learning love songs

est. 2008


August 2012


In my best moments, my heart lives somewhere in the chorus of Tennessee-born Americana tunes. The kind for dusty roads and dreams that never die, full of big eyes and hearts to match. Full of the magic of music and the promise it’ll make something worth it.

A fine example:

“Way back on the radio dial,
A fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child.
Every note just wrapped around your soul,
From steel guitar to Memphis, all the way to rock and roll.

Woah, I can hear ’em playing
I can hear the ringing of a beat up old guitar
Woah, I can hear ’em saying
Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart

Downtown, where I used to wander,
Old enough to get there, but too young to get inside.
I would stand out on the sidewalk,
Listen to the music playing every Friday night.

Woah, I can hear ’em playing,
I can hear the ringing of a beat up old guitar.
Woah, I can hear ’em saying,
Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.

Some dreams stay with you forever
Drag you around and lead you back to where you were. 

Some dreams keep on getting better,
Got to keep believing if you want to know for sure

Woah I can hear ’em playing,
I can hear the ringing of a beat up old guitar.
Woah I can hear ’em saying,
Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.

Woah I can hear ’em playing,
I can hear the ringing of a beat up old guitar.
Woah I can hear ’em saying,
Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.

Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart,
Keep on dreaming,
Don’t let it break your heart.”

~Even if it Breaks Your Heart
Will Hoge, The Wreckage

Sidenote: You’ll also see this song from the Eli Young Band. Just as beautiful, a tad more country, but love that someone so mainstream noticed how beautiful this song is:


Since Thursday until about 7 p.m. today, the only album I played in my car is The Menzingers’ “On the Impossible Past.”

I try not to write about the same band two posts in a row, but I have barely absorbed anything else.

“Remember the days when I had a conscience? Yeah, me neither./And I’m warning, I’m warning, I’m warning you./And I’m warning, I’m warning, I’m warning you/That I can’t seem to tell, I can’t seem to tell, I can’t seem to tell if it’s my head or the earth that’s spinning around.” ~ I Can’t Seem to Tell, The Menzingers, On the Impossible Past

I’ve concluded that “Gates” (see previous post) is their “please-play-me-on-the-radio” song, and I love it immensely. Beyond “Gates,” the album shows to be grittier, grungier. Nothing I would classify as screamo, it’s very melodic, but there’s definitely some vocal chord tearing going on here and there. Love it. The title track is fascinating, a dirge-like memory of a car crash, that serves as a 1:33-long intro into “Nice Things,” which is somewhat of a social commentary on how to not be a tool with a vocalist switch.

There’s hints of an overarching narrative, something about American muscle cars and dating waitresses, passing mentions of drinking and drug use. Paints a pretty good picture of where this is coming from. A lot of it is just really sad, really desperate, yet really alive.

“And I’m pretty sure this corner of the world is the loneliest corner in the whole world.” ~Sun Hotel, The Menzingers, On the Impossible Past

Many of the guitar parts remind me of songs a friend back home writes, a friend I look up to despite (or maybe because of) the fact he is a total fucking outlaw. I’ve also concluded this album feeds everything in me that loves punk bands, though. For example: really triumphant guitar solos in the face of falling faithless, really despondent tales of drinking while feeling said feelings, varying levels of begrudging maturity, screaming out a girl’s name to the fates that fucked it all up, doubletime.

Take this hook, for example. If that’s not what I want to hear on my way to work, I don’t know what is.

“We stumbled and stared at the carnival lights that lit up New York City,
From a rooftop in Brooklyn that was covered in bad graffiti.
And then I let a thousand splinters pierce right through my spoiled liver,
Or whatever that was left of it.

‘Cause I’ve cursed my lonely memory with picture-perfect imagery.
Maybe I’m not dying I’m just living in decaying cities.
But I’m still healthy, I’m still fine,
I’ve been spending all my time reading the obituaries.

But I will fuck this up,
I fucking know it.

I will fuck this up,
I fucking know it.
I will fuck this up,
I fucking know it.
I will fuck this up,
I fucking know it.”

