#221: My Bloody Valentine, "Loveless" (1991)

1995: Jeremy said that “To Here Knows When” was the sound of entering heaven. Jeremy grew up to be schizophrenic, I think, last I heard about these things anyway. I don’t know if I believe in heaven after death but I believe in heaven on Earth and Jeremy was right about that song.

1993: Steve said that “Only Shallow” was the sound of dying. Steve grew up to join the army, I think, last I checked. I’m no good at keeping track of these things. I don’t know what dying feels like, obviously. Dying violently, dying romantically. Loveless was released during the Gulf War; people were dying then but I don’t know if their dying sounded like “Only Shallow.”

199-: Someone once said that “Sometimes” was the sound of falling in love. Close my eyes / feel me now. Someone who was bold, who was sensitive; someone who had obviously been in love before. I was inclined to believe him. I can’t remember his name.

1998: Kevin Shields said he likes to look for his albums when he goes into record stores. This is true. I was twenty-one and living in London; I spotted him in the Virgin Megastore on Tottenham Court Road and walked up to him to tell him I loved him, or at least that I loved his music in so many words. I happened to notice we were standing at the end of the “M”s. I pointed this out, and laughed, and he laughed and I told him I loved his music and that it was very important to me. I don’t know if he heard me as I said these words of passion under my breath, masked by the droning sound of the Virgin Megastore crowds.

1844: Kierkegaard said that “The highest point of inwardness in an existing person is passion, for passion corresponds to truth as a paradox, and the fact that the truth becomes a paradox is grounded in its relation to an existing individual. [...] Subjectivity culminates in passion.” I know for a fact Kierkegaard never heard Loveless and that he was talking about passion in terms of religious truths, but there is a kind of religion in music. I don’t know what Kierkegaard thought the sound of entering heaven would be.

2017, 6:36 pm: My browser history says that I found that quote by googling “Kierkegaard + subjectivity + truth” and skimming a PDF of “Subjectivity is Truth” from Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments posted by the philosophy faculty at UCSD. In case you had the false impression that I had a long history of studying Kierkegaard and was able to quote him off the top of my head. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve latched onto quotes from philosophers extracted from their meaning like song lyrics scribbled on a canvas binder, ink in layers for each new lyric we come across and fall hopelessly in love with. I don’t think this is a very intelligent thing to do.

2017, 7:10pm: My browser history says that I then googled “Kierkegaard + my bloody valentine” and found a review of a book about Elliott Smith that came out a decade after his death, and the index of a book on what popular music teaches us about faith. There were also interviews with several filmmakers and poets who said that they found inspiration in both. I found no quotes from Kevin Shields about Kierkegaard. I don’t thinkin spite of the obvious topics of death and faith and art and passionthat these are layers worth further exploration.

1992: Zach said “you’ve never heard of My Bloody Valentine?” And when I said “no” he put Loveless into the CD player and after four snare beats the sonic universe expanded and I’ve never been the same since. I had met Zach that same day when I was wandering through the college campus near my house and heard him playing bass in his dorm room. I was learning to play the bass too, so I followed the sound of the bass to his room and knocked on his door. Imagine! I was only sixteen; this was normal. Zach, if Facebook is to be believed, has a family of four now and lives somewhere near Chicago or Toledo. I’m too lazy to look it up right now, having worn down my computer battery searching for Kierkegaard quotes. It’s entirely possible it’s spelled “Zack,” not “Zach.” I'm too lazy to look that up too. I don’t know if he knew he would change my life forever.

1992-1995: N said…no, I don’t know if I can go there. I loved N too much for too long and I don’t know if he ever knew that. I met N through Zach; he loved My Bloody Valentine too and made me a cassette tape of their B-sides. I still have the tape. Every time I hear My Bloody Valentine I think of N. I don’t know if Loveless is meant to be a love album but it will always be the aching, horrible, heartbreaking sound of how I felt when I looked at him. The opposite of loveless. I was seventeen. I didn’t know better. He broke my heart but never knew it; he once tried to steal my car.

1991: Kevin Shields said to Melody Maker that “there’s still something organic about [the guitar], alive, like a living animal. I fall in love with guitars.” I fall in love with memories. I layer these memories on top of each other like Kevin Shields layers guitars, like blankets stacked one on top of the other: the weight of them is a comfort. The memories of Zach, and Jeremy, and Steve, and N. Not one of these encounters was romantic. But they live in my head with the importance of romantic encounters, strong memories etched deeply: I remember the posture of each one as he talked, and the details of the spaces: the dark wood-paneled room with beanbag chairs where Jeremy talked about entering heaven; the campfire in the woods where Steve talked about death. The dorm rooms with their tall white ceilings and echoing hallways. The echos layer on top of campfires and wood-paneled rooms with beanbag chairs, and the memories build and build like harmonies. At the end of our lives do the memories become so layered that we can no longer hear our own thoughts through the noise?

2008: The woman who worked at the upstairs bar at Roseland said that My Bloody Valentine was the loudest band she’d ever heard “and I’ve heard a lot of bands.” She handed me a beer and told me how much I owed and I could barely hear her under the howl of guitarslike a living animalthat filled the ballroom. I don’t know if she liked them. I kind of got the feeling she didn’t. Passion is subjective.

2017: I used to say that “When You Sleep” was my favorite song on Loveless. Now it’s “Sometimes.” I’m inwardly passionate about “Sometimes.” I cry every time I listen to it. Not because I think about N and lost love: I don’t. I think about what it feels like to be in love now. What it feels like halfway through my life to wake up next to someone I met when I was twenty-one and living in London, to have twenty years of memories of this person layered in harmony, each breath, each look. You can see, oh now, oh the way I do. Maybe I cry because I’ve been in love three times now. Maybe you have to fall in love three timesorganic love, animal love, some kind of mystical and ritual incantationin order to really love “Sometimes.”

20--: I don’t know if there’s something like heaven after death, but if there is, maybe when I enter heaven I’ll hear “To Here Knows When.” Maybe when I get there I’ll see Jeremy and tell him he was right. Maybe when we enter heaven the layers of our memories will peel back like wallpaper, revealing who we really are. Every layer of every year peeling back until we find the truth.

I grab an edge and pull back:

Here is every night I spent around a campfire
Here is every next morning when my hair smelled of campfire smoke
Here is every day I spent sick on the couch
Here is every book I’ve read about introspective women
Here is how the light in June looked on the walls of every house I lived in
Here is the sound of every year the cicadas came
Here is everyone I have ever been mad at
Here is everyone I have ever loved

I pull each layer and let them drop. The noise of their patterns falls from my shoulders, the mad escaping joy and growling anger I’ve carried with me all these years. Where am I? Am I supposed to be under there? I keep peeling.

What could I possibly be without that noise?

—Zan McQuade