Happy VD, Everybody: Your Favorite REAL Love Songs

Happy Valentines Day, you big softies!

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I love the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Michel Gondry and with an ensemble cast led by Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey really selling their characters, it’s one of those projects that is so crazy it works. It’s also a fantastic modern love story. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two people - formerly a couple - who go to get their memories of each other erased by this sketchy doctor. After their memories are erased, they meet each other again and start hanging out. Through the actions of the doctor’s love-spurned assistant, the two get their pre-erased memory files back and as they listen to their memories of each other, they realize they are just starting over with the same person who hurt them so badly during their first relationship. The woman, Clementine, freaks out and tries to leave, but the man, Joel, wants to try again. They finally agree to once again embark upon a relationship because they just feel that way about each other.

What I love about this movie, and this scene in particular, is this acknowledgement that love is complex, hurtful, terrifying and sad, but that’s ok. It’s ok because it’s still important and it’s still what we want. We want the comfort, joy, validation, excitement and squishy inside feelings that come along with the bad stuff. Those things are so important with the right person that even when faced with the knowledge of the bad stuff - before the relationship even begins, you’re forced to confront the specifics of the bad stuff - you accept it and just say “ok.”

When Clementine and Joel look at each other and just say, “ok,” this sense of relief and resignation washes over the two and you the audience can feel that sense of letting yourself relax into another person that characterizes the not-quite-the-beginning-but-not-yet-the-mundane-day-to-day part of a relationship.

I think humans have a universal craving for that moment. Giving yourself over to something bigger, a love relationship with all of its ups and downs. The “ok” of things. The agreement to trust one another and the vulnerability inherent in that trust. The knowing that it will be just as hard as it will be rewarding, and stepping up to the plate to take on the work.

I just think this movie says something about love and romance that is complex, subtle and nuanced, and rarely talked about in pop culture, which tends to focus on highly idealized relationships. And I want to know about the songs that do the same thing that Eternal Sunshine does for movies.

If you look up “best love songs” or “interesting love songs” or whatever on the googles, all of the posts that come up are really geared towards wedding planning and pimp out these romantic palliatives anchored by broad, overblown proclamations of love that we’re all used to belting along to in the car, written by Diane Warren or some other studio powerhouse for a voice like a Kelly Clarkson or a Celine Dion. I’m not talking about those. I’m not talking about breakup songs, either, which tend to take on a bit more of an edge.

I want to know about love songs that examine some ugly or difficult part of love, the parts that we have to accept and integrate in order to offer ourselves to another person fully. The love songs that say something new about love that we haven’t heard before. The love songs that acknowledge how much pain there is in loving and being loved.

And so I ask thee, user of eyeballs and reading skills, what are your favorite complex love songs? Here are a couple of mine:

Sufjan Stevens - "John My Beloved" - Sufjan always knocks it out of the park when it comes to examining the minutiae of love, but in this song he looks closely at what it means to be confront the idea of a relationship, to confront a new person, while grieving. It’s fucking brutal. Try to keep it together when he sings, "there's only a shadow of me, in a manner of speaking, I'm dead."

Radiohead - "All I Need" - Jesus, this fucking song. I don't even understand on a cognitive level what's going on in this song, but I understand it on a primal level, like this song just kind of embodies everything that my scorpio nature feels about someone when I fall in love. It's super intense, fixated, jealous, self-loathing and complicated. "I'm an animal trapped in your hot car." YES. 

Beyonce - "All Night" - I think Queen Bey really nails it for me in this song, where she steps up to the plate to be strong enough to forgive Jay for cheating, and uses her words like an adult: give me some time, and I’ll get there. Because we’re worth it. And she has this wise woman approach to performing it that gives me mom/sister/witch comfort every time. "with every tear came redemption, and my torturer became my remedy."

What are your favorites? Comments here or on the bookface, please.

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