billbragg

"Levi Stubbs' Tears" by Billy Bragg

Everyone in the Imaginary Nation's been there at one point in his or her life: Down, out and utterly destroyed. You know, the sort of low point in your life — right after a bad break-up, a death in the family, a layoff or any one of life's more significant setbacks — when all you can really do is scrape up a six-pack, a pile of your favorite albums and sit home and get quietly fuzzed as your favorite songs take a little bit of the sting out of the moment.

That's where Billy Bragg's utterly monumental "Levi Stubbs' Tears" picks up. Although your tales of woe hopefully can't match the main character's (a runway married to a horrid husband who deserts her only to come back and stab her), any music fan will immediately identify with her ability to turn to music — in this case The Four Tops — to chase away the pain. When Bragg delivers the chorus ("When the world falls apart/Some things stay in place"), you don't just know what he's getting at. You've been there yourself.

I never know whether I find "Levi Stubbs" more depressing or uplifting. On one hand it's a heartbreaking character sketch as only Bragg can produce that's also a reminder that, even if you're not getting stabbed by a psychotic lover, you're going to face your own tough times. On the other, it's the reminder that you won't ever face those truly alone as long as you have your record collection. Maybe I'm a messed-up misanthrope, but I find it strangely reassuring to know that no matter how much of a mess me, you or anyone else makes a mess out of our lives, we'll always have that relationship with our favorite songs to fall back upon.