~The Obituaries
The Menzingers, On the Impossible Past


All hail The Menzingers. A great choice on a day like today, when “fuck it all” seems to feel like the mantra no matter what the world tells me. Not winning, not losing, not even really feeling, so pop punk it is.

I love this song, in particular, one of the more uplifting tracks with a really dancey guitar melody. I’ve been checking out “On the Impossible Past,” which the newest LP from the Scranton-bred pop-punk group, and it’s incredibly authentic, incredibly defeated. Really powerful chords, dark-hearted lyrics and equally fitting bridges…really into the style of the lead vocalist who has a unique drawl that reminds me a little of something 90s. They manage to sound a world-weary and thrashy without sacrificing a literary license, a balance I must applaud.

Something about this album makes me miss home, then I remember how badly I wanted to leave home before I wound up here. Fuck it all.

“I am the pain that beats through your temples
Every morning when you wake up.
I am the boy with alcohol poisoning
From all the parties Chris was throwing
That summer they took us in
Like every other American
For getting drunk around back of the Lion’s Club
Waiting for the shitty bands to finish up.
And some kids played hacky sack,
while the others just got high.

It’s not hard to fall for a waitress
When you both smoke, smoke the same cigarettes
You’ll get seated as diners or lovers
You’ll get the check as friends for the better
You’ll carve your names into the Paupack Cliffs
Just to read them when you get old enough to know
that happiness is just a moment

So I’m marching up to your gates today
To throw my lonely soul away
‘Cause I don’t need it
You can take it back

So I’m marching up to your gates today
To throw my lonely soul away
‘Cause I don’t need it
You can take it back

And they will make examples out of us
Like when they caught you in the CVS parking lot
But I fed the liars
Everything I got in my cabinet brain

of canned thoughts
Everything I’ve got
It was everything I’ve got
In my cabinet brain

So I’m marching up to your gates today
To throw my lonely soul away
‘Cause I don’t need it
You can take it back

Yeah I don’t need it
You can take it back”

The Menzingers, On the Impossible Past


“I saw that mountain burn, or was it in my head?
I’ll track down the words, if you dig up the dead.

Well I have never been free,
but I have always been cheap.

No, I have never been free.

But nothing in my bones can say just where you’ve been.
Nothing in my bones can let me start again, I’ll start again.

My eyelids falling down, 
All my dreams in black and white.
I see so clearly now I won’t ever get it right.
But I don’t wanna be free. 
I don’t wanna be me.
I don’t wanna be free.

You want me scream at your ex-girlfriend.
But I wanna be much better than I am.
You want me scream at your ex-boyfriend.
But I wanna be, and I don’t think I can.

Nothing in my bones can say just where you’ve been 
Nothing in my bones can let me start again 
I’ll start again, I’ll start again, 
I’ll start again.”

~Dig Up the Dead


A Pandora find from today…something about this song makes me think of someone heading west. Maybe it’s the harmonies, slightly Southern-gospel, mixed with syncopated string-plucking, echoing like howling desert wings. Maybe the simple train allusions.

Mission accomplished in updating a retro tune and making it accessible to new audiences (the original is soooo 60s hippie-chick, if you’re into that). It’s got a little more sultry soul, without sacrificing a delicate dignity, and it works.

Original or updated, the song tells a familiar story. I like that it describes a very specific moment that says so much about what’s to come, a moment full of hype and overanxious nerves. Do we ever know what draws us to someone, in a moment or after years? Not really ever, no, but that feeling lurking somewhere past your lungs will send you all kinds of places, if you’re willing to listen.

“Travelling north, travelling north to find you
Train wheels beating, the wind in my eyes
Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you
Call out your name love, don’t be surprised

It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve left you
Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you
But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It’s many hundred miles and it won’t be long

Nothing at all, in my head, to say to you
Only the beat of the train I’m on
Nothing I’ve learned all my life on the way to you
One day our love was over and gone

It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve met you
Don’t even know what I’ll say when I get to you,

But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It’s many hundred miles and it won’t be long

What will I do if there’s someone there with you
Maybe someone you’ve always known
How do I know I can come and give to you
Love with no warning and find you alone?

