This is The IDT, the incredibly depressing tape. This is the mixtape I started making before college in the 80s, that went through revisions with every love and every heartbreak, that was burned to CD, but lost to history when we all went digital.
Could I remake it? Should I?
The rules are simple:
1. It must be composed of songs that you can’t stop listening to no matter how much they carve.
2. Each song must pull you back to a specific place, or person, or moment. This shit is autobiographical. It’s not just sad music for sad music’s sake.
3. One song per performer. This is not a greatest hits tape.
4. Each song must have at least one lyric that is a brutal katana, a line that slices you in two.
5. It’s a mixtape: 90 minutes. No more.
I will spare you the names of the sirens sung to. It would be too embarrassing to admit. But know these are deep cuts, some scarred over, some still unhealed.
These are on my IDT. iTunes Playlist: The IDT
What’s on yours?
Ghost – Indigo Girls
“I’m forever under lock and key, as you pass through me.”
“As I burn up in your presence, I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels.”
You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson
I’m walking through the streets of Newark. It’s too early. The distance from Penn Station to the college is unreasonable. I want the sun to come up. I want to be back in the city. I want back on the train. I want it all back.
“Whisper three words and I’ll come running. Girl, you know that I’ll be there.”
Washington Square – Counting Crows
Pack up everything you love or need and go. We will never again speak but to sign contracts and settle debts.
“Nobody knows me. My friends and my family are as far from this city as Washington Square.”
She’s Got You – Patsy Cline
“I’ve got your memory, or has it got me? I really don’t know. But I know it won’t let me be.”
“The only thing new. I’ve got these little things. She’s got you.”
At This Moment – Billy Vera and the Beaters
Alex Keaton is on a train chasing Ellen across the country. He realized a few hours too late that he couldn’t live without her. Yes, it was a TV show. So, of course, sap that I am, had to turn it into real life.
“How could I hurt you? Darling I love you. And you know, I’d never hurt you.”
“If you’d stay I’d subtract 20 years from my life. I’d fall down on my knees, kiss the ground that you walk on, if I could just hold you again.”
“If I could just hold you…
If I could just hold you…
If… I…. If I could just hold you…
(heart wrenching sax)
My Hometown – Bruce Springsteen
Not all sadness is the result of lost love, missed chances, roads not taken. Some deep an unending sadness comes from growing up in a place that no longer exists, in being far away from your family, and farther from a father to whom you were never close. This is existential loss, nostalgia for a place in which you never lived.
“He’d tussle my hair and say son take a good look around. This is your hometown.”
Meet Me In The Dark – Melissa Etheridge
In the long journey of becoming a person there are shadow-moments of which you cannot confirm the existence. Did it happen or was it a dream? And why was it, if not for the most cliched reasons, that you never quite fit in the round holes that held together your town? And why was everything better in college, which, truth be told, wasn’t that far away in geography or culture?
“I know everyone has their unspoken fear. It eats away their senses and their humanity. They carry all their secrets every night down to the river, and they try so hard to drown them. They won’t do that to me.”
“If God made a mistake, then I should die before I wake. Maybe it’s my fate to swim against this tide, swallowing my pride.”
Nightswimming – R.E.M.
Unnamed sadness. Germantown. New Paltz. Charleston. This song is all of it and nothing. I have no clue what it means, but it feels.
“It’s not like years ago. The fear of getting caught. The recklessness of water. They cannot see me naked.”
Always On My Mind – Willie Nelson
Each song has a person, has a name. But some songs are the ones you wish a person would sing for you, would feel for you. Some songs you would sing for yourself if the other was you.
“Little things I should have said and done. I just never took the time.”
Pictures Of You – The Cure
Technology will fade any mode through which we feel. No one carries pictures any more. No one understands bent corners, or plastic covers, or why an image over time might fade. But I recall with great clarity her hands holding up her weight while she sat beneath a piano, smiling. And I still believe that each failure in my life has been the result of word-locks and word-keys, and my own inability to match up the right words in the right moment.
“If only I’d known all the right words, I could have held onto your heart.”
“There was nothing in the world that I ever wanted more than to feel you deep in my heart.”
Stay – Sugarland
Some sadness is not for you, not for the people left behind, but for the struggles you see others going through. Maybe we are all just mist waiting to dissipate. But while we are here the hurt is painfully real, and I would take it on myself rather than let others suffer it.
“It’s too much pain to have to bear, to love someone you have to share.”
For You – Barenaked Ladies
“I have set aside everything I love. I have saved everything else for you.”
Can you think of a more awful line to write? A more awful thought to think? A more awful feeling to feel?
90s bands (whom I love) were all about upbeat music and suicidal lyrics. Barenaked Ladies are no exception. If I were ever listening to this song and someone asked how I was doing I would say, “Fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.”
True Colors – Cyndi Lauper
When I look back on my high school days it’s so easy to see now how many of us were outcasted, in pain, hiding in plain sight. I wish I could go back and apologize, for something I did, for what others did, for everything.
“Show me a smile. I can’t remember when I last saw you laughing.”
I Can’t Make You Love Me – Bonnie Raitt
Every word of this song, every lyric hurts worse and worse as it goes on. It’s like hearing a self-performed autopsy, Dr. Raitt reading into her recorder. First cutting through the chest, spreading ribs, removing the heart, commenting on its weight, its maladies, its various shades.
In this metaphor the chorus is the scalpel, the piano the blood.
Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell
Why do I always listen to this song on airplanes? And why do I harbor such contempt for the fact that this was written in her 20s? Who knows anything in their 20s? It’s not fair that Ms. Mitchell knew everything. This is the later version from the album of the same name, the one where, really, finally, “It’s life’s illusions that I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”
Flamenco Sketches – Miles Davis
I think perhaps this needs to be up one song in the order. Perhaps if I ended with Bonnie Raitt’s piano and went straight into Miles’s horn. I don’t know if I could handle that though. It’s so fucking brutal.
Black – Pearl Jam
I am partial to stories told in solid objects on which I can hang all my non-solid insecurities. “Sheets of empty canvas. Untouched sheets of clay…”
This may be the hardest love song ever written. I don’t know that I would have ever wanted it dedicated to me, but man could I dedicate it to others. It’s as if Pearl Jam, both in music and lyric reached inside my worst cracks and pulled out my anguish.
Best last line of any song, anywhere, ever: “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life. I know you’ll be a sun in somebody else’s sky. Why? Why can’t it be? Why can’t it be… mine?
Uninvited – Alanis Morrisette
The last song on the IDT. A piano. A slow build. Alanis carving up my skin, my heart, draining my blood, torturing me with every line and every word. Until I am nothing. Until I am completely broken. And then the full orchestration kicks in.
This song is nothing more than a series of excuses for why we can’t be together, a list of insecurities, a list of frailties, a list of consequences. The last line is in the middle of the song, and it is a promise to return with an answer.
And the answer never comes.