Me, You and the Music I’m Putting You Through.
~by Sheila Squillante
“Bizarre Love Triangle”
Factory Records, 1986
Every time I think of you
I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue
It’s no problem of mine
But it’s a problem I find
Living a life that I can’t leave behind
The first thing I need you to know is that I am no audiophile. I did not grow up obsessing about album drop dates or scanning the racks at local record stores for bootleg copies or rare imports. I did not camp out to get tickets to big arena shows and I rarely attended small club venues. I don’t like crowds. The swell and crush of them. The everywhere of them. I’m short and can’t see over them. In 1987, I had to balance on the back of the chair in front of me at the Hartford Civic Center, with my arms wrapped around a Very Tall Friend’s neck so I wouldn’t fall, just to catch a glimpse of the top of Bonos’ big, swaying head. With some very specific exceptions, I am not someone who cares all that much about the sound quality of vinyl versus digital.
What I’m saying is that I have almost no musical cred.
And yet I’m compelled to write about what this song does to me just as I’m compelled to drop my head to my chest and move my shoulders back and forth and back and forth as as I sit here at my dining room table strewn with my children’s art project detritus, dirty spoons and coffee mugs, while the stereo speakers crackle and thump with 80s New Wave.
“Bizarre Love Triangle” was released as a single off of the album Brotherhood, by New Order in 1986, but in 1986 I was still listening to Billy Joel kind of a lot and not any proto-hipster way, either. I was all (big hair and) sincerity at 16.
So when, then, did those first synth beats—the ones I still mix up with Nine Inch Nails and then Paul scowls disapprovingly, correctly, from the other room (I can name that tune in… nope)–bend me at the waist, swing my arms at the sides, make me move forward and backward forward and backward with a boy (I would have said man at the time) at a Connecticut club while my first husband (let’s call him E., for Ex-.) moved his own body nearby, singing? The boy I danced with was younger than us both, and a friend of E’s from work, so this must have been sometime between 1991 when E. started working his warehouse job, and 1997 when he left our marriage to fuck more women and go to more shows.
E. brought me to that club. He also introduced me to New Order, the Smiths, the Clash. Punk Rock and New Wave. Metal and Industrial, too, though the latter things did not stick. Only when I was alone would I play my own CDs–not Billy Joel at this point, but lots of singer-songwriter women: Joan Osborne. Sarah McLaughlin. Yes, yes, Tori Amos. (This was the 90s, remember.) I quick turned them off when he came home. He hated everything I loved.
(I’m still talking about music.)
But, no. Introduced is wrong. Our marriage was no carefully curated, sweetly offered mix tape. Mix tapes in the 80’s and 90’s were all about seduction and inclusion: This is who I am, please love me, please stay. No, he commandeered the stereo, he bought the tapes and then, later, the CDs that took up shelves and shelves, played constantly and never in the background, always loud, over top of everything, me.
I hated music for a long time.
But there’s no sense in telling me
The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free
But that’s the way that it goes
And it’s what nobody knows
well every day my confusion grows
On New Year’s Eve—the one we spent with the woman he would eventually leave me for–our apartment in Naugatuck was robbed. Busted pane of glass in the back door window gave too-easy entrance. I ran straight up to my jewelry box, found heirloom jade and his gold wedding ring, untouched. But, downstairs, goodbye stereo and goodbye revolving CD tower, alphabetized and organized according to genre. When the sun came up, E. drove down Rubber Avenue looking for I don’t know what and found it: CDs scattering the gravel shoulder. Not his, though. Only mine: Nat King Cole, Simon and Garfunkel. Tori Amos and Patsy Cline. As if to say, See? Even thieves agree with me.
Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m waiting for that final moment
You’ll say the words that I can’t say
E. was a melodramatic dancer. There was always a lot of waving around, falling to his knees, it seemed, a lot of looking up at the roof, sky, heaven, I guess, and beseeching. A lot of heartache came out on the dance floor for him and I know how cynical I sound, and it’s clear I have a bias; we are divorced, after all. But really, truly. This was just too much. I, out of the way girl (I don’t like crowds); girl singing only in my own quiet head. I wasn’t asked to join him and I also couldn’t bear to watch.
But that boy—his name was George, I think– danced with me and other boys (I’m not really talking about music) did too.
I’m actually a pretty good dancer. I like to move.
After E. left, waving the flag of I Need to Find Myself, I waited a long while in Naugatuck while he went to raves wearing my dead father’s dog tags, stolen from my jewelry box and plastered with smiley-face stickers. I stayed in stasis. I was terrified to move. I don’t think I listened to a single song of my own choosing for six months. I don’t remember which one of us said the word “divorce” first.
I feel fine and I feel good
I’m feeling like I never should
Whenever I get this way
I just don’t know what to say
Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday
This was all such a long time ago and I’m fine now, but I have to tell you that it does not feel good to be giving him any more brain or page space. I have a new life, a lovely husband who just turned on New Order to help me get into the proper mood to write this thing about how the men in my life have always colored the way I feel about music.
Things are different with him. Which is good because we’re married, after all.
I’m not sure what this could mean
I don’t think you’re what you seem
I do admit to myself
That if I hurt someone else
Then I’ll never see just what we’re meant to be
The thing about “Bizarre Love Triangle” is that the lyrics don’t match the (up)beat. I cannot not move, euphoric, to this music (back and forth, backwards and forwards), but the words are depressing the shit out of me to read here on the page. Who’s the speaker talking to? Are there three people in this song? Me, my ex-husband and my new husband? If that’s the case, then who’s not who they seem? Him? (Which one?) Me?
Listen, I never said I didn’t have a part to play. I know which boys I hurt—the ones who did make me mix CDS with Stevie Wonder and Tom Waits and Talk Talk; the ones who played Squeeze on repeat and remember me years later with REM songs and art museums; the delightful boys I danced with in the unbuckled dark of dorm rooms and had affairs with even when I knew I’d be marrying someone else soon.
I do admit it. I admit to all of it.
So I don’t know about what, but 27 years after this song dropped, and 16 years after E. dropped out of our life together, I’m right (art project, dirty spoon, coffee cup) where I’m meant to be.
Sheila Squillante writes poems and essays in Pittsburgh.