Third Eye Blind released their first album just before I finished middle school. That summer, I met the boy who can be best described — in silly, clichéd terms, anyway — as my high school sweetheart. We were best friends, I guess, who held hands in the hallway and dropped notes through the slats in each other's lockers, for three months at a time. Three times. And listened to music and watched Billy Madison about 473 times regardless of our relationship status. "Semi-Charmed Life" was (and still is) my favorite song from that Third Eye Blind album. ("Jumper" is a close second, if you must know.) But I could not, for the life of me, get the words right to one particular part of the song. I was convinced the line was, "the four-eyed ghost can make me cry." When really, the lyrics actually make sense: "The four right chords can make me cry." And for the same reasons I'll never forget the word that knocked me out of the district spelling bee in seventh grade (diffraction), those lyrics have stuck with me.
Of course, the line is true for me, too; music can reduce me to tears on any old day. Music is practically a religion to me. The way some people talk about God? That's how I feel about music, especially lyrics. The slow, sweet piano that floats into the end of Sufjan Stevens' Michigan album. The haunting electric guitar riff throughout Guster's "Demons." The intro to Frightened Rabbit's "Old Old Fashioned." I can also associate almost any song with a person or a memory, which makes the tears even easier. The song doesn't have to be sad; I just cry sometimes. (Men love that. Try it.)
But today, as I drank in the week's first sunshine just beyond my cubicle hell, my iPod shuffled to a Death Cab for Cutie song that's always struck me lyrically but never gotten to me as it did today. "Diamond and a Tether" is written from the perspective of a guy who just can't commit, singing to the woman he's about to crush. "Pity. Take pity on me," he says. "'Cause I'm not half the man that I should be." Just before the last time through the chorus, there are these two chords. And they're nowhere else in the song but at this moment. Wrapped in these two chords? Heartbreak — his and hers. Faces falling. Her desperation and pleading eyes. His resignation and the instinctual twitch just to walk away, before the tears come. The crumbling of her last bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, she could change him.
God, it caught me. I rewound. Played it again. And again. And again. My throat tightened with each replay until the chords delivered their final blow. My iced coffee was half empty before I sighed and walked back inside, blinking back tears from behind my Jackie O sunglasses. The coffee would have been half full at any other moment. The tears just come sometimes.
Despite the semi-charmed life I find I'm living lately, the
four right chords can still make me cry.