In 2006, I experienced my first heartbreak. I was a painfully shy girl in high school and college and incredibly unaware of how I was perceived by the opposite of sex. So to say I was a late bloomer is an understatement. At 26, I’ve still yet to go on a “real date” and now, I’m at the age where most of my friends are married, high school acquaintances are starting families, and my step-mom is inquiring when exactly a little Amber Valentine can be expected. To say the least, all of these things make me feel like a singular, undatable freak, and recently, I found myself, for the first time since 2006, crying over a boy. And that’s when I turned to Brand New.
Brand New is one of the few bands that have grown alongside with me and my musical tastes. In 2001, I was a snotty high school indie kid who occasionally ventured into what would become the awful “emo” trend. But before “emo” came about, Brand New was at the forefront of the craze that saw band’s everywhere giving their songs ironic titles that referenced movie lines and mixed drinks. When the band, two years later, released Deja Entendu, I too was discovering the emotions and longing that front man Jesse Lacey sang so deftly about in songs like “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades” and “Play Crack The Sky”. Of course, by 2006, I’d completely abandoned Brand New for “cooler” bands and found myself, truthfully, not caring all that much that the four piece had released their third album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me”. That was, until I heard it.
Your first heartbreak is the kind that sticks with you for years, that leaves you wrought with baggage and issues, fears that every boy or girl will end up just like your former, with allegations of cheating, be they unfounded or not, and severed trust that, no matter how hard you try to work it out, finds itself an irreparable damage to your relationship. Yet, no matter how much you’ve been hurt, your heart still aches for a brief (or not so brief) time for the presence of your ex, for the calming touch, the even voice that assures you “Everything will be alright.” But after what you’ve gone through, nothing will be alright, not while you’re harboring all these grudges and neuroses, and no one understands that better than the Lacey who composed the thirteen tracks on the devastating opus that is The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.
Since that initial heartbreak, I’ve made a very conscious effort to never put myself on the line again. It wasn’t worth it. I made excuses, put my career first, and broke a lot of hearts myself in the process, finding myself playing the role of the unattainable girl, shrouded in mystery. It was all a defense mechanism. I moved around the Midwest, meeting boys and spurning their advances, and then one day, I found myself face to face with someone who I knew was worth the chance. Why? Well, because I, in my irrational brain, was more certain of the fact that he would love every aspect of me and I would not end up sobbing into a pillow alone.
If there’s one thing, however, I’ve found I’ve become an expert at, it’s being wrong and at the absolute worst time in my life, I was without the one person I thought I’d probably never be without. I was on my sister’s couch, awake at three a.m. when suddenly, my internal narrative found itself quoting Lacey: “Jesus Christ, I’m alone again.”
At that moment, I realized, for the second time in my life, that Lacey had put out the perfect break up album. In all it’s over-dramatic confessions, it’s insistence that life, without love, is over and that Lacey would forever remain an empty shell without the “blend of color (his ex) left in his black and white field”, he perfectly encapsulated the type of ache that everyone feels at the exact moment that they realize they lost.
If I could have sent one song to that boy I felt so irrationally strongly for, despite a minimal interaction that did not warrant the emergence of such feelings, it would have been “You Won’t Know”. If I had to boil it all down to one lyric, it would have been “I wish that I could tell you right now ‘I love you’, but it looks like I won’t be around so you won’t know.” And it’s true – He won’t know. He’ll never know. As I found myself trying to salvage the ruins of my romantic life, I couldn’t help but quote Lacey once more: “I can’t shake this little feeling that I’ll never say anything right.” Every word I said, no matter how sweet and reminiscent of the beginning stages of my courtship, found me digging my heart a deeper grave until soon, it was just about six feet under. Dramatic? Yes. But that’s the beauty of Brand New. When you feel as if you’ve lost it all, Lacey and his New Jersey companions are there to tell you, yeah, you have and guess what? It is not okay. It will be, of course, but isn’t life about living in the moment? And in the moment of heartbreak, your day to day existence is the furthest thing from okay.
The Devil and God seems to narrate, in equal parts, my own perspective on losing out and the perspective of what I’d like to think my former felt on the subject and therein lies it’s brilliance. (Note: The fact that Lacey quotes a Rudyard Kipling poem is “Sowing Season (Yeah)” is another place wherein Brand New’s brilliance lies.) Every time, in my head, I would insist “I don’t mind you under my skin, I’ll let the bad parts in,” the proverbial “he” would counter “Settle, baby. You are not the sun.” Even in my brain, I recognize that I’m the neurotic one and his thinking, in this imaginary conversation, would take the rational role. Did that keep me from wallowing in the self-important pity of lines like “I love you so much, do me a favor, baby, don’t reply; ‘Cause I can dish it out, but I can’t take it?” Of course not.
That being said, a solid mix and a stiff drink works wonders, as does moving on because guess what? Just as I was not the sun, I realized, after a few days, neither was he.