Breakup Songs Liner Notes
“‘I’m not overreacting,’ he insists. ‘I’m doing what any reasonable person would do in this situation. I’m Lemonade-ing.’” -Titus Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
We broke up, and I became a child. Do you remember when you were a teenager, and unrequited love, or failure, or breakups felt like the actual END OF THE WORLD?!!! When you’d throw yourself into your bed like a soap star, weeping and thrashing dramatically? That’s where I’ve been for the past year. I cried her name into my pillow at least once a day. Collapsed to the floor often. Threw shit. Broke shit. Ate endlessly. Drank endlessly. Stopped moving. It sounds like a cartoon now. But at the time, it was very real.
I’m swiftly approaching 30, and it feels like each breakup is more painful than the last. If “lesbians,” queer women, are known for hasty engagements (first date u-haul/turkey baster, blablablah), I’ve found that disengaging tends to be much, much slower. I’m approaching the year long anniversary of my breakup and it still stings. PLUS, the stakes are higher. The dreams (or realities) of house, kids, future add to the weight and pain of the breakup. Also, if the breakup weren’t enough, the Trump administration and current atmosphere of normalized bigotry is now the diseased, poopcherry on top of all this sadness. So. It sort of is the end of the world.
I don’t have any sage advice. But I learned, or maybe re-learned a few things. I know that people who love you will be assholes to you when you don’t deserve it. You will be an asshole to people you love when they don’t deserve it. Life isn’t fair. Some of your friends aren’t your friends. Some of your friends are angels. Your community will sometimes hold you in its arms like a big sister, and sometimes it will whisper about you and stare from across the room with an ugly grin. Pain is cyclical. No matter how long you’ve been broken up, when you’re in love with someone, you’re not single. All relationships end. Writing helps. Talking helps. Lemonade-ing helps. Go smash some shit (providing you won’t hurt yourself or others physically in the process). Scream. Write songs. Write poems. Study your pain, honor it. Someone somewhere knows exactly what you’re going through.
I found no silver lining in this cloud. Just debilitating sadness that I couldn’t drink, fuck, or wish away.
Maybe this album is a car crash you stare at as you drive by. Maybe this can function as a “real housewives,” pet hoarders-type entertainment. You can listen and feel much better about how stable and functional your life is in comparison. Or maybe you can relate. Maybe these songs will speak to the heartbroken, teenage you. If nothing else, I hope this album makes you feel understood. Something or someone will break your heart. It will crush you and make you feel weak and ugly. Then, hopefully it’ll transform you into a more powerful, loving human. Or maybe you’ll just become more of a jerk than you were yesterday. Who knows.
The five stages of grief/loss
1. Denial and isolation
Each song on the album feels like some combination of these stages. A slow, confused process of mourning. Below are some notes on my experiences writing each song.
1. stand alone. (Acceptance)
A party in LA. A clear summer night. Music I’d never heard. YoungGiftedandBlack folk sipping beer and rum punch. I sat with a new friend. Talking film, talking art. Far away from home yet closer to myself than I’d felt in a long time. I didn’t want the conversation to end. I didn’t want to lose this moment. Her eyes, they way she felt comfortable. The way she made me feel desired. I’d been in a relationship for three years, yet I couldn’t remember the last time I flirted with someone. So I kissed her. No matter how guilty I felt, from that moment on-I didn't stop. I knew it was over. I cheated on my girlfriend. Again. After she trusted me again. After she risked her whole heart to be with me. And that’s why she left. That’s why she won’t answer my calls. She was the love of my life. Now, she’s just gone.
This was one of the last songs I wrote for the album. I've made so many selfish mistakes in my partnerships. I’ve cheated, lied, I’ve been selfish and cruel countless times. I’ve been very wrong. But the one thing I don’t do is disappear. In that small way, I’m extremely loyal. No matter what happens, I’m there for the people I love when they need me. Stand alone is the stinging feeling of betrayal I feel when I realize and accept the fact that she’s gone. Honestly, the ugliest parts of me fantasized about running my car off the road. About waking up in the hospital with her hand in mine, tears in her eyes. Attempting to buy her love with pity and guilt. But that isn’t love, is it? This song was me accepting the fact that she’d fallen out of love with me. There was nothing I could do. There is no empathy left in her, she will not come back to rescue me.
I used minimal instrumentation to emphasize the emptiness, the loneliness. I love to start a song playing the piano with one hand, slow and simple. I don’t play the piano well, so I usually build on the initial melody by adding notes on the computer after I record. I began the song with the lyric “Feel the rush of wind and sound”, considering the expression “falling in love.” And then just falling- without anything or anyone there to catch you.
