My friend Bix understood exactly how I felt about the Magentic Fields 69 Love Songs vol 1. I had put "The Book of Love" and "All My Little Words" on a mix I made for him, and he came up to me with this wonderous look on his face, as though he couldn't believe I knew the Magnetic Fields too. Because with all the white noise of music out there, between Lady GaGa and Nickleback and Katy Perry and Justin Beiber and all the other billions of bands overtaking the airwaves, it's almost wonderous to find someone who knows the same little band you do
He, like me, played that album over and over and over, terrified to listen to anything else by them for fear it wouldn't be as good. "Then I heard "Papa Was a Rodeo," he told me one night over champagne at an art gallery in Brunswick Maine. "And I played that one over and over. And I knew." He had this dreamy, sincere look on his face, as though the two of us were speaking the secret language only Magnetic Fields listeners understand. Because there's something so intimate about the music that you swear you must be the only person on earth who feels the lyrics, and when you find someone else who feels them that same way, it's almost magic.
My sister Shaun, giver of all things wonderful and musical (including The Smiths and Siouxsie and the Banshees) gave me 69 Love Songs for Hanukkah one year. I took to it instantly, playing it through headphones on my discman, laying on the inflatable mattress I slept on during visits home, mouthing along in the dark as though the words on my breath might somehow reach their intended targets in the universe.
69 Love Songs was my album for boys who had no intentions being for me what I needed or wanted them to be. "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side," "Absolutely Cuckoo" and "My Sentimental Melody," in that order, were all songs for Dwight, spelling out the ever-deepening emotional divide between us. "Come Back from San Francisco" went on the first CD I made Michael, "I Don't Want to Get Over You" was for James, who I eventually got over and "Reno Dakota" was for Jay, who had a habit of vanishing for years on end, leaving me wondering if or when he might ever reappear.
And like any good album, it grew on me. I discovered songs that I'd skipped in early listenings now held a curious truth to them, like the cleverness of "Chicken With it's Head Cut Off" and I can't hear "All My Little Words" without picturing Jay Karns in the shower and Walton Goggins lifting weights.