Men don’t like to talk about it, but there are times in our lives where things are less awesome than usual, and by that we mean that life is complete and utter shit. Being men, we’re not supposed to show when we’re down, but as the poet laureate Geena Davis once said (using her pen name Charlie Baltimore), life is pain. Sometimes it’s hard to hide when we’ve been wounded by the loss of a girl, or a job, or a family member. And since talking about our feelings is not the first choice for most men, many of us find solace in music, where someone else is doing the talking and all we have to do is listen. In private. Remember, that whole ‘not supposed to show when we’re down’ thing.
This summer, a golden opportunity presented itself to tell one of the musicians who gave us the proverbial pat on the back about what they had done for us. The man: Glenn Tilbrook, front man for UK pop giants Squeeze. The album: Play, the band’s 1991 debut (and swan song) for Reprise, a literate and moving collection of songs about love, loss, and hope. Tilbrook’s reaction to the news that he helped us through a rough spot: “Wow.” Apparently, someone else had told him the exact same thing about Play‘s magical healing powers. He thought it a weird coincidence that two people would have such a strong reaction to the album…
…which is complete nonsense, if you ask us. A quick survey on Facebook revealed that several people had the same emotional bond to Play that we had, at which point some other staffers revealed they had their own tales of woe, and the albums that saw them through it. Behold, the albums that, while they didn’t literally save our lives, at the very least got us through some heavy shit.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough! (1987)
On the day after Christmas in 1986, mid-way through my junior year of high school, my family moved from North Carolina to central Pennsylvania, beginning a period of upheaval and ill will between me and my parents and siblings that took several years to address and heal. Music was my refuge, the thing that kept me on an even keel when all I wanted to do was either put my fist through something hard, or slip down into the fetal position and cry. What I really needed was some flat-out rock and roll, performed by a band that could play bee-you-tiff-lee or durrrrty, depending on what was called for.
In April of the the following year, Tom Petty and his merry band put out Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), a record I connected with on levels both emotional and visceral. It had moments of sheer beauty (“Runaway Trains,” “It’ll All Work Out”), pure pop (“All Mixed Up,” “Ain’t Love Strange”), and rollicking good fun (“One of These Days,” “How Many More Days”). It also had, in the single “Jammin’ Me” and the title track, amped-up Stonesy rock that I would turn up loud in my bedroom, loud enough to piss off my family, enabling me, however briefly, to give my tormenters the auditory finger now and again.
It was a small modicum of revenge, but it meant a lot. The music also helped me feel that everything was going to be all right, which meant even more. -Rob Smith
Joe Jackson: Laughter & Lust (1991)
For the record, I wrote the intro to this piece, and told Glenn Tilbrook that he helped me through a blue period. The summer of 1991 was the lowest I ever got, having moved to Cincinnati to be with the love of my life, only to be rebuffed upon my arrival. Squeeze’s Play was my salvation, assuring me that breaking up is breaking my heart and showing me the door, but if I get it open, I’ll discover that there’s much more to life than this. Some days, though, Play just didn’t cut it. The songs were so even-handed and fair, and being 23 at the time, there were times when I simply didn’t feel so charitable. That is when Joe Jackson’s Laughter & Lust came into, um, play. Musically, it was one of the more upbeat records Jackson had made in years, but lyrically, it was pitch-black, whether he was attacking politics (“The Obvious Song”), the music business (“Hit Single”), nostalgia (“The Old Songs”) or, most commonly, her, whatever her name was. She had Joe completely out of his head, to the point where, on the song “Stranger Than Fiction,” he admits, “I love her so much I don’t even know what planet I’m on / Love her so much, I wish she’d just go away.” Testify.
There I sat, alone in my flea-riddled apartment, thinking about how many opportunities I had to not make this horrible decision, the girls who basically told me, “I could save you from all this.” I thought of one girl in particular, whom I’d met towards the end of my senior year of college and had me seriously examining what my current relationship was lacking. And wouldn’t you know it, Joe had written a song about that predicament, too. “The Other Me” is one of the best unrequited love songs you’ll ever hear, as Jackson reluctantly admits to a girl that “I know that she’s the only one for me, and you know that if I could split in two / The other me would be the only one for you.” Of course, I knew even then that the ‘she’ in question wasn’t the only one for me, but the pull of the familiar is strong. Warts and all, I still loved the girl. She was hard to walk away from.
Nothing exemplifies the differences between Play and Laughter & Lust better, though, than their final songs. Where Squeeze spoke of how “each day’s a hope, each day’s a prayer, that I’ll rebuild, that I’ll repair” on “There Is a Voice,” Joe Jackson sang of how he was drowning. And some days, it felt better to just give in and be sad. Yes, it sucked being heartbroken, but Laughter & Lust taught me that heartbreak was not unique to me, and that like all things, it would pass. And sure enough, it did. -David Medsker
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Tags: albums that saved your life, Bell X1, Ben Folds Five, Billy Bragg, Don Henley, Elemental, Flock, Heavier Things, Joe Jackson, John Mayer, Laughter & Lust, Let Me Up I've Had Enough, Live from Madison Square Garden New Year's Eve 1995, Phish, Play, Squeeze, Static & Silence, Tears for Fears, The End of the Innocence, The Mavericks, The Sundays, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Trampoline, Whatever & Ever Amen, Workers Playtime