say – Jason Derulo
I was new in town and wanted to take some cross-country skiing lessons across the river. I had been given a recommendation for an instructor, a guy I didn’t know. For reassurance, I polled several acquaintances, including you, to see if anyone knew this guy and what he was like. You knew him personally, corroborated his skiing competence, and confirmed he was, in fact, not a stalker.
♥ When Your Mind’s Made Up – Glen Hansard & Maketa Irglova
I was so pleased you came to my house party after training. You brought beer. I’m glad you stayed as late as you did. Did you know I had always had a crush on you? I think it was the vaguely British accent I thought I detected, which I found out later you didn’t have.
♥ Use Somebody- Kings of Leon
You were moving into new digs — an upgrade — and were looking to offload some junk. I was interested in the old easel you had spoken of since I had planned to take a painting class in the fall. (I admit I was surprised to learn you were artistic.) I had to keep bugging you for it for what seemed like weeks. Finally, one afternoon after work, I got home and noticed a sturdy wooden easel propped up against my window on the veranda. Santa had finally come.
♥ The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
We hadn’t seen each other in two years. We were supposed to meet up for drinks at the neighborhood bar. I arrived first; you were late. I thought you might be. (I know I shouldn’t criticize — even if it’s just in my head — since I am not the most punctual person, myself.) You looked amazing, though, more handsome than I remembered. I still couldn’t believe you had asked me out. We ended up having to leave — there were no tables left. I was slightly annoyed by your poor planning. We drove to a hip, new wine bar uptown instead. I drove us since you walked. (I think I impressed you with my perfect parallel-park — on the first attempt)… With no reservation, we had to perch ourselves at the bar, side by side. You angled yourself to face me while I somewhat nervously sat facing the bar. I stole sideways glances to study your face and your lovely shaggy hair, as you knowledgeably selected a tasting plate of charcuterie and wine. You were so talkative, congenial, tangential, interesting. Vastly different from anyone else I’d been out with… What began as an imperfect evening turned out perfect.
♥ Sous le ciel de Paris – Juliette Gréco
You introduced me to your favourite brasserie. You were like Norm from the Cheers sitcom; the waitresses all knew you. I immediately liked its old French ambience of exposed wood beams and brick walls juxtaposed against the unexpected old-school jukebox and paper Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling in the anteroom. We grabbed a quick supper — you didn’t need the menu — and then we headed off to the movie. It was a weird, tense, moody, highly metaphorical, hauntingly atmospheric arthouse film. My overanalytical mind was hyperstimulated. When the film ended, however, it was you who offered the most astute, detailed review and analysis of the film. I was astounded by the extent of analysis and cinematic critical appraisal you offered, along with the endless array of obscure symbols and metaphors you not only identified but deftly interpreted. I felt like an uninitiated first-year film student listening in awe to her eminent cinematography professor.
♥ I am the Photographer – Memphis
You insisted on cooking me supper that Sunday night. I needed space and time to think, slow things down, get caught up on sleep. I went to a Baroque strings concert by myself that afternoon with your encouragement. You weren’t much of a classical music fan, yourself. When I showed up at your place later, you had things well underway in the kitchen, even offering me a plate of hors d’oeuvres and wine to savour as you put the finishing touches on dinner. Afterward, you were keen to introduce me to your dual passions of music and videography. I was equally enthralled by your evocative, exotic travel films set to moody, atmospheric music as I was by your rollicking extreme sports adventure films set to classic guitar rock. You were an artist, a story-teller with a singular focus of communicating your narrative through your audiovisual artistry. I remarked how you really should think about entering your work into a film festival.
♥ Change the Sheets – Kathleen Edwards
I keep refreshing my e-mail every few minutes, waiting for you to confirm our plans for tonight. It’s mid-afternoon, and I am growing increasingly annoyed by your delayed RSVP. I am tempted to tell you I have plans, to punish you. Yet, I want to see you. Do you assume I will always be available when you want me to be? Why do you always live so impetuously? What’s wrong with planning ahead sometimes?