2. precarious place (Denial, bargaining)
After months of self pity, self destruction, and deep, deep writer’s block, this is the first song I wrote for the album. This one is all about denial. Making a joke of the ridiculous mess my life had become. I enjoyed recording a light, sweet vocal background, playing a poppy piano melody, then banging a cluster of inappropriate keys all at once-the perfect sound effect to express I’M LOSING MY MIND A LIL BIT BUT IT’S JUST FINE I SWEAR.
It was strange to me that this silly song was the first manifestation of my pain. Maybe I was attempting to add a bit of comedy to my life’s drama for the sake of survival.
3. deleted you (Denial, Isolation, Anger)
When I felt powerless, I got petty. Attempting to find some justice in a detailed record of every betrayal. Listing every cruel mistake my ex made. Talyn (my fellow lost boi) wrote the backing melody years ago. We’d attempted to write to it, but I never really felt inspired enough until now.
“I downloaded an app to keep my ass off exes.” I really did try out some FUCK MY EX applications. The one I had most success with (the name escapes me now) sent your ex’s calls straight to voicemail and counted the seconds, minutes, hours, days since your last contact with her. Of course it didn’t really work because regardless of how much I ignored her calls, I couldn’t stop looking at my phone to see if she’d called me.
As a working artist, it’s very difficult and arguably detrimental to unplug from social media. I try to post at least every other day to promote a show or grow my audience. So. every time I go online, my ex is everywhere. And it’s not just my ex. I saw the magnificently fun things people in my life were doing without me, healthy relationships blooming this way and that, not to mention sexy pics of the mutual “friend” my ex is sleeping with and what she’s up to lately.
I had to meditate before I went online. When I lost trust in the person I loved, I lost trust in the entire world, and every expression of happiness felt like betrayal. The deleted you stage felt like I was deleting my life here in DC. This is when my qtwoc community felt like a gossip queen across the room. The great thing about our small communities is that everyone knows everyone. The worst thing about our communities is that everyone knows everyone. So. I felt like everyone knew. And everyone judged. Deleting her number, avoiding events, rejecting calls, not going to her shows, not going out, and writing angry songs was all the armor I had left.
4. she said your name (anger)
I was in New York for some shows when an old friend Lisa invited me to Manhattan to meet a producer friend of hers. I get anxious, so the sensory riot that is New York City is not my favorite. But my depression and hopelessness has actually quelled my anxiety. At this point, I don’t really care enough about life to be anxious.
So I run around the city until I find this imposing building, SONY scrolled across the side. I paced the palatial lobby, dwarfed by a projection of Rihanna dancing across one of the 80-foot marble walls. This is where I meet Mr. Ivory Snow, a handsome young man in glasses, a smile and a bone thugs tee. Lisa was working in the music publishing department and managed to sneak us up to one of the modest studios in the building. Ivory and I sat in the small room together, chatting about life, love. A brilliant artist and fellow music nerd-I felt very comfy with Ivory. We breezed past the small talk and it got very real very quickly. Ivory and I wrote the entire song together and recorded it within hours. *Side note- the folks at sony were not at all pleased when they learned of our guerilla recording session. Not the most pleasant place...
She said your name is about The details. When the woman you love sleeps with someone else, you ask for the details. As if knowing every detail will dictate how angry you should be. Every detail makes it worse, but I keep asking for more. What time was it? What did her text say? Who kissed who? Did you come? Did she come? Did she say your name?
5. Done (depression, acceptance)
I spent about three months in bed. I’d get up to go to gigs, to get things from the store, to go to the bathroom, to eat, to make a drink. my bed was my office. I did the absolute bare minimum. I wrote this song in bed.
I already knew the relationship was over. I had to let go of her. But while writing the final passage of the song, when I realized I had to let go of an entire future as well. We built up our dreams in detail. Next year, the year after that. Ten years. The music, the film. Teaching. Pay off the loans. Buy a house. Build a studio. The kitchen, the garden, the art on the walls. Build a school. Teach children. Have our own children. Our shared work and success. I had to lay every one of those dreams to rest.
"And just like that-I am alone. You are gone. it is done. What have you done?"
When I spoke the words aloud, I couldn’t stop crying. The ink ran down the page.
This passage was inspired by one of my favorite lyrics from the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime. I don’t particularly like the Talking heads, or even that song. But it feels like life somehow, and the line has always haunted me. “And you may tell yourself-my god, what have I done.”
