American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag famously mused that “Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except Love.” Many artists seem to agree with her. These artists opt to explain this ethereal emotion by relating it to more tangible experiences. House producer Calvin Harris channels sci-fi when he compares love to a force field in “Feel So Close.” In “Seeing Stars,” indie songwriter BØRNS reaches into the night sky to express his feelings. Pop singer Selena Gomez gets circular with her hit, “Love You Like A Love Song.” The use of metaphors in love songs has become so ubiquitous that the comedy duo, Paul & Storm, wrote a parody titled, “Your Love Is (A Love Song Metaphor).”
This trend continues with the tracks currently blowing up my Spotify playlist. The songs focus on representing the mystique of love with one specific reference: drugs. In “Sober”, singer/rapper Childish Gambino sings about the use of illicit substances as a remedy to heartbreak. Swedish songwriter Tove Lo echoes this sentiment when she has to “…stay high all the time to keep you off my mind” in her hit “Habits (Stay High).” Not being one to waste a good metaphor, Tove Lo taps into the euphoria of being on drugs to describe the feelings of being in love with “Not On Drugs.” Although I’m using contemporary examples, I’m sure artists have been linking these two states together for hundreds of years.
If all of those songs were written to convince me and the rest of the world that drugs and love produce the same feelings, then centuries were wasted. Music is supposed to help us relate and express ourselves, but these comparisons seem to go over my head. This might be due to the fact that my most memorable drug experience involved getting high at a Four Seasons resort. My friends and I snuck past the security guard by claiming we were going to book a room. Once past the gate, we headed straight to the pool, relieved that no one was following us. We secured a few cozy beach chairs and lit up a blunt. I gazed into the night sky after a few puffs and caught a glimpse of a shooting star. After what seemed like an hour, but was really just ten minutes, my friends mentioned making a wish on a fallen star. I embarrassingly said I saw it too but thought it was all in my head. They all had a good laugh at my expense and thought I was high as fuck, which was probably true. Marijuana was something my friends and I did to pass the time, like going to the beach or playing video games, not something that stirred the heart.
Due to my limited exposure with narcotics, I was left speechless when a friend opened up about his drug use. I felt like a terrible friend because I was unable to relate and, more importantly, provide solace. Brene Brown, an author and researcher on shame and vulnerability, says the best way to console someone is to make them feel that they are not alone in their experience. It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable about personal issues. And when my friend confessed, I dropped the ball. I couldn’t identify with the situation, so I stood there dumbfounded and said nothing to help him feel like he was not alone. If anything, I made him feel even more isolated.
Looking back at that moment now, if I channel my inner Donald Glover (Childish Gambino’s real name), maybe I can relate. I can reverse engineer the love songs, using my brushes with love to understand the ups and downs of drug use. The entire process starts with the slightest connection. Chemistry builds with each glance, slowly altering the neurotransmitters in my brain. Soon enough my mind gets blanketed by a fog like the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning. It completely engulfs me, leaving me blind to the world beyond.
My mind clears once the haze burns off in the sunny afternoon, but something is different. I have an insatiable yearning; I want to see her again. To laugh at the childish faces she makes, share inside jokes scribbled in hand written notes, and pretend I’m the only one who knows why she doesn’t wear nail polish. The only one who understands and truly gets her. The only one she lets into her world. I can’t get enough of the high that accompanies her. I’ve become an addict.
The skies over the Bay Area remain clear during the bright summer days. Half the city appears to be lounging in Dolores Park, enjoying the favorable weather. But to me, the essence of the city has faded away with the fog. So I choose to stay inside to sulk in my loneliness. I feel like absolute shit as questions swarm into my head. I wonder why she hasn’t called, texted, or snapped. Did I do something to fuck it up? Is there someone else who has her attention? I check the weather every 15 seconds to see if the fog is rolling in.
I try desperately to grab onto the mist but my hands are empty when I open them. I can’t explain why I fell for such a translucent being; her feelings were never truly there. I should know better and most of the time I believe I do. But when we actually talk, all the doubts fade and I’m surrounded by the haze again. It’s a vicious cycle of ephemeral highs, crushing lows, and crippling shame. To quote one of my favorite artists, “And when we go crashing down / we come back every time / we never go out of style…”
So what would I say to my friend about his issues now? I would start by quoting Taylor Swift again and say, “I’ve been there, too, a few times.” Although I haven’t been exactly there with narcotics, I know how it feels to do something that isn’t good for me, but feels good in the moment. I can also relate to the shame associated with allowing myself to go through the paces while fully aware of the consequences. And isn’t that what music, and more importantly empathy, is all about? Being able to relate to someone’s emotions, but not the specific circumstance. As Sontag stated, “love is mysterious” and so are the effects of drugs, but it becomes less so when we know that we are not in it alone.