♥ Le pyromane – Karkwa
You persuaded me to go to that sketchy nightclub — which was my original, uninformed, uncharacteristically impulsive idea — with you and hear ‘my’ band play. We strategized about how to get tickets: I would be downtown the next day, so I would try and pick up a pair. I biked over to the club in a downpour after work, but the club was closed. I made a second attempt later that night after my art class finished. Again, the club was closed. By this time, I was having second thoughts about this idea because of how seedy the neighborhood was. You called me when got my e-mail update. Instead of allowing me to back out, however, you reassured me it would be fine, that we really should go, and that you would attempt to find tickets at a local record store tomorrow. When you came up empty, as well, we just decided to take our chances and show up (which is so unlike me). We got in. The place was just packed, especially with French students and young 20-somethings; we were probably among the oldest people there, but we didn’t care. The vibe was great and so was the music. I remember how close you stood behind me, as if to protect me as I — then, we — swayed to the rhythm of the mesmerizing, atmospheric melodies. It was an amazing night. I felt so free and secure.
♥ Sweet Dominique- Adam Cohen
I love your car. Remember the time we nearly started rolling down a hill after we accidentally released the parking brake? I was so embarrassed. You thought it was awesome and said you felt like a teenager again.
♥ Comme une rosée de larmes – Ludovic Bource [The Artist soundtrack]
The theater was packed, and so we had to sit away from our usual section, and find seats in the balcony. You had your customary large bag of popcorn and I decided to try a lemon-ginger tea (which I ended up partially spilling on myself shortly after we took our seats). It was our first night out — the first time we’d seen each other in three weeks. Before your trip, going to see a film was becoming a regular activity for us, but the routine felt different this time. Our chemistry felt different. There was an uncomfortable awkwardness, like you might expect among acquaintances or strangers, as if we had lost the familiarity we had built before you went away. When you reached for my hand, your touch felt polite or dutiful, not spontaneous, romantic or desirous, like it had on previous occasions. I knew I shouldn’t have — risk of self-fulfilling prophecy and all — but I began contemplating the possibility that this would be our last time together at this cozy little repertoire theater that you had introduced me to and I had grown to love. (It was my usual way of preparing myself for potential disappointment instead of remaining neutral or optimistic.)
♥ Dog Days Are Over – Florence + the Machine
It is a bone-chilling winter night as I trudge my way through the snow to your place for supper. A relatively short distance, I use the walk to clear my head, lighten my mood, gather my courage. I am scared. I cannot shake the sense of change in you since you returned from your trip. Are you still interested in me? Is there someone else? Truth be told, I never expected us to last beyond one or two dates. But we did. And now, I never expected to have the chance to feel this way again. Now I am afraid of what I have to lose…
♥ Don’t Go to Klaksvik- Leif Vollebekk
The next morning, you were determined to free my car from the patch of ice on which it had become immobilized. I had called CAA the previous afternoon, but they said they couldn’t access my vehicle because of the long, narrow driveway. Armed with a box of roadside tools, a metal shovel, and a huge bag of salt, you freed my car in no time. I was grateful , relieved, and felt overwhelmingly protected by you. You, however, were visibly bothered and confused by the fact that I hadn’t called you for help in the first place. I had lied and said it was because I was just being stubborn, wanting to solve the problem on my own. The real reason was because I didn’t want to start thinking I could rely on you for these kinds of things when I wasn’t sure if you were someone who was going to stick around…
♥ Teen Angst – Louise Burns
Luddite. That’s what I felt like sometimes compared with you. You were the minimalist, clean-design-aesthete, with your McLuhan-like i-phone-4 appendage. By contrast, I was the ‘maximist’ (as in maximal clutter in minimal space), eclectic (or non-committal) aesthete, with ‘vintage’ Motorola Razr fliphone sans keyboard. It took me forever to text you back since neither brevity nor typing are among my virtues. I think you thought I was seeing someone else… You actually said I made you feel lazy with my jam-packed schedule of daily exercise and leisure activities on top of my busy work schedule. I replied that maybe you just work smarter…
♥ Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye (feat Kimbra)
At my suggestion, we had made plans to meet up at your place after I went for one of my regular swims at the local pool that night. The wind was howling furiously through the trees while the freezing rain added exclamation by violently pelting your living room windows. You had just revealed, rather reluctantly, that you had recently started seeing someone else. Someone you had innocently and unexpectedly met through an introduction by friends while away on a trip. I was initially stunned and speechless, completely unprepared for this revelation. You also said you weren’t so sure I was fully healed from a previous relationship. (I thought that was just a red herring.)… In my mind, there was no way for us to continue seeing each other, as much as I tried to reconcile your need to also see others before you settled into another serious, committed relationship. The fact was, we were at an impasse… Although I was the one who officially ended things, you did not protest; I knew you had reached the same conclusion. You wanted to be free while I wanted to be attached.