I turned on the lights, the TV, and the radio – still I can’t escape the ghost of you. -Simon Le Bon
“Ordinary World” was the lead single off Duran Duran’s eponymous (though sometimes referred to as The Wedding Album) 1993 release. The song became the band’s first hit since its ’80s heyday when they pumped out glitter-pop works of art such as “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.” The video for “Ordinary World” and its follow-up “Come Undone” enjoyed steady airplay on MTV, and these two singles comprise my first first-hand experience with the band. I was too young to doo-doo-doodoo-doo-doodoo-do-doodoo-doo-do along the first time around.
Like so many of the love songs I am inherently drawn to, “Ordinary World” is about a failed love. The lyrics at the top of the page have always been my favorite, though in retrospect at 13 there was no way I could have possibly appreciated them truly, at least romantically. Still, by 13 I had failed enough on the baseball field to be haunted by the memories of those errors on routine grounders and called strike threes. I could totally understand purposely creating distractions and diversions in the hopes that they would somehow whisk me away from the instant, then constant replay machine in my head.
I wouldn’t fall in love until I was 18 and out of high school. Something like two years later, I would listen to “Ordinary World” – and any other song about a brutal failure and then literally turn on the lights, the TV, and the radio in the doomed attempt to think about anything but my own failings. It hurt. For a very long time. Confession: whenever my students make hyperbolic claims that their “world is ending” or that the “universe is conspiring against them, I roll my eyes to the point that the laws of physics no longer allow further rolling. But then in quiet moments, I remember feeling exactly that way. For a long time, all it would take to put me right back into the dark solitude of my own stupid retroactive hyper-analysis was something as simple as a song.
Whenever I emotionally associate a song with a person, it becomes impossible not to think of them – even years after they’re no longer an active player in my life.Whenever I hear “Back to Good” by Matchbox Twenty (then Matchbox 20), I think of my first love. If I happen across “My Sacrifice” by Creed, I think of my college girlfriend. On those super-rare occasions when my phone plays the Dance Hall Crashers’ “Cricket,” I think of the proverbial ship that sailed before it even got off the ground. “I’m So Into You” by Fabolous is the song Lynnette and I danced to. “Ooh, It’s Kind of Crazy” by Soul Decision is a shared guilty pleasure. There’s no wistful emotion, no regret, no longing. It’s simply concept association, sweet nostalgia Back at the time? In the moment? Tidal waves of emotion. Seas of the feels. For so very long, those songs that reminded me of a particular her would send me spiraling into the aforementioned dark solitude because the focus of those memories was on the the other person and/or the pain. No longer.
In the Harry Potter series, the dark wizard Voldemort broke off pieces of his soul and set them into objects – Horcruxes – so that they’d be able to survive, even if his physical form was somehow bested. He accidentally left a piece of him inside of Harry. That’s perfect, actually. We’re usually unaware of the emotional tagging of pop love songs, even as it’s happening. I don’t remember actively choosing the assignments, they just kind of spontaneously formed, then carved out a place in my memory. Like I said, whenever I hear one of them, it’s impossible for me not to think of the person I associate them with. But I don’t mind because there are pieces of me – Skinny Phil, College Phil, Bitter Phil, Happy Phil, Just Happy to Be Here Phil, I Can’t Believe This Is Actually Happening Phil – in there, too.