“Go, Tribe! Or: The Milk Is Never, Ever Fresh”
By David Medsker
My breakup song story has one hell of a pregnant pause; it actually takes place nearly five years after the final breakup with the lass in question. I say final breakup because this was one of those multiple-breakup relationships. You know the kind, the one that Larry Miller brilliantly lampooned by pretending to open a refrigerator and saying, “This milk is sour! Maybe tomorrow it’ll be fresh,” and putting the milk back in the fridge. If you’re in one of those right now, end it. The milk is never, ever fresh.
The relationship, in total, lasted a little more than six years, and even as I was breaking up with her, I still loved her. But it was abundantly clear to me that things would never work out – she still hadn’t told her mother that I had moved to Chicago to be with her, which I had done a year and a half earlier – so I put head before heart and pulled the plug. I even went so far as to utter words that St. Peter will surely repeat back to me on my day of judgment: “I still love you…but I don’t like you very much.” I’m a bastard, it’s true.
I tried to write Kim (yep, another story about a girl named Kim) a song, something that would send the relationship off in relative style without any of the typical bitterness that pollutes most breakup songs. I came close once, but as I was tinkering with it, I realized that a vocal melody from the late, great Boston rockers Tribe fit the song better than anything I came up with on my own. Worried that I could never sell the song without having to pay Tribe first – which is a joke, because even Tribe will tell you they never made a penny from their music – I scrapped the song.
Fast-forward four years and seven months. I’m happily married, and I’m pretty sure that Kim, who had moved away the year after we split up, was married by then, too. It’s early 2001, and I just got my hands on Meaningless, the long-delayed solo album from mad pop genius Jon Brion. The album kills, loaded with the kind of relationship-in-peril songs that are musical catnip to me (four words: “I Believe She’s Lying”). One song, though, stopped me dead in my tracks.
“I don’t wait by the phone like I used to / I don’t hope for kind words you might say / You don’t prey on my mind like you used to / But you can still ruin my day.”
“Ruin My Day” (download). Holy shit. This is the song I tried to write.
In an instant, every ounce of anguish, heartache and pain I ever felt during my time with Kim came flooding back to me. It actually felt worse, because I was a half-decade removed from the memory, and she could still ruin my day. Soon, the anguish was replaced by embarrassment over the realization that she could still get under my skin. All these years later, I was allowing her to float around in my consciousness and meddle. Could anyone else tell that I was still nursing the wounds from a long-dead relationship? Could my wife tell?
It was that last question that forced me to toughen up, and quick. I have since closed the loophole, and Kim no longer gets to me, though that hasn’t stopped her from trying; in 2005, she confessed that in 1995 she made out with a mutual friend of ours (and my then-roommate), who has since passed away. She also made routine comments post-breakup about wanting to hook up with my best friend, and made comments when we were still together about how my other roommate – who was dating her roommate – was more ideal for her than I was. Why on earth did she feel the need to say such things? Because she’s Kim, I suppose. She liked to ruin my day.