6. Running (denial, bargaining)
I wrote this song in the early morning during a snowstorm. I’d written the words and had a very crude guitar arrangement for it. Luckily-Kevin Marvelle, a skilled songwriter/guitarist and family friend of ours lives a few minutes away. I emailed Kevin about the song and he came over within the hour. We sat together with the song and recorded it that afternoon.
The song is about finding home. I’ve lived in DC most of my life And I love it so much. But the gentrification here is so disturbing that it doesn’t feel like home anymore. As I toured around the country this past year, I began to look for a new home-attempting to run from the heartbreak of losing the home that is my birthplace and the home that was her love.
I found myself walking around Lake Merritt in Oakland. If I could afford to live there, I would have moved years ago. It has felt more like home than DC for years. I spent months looking for housing in Atlanta, I’m still looking. But I wonder if it's right. Any native of any major US city will tell you, gentrification is everywhere. It’s just harder to recognize when it’s not your hometown. Every block demolished in DC feels personal. When I visit Oakland, Atlanta, New Orleans-it hurts a little less not having a memory of what was there before. Not knowing the degrees of displacement. This is really what running is about. That selective ignorance. Pretending that three thousand miles away, I’ll find the home I lost. Things will be different. I’ll be happy.
7. i dare you (anger)
When I was twenty two, I moved back to DC after undergrad. I was so starry-eyed and excited to cannonball into the dating pool (now that my options expanded beyond the overwhelmingly white slews of rugby lesbians and long haired emo boys of oberlin). I was especially excited to date older women. Dreaming of those 30-something goddesses- more mature, more skilled, emotionally and financially stable, older, sexier, wiser. Of course I learned very quickly how wrong I was. These 30-something women did not prove themselves to be wiser. If anything, they were more childlike.
Here’s my theory. So many queer folk are only afforded a portion of our adolescence. We can’t tell all our friends about our first kiss. We don’t get to wear the clothes we want as kids. We don’t bring our first love home. Or go to prom with the person we want to. Many of us aren't allowed that care-free childhood poets muse about. I was lucky enough to take my girlfriend to prom, to have parents who always accepted and cared for the people I loved. I was allowed to be myself. Still, I didn’t get the chance to be part of a full queer community and social life until my twenties.
So when folks finally experience that world, it seems like a kind of ⅓ life crisis occurs. It turns us into kids, teenagers, babies (so now we know, folks going through breakups and queers in their thirties may or may not act exactly like babies/children/teenagers). Wanting everything, fucking everyone. This is what became of my 30 year old ex-girlfriend.
I wrote this song sort of all over the place. Lots of feelings. I felt a shred of strength for the first time. LIKE I DARE you to try to be with some other girl because HOMIE I am actually a FIERCELY incredible human and partner. At the same time, I WAS so bitter that she’d made a fool of me. Also feeling a simultaneous envy and disgust toward masculine-presenting women (the folks I am most often attracted to) who occasionally take advantage of male privilege when convenient. Lots of feelings.
8. new girl (Denial, bargaining)
Chicago airport. Sitting next to her feels good. But I know she hates my guts now. She came into my life when I was at my worst. She made me smile again. She could have been a great love, at the very least a great friend. Now she feels a thousand miles away. this is a breakup within a breakup.
“You’re right.” She looks off into the distance. “All relationships end. In breakups or death.” It’s not the point I was trying to make, but I guess it’s true. I nod my head. I can’t remember if she was always this dark. If she always looked out into space more than she looked into my eyes. I follow her gaze. Look out at a crowded airport, searching for something. A reason to smile. Looking for hope maybe. But everything in an airport is cloaked in the sad of people wanting to be somewhere else.
In an effort to protect her anonymity, I’ll call her Brandy Quarters. (I shared this joke with her that day in the airport. She seemed to enjoy it, I’m hoping that’s still the case.) I started dating Brandy three months after the breakup (we both thought this was a really good idea). I wanted to be numb and casually sleep with someone cute. But it was very difficult to be casual with her. Brandy was everything. Brilliant, gorgeous, generous, attentive. The person everyone in the world wants to kiss, the person I never imagined I had half a chance with. She made me laugh. I was so sad at the time that laugher felt like a miracle. And hearing her laugh. That was everything. I could send her one hundred texts in one day. I could fall asleep with her on video chat. I could fly across the country to spend the week with her. But my feelings for her were all empty promises.
I wanted to want her, but I was in love with my ex. Eventually she grew wary of me and moved on. And karma/cyclical pain, whatever you want to call it turned the table on me. Hurt people hurt people. I hurt my ex, my ex hurt me, I hurt Brandy, and now her absence hurts like ALL hell. I was so busy with my own suffering, I didn't notice the path of scars LEFT behind me.
