Valentine's Day is this weekend. In Chicago, temperatures will be in the teens, a meteorological fact that seems to be winter's way of telling everyone to just stay inside. Even if you don't have someone to cuddle in a blanket fort with, you should still take heart; leaving your house is one of the best ways to unexpectedly run into one of your exes, and who needs that? Certainly not the five artists on the list below. As you get ready to hunker down for another Valentine's in the deep freeze, take their songs as a cautionary tales: other people are everywhere, and they pop up when you least expect (or desire) them.
1) Arab Strap - "New Birds" (1998)
Key lyrics: "You remember the way she swung her arms when she held your hand but you can't remember how she kissed and now you've got the chance to find out."
Say what you will about the narrator of Arab Strap's "New Birds": although he lets himself get tantalizingly close to drunken, scot-free infidelity with his old flame, he makes the right choice. What makes him err on the side of good? The thought of his new girlfriend, and the belief that any attempt to reignite lost sparks or vindicate hurt feelings is inherently worse than fucking up a love that still works. Another lesson to take from this one? When in doubt, always take separate cabs.
2) Syd Straw - "CBGBs" (1996)
Key lyrics: "Are you doing what you wanna do? / Did you follow your intentions? / All the dreams you had, / has even a single one of them come true?"
Seeing your ex is a form of time travel. In addition to dredging up all of the emotional wreckage that comes with a break-up, it also snaps you back into the mind of the person you were when the two of you were dating. For Syd Straw, that means reevaluating the choices she's made in the 10 year since she'd last seen her lover. The times they reminisce over are actually sweet; it's the swift passage of time, and realization that all of the big plans you made when you were still a club kid either didn't come to pass or weren't as great as you expected.
3) Beat Happening - "Cat Walk" (1988)
Key lyrics: "I look at them out together / I don't mind he's an okay fella / Anyway, it's probably better"
The last time I saw one of my major exes with her new boyfriend, I hid behind a tree. It wasn't my best Saturday. I would've much rather reacted like the narrator of "Cat Walk," who experiences one of the rarest ex-sighting emotions of all: level-headed maturity. He greets the sight of his old girlfriend, wearing his sweater and strolling with a new boy, with a little shrug and some healthy introspection. As lessons from two-minute pop songs go, this is a surprisingly healthy one.
4) Dan Fogelberg - "Same Auld Lang Syne" (1981)
Key lyrics: "The beer was empty and our tongues were tired / And running out of things to say / She gave a kiss to me as I got out / And I watched her drive away"
It came down to this, Harry Chapin's "Taxi," and Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" for the "sad songer-songwriter from the '70s" spot on this list. The edge goes to Fogelberg for three reasons:
1) He was from Peoria, a place where (and, as a former four-year resident, trust me on this one) the heartache comes honest.
2) The song is based on a true, real-life meet-up between Fogelberg and one of his high school girlfriends.
3) It captures the realistic, bittersweet awkwardness of even the cheeriest of chance meetings, the slow-dawning acknowledgement that time has left you two different people with two different lives and not a ton of stuff to talk about anymore. Plus, it's a Christmas song, which make it even more of a bummer.
5) Yo La Tengo - "Damage" (1997)
Key lyrics: "I used to think about you all the time / I would think about you all the time / Now it just feels weird, that there you are"
Listen, we're not kidding anyone: seeing someone you used to date but don't date anymore is an annoyance at best and a night-ruining cataclysm at worst. It's a reminder of failures, a resurrector of greivances, and reaffirmation of your inability to a) find someone worth dating or b) keep hold of that person once you find them. On Valentine's Day, those emotional landmines is amplified tenfold. So, like I said in the intro: stay in your house, draw the blinds, and listen to these tunes. Maybe play a board game, if that's your thing. Just, please: under no circumstances should you leave the house, or venture anywhere near his favorite bar or the coffee shop where she writes sometimes. It'll just end... wait. Is that your coat? Don't put that coat on! Don't give me the finger through your mitten! Where are you going? DID YOU EVEN READ THIS LIST?