When I think about my favorite first dates, first kisses, first make-out sessions, first make-up attempts and last good-byes, there’s one thing most of these memories have in common: the song.
Like your best friend, the right song can elevate the greatest of joys and can then comfort you while, on your knees and in tears, you pick up what’s left of your broken heart, piece by piece. Sometimes, the right tune will set the stage for a spontaneous middle-of-the-shopping-mall slow dance while another may inspire the deepest conversation.
This love affair with the groove usually seduces us at an early age. Back in the 80′s, while Anita and I were growing up in Skokie and discovering dating for the first time, making and receiving mix tapes was a highlight, especially during our high school years. Each tape had its own tone and whether it was Bon Jovi’s, “Never Say Goodbye,” (our high school prom theme) or Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” the opening number set the emotion for that one specific collection of songs, housed and played, with frequent repeat, either in our parents’ loaned cars or in our Sony Walkman.
Because budgets were tight and immigrants’ budgets even tighter, we, the emerging music aficionados, made due with what we had and, often, the mix tapes we did create came about because we spent $5 of hard-earned baby sitter money on a three-pack of whatever Walgreen’s had on sale. Then, with pen in hand, as we excitedly unwrapped the crinkly plastic and looked at each blank tape sleeved in blank liner notes, we didn’t see emptiness: We saw possibilities.
More often than not, the music compiled on these tapes would build the collection for no other reason than us waiting anxiously by the radio, dateless, on the weekend, waiting for the station to announce what’s playing next.
As Anita reminisces, “The DJ always got in the way of that perfect recording. I laugh at that because when we listen to old school mixes, I hear the DJ cutting in at the end, and, boy I’d hate that. Couldn’t make it professional sounding – and now, that makes it even more nostalgic.”
Whether it was the WBMX Saturday Night Dance Party or the WXRT Club X Live from the Domeroom, either Julian Jumpin’ Perez or Marty Lennartz made us Footloose, as we drummed up fictional, romantic scenarios about the boys we really wanted to go clubbing with that night.
As music technology evolved into digitized content – a series of binary codes – music mixes could suddenly be instantly downloaded, created, remixed, shared, burned and destroyed. But this innovation renaissance could not change one thing: the increased heart-beat of a woman hearing the one song that either secures our place in the perfect romantic moment or takes us right back to the first time we felt that passion, whether just three weeks back or twenty years ago.
There are some bands that manage to capture an entire relationship spectrum. For me, it always was and always will be U2. Sure, Depeche Mode is the perfect make-out band, but only Bono and crew can coax our pain, heal our heart, serenade our wedding, mourn our loss and fuel our happiness.
Every U2 song is a perfect relationship song: “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “All I Want is You,” “Breathe,” “Desire,” “I Will Follow,” “Love Rescue Me,” “Magnificent,” “The Sweetest Thing,” “When Love Comes to Town,” and the prophetic and spiraling, “One.” Just pick a decade, any decade since the 80′s, and this band will provide all your musical relationship needs.
I’ve had two amazing experiences of hearing the band play live. The first, in 1987, as a teenager, when my sister, a college student at University of Illinois, via a lottery, secured us two tickets, seventh row, center stage. I hadn’t, yet, really discovered men, so the music still felt innocent to me. (Boys, yes. Men, no.) The second time was a very different experience. Two decades later, in Chicago’s Soldier Field I finagled us two Red Zone tickets, which meant Bono and crew walked right past us. That September I was recovering from my worst break-up ever, one that took two more years to fully heal, and hearing “Magnificent,” the song that I had, just a few months earlier, put on a mix CD that I sent to the now-ex, I couldn’t help but smile, even as the tears rolled down my cheeks. There I was, under the gorgeous early Fall Lakefront sky, in perfect weather, surrounded by the lit high-rises of Chitown, with the most important person in my life – my Sister – right next to me, realizing that everything will be alright.
Why? Because Bono said so:
“Only love, only love can leave such a mark;
But only love, only love can heal such a scar…”
I love this band and I love its music. I love how almost each U2 song cradles the heart, knowing how simultaneously strong and fragile is the human condition and that love is irrational, it is messy and it takes great risk without offering any guarantee of any reward.
That’s something we all subconsciously know, but we also completely forget, with each new kiss and new make-out session. Call it selective amnesia, but the truth is, unlike a three-minute interval of melodic perfection, relationships don’t always sustain or end on a high note. Perhaps that is why the memory of a short-lived relationship tends to be sweeter than the relationship itself? And why the finite knowledge of being with someone is not always an accurate sample of what that interaction may be like over the course of not just seasons, but years or even decades.
This is why we love the sweetness of the song, nestled safely in a romantic mix tape.
Our song. For this moment. For us two.