Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Breaking Up Ain't Hard to Do (With the Right Soundtrack)



Artist: The Afghan Whigs
Albums: Gentlemen; What Jail is Like (EP)
Source: Bought used (G); Promo (WJIL)

In college I was a creative writing major, but that was mostly practical (seriously - aside from math/science, writing is sort of the closest you can come to learning a practical skill at a liberal-arts school), and my minor was religion. But I would have probably preferred it the other way 'round: I was, and continue to be fascinated by religion, about the stories we tell about the world and the rituals we create to deal with that way of seeing the world.

I am a man of rituals, for sure. The one that's pertinent here is The Break-Up Music Ritual. When I went through a romantic break-up, major or minor, I had a set of records I would listen to. The order I listened in didn't matter (and entree into the ritual playlist was open - my mind was not closed to a new, excellent break-up record), but the ritual was more or less the same: Instead of trying to make myself feel better with counteractive emotional input (ie, listen to happy songs to cheer myself up), I would heighten the feeling, rev it up until it crystalized and became exquisite. Somewhere in there, I'd have a moment of catharsis, with a soundtrack. Then I'd feel OK.

The list went something like: Husker Du's Flip Your Wig (plus usually Warehouse, for good measure), The Mountain Goats' Sweden, Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights, Superchunk's Foolish, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, any album by Scrawl, and the platter at hand: Gentlemen, by The Afghan Whigs.

Each of those records had a role to play in the process; some are blindly angry, some heartbreakingly sad, some defeated, some drawing a semi-articulate triumph out of inarticulate rage. Gentlemen is just plain mean, with singer Greg Dulli taking on the role of the guy who's had the girl, fucked her, fucked her over and moved on when she ran out of whiskey. He knows what he's doing, doesn't apologize for it, and even gets off singing like he's the wounded one at the end of the day.

I could never be that guy, but it sure was cathartic to channel him for 40 minutes or so. It always helped, and for that I am forever grateful to this record; plus, these days I can just enjoy it for being a set of great songs, played with cutting skill and put across just right by all involved.

And of course, here's another thing to be thankful to Eileen for: she loves me for real, and I'm confident that I won't need my Break-Up Music Ritual again.

SISOSIG? Both keepers, I'm afraid. Gentlemen was there for me when I needed it; what kind of guy would I be to ditch it once I no longer required its services? A guy just like Dulli, I guess, but like I said - I ain't that guy. The EP is good fun, too - some live Motown covers, a take on an Ass Ponys tune, and the killer title track.

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