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by Bryan Bruchman & Mary Phillips-Sandy

"We're over, and so is our song"

Falling in love means risking loss. You might get dumped. You might do the dumping yourself, but somehow it still feels like a loss. And then there are all the everyday things you might lose:  the sweater she'll never return, the video game gone missing, the book you'll never finish. Or, if you're the kind of person who falls in love via mix CDs, the music that will never sound the same again.

We created Ruined Music (www.ruinedmusic.com) one afternoon when we realized that we'd both lose significant chunks of our record collection if our relationship ever fell apart. Our life together had a vast soundtrack, and we both had stories of songs we could no longer stand because of associations with past relationships and experiences. These stories seemed funny in the re-telling, kind of, mostly, thanks to a bit of time and perspective. Surely, we thought, there must be a website devoted to stories about ruined music.

In fact, there was no such website. So we decided to start one. We told a few friends about the project, asked them to contribute or spread the word. There was no grand plan; we just thought it was an interesting idea, and we were curious to see what kinds of stories people might tell (if anyone was willing to send their story to us). As it turned out, people were more than willing to send us stories.

At first we thought we'd see nothing but essays about the aftermath of romantic relationships. We do get a lot of those, but we've seen a surprising number of stories about songs that have been lost in other ways. There was the man who, as a teenager, stumbled upon a videotape of his mother doing a striptease to his (no longer) favorite INXS song. There was the guy who was listening to Rod Stewart while he got a cavity drilled. There was the woman who happened to be working at the hotel where Bobby Hatfield from the Righteous Brothers died of a drug overdose; she decided she didn't want to walk down the aisle to "Unchained Melody" after all. We've also posted a few pieces about high school talent show performances gone wrong — public humiliation plus teenage insecurity is a potent combination.

Even the stories about breakups and failed romances are varied. Because love and loss are inherently personal things, and because people develop intensely personal relationships with different kinds of music, every variation on the "we loved each other and it didn't work out" theme feels new. Our only requirement, really, is that the essays be well-written and concise enough to put online. We've gotten submissions from teenagers and from published authors, from middle-aged professionals and college students. People have written to us about metal, emo, show tunes, classic rock, and indie rock. We're often asked what song has been ruined most often, but believe it or not, we have yet to hear two stories about the same song. We have published more than one story involving Paul Simon's work, but we think that's simply because he's a prolific musician. The odds of encountering — and, perhaps, attaching meaning to — a Paul Simon song are pretty high, especially for anyone who came of age between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s.

People also ask us why the Ruined Music project has resonated with so many readers around the world. Clearly there's an element of voyeurism at work — you can read these essays and get a glimpse into other people's private lives, usually at a time that was dark or awkward. But we think it's more than that. We get messages from readers who say the site makes them feel connected to strangers who have experienced loss or heartbreak similar to their own. People like to realize they aren't alone in feeling so strongly about music and about tying it so tightly to their lives. Our semi-official motto is "Tell us your story. Feel better. Reclaim your record collection," but we know it's rarely that simple. Can a website really help anyone reclaim a song they've lost? We're not sure. Perhaps. That would be nice. We ask writers to include a short bio with their work, and we've noticed that many of these two-line self-assessments sound downright victorious:  so-and-so has moved on to better records. So-and-so has moved on to a better relationship. And at the very least, many of our contributors tell us that crafting their story into an essay gave them a certain sense of accomplishment for, well, facing the music.

Original art courtesy the authors.

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Articles in this Issue

This Has Happened, by Piera Sonnino
We Were Lucky with the Rain, by Susan Buttenwieser
In the Monster's Jaws, by John Kretschmer
Death of a Factory, by Edward McClelland
History's Tags, by Alan Huffman
Musicology, by Bryan Bruchman & Mary Phillips-Sandy
Bibliography, by Stuart Kelly
Human Resources, by Sarah Norris
January 2007


BRYAN BRUCHMAN & MARY PHILLIPS-SANDY: Bryan Bruchman is a web designer, photographer, and musician. Mary Phillips-Sandy is a writer and editor. They live in Brooklyn with two borrowed cats.

Where loss is found.

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