I’m very cautious about connecting with people now. Sure, we all have the AGENCY to demolish our own hearts and lives if we want to-but maybe let's not do that anymore.
Still. Heartache and all-I don’t regret loving her.
New girl is one of my favorite songs on the album. It's a fun balance between sad and sexy (two of my favorite topics, apparently). I’m currently working on the treatment for a new girl music video. Without giving too much away, I will say that the video will include a sort of tomboy cheerleading squad. So that’ll be a treat.
9. leo (acceptance)
You know what they say about leos. Why folks throw up their hands and say “UH OHHHH” when you tell them your birthday. Cocky, stubborn, self-centered. There’s some truth to this. There are of course a number of magnificent, magical, positive qualities to balance out the bad. We're complex, ok? So leo is AI took a look at my favorite and least favorite LEO-LIKE characteristics.
10. how i taste with Climbing Poetree (acceptance)
Naima texted a couple years ago asking me to co-write a song with her duo, Climbing Poetree. Naima and Alixa have been performing as Climbing Poetree for years, using art as “a tool to rebuild our communities, and a weapon to win this struggle for universal liberation.” THEY ARE AMAZING. So when she asked, I immediately said YES. CP was working on their new album Intrinsic, which featured a number of other artists and was produced by the magnificent, mythical Toshi Reagon.
I’d worked with Naima before on Can’t help but fly-our song about polyamory, so content-wise, the three of us wanted to continue to push the boundaries of the love song. We all agreed to write about masturbation, naturally.
My experience working on the track and coming into the studio with everyone was so wonderful.
((*I’ve had some not-so-great experiences in fancy recording studios which are often very white, very cis dude dominates spaces. Sadly, sometimes folks use their knowledge of music to try to be gatekeepers. It makes them feel better about themselves. So I was a bit nervous.))
Took the bus up to nyc then train to the studio in brooklyn. When I arrived Alixa, Naima, Toshi, Carolyn Malachi (grammy-nominated phenomenon and fixture of DC), and a handful of fellow magical folks were in the booth laughing and being cute. So here i was in a studio full of brilliance and somehow I had to swallow my nerves, step to the mic and sing about how much I love the taste of my own pussy. And it was terrifying and also fantastic.
11. run in the rain
I love romantic comedies. Love happy endings. So conditioned by those narratives-the romantic in me wanted to believe that my ex and I were meant to be. I imagined her bursting through the door, begging for forgiveness. I imagined one impossible scene of reconciliation where every wrong was suddenly made right, we’d make out passionately and stay in love for the rest of our lives.
As I accepted the inevitable end of what we had-I wondered what a Hollywood ending of this breakup would look like. Instead of running in the rain to her-I’d run away.
12. sage (anger and acceptance) Music video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knsshhqg1a0
Sage is about 3am when the girl you are still in love with walks into your bedroom and you can feel all of the most shady, evil spirits walk in with her. My ex inspired the song. She came in with a pitifully guilty look on her face, I could barely hold her gaze. I didn’t know, but I knew. Our love was beautiful and powerful when we were together, but in that moment, I was terrified. All the magic and power that nurtured me before was now sucking the life from me. So I stood up, walked past her and lit a bundle of sage. It was the first moment in the breakup when I decided to protect myself.
(More on Autostraddle at https://www.autostraddle.com/be-steadwells-newest-video-will-put-a-spell-on-you-380797/ )
13. wake up alone (depression and acceptance)
The blues. Waking up and remembering. Feeling that empty space by your side. I wrote this song feeling a sorrowful resolve. Empty Bed Blues, written by J. C. Johnson, made famous by Bessie Smith in 1928 tells the old, familiar story.
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
My new man had left me, just a room and a empty bed
A year later and I still can’t make sense of all this. I feel like I know less about love than I did a year ago. And believe it or not-after all this, I still love her. She is still the most beautiful soul I’ve had the honor to know. Everyone who knows her understands how amazing she is.
I have to take a moment to thank the people who got me through this past year. My loves katie, talyn, Emily, michele, brittani, Tattiana, and Taylor. Yall were the ones who really allowed me to be sad, who let me come over at 2am, who listened. I am blessed to have an Incredible family and so much love in my life-but for some reason-yall were the ones I needed during this time. you saved my life. I am grateful and I promise I'll be there for you any time you need me. Thank you.
The Album https://bsteady.bandcamp.com/album/breakup-songs