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Imagine it. Spring Fling, 2005. Kevin, the object of your eternal tweenage desire, is playing the school dance – in his band. That’s right. Kevin is in a band. Or, more accurately, Kevin has a band. You see, he writes the songs, and the lyrics. He sings them, and plays the electric guitar. It’s a Stratocaster. He got it last year for his birthday.
Kevin looks great tonight. He’s just gotten a haircut, and he’s wearing that shirt that you love. Kevin looks great in shirts. He’s even swapped out his glasses for contacts, making him look more Kyle MacLachlan than a bespectacled Morrissey. To be honest, you can’t even decide which Kevin you prefer – the one with four eyes, or two. Both Kevins are equally foxy.
This occasion – the Spring Fling of 2005, (which certainly happened and is in no way a thinly veiled decoy for more recent events) should be a wonderful time. You should be dancing, and singing along to Kevin’s trite love songs. Unfortunately, Kevin dumped you last week, and all those songs he’s singing involving words like “baby” and “love me” and “crying” ain’t about you, sweetheart.
Now imagine, that it is not in fact the Spring Fling of 2005. It is the Summer Bummer of 2017. You are not a tweenager. You are a grown-ass woman, and the above scenario involving Kevin and his poorly structured songs is just a taste of what it is like to date and get dumped by a musician. It reduces you to tween angst and humiliation. It makes you feel as though you are standing alone on the Spring Fling dance floor, while everyone else couples up to do that slow eighth grade penguin dance.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, if you have been burned by a musician, chances are you will definitely get his new single emailed to you by a publicist. You will for sure show up to a gig he is playing by accident, because he got added to the bill last minute, sans announcement. But wait – why would you get an email from a publicist? Because in addition to being a grown-ass woman, you are also a journalist. A music journalist.
As a music journalist, you have a staunch, zero tolerance policy when it comes to dating musicians. Even when approached by the most casual of guitar hobbyists, the answer is always no. N.O. Always, except those four five times you permitted an exemption due to… well, proximity. And charm. But mostly proximity. Because here’s the thing about working in a creative field that writes about another creative field, a.k.a., music journalism. You literally meet two kinds of people. 1) Other writers. 2) Musicians.
It’s almost impossible for you to meet men who aren’t musicians – they just flock to you. You hang out in the same places: concert venues, record stores, and bars (while I can’t find statistics on what percentage of musicians are bartenders, I am positive that it’s a very high number. Regardless, Luke O’Neil of Stuff Magazine assures us that “100 percent of bartenders and musicians are drunks,” so there). The point is, a music journalist swearing off musicians of the preferred sex is like a photographer saying he will never date a model, a director never sleeping with an actor, or an author never getting drinks with her publisher. It’s rather difficult.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried dating other writers, but I think we are (somehow) far more insufferable than musicians. The competition, the anxiety about typos in your text messages, and the fact that neither of you can get anything done while in the same room together. Historically, writer-on-writer romance hasn’t gone so well, anyhow (see: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath).
Musicians, on the other hand, deal in a different medium – your favorite medium! Plus, they’re too self-absorbed to be competitive, and they’ll always put you on a little pedestal, because you get paid to write your opinions about the thing they live for: music. They may even hope that one day you’ll write some nice opinions about their music (which you would never do, because that would be unprofessional). In turn, you might get a song written in your honor. Oh, I know it sounds corny, but everyone wants a song written about them, just like everyone wants to be a backup dancer in a music video (just once!). It’s as human as the need for love itself.
Sure, a music journalist dating a musician has its obvious downfalls (see: Ian Curtis and Annik Honoré). Of course, the quality of the songwriting can complicate things, but despite what you think, dating a shitty artist is always better than dating a goddamn genius. Look at what Suze Rotolo, Joan Baez, Sara Lowndes, and probably anyone who ever slept with Bob Dylan got – a handful of songs to plague them for all of eternity. Really, really good songs that you can’t even make fun of. Not even a little bit. Rick Astley, on the other hand, has been with same woman since 1988, and he’s never gonna give her up – but if he did, she probably wouldn’t miss that song.
Yeah, yeah, it may seem awesome to date a super hot singer/songwriter, who writes gorgeous melodies about you. It may sound fun to go to their shows, trying not to sing along to every word, because that would be very lame. But here’s the thing: the breakup with the savant is way worse. First of all, you already looked up to them for their abilities. You know they’re hot shit, and you can’t knock their new material, because it’s still kickass. Naturally the chances of their success is greater, which is a catastrophe. This means that you will have to hear about them from people you barely know and see them in magazines. This means that potentially, the barista at your coffee shop could one day be singing along to a song written about you while you wait for your goddamn Americano. Or, in Suze Rotolo’s case: you and your former beau Bob Dylan could be seared forever onto a classic album cover. This is no good.
Conversely, dating a mediocre songwriter ensures a tiny morsel of humiliation to savor after they break your heart. Even if they are otherwise flawless – intelligent, kind, funny, attractive, fabulous hair – their crappy music is your secret weapon. Because no dis hurts a music man’s heart more than “your band sucks, Kevin.”
To be fair, some wonderful art has sprung from the agony of bedding and wedding songwriters, but usually from the hands of other songwriters. If loving a musician wasn’t a complete pain in the ass, Stevie Nicks would never have written “Silver Springs” (for Lindsay Buckingham), Joanna Newsom wouldn’t have penned “Does Not Suffice” (about Bill Callahan), and Mandy Moore might still be married to Ryan Adams (who might have never recorded his last three albums). Considering all of the great songs that have been sown from breaking up, I can’t exactly hate on the heartbreak itself.
But maybe that’s the trick: maybe musicians can date musicians, because the fallout produces great art. Imagine how Bill Callahan must have felt when hearing his former girlfriend Joanna Newsom sing the words, “The tap of hangers swaying in the closet/Unburdened hooks and empty drawers/And everywhere I tried to love you/Is yours again and only yours.”
Ouch. That’s the kind of pain you just can’t conjure with an op-ed…but it doesn’t mean we won’t try.