69 Songs about Love

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 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.

all songs listed.

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Pop Culture

Glitching Liberation

In 2010 I was in the seventh grade and every Friday I would go Valley Video and rent queer-coded butch science fiction movies. It was my first Jupiter Return. I was very into the X-Men (especially Cyclops), and I had heard good and mysterious things about the Matrix, so I rented it on VHS tape. From the moment I saw it, it became my prerogative to watch it as often as possible. I knew the exact spot on the VHS where the lobby scene started. Once I got it on DVD, I would bring it with me everywhere, including to the parking lot where I waited for my sister to get her belly button pierced. The Matrix was pretty much the only reason why I studied what I studied in Undergrad. 

So, yes, I am another genderqueer person who was anxious-excited about The Matrix: Resurrections, which came out just in time for Christmas weekend. My roommate and I took advantage of the Maine Winter Early Evenings, and the fact that a friend had left their HBO account on our smart TV (thank you Kyle and Nathan!) to watch it a few nights before we went to our family’s homes for the holiday.

The Matrix: Resurrections is extremely meta, even for today’s referential sense of humor. A group of revolutionaries discover that Neo is not only alive, but hooked back into the Matrix as a successful game designer, someone who built a game iconic for being “realistic.” He’s also in therapy for having an emotional breakdown where he lost his ability to distinguish fiction from fact. These worries flare up when he realizes that his parent company wants to make another installment of The Matrix.

I’ve described this movie to some people as “a relief.” I thought that it really eloquently touched on themes of digital life, liberation, and empowered identity. Stuff that’s been kicking around in my head since I saw the First Matrix 11+ years ago. It was a surprise to see a movie that had a meta sense of humor that I really genuinely enjoyed. This movie is an easter egg hunt, it delights in genuine delight of itself. It’s like, “Yeah, I Am better than you thought I was gonna be.” In the first third, there is a bit of a callback-a-thon, but I actually thought that was a really effective part of the tapestry that made the modern Matrix so hard to get out of. 

The Matrix: Resurrections has two ideas at it’s core: First, the idea that liberation is an iterative process where you work on a liveable present, not just an idyllic future; and second, that imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy* swallows up any tools that could be used towards liberation, and finds ways to make them work towards oppression. 

*thanks bell hooks.

It’s eerie to see the way that things in the real world are growing closer and closer to what Lana and Lily imagined for 2299 – scenes of humans trapped in isolation pods where they live their lives completely through a virtual reality so that their energy can be directed towards oppressive machines were especially chilling as Maine, where I live, racks up the highest coronavirus case numbers that we’ve faced since the disease first arrived. All the while, some remain effectively distracted.

The reality that systems of domination seem to be becoming stronger every day doesn’t need to be the only thing that lives in our imagination – in Resurrections, we also see that life outside of the Matrix is more than just struggle. Being free doesn’t just mean eating translucent oatmeal and drinking engine de-greaser (even though that was an important step in the process). Liberation also means being part of a thriving community where you can still garden, and there’s still a sky to look up at. Humans are being creative about rebelling against the system in a holistic way. People have big disagreements about what the right thing to do in a situation might be. I thought that this spoke to the current moment of humanity really beautifully. I have joked that this movie is just about infighting on the left. 

I love stories that explore the potential of the Internet, and The Matrix is obviously interested in that conversation as well. Last winter I was really excited by Glitch Feminism, by Legacy Russell. It’s a manifesto that uses analysis of art made by trans and non-binary artists of color to map language from the internet onto gender. She establishes that a glitch is an interruption in an established system, something that breaks the code and requires entire systems to change. If you’re interested in the themes that come up in Resurrections, this would make a great next-up. 

okay, last thought: Carrie Ann Moss is a badass throughout. Carrie Ann Moss delivers a scene in this movie that she just destroys. She just pulls the best out of every other performer she shares the screen with, lifting everyone’s game with the strength of her own. This movie shows off her unique thing as a performer and I was just all about it. This movie does her a tremendous amount of justice, and she to it.

Short answer: I loved it.