It’s Valentine’s Day, which means it’s time to pick a side.
There are a lot of different opinions about Valentine’s Day floating around out there, but the way I see it, you can boil them down into two major camps: There are the people who are into it, ready to make the most out of romance and buy each other chocolates; then, there are the people who are not into it — either because they think the holiday is a pointless, capitalistic ploy in general or simply because they’re single and don’t feel like getting swept up in other people’s love for the entire month of February.
Personally, I like Valentine’s Day, but I mostly like it residually from when I was a kid and I’d get to enjoy all the free candy and cupcakes at school. As a single person, my feelings about Valentine’s Day these days mostly mirror my feelings about love in general: It would be fun to be in it, but it can also be fun from the outside.
Last year, now-Senior Arts Editor Dominic Polsinelli created this awesome mixtape of emotional songs to listen to when you’re single on Valentine’s Day. In the interest of doing something slightly different, I’ve created a playlist that celebrates the agency of singleness by SHUTTING DOWN LOVE AT EVERY TURN.
This Valentine’s Day, jam out to the sound of the growing distance between yourself and everyone around you. I’ve included a very wide range of emotions in this playlist. When I started making it, I was in a dreary mood and I was thinking about spinsterhood. Naturally, I decided to break the ice with “Tire Swing” by Kimya Dawson and my all-time favorite love-disavowing ode to the self, First Aid Kit’s “King of the World.” (As in “I’m nobody’s baby, I’m everybody’s girl, I’m the queen of nothing, I’m the king of the world,” which is the best chorus ever). Then there’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which proves that even George Harrison knew what it was like to stand alone in the corner of a very lit party and want to sink into the dusty floor, and Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” because even when it’s lonely out in space and you feel like nobody understands you, you’re still a fucking rocket man.
These songs all have a tinge of mopiness, though, and it occurred to me exactly four songs in that there’s more than one side to the coin of singleness. In fact, maybe it’s not a coin at all. Maybe it’s more like a die.
If it is a die, the next side I landed on was murder. “Pirate Jenny” by Nina Simone and “Goodbye Earl” by Dixie Chicks are both killer (get it?) examples of songs about murdering people and then rising to preside victorious over the ashes of all you have destroyed. Jenny doesn’t need love! She’s too busy running a black freighter full of undead pirates!
From here I decided that love can look like a lot of different things. Sometimes it’s running a roadside stand with your high school BFF and selling jam after getting away with murder; sometimes your love doesn’t need to be directed at another person at all. “Coffee Blues,” by Mississippi John Hurt, is more or less about loving coffee. Sometimes, of course, the sadness or loneliness will creep back — some of my personal favorite lovelorn ballads are “Fireworks,” “Happy” and “Trouble,” by former Ann Arbor resident and the Amelia Earhart of folk music, Connie Converse. And of course “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” by The Carter Family which is about pretty much literally burying oneself in the face of love. But when this happens, more often than not, you can still take a road trip and ease yourself back into a little perspective, à la“Drivin’ on 9” by The Breeders.
This is the point at which you just kind of let go: Dress up in an outfit that makes you happy; stop reaching out to people who aren’t reaching back; vow to be evil. Live life close to the bone and look down on married people for a little while. Songs like “Mal Hombre” by Lydia Mendoza, “Odinochka,” by МАКSИМ and “Never” by Larry Chance & the Earls are also particularly great, in different ways, for deciding that you’re pretty much done with love.
But at their core, most of these songs (despite some of their sad exteriors) are really about possibility, transformation and above all, the validation that can be found in one’s own loneliness. By the time I reached the end of this playlist, a strange mix of hope, resignation, determination and possibility had somehow come back over me. That’s why I wrapped it up with “All I Really Want,” by Alanis Morissette — the perfect blend of self-assurance (“Do I stress you out?”), desperation (“What I wouldn’t give / to find a soulmate / someone else to catch this drift”) and resolve (“All I really want is deliverance”). And then I tacked on “If I Had a Hammer (Hammer Song)” by Pete Seeger and “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra because they’re both uplifting songs about troubles finally passing away.
Ultimately, all of these songs have one thing in common: The people singing them understand love, but for the moment, for whatever reason — whether it’s unreturned affection, a murdered husband, or simply disinterest — they’re alone. Some of them are OK with that. But even in the cases when they’re not and they’re telling us how very un-OK with it they are, they’re also doing something pretty cool at the same time.