College is really about exposure—it’s about trying on identities for size, befriending a socialist, going bi for a semester, writing bad poetry and figuring out which version of you you’re pimping is gonna stick.
Musically, it’s a critically formative period: if you’re lucky, you’ll shed a high school layer of peer-approved jams and strike out on your own, thumb cranked toward the left of the dial. And soon enough, all those sweet new jams you just fell in love with will become ruined, corrupted and tainted by their inextricable association with that scruffy-haired, gravelly voiced charmer whose existentialist-leaning claptrap you fell for. It’s not your fault. It happens to everyone.
At my college orientation at MTSU, the speaker had us look to our left or right in the auditorium with the suggestion that we might just be gazing over at our future husband or wife. After all, blah blah percentage of people meet their future mates while hitting the books (or, uh, the booze). To my right was an empty seat, and to my left was some kid’s dad, who grinned sheepishly at me in a nod to mutual awkwardness.
I’ve never quite confronted the implications therein, but what I really wish that broad had said is this, and I pass it on to you, young student, free of charge: look to your left or right. One of these assholes is gonna break your heart. Hear that song playing on the radio? It’s about to lodge itself in your brain for the next 50 years, sucker, and every time you hear it, you’re gonna think about what’s-his-face and that stupid, stupid goatee. (Seriously—what were you thinking?)
It’s a tricky terrain to navigate—after all, we’re all at the mercy of the ubiquitous summer jam, the roommate playing Kelly Clarkson on repeat during a particularly nasty breakup. But if you establish good taste early on, you might be able to get through this thing with some good ruined music and a little bit of your dignity intact. If you’re gonna sigh in soft defeat anyway every time a certain song wafts by you, isn’t that still better than cringing?
So, find some music with staying power to let someone ruin for you. Something you can live with now, and through all the future failed relationships that, let’s face it, you’re doomed to encounter. Oh, and find it on vinyl, so your whiskey-soaked tears can dissolve right into the grooves, so it can crackle back at you mockingly on future plays. Hell, I haven’t been able to listen to Blonde on Blonde straight since I was 14.
Just accept it now: no matter what you do, the music you love is pretty much screwed. After college, you’ll hopefully leave with a larger world view, a diploma, no STDs and a list of bands, albums and songs corrupted by lost loves, whose only purpose will be to mock your residual pain. (And don’t take my word for it: take a gander at ruinedmusic.com, a site devoted to the songs and albums lost forever to heartbreak.)
Hey, I’m just trying to save you some pain. After you graduate, if you’ve been outfitted with the proper amount of self-loathing, you’ll immediately be embarrassed by all the bumper stickers on your car, and even more so by that Red Hot Chili Peppers tattoo some jack-off told you was a good idea. But you can stop this horrible cycle of bad taste now.
A few suggestions:
Don’t get a Red Hot Chili Peppers tattoo.
Befriend a lot of people in bands. Most of those bands will suck, but you’ll get exposed to their influences, which, though they won’t have the talent to actually incorporate them in a way that’s interesting or fresh, will still give you a better reference pool of good music to ruin than that fraternity or sorority you were dumb enough to think about rushing.
For the girls: date older dudes. Dudes in their, say, mid- to late 30s will, by sheer virtue of having been around twice as long, have a wider range of musical choices to seduce you with (and then ruin for you). The relationship isn’t going to work out, but neither are any of the ones with the dudes your own age whose idea of a date is letting you come to their apartment and drink Busch.
Overdose on every possible musical utterance you can get your hands on before you graduate. By the time you’re 25, no one will tell you about cool new bands anymore, so you’ll just have to incorrectly assume with all the rest of us that whatever Zach Braff puts on a soundtrack is edgy.
Just don’t let the terrorists win by leaving you with bad ruined songs. This pain can be yours, on your terms. Don’t let the next Kelly Clarkson hit determine your musical and romantic fate. Shoot for the moon, young whippersnapper, and maybe hit the roof. And look at the upside: the next time you find yourself unshowered for days, eating for shit, drinking excessively on weeknights and playing good ruined songs, it’s gonna feel just like college again.