It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve met you
Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you
But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It’s many hundred miles and it won’t be long

It won’t be long
It won’t be long
It won’t be long”

~Train Song,
Vashti Bunyan, as covered by Feist and Ben Gibbard, Dark Was the Night compilation 


How many days pass you by before you notice nothing is changing?

What a poignant song this is. You almost instantly begin to feel the need to escape…but it makes the point, clearly, dramatically, that it is not simply about living in a broken system.

It’s about what you do with it.

“six billion backs against the wall 
now do we walk or run?
this puzzle’s falling into place.
once more around the sun,
remember when you were a kid?
those days were all so long.
but if we don’t do this,
somebody else will.

three billion backs against the wall,
A prayer for everyone.
we saw the changing at the sea,
but not a thing was done.
remember when you could rely?
those days are all but gone 

and if we don’t do this
somebody else will
if we don’t do this
somebody else will
somebody else will

one billion backs against the wall
at least our feet were dry
I was an honor to myself,
this storm would pass me by
remembering the things I did,
I knew I would survive

but if we don’t do this
somebody else will.
if we don’t do this.
somebody else will,
somebody else will.

one billion backs against the wall,
now do we walk or run?
one thousand backs against the wall,
now do we walk or run?

one hundred backs against the wall
now do we walk or run?
it’s just your back against the wall,
now do you walk or run?
remember when you were a kid?
those days are all but gone.
if we don’t do this,
nobody else will.
if we don’t do this,
nobody else will,
nobody else will.

~The Sea Change 
Turin Brakes
Many blame the government. But is that really fair? What makes them so special to get the credit, or the blame? More than I ever, I see so much wrong in the way people, people of society, treat each other and talk about each other. You’re either someone’s enemy or their pawn, or trying to make them one of yours. There seems little in between, especially from those who talk a big game about change while spouting “You’re wrong, so I’m right,” fallacies. They are wading through toxic swamp water, saying if you drink near them, you’re safe.

Elsewhere, the ego pervades: “Listen to me, look at me, love me,” they cry online, “make it easy for me!”  And “Wouldn’t I be so much happier,” they wonder surrounded by family, “if I had more stuff?”  

Since when did getting attention become the only way to self-satisfy? And since when did it become such a fucking chore to care even a little bit for the rest of society? Don’t tell me it’s not related. I have seen the results of living irresponsibly, and no, it’s not pretty, but I don’t think it would be so bad if we knew how to treat each other as equals, if we let go of some of the judgement.The blinders we’ve managed to secure so tightly on our self-obsessed skulls consequentially constricted the blood flow to our hearts and our heads.

In our society, I can’t help but see what I see as obvious:

The less you treat people like humans, the more like animals they’re going to become, and then I don’t think your numbers will mean shit. 


For the first time in seven years, no one will be at the hill to light a candle.

This is very sad to me, but we knew this day would come. We talked about it, wondering how long we’d all be close enough – regionally and emotionally – to get together, commemorate, cry, wonder. But seven years went by, and here it is.

“There we stand about to fly/Peeking down over land/Parachute behind/What was that moment for which we lived?/Without a parachute, about to dive?” ~Parachute – Guster, Parachute

We started the tradition shortly after Lizzie’s funeral, which felt formal and social and unbelievably sad. I don’t remember crying during the church service; I do remember eating a turkey sandwich in the vestibule that tasted like cardboard, the first bites of real food I’d had in days. I remember the lines of people, classmates and community members, wrapping around the church, and wondering why some of these people were here and giving me hugs, and then I remember Tim grabbing me by the shoulders with tears in his eyes when it was clear that neither of us was processing what was going on around us.

Shortly after, a group of us brought candles to the hill where we’d spent many summer nights, the one at my elementary school down the street from my house, and the one I’d walked to from my grandmother’s for years on end. It became the de facto central spot of Tim, Liz, Dan and I for sneaking out, meeting up and making out. We’d call out meet-ups “snizzling,” why exactly I do not remember, but the invented verb worked. “Hey, what time do you want to snizzle?” That was the best summer. You could see the whole school from the top of the hill, the baseball diamond and the soccer field, and the trees obscured extending suburbia. It felt peaceful, private, ours.

