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All My Break-Up Songs

[Well, here it is: V-Day, the big terror. It is an indisputable fact that if everything is okay, you don’t even care about this holiday all that much. And it is an indisputable fact that if everything is not okay, you will wake up filled with fear and loathing, and every disgusting teddy bear holding a heart in the Duane Reade will feel like someone stabbing you directly in the face. That is why Valentine’s Day is so great: it is an obligation at best and a terror at worst. But, you know what? Today is not just That Awful Day. Today is the conclusion of Break-Up Music Week at Tiger Beatdown. We’ve been hanging out and we’ve been listening to our music all week long. But today’s special guest star, Elizabeth Seward, has a relationship to music that far exceeds listening.]

“Human beings have been falling in love and pairing off since there were human beings,” my boyfriend told me last night.  And while he is right — love is part of humanity — a broken heart is a part of it just the same. My boyfriend and I will spend Valentine’s Day this year together. But we spent Valentine’s Day together last year, too — holding each other and dishing out comfort over the ones who’d just broken our respective fragile hearts.  He was a friend of my roommate and we’d invited him to stay at our house during his break up.  I was lost in my own emotional black hole of a world, confused and hurt from the guy I’d been dating.  Both being musicians, we managed to hone in on what brought us the most release during this time:  music.

Break up songs are important during a break up — especially if you’re writing them yourself.  During my heartbreak, I did the very same thing that I have been doing since I was 13 years old:  penned a bunch of anger-ridden lyrics and embarked on my music career more strongly than before, with testaments of my trials of the heart readily available to anyone who would listen. This man, who was not then my boyfriend, played back-up.

Fig. 1: And when you go home and write tonight, you’ll write it better than this. You’ll make it so much more beautiful than it actually is.

And with that, I confess to you this: I have been accused of writing mostly man-hating break up songs more than once.  While I’m finally at a place where I can be inspired, with relief, by matters not intertwined with my love life, I regret nothing about the outlet music has always been and still is for me — especially during those dark and, gasp, lonely times.

In most ways, being a songwriter is worthwhile trade.  I get my most intimate feelings off of my chest, but I do it at the price of privacy.  Copy/Pasting my journal entries into lyrics for the World Wide Web to enjoy hasn’t always been, and probably never will be, easy. On the contrary; it’s difficult.

Before my boyfriend and I started dating, we addressed what has come to be a problem in many relationships past:  the fact that I will, in time, write songs about him, and that they won’t, not all, be good.  The reality is that I use my music as a way to channel my emotions — far-fetched or painfully specific as they are. He told me that for the sake of music, any awkwardness or public display of privacy is worth it.

Fig. 2: Maybe I can’t think straight, but I can drive.  (No Internet in Germany.)

Other people don’t always agree with this.  In one of my songs, I tell the story of the life of my grandmother — parts of it which remain family secrets.  I’ve been asked to not sing the song by the person who matters to me most in this world, but the resolve my gut has in the end is always the same: tell the truth, tell nothing but the truth, so help me God.

But the truth, as most of us already know, is subjective.  It is relative. Telling the truth, at least how I see it, has always been important to me in lyrics — no matter, I am in some ways ashamed to admit, the consequences.

I’m vulnerable and breakable on my good days.  Catch me with a broken heart and I’m a train wreck smashing wildly into everything in my way.  Unless you completely lack self-awareness (which, don’t get me wrong, I mostly lack it), you feel small when your heart is broken and you imagine you’ll feel even smaller when you confess your sorrow to someone else.  But that’s where you, where I, where we are always wrong.

The heart is a muscle just like the rest of them.  Work it too hard and tear it and it does what the other muscles do:  it builds back stronger.  Your friends will stand by you and tell you about the light at the end of the tunnel that you’re bound to see one of these days.  The musicians who wrote your favorite break up songs went through this pain too. Even the really sexy ones.  Reach out and shake the universe for empathy when love betrays you and you will find empathy — especially in music.

Fig. 3: All over my tongue sit lines of excuses for my mood today. (But my world is gray.)

Heartbreak is nothing to be ashamed of.  Spit it out, exorcize your love demons, shout it to the mountains that someone hurt you — that’s how you heal.  And once you’ve healed, you’ll wonder why you ever let it cut you so deep. Until the next time someone breaks your heart.  In which case, the music that helped you through the gray will always be there, immortalized by recordings.

[Elizabeth Seward is a musician in Brooklyn. She is also one of Sady’s best lady friends in the entire world. This year, she will be releasing one new song every Monday – and much other music-related goodness – on her remarkable Tumblr. Sady is trying desperately to convince her of the power of the “follow” function. Follow her on Tumblr, so she can see!]


  1. Kelly wrote:

    Oh man E, those are some of my favs. great piece!

    Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Sady wrote:

    I mentioned this on The Tumblr, but it is very important you know that these songs are older, and that the newer songs on the Tumblr are making me really happy now! The one I like best thus far: Silence. It is here!

    Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Tiffani W wrote:

    OH WOWWW!! I haven’t listened to them all yet, but the first one is unbelievably beautiful. I can’t wait to follow you (on Tumblr, that is!). 🙂

    Monday, February 15, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  4. Elizabeth wrote:

    Thank you Kelly, Sady, and Tiffani! I love that feeling I get when people tell me that my music isn’t as much of an unsolicited over-share as it sometimes seems to be to me.

    Monday, February 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  5. peter m. wrote:

    What an fantastic surprise to read this blog as a part of the Amanda Palmer response and run into the words and music of Elizabeth! She played a benefit show I organized in Philly this fall and was super-awesome – both in performance and as a person. I’m so happy you are connecting more people to her.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  6. Elizabeth wrote:

    Crazy coincidence, Peter! Glad you’re following Tiger Beat Down!

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink