[Oh, hey, guess what atrocities are coming up this week? I mean, aside from personal atrocities and all. Yes, in honor of all the various Valentine's Day Massacres that are no doubt occurring as we speak, it's Break-Up Music week at the Tiger Beatdown. Today's guest post is by the lovely - and manly! - B. Michael.]
Break-up songs trade on a particularly gossamer-like, complex alchemy. To wit, one of my top-five break-up songs is Xiu Xiu’s cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure.”
Consider: I, a young, upbeatbeat heterosexual male am in love with a song authored by famously gay band Queen as interpreted by famously gay band Xiu Xiu (from an album named “Women As Lovers”) featuring the famously sad Michael Gira, whom I can’t stand on his own. The more interesting parts of the song — how some (relatively) slight dissonance serves to create by underlying the most beautifully melodic parts; the chiming guitar work reminiscent of U2; how that bass line, which is more of a punchline now, holds up as an enduring cultural artifact — these parts pale in the face of the most interesting thing about the song: “Under Pressure,” as I understand it, sounds like a simpering break-up song couched in a plea for universal human empathy, but countenanced thus it serves only as an atavistic, selfish, decidedly unKierkegaardian denigration of love as such.
Coz Love’s Such An Old Fashioned Word And
On the face of it, we’re trained culturally to consider most any instantiation of love as a pure and holy thing. It’s all Plato’s fault. Twenty-four hundred years ago he wrote a play where one character said to another character that an unseen character told him that we love people because we see in them some larger-than-us sort of appeal that transcends any one person’s desire for physical gratification. That is, there is to love an end larger than getting off. That end is the appropriately named the Good. We have been stuck with the idea that Love comports itself toward the Good ever since, which is why we put up with Sawyer making those stupid faces when he thinks of Juliet; why people still have on their walls posters of Leonardo di Caprio and Juliet; and why in ninth grade everyone reads Romeo and Juliet. Love is a considered as a moral end.
But let us not ignore for the moment that the whole love-is-the-most-easily-accessible-means-to-the-Good-for-humans thing occurs in what authorities these days would consider thinly veiled NAMBLA propaganda. Which, sure, sounds bad. Luckily for them, the Greeks are now more known for going to war over a woman (very manly) than the one guy winning that war for his not-so-secretly gay lover (yuck). But considering the entire modern notion of love as a pretense for grown men to romance young men begins to get us to the problem with “Under Pressure” and break-up songs in general. It (they) are very clearly manipulative occasions for considering yourself a pilgrim of love, ie, a traveller on the high road toward the Good. And this detour — the break-up — is but an obstacle on your own personal and constant path to moral edification. Contrast this ideality with the reality: You used to have sex on the regular with someone who put up with your bullshit emotional hangups, occasionally cooked or paid for dinner, and listened to you complain about your coworkers’ flatulence. Break-up songs are eo ipso bullshit because they provoke a catharsis that’s simply not merited. What’s so great about love in the first place?
Love Dares You To Change Our Way Of Caring About Ourselves
“Under Pressure” is, essentially, one of the greatest break-up songs ever written, though, and it invokes a notion of love that is both emotionally resonant and true-seeming. The world is a terrible place. Life is really hard. Having friends and lovers takes the edge off. Loving relationships force you to consider your own motives and to empathize with others. It all seems right and good. Therefore, why don’t we get back together, the song asks. And this is where I have a problem with the song. It feels too good. It’s too easy. I am a love masochist. The fact that we need to give love one more chance makes me suspicious. What happened? Did we get overwhelmed by the enormity of existence? Did the brutality of everyday living dull our care? Was our love so even that we became inured to it?
I suspect our rupture was of simpler and more self-preserving motives. “Is it any less difficult for lovers? / But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.” The problem is is that there is a (supposed) moral function of love and then there is a practical function of love, and the one is used to justify the continuation of the other. By writing a truly beautiful love song — one approaching the sort of transcendence you only expect to find in particularly grueling physical experiences, abstract expressionist paintings, or Michael Bay films — Queen almost ruins the whole enterprise. Because love is something good and noble. And ineluctable.
Give me specifics. You drink too much. I cheated. I hate your family. You find my personality repulsive. I don’t want to hear about how love is what makes us consider one another as human beings (which is true) or about how love is stepped on and denigrated but it’s actually the greatest thing in the world (also true). Right now all I want to do is fuck you and hate you and just be with you for one more day no matter what it takes. Because that is pathetic. And love is not pathetic.
Why Can’t We Give Love One More Chance
Meaning is (roughly) use. If “Under Pressure” — or any break-up song — is the ladder you climb up and subsequently knock over in order to reach a higher level of edification and understanding, then so much the better for you. If it’s what you listen to on repeat for days while thinking about how if only she would come back to you then you would be a better human being and life could be good again, then to you sir or madame I say No. Stop it. The way in which “Under Pressure” is one of the best break-up songs is because it (ideally) makes you realize that there is more to love than physical gratification and emotional comfort. It forces you to be honest with yourself. Love is how you should feel with regard to everyone. You should love your farting coworkers, five and dime novelists, and even Republicans. It also means that you shouldn’t be so in love with yourself. You don’t get a song all to yourself about how terrible you feel and how much you want to die. You don’t deserve the opportunity to feel bad for yourself, because life is hard and people love you and need you, too. People seem to commonly link love and hate, and hate is accepted as an appropriate substitute when love evacuates a space, but “Under Pressure” dares you to fill that vacuum with more love. Ultimately, it’s about choosing love as a mode of being despite knowing that love between people basically sucks. It is the rare break-up song that avoids wretchedness. It’s the optimistic, rise-from-the-ashes type that pulls you up without putting anyone down.
[B. Michael web 2.0s at The Cost of B. Michael's Truly Epic Shit and various things linked from there.]