“But right now/Everything is turning blue/And right now/The sun is trying to kill the moon/And right now/I wish I could follow you/To the shores/Of freedom/Where no one lives” ~Honey and the Moon – Joseph Arthur, Redemption’s Son

One year later, we sat at the hill again, feeling lost, missing a limb. The hospital felt lightyears away though it had only been a week or so…the timeline was as fuzzy then as it is for me today. We lit candles, talked, cried and laughed then sat in silence, played Guster on our iPods, and let the candles burn as we walked away.

I think of her all the time. Less now, then I used to maybe, and that is a shameful reality, but the thoughts come on with the same wistful intensity. But the heart-heavying truth that someone so beautiful could die at 16…that means more to me now than it did then. One of the last phone calls we had was about how excited we were for college, how we wanted senior year to hurry up and leave so we could go somewhere new. She was thinking about going to school for art, or maybe English, possibly at this one private school near Albany. I wanted to go to Boston or New York, somewhere glamorous. We’d definitely go shopping together for dorm room furnishings, though, and we’d totally visit on the weekends. I remember Liz used to say that, when she decided to start drinking alcohol, she’d never want a screwdriver, because liquor would taint the purity of her beloved orange juice. Somewhat ironically, I am drinking a mimosa as I write this, thinking maybe she would’ve come around.

She was better than me, better than most, in so many ways.

Finding out about what happened was surreal, fate and my worst nightmares converged. I was sitting on my couch in the plant-filled, window-paneled Florida room with Tim’s older brother, feeling flirty and happy and thrilled he wanted to hang out with me. His dad called and I instantly knew something was wrong. His hands started shaking and  then he told me what happened. We rushed to the hospital, and I kept saying “Maybe it’s not that bad, maybe she’ll be OK.” I remember him saying something about possible brain damage.

I remember the first night at the hospital, sitting in a chair outside her room, my friends scattered around. A nurse gave me one of those flimsy hospital blankets and told me usually, they don’t let this many people in the ICU overnight, but they’d make an exception. I half-slept, hearing gray words and seeing whispered feelings of the nurses and Liz’s family, “Can you believe they’re all staying?,” “This is so sad,” “Do they think she’ll wake up?”

Seeing Liz’s dad Mike was the hardest. You could tell he was trying to be strong, but a man can only take so much loss and this was his only little girl. I remember how he’d gather us all for updates after such-and-such test or scan. They had to wait for her brain swelling to go down some before they’d know how bad the damage was and if she could wake up, something like that. The medical version of what was happening to my friend was beyond me, at that point, I just wanted to know if she’d ever be her again.

“I’ve gotta bust you outta here somehow/I’ve never seen your heart this tired/I’ve never seen your spirit held down/I know that you say/This is what you get/For being a bad child/But I know this will be your reward/In just a little while/In just a little while/It’s testing the strong ones/Scarring the beautiful ones/It’s holding the loved ones/One last time” ~ Testing the Strong Ones – Copeland, Beneath Medicine Tree

She was so small in that hospital bed, she was a tiny girl as it was. But a spunky tiny, you noticed Lizzie in a room. Her arrival at Eastridge was not uncontroversial. Who was this adorable girl with the short hair and Snapples and why was she befriending all our crushes? We became friends when I found out she liked Brand New, and we were pretty inseparable from that point on, the beginning of a social circle that exists, on some level, to this day. Here, in the hospital, the looming monitors and tubes in her mouth made Lizzie seem so small, and weak, contrary to everything I knew her to be. Her eyes were shut, but clearly swollen with fluid. Her dark curly pixie cut was matted back against her bandaged skull, her toes were polished.

We made playlists, full of Elliott Smith and Guster and Jimmy Eat World, songs we knew she’d love. We drew pictures, so many of my friends are amazingly talented artists. We bought journals to circulate, making sure they had the right looks to them (“Circles, not squares”), and wrote our feelings out, messages to Lizzie and God. We sat next to her bed and held her hand, I remember telling the nurse when I saw blood coming out of her left ear. I remember her telling me that can happen in situations like this, don’t worry, and all I could think was how fucking unbelievable this was. I still don’t know what happened in that car.

