Hi. This is Songs That Saved My Life. Every Wednesday and Friday, I'll be sharing real-life stories about those rare, glorious moments when music hits us in the ears, the heart, the gut and the soul... when a three-minute pop song, a sprawling guitar solo, or a passionate operetta manages to encapsulate all of the pain, joy, longing, fear, loss, and ambition in our lives.
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Duran Duran "Ordinary World" The Wedding Album (1993)
It's funny, in retrospect, how certain songs don't ever reveal themselves until you've had your heart kicked around the block a few times. I was something of a late bloomer, so for years and years, I lived in an invisible haze of pop music ignorance—after that first break-up, though, it all began to make sense. For the first time, lyrics that used to enchant but baffle me felt like instruction manuals… the kinds with the big stupid pictures. It felt like learning a new language overnight.
It was August 2007… the eve of my senior year of college… when she told me via AIM (remember those days?) that she didn't think we should go on seeing each other anymore. It had been a long, dread-filled summer filled with confusing text messages, haphazard voice mails, and that razorblade bowling ball feeling in your gut that tells you not to dream, it's over. It was the summer of emotionally precarious sounds: Blur's 13… Duncan Sheik's White Limousine… the Once and Spring Awakening soundtracks. Musically, I was preemptively attempting to soften the emotional blow with melancholy and theatricality. It was an odd mixture of the sorrowful and the sublime, but it seemed appropriate at the time.
I proposed the brilliantly foolish idea that we spend the last week before classes together—our last hoorah as a couple. We could stay in, go out, talk, fool around, and maybe somehow give this mess we’d made a proper sense of closure.
That week never happened. Instead, I started listening to Duran Duran.
Came in from a rainy Thursday On the avenue Thought I heard you talking softly I turned on the lights, the TV And the radio Still I can't escape the ghost of you…
Not the flashy New Romantic nostalgia of Duran Duran's early '80s albums, but the obscure, obtuse, overlooked sounds of their '90s work. A decade after their heyday and several departed band members later, Duran surely seemed finished. Post-relevant… post-interesting. Naming an album Medazzaland sure sounds like a cry for attention, doesn't it? I spent those lonely afternoons with that new dormitory smell in my lungs and the sounds of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo in my ears. Songs like "Someone Else Not Me" would've fooled anyone else, but I knew these weren't pop trash throwaways—these were moments of truth, of honesty, wrapped in old keyboards and wham-bam electric guitars.
Without her in my life, I think I genuinely felt like '90s Duran Duran. I felt over… like I was living on borrowed time. Playing to empty halls. Singing a new song that no one wanted to hear.
What has happened to it all? Crazy, some are saying Where is the life that I recognize? Gone away...
Before the bustle and stress of fall classes swept away the cobwebs, no song filled the void of hours like "Ordinary World". Those mournful Spanish guitar sounds… that operatic power ballad outro… hell, even the music video's wedding day iconography felt bleakly appropriate. Simon Le Bon, who once seemed too preoccupied with cherry ice cream smiles to be of any consolation lyrically, was suddenly describing… nearly word for word… what I was feeling. (I can't remember if that Thursday was, in fact, rainy… but it may as well have been.) Seriously, what happened to it all? Where was my friend when I needed her the most? The answer was both simple and profound: gone away. It took a couple months to make it back to my ordinary world… but I learned how to survive. Beside the news of holy war and holy need, mine was just a little sorrowed talk. "Don't cry for yesterday," Simon said. "Just try to make your way…"
Now, whenever I hear it in my car or muster the courage to perform it on a karaoke stage, I remember how lost, naïve and hopeless I felt during the tail end of that summer. I think about how far I've come and how much I've grown and it makes me feel like something real… like something worthwhile. It's a frighteningly good song—I'm so, so thankful it was there for me when I needed it most.
Be sure to check back this Friday, when I'll be sharing some of your stories in a special Readers Edition of Songs That Saved My Life. (If you haven't already, tell us what song saved your life right here.)