Hand in Unlovable Hand: My Top 5 Songs About Divorce/Separation/Breaking-Up/The Disintegration of a Relationship


I was going to just call these my top 5 divorce songs, but I've listened to them with people in mind who I am not, nor ever have been, married to.  And who knows what kind of relationship they were written with in mind? 

I confess I discovered most of these in comments left on blogs of people who were going through separations with their spouses.  I scanned through hundreds of comments where people shared songs that had helped them, and tried to listen to as many as I could.  There was a week or three where all I was listening to was break-up songs.  Since I rarely feel like I can put them on mixes for people--so morbid!--I thought I'd share them here.  I tried to put them on a spectrum of sweet to angry, but really only one of them is angry--#1.

5) "Everywhere" by Polaris

you left your glasses behind
somebody said you were doing fine
I play a game that you're not there
but it's no good because you're everywhere
I hear a song that you sang
it hits my head like a circus train
I cried out and you were there
you were there because you're everywhere

I think I've referenced this song multiple times on my blog--even applying it once to my medical issues.  I love the little details, like leaving the glasses and hearing a song that the person would sing and making it impossible to escape their memory and ghost.  And the harmonica!

4) "It's a Motherfucker" by The Eels

it's a motherfucker
being here without you
thinking 'bout the good times
thinking 'bout the bad
and I won't ever be the same
it's a motherfucker

getting through a Sunday
talking to the walls
just me again
but I won't ever be the same
I won't ever be the same

There's just this piano and strings and this poor man singing these very, very sad lyrics.  To the point.

3) "Stay or Leave" by Dave Matthews Band

Wake up naked drinking coffee
Making plans to change the world
While the world is changing us
It was good good love
You used to laugh under the covers
Maybe not so often now
But the way I used to laugh with you
Was loud and hard

Stay or leave

I want you not to go
But you should
It was good as good goes
Stay or leave
I want you not to go
But you did

So what to do

With the rest of the day's afternoon--hey
Isn't it strange how we change
Everything we did
Did I do all that I should

That I could of done

Remember we used to dance

And everyone wanted to be
You and me
I want to be too
What day is this
Besides the day you left me
What day is this
Besides the day you went

MAKING PLANS TO CHANGE THE WORLD, WHILE THE WORLD IS CHANGING US!  Bah, this song. The lyrics are just amazing, and then the mood of the song is so eerie with this mad sort of whispering vocalizations in the background.  It holds this great contradiction of pleading for the good times and also accepting they won't be coming back.  Remember when we used to dance and everyone wanted to be you and me, I want to be too.  Incredible!

2) "Woke Up" New by The Mountain Goats

on the morning when I woke up without you for the first time
I felt free and I felt lonely and I felt scared
and I began to talk to myself almost immediately
not being used to being the only person there

the first time I made coffee for just myself, I made too much of it
but I drank it all just cause you hate it when I let things go to waste
and I wandered through the house like a little boy lost at the mall
and an astronaut could have seen the hunger in my eyes from space

and I sang, "oh, what do I do?  what do I do?  what do I do?
What do I do without you?"

The rest of the lyrics are fantastic too.  The last verse ends with "And stood there like a business man waiting for the train, and I got ready for the future to arrive."  John Darnielle writes the most personal lyrics--I love it.  And the way he sings, "What do I do without you?" is heart-breaking.

1) "No Children" by The Mountain Goats

The entire lyrics (the rest have been just sections):

I hope that our few remaining friends
give up on trying to save us
I hope we come out with a fail-safe plot
to piss off the dumb few that forgave us

I hope the fences we mended
fall down beneath their own weight
and I hope we hang on past the last exit
I hope it's already too late

and I hope the junkyard a few block from here
someday burns down
and I hope the rising black smoke carries me far away
and I never come back to this town again 
in my life

I hope I lie
and tell everyone you were a good wife
and I hope you die
I hope we both die

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow
I hope it bleeds all day long
Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises
we're pretty sure they're all wrong

I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn't over
I hope you blink before I do
and I hope I never get sober

and I hope when you think of me years down the line 
you can't find one good thing to say
and I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out
you'd stay the hell out of my way

I am drowning
there is no sign of land
you are coming down with me
hand in unlovable hand

and I hope you die
I hope we both die

The energy and anger in this song is almost terrifying.  I can't imagine how insane the crowd must get when John sings this in concert (well, insane for folk fans).  John Darnielle wins all the awards for this one.   The driving guitar, the bitterly spewed lyrics, the desperation and resignation in "I hope we both die."  I listen to this song all the time, and it's always appropriate for something.  I would get a tattoo of "our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises, we're pretty sure they're all wrong / I hope it stays dark forever, I hope the worst isn't over" if it wouldn't be the most depressing tattoo EVER.

Honorable Mention: the amazing "Rootless Tree" by Damien Rice!  My friend Linda introduced it to me and I LOVE it.  So cathartic.

I know it's completely reprehensible, but I'm such a sucker for a graphic, specific, detailed, wallowing break-up song.  The way people express breaking up can be just as fascinating as how they talk about being in love.


Linda said...

Oh man, almost ALL of Damien Rice's songs are about "the woman I lost and my grief at missing her." Wrenching stuff! One is called "Cheers Darlin" and is sung from the point of view of an ex-lover who is attending the wedding of his lost love. There is a sound of people tapping silverware against their glasses in the music. Here is a video of him performing it in concert, acting out the role of a drunk and maudlin ex-boyfriend.

Linda said...

I also want to mention this amazing song-- The Moment I Said it, by Imogen Heap. She's another really incredible artist, and this song speaks so much to the horror of a late night fight, where a fracture occurs that signals the end of the relationship, and she's begging the man not to walk out the door. I think it's one of the most truthful breakup songs I've ever heard.

Linda said...

Okay, last one, I swear. This one REALLY slays me. This is the song I listened to on repeat endlessly in college to help me get over a broken heart. The artist is Lisa Germano and she's not as well known as she should be. It's called "The Darkest Night of All," and even listening to it now, when I am happy, I still get chills.

Maryann said...

Linda, I just watched the "Cheers Darlin" video and HOLY COW. Have you seen him live? I had no idea he committed so strongly!