I really only listen to the same ten bands in a cycle that takes me about eighteen months to get through.
I’m always retracing my steps to see how I feel about the bands I have loved. Going back to the checkpoints. Respawning my heart (please clap). One of the bands that I keep going back to over and over again is the Magnetic Fields.
I was always into the post-Velvet Underground white New-Yorky bohemia that happened at the end of the nineties and early 2000’s. I listened to The Dandy Warhols and watched Igby Goes Down a lot in high school, and when I first got to college, I started listening to The Magnetic Fields a lot – it felt like a maturation at the time. This was when I was eighteen and had just started swearing. In my first semester of college I rapidly build a friend group who I treated like a family, and started my first romantic relationship, which followed a crush that I talked about non-stop to every single person I encountered. I delighted in it.
My first semester of school I was having so many new feelings it was like I was living in a world covered in sugarplum powder and exposed nerves. The song of this season of life was “Strange Powers,” from the album Holiday. It was the first time that I had ever let myself feel something like that. I learned how to play it on my best friend’s ukelele and sang to myself around campus. I leaned in. Other Magnetic Fields songs that stood out at the time: “I Think I Need a New Heart,” “Washington D.C.”
I like that Stephen Merritt works from prompts as much as he does. I like that on 69 Love Songs there are so many different protagonists. I like Stephen Merritt’s voice. I always liked the song “Andrew in Drag.” I like that he says that his songs aren’t autobiographical, but I don’t believe him. On 50 Song Memoir, the year he wrote “I Thought You Were my Boyfriend,” was represented by the song “The Ex And I.”
Oh, and when my first relationship ended I had no idea what to do with myself. I didn’t even really like spending time with him anymore, but I could not handle that breakup when it happened. I remember walking around my college campus in the snow listening to “I Shatter,” on repeat. I felt like a slow-motion car crash must! have been happening behind me. It was the end of the world.
It was almost a year before I really got over that relationship, and I had about a four month period before I met my next big love. Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian had just come out and all my girlfriends and I were obsessed with it. Call Me By Your Name was out, too, and while it didn’t make me weep like people had promised, it was the first time I met Timothee Chalamet (and kind of Sufjan ). I don’t have any memories during the daytime from this part of my life, only at night, with orange streetlights bouncing off the piles of snow and road salt. This was when I listened obsessively, over and over and over, to the album I.
The Magnetic Fields have such a huge catalog, and such long albums, that it is easy to miss gems the first, second, or even third time around. Every time I revisit them, another song gets stuck all over me. Over the lockdown, I got back into 69 Love Songs for the first time in a minute and became a sucker for “Epitaph for my Heart.”
I went on an incredible cross country road trip in the Spring of 2021. I was working on getting over another breakup that made me feel like I had actually been ripped out of the world as I had known it and splopped into a new reality. I was taking it very personally that my ex still listened to bands we used to listen to together (which was all of them), and wanted to re-stake my claim on the Magnetic Fields. They’re a band I love I said to myself I loved them before this person and I’ll love them after!! I played my favorite songs of theirs for hours as we drove through Californian small towns in search of our next dispersed campground.
Top Ten All Time Magnetic Fields Songs, alphabetical order: ‘81: How to Play the Synthesizer,All My Little Words, Andrew in Drag, Born on a Train, Eiptaph for my Heart, I Don’t Believe You, I Don’t Want to Get Over You, I Wish I Had Pictures, Parades Go By.