Where Music was When I Made my Friends (And Lost Them Too)

Everyone always says music brings people together; I respond that hell, of course music connects strangers.  It gives us something to talk about when there’s nothing else to say in the conversational lull.  I can sit down for hours and debate Cage the Elephant’s live performance with absolutely anyone within earshot – I’d talk about Matt Shultz with a dog, if I could.  

So I guess it’s only natural I met most of my close friends via music via the so-called “concert scene.”  I have cherished girls, now best friends, that will stick with me forever;  I have girls I can always count on to dance with at a show; I have girls whom it is a great treat to see, because our schedules never align.  But among these friendly faces are those that I once held in the highest regard and tragically lost just as quickly.  There are the faces that haunt me quietly, like a ghost story from my childhood that I can’t quite recall as vividly anymore but that still chills me all the same.

That’s Trina.

I remember how I saw her without seeing her;  she was a body I observed from the corners of my eyes at gig after gig – Bastille in Milwaukee, Lollapalooza 2015, Colony House.  But I pinpoint our most formal meeting, one in which I felt a connection, as Bastille in Chicago, December 4, 2015.  I remember her gloriously metallic pants; I feel the subzero temperatures berating my skin through my mom’s knitted sweater.  We shared snacks on the sidewalk and traded phone chargers inside a Starbucks.  It was a day in which I felt the bond of friendship forming; a bond I then thought was crafted of impenetrable steel.  

It was not.

See, music can “bring people together,” but it sure doesn’t have the power to keep them together.  I learned this lesson the hard way, a torturous, unfortunate lesson that unfolded itself over the course of a few freezing winter weeks.

I remember our good days, Trina and I – Florence + the Machine, Young the Giant, Bastille (again,) Lollapalooza 2016, Foals.  We devoured each other’s soundtracks like starving beasts; her music became my music, and vise versa.  We shared John Newman’s Gatsby-like bangers (“Lights Down”) and the quiet lull of Tom Odell’s hopelessly romantic ballads (“Constellations.”)  Our playlists were an intimate language only we knew, a foreign secret that outsiders just “wouldn’t understand.”   

Friendships like this feel like having a lover, except deeper, more intimate, because friendships, unlike romantic investments, are the backbone of interpersonal human connection.  We may flit from lover to lover, but in theory, friendship is the player that doesn’t fail, that can’t fail, that shouldn’t fail.

So I use this reason as an excuse for why our “breakup” felt so goddamn painful.  Not all things are destined to last, I suppose, and we found ourselves at a crossroads one fine December afternoon, 2016.  I suppose I should have seen it coming – I felt more covetous of my playlists, my music, and I felt less of an inclination to share this intimate side of myself.  Everything felt, for the first time, tainted.  Our songs didn’t sound the same, as if a dark spirit had crawled inside them and built a home.

In a flash our beautiful epic was over, but it took weeks to finally die out.   There were insecurities and anxieties; I couldn’t decide what songs I wanted to listen to as I, shaking and shivering, paced my aching home.  Every song sounded like Trina; every song dragged a now painfully joyful memory out of the landfill of my memories. Is this what heartbreak is?

Arcade Fire’s Funeral played the day we sent our final goodbyes.  Perhaps it was one of the only records I owned then, but I remember my bed’s cold duvet beneath me as the record kept spinning, as Win Butler kept crooning, as I tried to stifle my tears so my parents wouldn’t hear.  It was mid January and my windows were iced over and Win Butler kept crying “If you still want me, please forgive me, crown of love…”  I read and reread the final messages and I wondered, why me? Why now?  Why like this?

I may never listen to “Crown of Love” again, even if Arcade Fire is my favorite band, and Funeral is one of my most memorable albums.  When I hear the piano warble, I see myself perfectly as I was then, in my most pitiful state, crying and unsure of how to move forward from the shattered tragedy of an unfixable friendship.  I had never listened to the lyrics so closely until then, and the realization was like standing naked in a pile of snow.  I remember thinking – I will never be able to hear this song again.

Time continues passing but certain songs still contain the untraceable taint, the discomfort that lies in the back of one’s mind.  It feels wrong to hear a Bastille song on the radio; I’ll see artists and immediately associate them with her, before I backtrack and remember, Melissa, you’re not supposed to think about this anymore.  

But I do think about it.  Maybe it’s the anxiety, or maybe it’s the insatiable guilt, but it’s hard to stop myself from hearing John Newman in the grocery store without immediately thinking “I wish I could tell her about this moment.”  Sometimes I’ll look at my phone for a moment before I realize her phone number isn’t there anymore, that making contact would incite an unnecessary hurricane.  

It’s hard to part with someone you love, even if it is for the best.  But hearing those songs, those artists, physically seeing them at concerts you would have attended together in the past only amplifies the pitiful heartache.  Even after “getting over it,” I still pause for a moment when I hear Young the Giant’s “Something to Believe In,” because that song is irrevocably tied to the past, when we saw them in concert during the summer and for one blissful hour everything was inarguably perfect.  

Perhaps I’m too sentimental, but it is a quality I cannot surrender.  Trina and I seemingly swim in different musical ponds now, but every now and then, my playlist will betray me and the old ghosts will resurface.  When “our” songs come on shuffle, it becomes an effort to suppress memories that once, long ago, brought pure contentment.  I’ll think of her, and I’ll wonder, do you feel me too, when you hear it? before I skip the song and tell myself to move on.