In my younger days, I thought that as I matured my tortured cynicism would mellow out to some degree. I have admittedly proclaimed the old, “IT’S NOT JUST A PHASE, THIS IS WHO I AM,” when my parents glanced askance at my monochrome outfits and journals filled with drawings of dragons and scrawled attempts at angst-ridden teen romance novels that would one day change the world (not so, but they were pretty entertaining to read six years later). The thing is, even as I declared my commitment to my cultivated persona which relied primarily on a pessimism bordering on the palpable, I was inwardly hoping it was just a phase, that eventually I would be able to look at the world through rose-tinted goggles, rather than puce. Flash-forward to modern times and unfortunately, as it turns out, my cynicism has, if anything, only compounded over the years, leaving me with the emotional range and charm of a particularly disinterested boulder.
As you might imagine, and as is the case with most if not all humans, my personality—imparted whether by nature or nurture—wields a great deal of influence over my music preferences. This is probably why I find it difficult to enjoy love songs, in the traditional sense. I don’t mean to say I have a personal moratorium on all love songs—I can appreciate them from a distance, and in small doses. It’s sort of akin to the relationship I have with pointillist paintings. I can get into Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte if I back up ten paces and squint a bit, but the closer I get the more all those jaunty, impossibly precise little dots start to hum, swim, and coalesce before my eyes until it feels more like I’m staring at a giant lava lamp than a work of art.
Same principle with love songs—the ones that express a realistic vision of love, one tainted with the complications of reality or otherwise made imperfect through admission of human vice on both sides I can handle, because that kind of description of love is one I can contextualize, ponder, and enjoy for the emotion it conveys, despite the fact that I’ve never felt it. Perhaps it’s for this same reason (e.g. that I have little or no experience with romantic love) that it is difficult for me to absorb love songs at times. Obviously those which are catchy, musically brilliant, or otherwise will slip through the cracks, but if given a conscious choice between a idealistic love song and a different, almost antithetic option, I would choose the latter.
Anti-love. Or maybe that’s too strong of a word; perhaps cynical-romantic trips off the tongue easier. These are the songs which often admit the hard, gritty truths: that genuine love is out there, you might just never find it. Maybe they bemoan love lost, or love found but impeded by obstacle, or perhaps they renounce the idea altogether. In any case, these are the kind of songs which resonate with me on a personal level.
Just recently in fact, I stumbled across a song from a few years back I had missed during its heyday, but that perfectly manifests and encapsulates the epitome of a new kind of cynical romance—the admission that love is out there, I’m just too lazy to find it.
The group, Belgian Fog. The number, “Loveless Way.” Give it a listen, but prepare to be simultaneously and confusingly equal parts foot-tapping and depressed. It’s the anti-love song for our generation, which is why I think it works in so many ways, why the solemn, soul-sucking realizations made in the lyrics stick with you when paired with such an upbeat, happy tune.
The Fog spits utterly disheartening truths about the failure of a relationship to live up to expectations, and the consideration that maybe companionship is enough. Maybe, like Liz Lemon, we just need to find our settling soul mates.
Is that a grim notion? Quite honestly yes. But does it make the song more or less singular, because the idea will haunt you along with the melody and lyrics?
Decide for yourself. Break up with love songs, or at least see other people for a while.