Crisis friendships formed, even one between Tim and Liz’s new boyfriend Greg who went to a different school. They’d met at Alexandria Bay — Lizzie loved the water, and the long drive there, too, so she could read and write and think. Dan and I began talking again, whatever we were fighting about instantly became irrelevant when faced with the loss of this mutual cornerstone to our existence. Liz had so many friends, some we’d never met from her past school and from the bay, and we shared our stories and memories to pass the time. We kept talismans close — the friendship bracelets she made, the notes, the decorated song lyrics, the mix CDs. Everything that was her favorite became a lifeline.

“When I was younger and thought of myself/I never dreamed I’d become like this/A snap of your fingers/An end to the argument/Anything for you, love” ~Ramona – Guster, Keep it Together

Six days in the hospital, living in this haze, going home to shower and fake sleep and going right back. My parents asked me if I wanted to sleep at home one night. No, I told them. No, because if this is the last time I get to see her, I need to be there. Where else would I be?

I remember not knowing what to say most of the time. I remember crying lots, then being unable to cry. I remember throwing up in hospital bathrooms. I remember us dragging a couch from one lounge into the other so we’d have more room to hang out. I remember laughter feeling awkward but necessary, as we distracted ourselves between updates.

That Saturday, doctors told Mike what was happening. She wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own. She had limited brain activity. Nothing else we can do, doctors said. At least, this is how I remember it. All I knew was that my friend was going to die. This wonderful girl I’d spent so much time with, shared so much with, was not going to make it.

They brought in some therapist to talk to us. We sat in a big circle in a conference room. No one really had anything to say. Dan and I made jokes about each other, feigning normalcy in the face of something so horrible. We were such kids, who thought we’d knew it all and felt it all, only to realize none of us can ever know anything for certain.

I said goodbye to Liz that night, holding her tiny, tiny hand in both of mine and saying “I’ll see you someday.” I didn’t want to go home, so I called a couple trusted girlfriends to pick me up and drive me to the pier. The water was so, so stormy, and the sky was thick with black clouds, stars invisible. The world was menacing and awful and I screamed and screamed and screamed, mostly nonsense but a lot of “whys.” I think we went to the diner after, and I ordered black coffee.

“So what would you think of me now?/So lucky, so strong, so proud?” ~Hear You Me – Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American

Senior year started shortly thereafter, and I was a shell of who I was the year before. I left campus when I wasn’t supposed to, smoked cigarettes outside the courtyard window. I became very ill in October, stayed home for a month with mono and slept through most of it. Back at school, none of us wanted to be there, but we made the most of it, I think. We didn’t talk about her much — Tim least of all — and we pretended we were into what we were doing. I re-started the school newspaper to help pass time, taught extra hours at the dance studio on the weekends. Every now and then one of us would reach out to one another to cry, to remember her, or to pontificate on the meaning of life and death. We knew none of us would ever be the same, but we were stronger. We were prepared. Nothing would ever hurt this much again, we knew.

The following summer, before we left for college, we still lit candles at the hill even though it wasn’t the exact anniversary. We were going our separate ways, but we’d be back, we told each other. We’d always be back. Through the years the attendance has varied depending on who is in town. I’ve missed two of these events myself, though I made sure to call and find out when it was, made sure they’d remember me there, too. Mostly, lately,  we talk about how fast life seems to be changing, how we’re growing up. And we’ve talked about how our memories of her still live somewhere in the back of our minds, but it’s harder to see her than it was the year before.

I cling to the details I have, of her gorgeous brown eyes and tiny hands, the shirts she always wore and the purse she often slung across her shoulder. The way she’d rub your nose when you were sad, and it was weird, but it helped calm you down and made you smile. How she volunteered at summer Bible camps. The incredible sculptures she could make out of clay, ceramics, Snapple caps, whatever you gave her to transform. The amazing things she could do with Sharpies. The way we made fun of our pre-calc teacher in class and pretended we didn’t care but always tried to ace the tests. Her poetry. The times she talked me off the ledge. The depth of the darkness she had herself and tried to hide, and the strength she’d always seem to find.

