Music has always
been a huge part of our relationship. I met him (see the photo above) when he was on tour with
his rock band of more than a decade, Marah. Our first conversation that sultry
summer night involved, among dozens of other discussions, an exchange of
musical tastes that were similar but different enough to make the conversation
exciting without the soul-destroying horror of learning this sexy human before
you deeply appreciates all things Celine Dion.
August 11, 2004.
Technically, the 11th had probably dissolved into the 12th as
the gig he had just ceremoniously finished by writhing on the floor with his
guitar—to my great delight—had stretched well into the steamy Salt Lake
We had begun the
first of hundreds of exhilarating conversations while sitting at the bar after
the show. It was an intense meeting and if there is such a thing as love at
first sight (there isn’t), it happened to us. Instantaneous fireworks,
electricity crackling around us as we talked and the world receded.
Several hours later
we found ourselves parked at his hotel, ensconced in the cocoon of my forest
green Dodge Durango, discussing all things large and small, important and
silly, while shy fingers flirted. Twining and untwining nervously as we laid
usual musical conversation all new acquaintances find themselves engaged in at
the dawn of the relationship (ours took place at the actual dawn of a hot
August morning) took shape: What kind of music do you like? What’s your
favorite song right now? What was your favorite song when you were 16? I
remember asking him if he could choose just one album to define himself, an
album that means the most to him or helped shape who he is as a musician and a person,
which one would he pick?
Without hesitation, he said Springsteen’s "Darkness on the Edge of Town." He went on to
explain why and then requested the same information of me. "Wilco. 'Yankee
Hotel Foxtrot,'" I replied. It was and still is a defining album for me,
which is retrospectively ironic considering the course our marriage would
"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is a legendary album, gorgeously summarized by Spencer Kornhaber
for The Atlantic as a collection of
songs about “how hard it is to communicate honestly with self-conscious,
afraid-to-be-honest evasiveness.” About lead singer Jeff Tweedy; “He holds
affection, but is too shy, vulnerable, or drugged out to communicate it. So he
signals. It comes out all wrong. And the distance between himself and the
person he loves just gets wider.”
beautiful description that could, no doubt, double as a stunningly accurate
account of the demise of our marriage. The first track is
fittingly called "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and contains
lyrics like, “I'd always thought that if I held you tightly, you'd always love
me like you did back then.”
The day after
we met, Serge rolled out beneath the hot noon sun and continued his tour with
his band. Seattle was the next city he texted me from.
“What does a girl
do on a lazy summer Saturday in Salt Lake City?” He wanted to know.
“She buys 'Darkness
on the Edge of Town' and takes a long drive with her dog, Max, so they can
listen to the entire album,” I replied.
And I did. I
listened hard to the album several times, even pulling over among the
breathtaking beauty of the Utah mountains so I could focus on certain songs in
my fevered attempt to discover within the music and lyrics the heart and mind
of the man who had captured my heart and mind in one night.
It was the start of
our relationship. Now, at what appears to be the end, we are once again sharing
music. In the wake of our separation and eventual divorce, Serge has often
written or talked about his long drives in the Pennsylvania countryside while
listening to music. He’s no luddite but has yet to get around to discovering
the joy of music streaming sites like Spotify or Rhapsody. He still endearingly
carts around ten or so of his favorite CDs that slide and rattle around
annoyingly in his console and door panel. He drives with one hand and jams them
in and out of the CD player with the other, Nineties-style, as his mood
We’d had a rough
couple of days discussing the shape our post-divorce relationship would take
and I had gone to work, my head in a fog. He sent me a text saying he was
thinking of going for a walk in the woods. “Do it,” I replied. “But wait! Before you do, call me.” An idea
was forming in my mind.
I created a Spotify
account in his name and, just as I did for boyfriends during my teens with a
dollar store boom box and a couple cassette tapes, began to create a playlist
for a boy who has my brain and heart turned upside down and inside out.
Just as it did in
the early Nineties, this playlist took hours, but not because I was anxiously
hovering around the radio waiting for the DJ to play the right song but because
this playlist had to be just right—a work of art. It needed to convey what I
am apparently unable to say on my own and it needed to do that with songs from our
shared history, the soundtrack of our marriage, by artists we both love who
wrote lyrics that drive home what I want him to know. Not only that but any
mixed tape artist worth the cost of a premium subscription to Spotify knows sequencing
is essentially everything. Each song needs to dissolve seamlessly into the next
in a way that has you subtly mourning the end of one song while simultaneously rejoicing
as the familiar notes of the next jam float into your head.
I chose some Wilco
songs, some songs from "Darkness on the Edge of Town," of course, a few other
Springsteen songs I know have special meaning for him. The Cure is also a major
musical player in Serge’s world. Badly Drawn Boy. I tossed in some recent
discoveries of mine that I knew he’d dig and then spent at least an hour making
sure the sequence was just right before sending it to him. I called it “Songbirds” after a song he wrote about
us for his band some years ago.
I didn’t hear
anything for a while and began to feel silly. Told myself he was only listening
to humor me and was figuring out a way to say thanks without hurting my
The next day he
informed me he was blown away and had spent a good chunk of his day creating a
playlist for me. He called it "Cavoli Riscaldati."