I was watching Ed a few Sunday nights ago. Ed is a television show about a guy who moves back to his tiny hometown of Stuckyville Ohio, just up and throws away a successful life as an attorney in New York City (escaping a doomed marriage in the process) and moves back to this little town in search of the love of his life. The one who got away, essentially. Except she never got away, actually, because until now, she didn't even know he existed. Ed is a guy who is in love with love, and doesn't care who teases him about it. He'll write it in the sky in gigantic letters, with the help of his friend who owns a plane, and he doesn't feel the least bit goofy about the whole town seeing it. There was a time in my life when such ornate displays of sentiment made me angry. I hated to see people in love. I scorned love, whether it scorned me first or not. Basically, love was for sissies. But Ed, goddammit. He says something, anything, that is wide open about love and I find myself rolling from side to side in sheer, shuddering joy that someone could be such an outright advocate of romance.
WHAT IS SHE TALKING ABOUT? Believe it or not, I'm talking about the Rock*A*Teens. Specifically, I'm speaking of its core member Chris Lopez, and his unbelievable ability to send listeners into throes of heartache-driven kickfits of love and longing with his music. A friend of mine, who is quite more in love with being in love than anyone I know, first introduced me to the Rock*A*Teens on a night we were playing music for each other, the way friends who thrive on music do. He played the majestic "Losers, Weepers" off of 1997's Cry, and when it got to the sorrowful chorus, a heaving, wailing gale of pain and hurt, he threw his arms up in the air in a grand gesture for all who have lost and cried and who fucking live to rejoice about it. "Exactly!" I screamed inside. The music welled like pent-up tears, and sounded like an emotional meltdown channeled into a nuclear explosion. I was hooked.
"Some people fail to realize how empowering good heartache is," said Lopez via telephone from his house in Cabbagetown, Georgia, a neighborhood--more so than a suburb--of Atlanta. The Rock*A*Teen's sixth album, Sweet Bird of Youth, is redolent of romantics on their knees, pleading with their loves not to go out on the town without them. "When we were young we ran circles round all the pretty ones... we ran like tigers on the range... but now something inside you has changed," he sings on "Please Don't Go Downtown Tonight." "Don't you dare go downtown, 'cause lord knows I'll find out," is a key Lopez phrase, and Sweet Bird of Youth is full of such lines: "Is it a memory or just a sweet daydream? I'm broken in your arms, just another bracelet charm that jangles on your wrist, but it's been so long since I've been kissed like this" ("Sun's Up"); "It's the hostesses with the mostesses who'll be banished to Siberian posts, and the feckless and the reckless will be awarded pillows and restlessness" ("If You Only Knew"). That last example, it should be noted, as with all Rock*A*Teens songs, parades out with a flourish of circus organ grandeur, a dense, gothic proudness that pervades all of Lopez's compositions.
I asked Lopez what his favorite love song was. "Love song or heart- ache song?" he countered pointedly. In the case of the latter, which we readily agreed was the preferable option, Lopez suggested "It's Raining," by New Orleans' Irma Thomas. In his languorous Southern drawl he quoted his favorite verse: "I've got the blues so bad I can hardly catch my breath. The harder it rains the worse it gets. This is the time I'd love to be holding you tight. I guess I'll just go crazy tonight." We groaned at the simple intensity of it, and I imagined that a nation away, he, too, was clutching his heart.