She would’ve been amazing. She would’ve graduated, gone on to school, gotten rid of so much that was bringing her down. She would’ve been the coolest indie chick on campus. Her talents as an artist, a writer, a thinker, would’ve become even more obvious. They would’ve gotten her far. She would’ve been brilliant. She already was.

“Heaven’s not a place that you go when you die/It’s that moment in life when you actually feel alive/so live for the moment/And take this advice live by every word/Love is just a hoax so forget everything that you’ve heard/And live for the moment now” ~The Tide – The Spill Canvas, Sunsets and Car Crashes

Seven years. When you’re 17 you don’t know what it feels like to look back yet, you’re too busy focused on the present. High school is a bubble, these people are your world and the future is so far away. But now? On this side of perspective? If you told me that I am who I am, that I’ve done what I’ve done, I never would’ve dreamed life could be like this. But then again, at 17 I didn’t have much of an idea of what it was to be out in the world… I wonder if I would’ve made different choices if Liz hadn’t died.

Sometimes I think that her death gave us all a better shot at this life, in some cruel backwards way. We were talented but tortured and I wonder if the reality we were faced with at such an impressionable age gave us a perspective that no matter how hard life became, you’d be able to find your way out of it. Those were some of the darkest days, that week and the months thereafter, I’ve ever felt…by comparison, depression became a selfish endeavor and I think of all this when I begin to feel sorry for myself, when goddammit I am still alive aren’t I? I’ve made it this far, right? No point in giving up now.

Your identity shapeshifts after loss, you adapt to a new world minus this person who previously helped define it…but being able to remember her with others is a gift. Her 16, nearly 17, years on this earth were a gift, and we were lucky enough to receive it, blessed enough to learn from her. In the years since Liz’s death I’ve been so grateful to still be able to hold onto others who felt the same. Seven years and I still love them, respect them, wish them all the best in the world. I think this might be the start, though, of paths truly diverging. Where to, exactly, I don’t know, but I do know we’re not together lighting candles at the hill this weekend. That says enough…but I know, I have to know, that they wish we were all together as much as I do.

“You say go slow/But something’s right behind me/Can run away for so long/It will not stop/I will come down, oh no/Let me find way/I’ll take you the edge/Go across that window/And I’ll carry you there/Oh when nothing goes right/Oh when days don’t come to night/Oh when all I see is the error of my own enemy” ~Window – Guster, Parachute

“Will I still laugh with you 
Or has the damage been done 
I knew it couldn’t last forever 
But why’d it have to end so soon
Of course I will still see you 
It just won’t ever be the same 
Nothing really matters now that 
Forever has an end”
~Liz Williams


On a huge Weakerthans kick this week. Maybe it’s because I’m content, in a bored way. Or bored, in a content way, where I’m finding that little moments and gestures pack more meaning into a second in lieu of any one-shot events.

I love this song. Such happy tension. Scene, resolve. Every word is perfect. Commence listening.

“I want to call a request through heating vents,
And hear them answered with a whispered no,
To crack the code of muscles slack and tense,
Let every second step in boots on snow,
Complete you name in accents I can’t place,
That stumble where the syllables combine,
Take depositions from a stranger’s face,
Paint every insignificance a sign.

So tell me nothing matters less or more,
Say whatever we think actions are,
We’ll never know what anything was for,
If near is just as far away as far,
And I’m permitted one act I can save,
I choose to sit here next to you and wave.

The Weakerthans, Left and Leaving


I’ve long held that, despite the popularity, fun. is secondary to The Format (“Some Nights” holds no candles to “Interventions and Lullabies”). However, I cannot get this fucking cover out of my head.

Really pretty, really well done.

“When the summer rolls around 
And the sun starts sinking down 
I still remember you, oh I remember you 
And I wonder where you are 
Are you lookin’ at those same stars again? 
Do you remember when 
We woke under a blanket 
All tangled up in skin 
And I know in that moment 
We’d never speak again 
But it was perfect 
And I never will forget 
That we owned the night”
~We Owned the Night
Lady Antebellum, via fun. on Sirius XM

Blog at

Up ↑