“Konstantine” is nine emotional minutes and 36 seconds of sweet, sweet heartache delivered via Andrew McMahon’s nasal-y voice and the lens of young love’s regret. (If you’re reading this and know the song, tell me you’re not already clicking open a tab to remind yourself of it.) It’s a feverish journaling of uncomplicated lines that don’t make total sense together, the general gist being that the narrator did something stupid and lost the girl; now he misses her.
The first time I heard it was in a friend’s living room, covered by my friend on the piano. I found it so sad and beautiful that it physically hurt. Though the situations were different — comically so, I missed someone too. It was unrequited, a new development that I’d learned of over AIM and was not exactly coming to terms with. Instead, I imagined an alternate scenario where I was a girl someone missed so much they had to sing about her for nine whole minutes and 36 seconds. It made crying easier, moping cozier, and all my puppy-lovelorn sadness quick to access by the press of a button. Just like the memes exploit, it allowed me to look outside windows wistfully — the whole thing better and more dramatic when it rained, obviously — and imagine myself the heroine of a music video rather than a passenger in my dad’s car.
It took an entire summer’s worth of replaying that one song over and over for me to feel even close to pressing “next.” When you’re 16 especially and your moods are overwhelming, there’s hardly enough time in one song to feel everything you need to in a single go. I listened to “Konstantine” all the time. I tried to learn it on the piano, which I can’t play in general. It got so bad during one bout of traffic that my dad, normally an enthusiastic participant to my taste in music, banned the song to my headphones and made me listen to the 1,001st play in private.
I think about this often, how I used to submerge myself in music, lay on my bed and listen and feel so, so much. It was the noisiest quiet. The perfect weight. It was a remedy, a salve, a comfort, a necessity, somewhere between eating junk food because you’re hungry and not letting a bad mood go because the sensation is too satisfying. It cradled me. I didn’t have to do anything else except listen. Music was the entire activity.
Despite all the time I spent sitting in my feelings, I’m not sure this helped me process my emotions; I’m also not sure that was the point. (As a wobbly adult still unsure of the world, “to process” can sometimes seem like the only reason to do anything.) I listened to these sad songs on repeat because I didn’t want my song-saddled sadnesses and longings and daydreams to leave me. I wasn’t trying to get over anything, I was trying to snuggle into them. I wanted to keep them forever. Or maybe I assumed I’d feel some way forever, so I might as well make myself comfortable.
Freshman year of high school, a friend of mine wished for a broken heart because her favorite song was written about one, and she couldn’t fully relate without a dramatic breakup. I completely got that. In addition to music’s ability to help a listener feel what she was already feeling, music was a way to relate to the world, to experience feelings not yet experienced in preparation.
As I got older, however, with enough of the experiential bucket list checked off, at least for a minute, intense emotional crests became unwanted. They seemed unproductive and luxurious. The kind of sadness I described, particularly over any person who once held my romantic interest, felt bulky and desperate, like its heaviness could hold me back from achieving great things, from meeting someone new and exciting, or from having a thrilling night out with friends. Simultaneously, as I aged, feelings became more complicated. All of them. I became more aware of the ones with deep, intricate roots and wisened up to the reality that some emotions — typically the ones you want to run away from — require real work to untangle and sort through. These are not the ones you tend to invite into your room to hang out with you and listen to music together. These are the ones you try to slam a door on, the reverb of which causes your inner parent to run up the stairs, scold you for slamming doors and remind you that a song can’t soothe everything. I knew that, I know that, but it’s a bummer of a revelation that your old answer has stopped working.
Music today, for me, is mostly for commuting, or as background music to the bustle of life at home: cleaning; organizing; when company comes over to talk rather than watch TV; my more civilized moments of eating at a table rather than in front of Netflix. A come-down after work. To work out. I use it as energy, whether calming or fueling — which I did as a teen, too, in retrospect. Back then, in addition to the happy wallowing, I used music to scream to, move to, to drive forever to, as the soundtrack to my happiness and fantasies. Back then, music was everything. As an adult, music is a pleasant background that accompanies my life in forward movement.
That sensation of being wholly entranced, back on your bed, headphones on or speakers as loud as you’re allowed, with a song or an album looping you in so intensely that you lose track of time and place — I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be able to return to that unique kind of meditation again. (My main excuse is that I don’t have the time.) But I also wonder if, detached from the whole pretending-to-be-in-a-music-video-thing, there’s something to be learned from the wallowing of my melodramatic teen self: to sit and just be with feelings rather than fight them. To acknowledge them, if not examine them. Isn’t that also a goal of meditation? Listening to “Konstantine” and songs like it still makes me nostalgic for that teenage sweet spot of emotional freedom and free time I once granted myself, but there’s no reason I can’t practice that now, with or without the music. Maybe today, with these emotions of mine that are far more nuanced and less immediately solvable through song, feeling them is all I really need to do anyway.
(Good news is I’m clearly still emo.)
Illustration by Juliana Vido.