Commentary

Music starts the healing from breakup

Updated: June 5, 2009, 7:10 PM ET
By Paul Shirley | Special to ESPN.com

Last week, my beautiful and charming girlfriend decided that she didn't want to be my girlfriend anymore. This made me sad.

[+] EnlargeMatt Berninger of The National
Scott Gries/Getty ImagesA Matt Berninger line in "Slow Show" perfectly describes a memorable point in time for Paul Shirley.

It also made me angry and vindictive, but mostly, it made me sad.

I wanted to write that music will help me deal with this sadness, but I'm not yet sure that it will. I suppose I realize, cognitively, that it'll help, just like music has helped with many other bouts of sadness in my life. But right now, it only feels like all the songs I've heard in the past two years have been ruined forever.

I'm going to begin the resurrection with three songs that helped define our relationship. My hope is that, by recalling that we shared some great moments, I can save these songs from purgatory. And that, along the way, I might be able to cheer myself up.

(I've added a link to a YouTube clip in each title. It will help if you listen to each song as you read the rest of my story.)

"Slow Show" by The National

I first saw my ex-girlfriend, whom I'll call B for the rest of this column, in the Barcelona airport from 100 feet away. From that distance, and then again from two feet, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Half-Dutch and half-Spanish, she's 5-foot-10, blonde, and possesses the most disarming smile since Audrey Hepburn's. My opening line was "I came over here to find out if you speak English." Thankfully, she did. Equally thankfully, she didn't laugh at my typically Paul and typically amateurish approach.

For 45 minutes, B and I spoke like we'd known each other for years. Her English was nearly flawless; not bad, considering it was her fourth-best language. I was smitten. Unfortunately, I would soon be leaving Spain. I was in the airport with my team en route to our last game of the year. After that, I was supposed to be back in the United States to oversee the release of my book and, as it turned out, to rehabilitate the ankle I would break in the game I was about to play.

I didn't put much stock in our chances. She was decidedly not American, and I was decidedly not going to be in Spain in the near future. As such, I halfheartedly asked for her e-mail address, saying that, because of our lifestyles (she traveled a lot for her job as well), it was possible that we might end up in the same place one day.

At first, she refused. I was disappointed and said goodbye. But, as with all males, my hope springs eternal. After an hour of Interneting in the airport, I tore a map of Kansas from the pocket atlas that accompanies me all over the world and wrote a note that included my e-mail address in the margins. On my way to my gate, I found B and gave it to her.

She e-mailed me the next day.

In "Slow Show" Matt Berninger of The National sings "You know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you?"

The lyric made its impact by chance. It was October, a year and a half after B and I met, and I was flying from Kansas City to Boston. We had been an item for eight months and I was missing her. I had The National's wonderful record "Boxer" playing on my iPod while I worked on a love letter to B, who was, at the time, across the Atlantic Ocean from me.

It's true that when we're in love, it seems that every song was written with us in mind. But the line from "Slow Show" was eerie. I was 29 when I met B, and I had always dreamed of meeting a tall woman of Northern European descent near the end of my basketball career.

I hadn't dreamed, though, that she would one day point out everything that's wrong with me and decide she'd be better off without me.

"Everything Will Be Alright," The Killers

The summer after we met, B and I spent hours on Skype, learning about each other. I didn't put much stock in any sort of serious relationship developing between us. She seemed too perfect and we seemed too far apart. But then, an intervention from above (or below): The Spanish team for which I had played the last two months of the previous season wanted me back. I signed the contract, mostly because my mangled ankle gave me few other options. In the back of my mind, though, I hoped that Menorca's proximity to B's home of Barcelona would give us a chance to develop a relationship not based around sub-Atlantic cables and cellular phone companies' satellites.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Flowers
Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesBrandon Flowers of The Killers has had many better songs, but "Everything Will Be Alright" can capture a moment.

There were some non-geographic obstacles. B had spent the past year in the dying throes of a seven-year relationship. It would be several months before we could start dating.

In all that buildup, I learned a lot about B before spending any real time with her. She liked (I'm not ready to share this with the world) and (this either). The one thing she said she needed -- more than anything else -- was to hear, at the end of the day, that everything would be OK.

After our first night together, I could tell that (A) I was probably going to fall in love with the girl who had just left and (B) our relationship would be a challenging one. It occurred to me that there was a song for just this situation; it even had the perfect title.

I was right. Unfortunately, "Everything Will Be Alright" isn't a great song. In fact, it's probably one of The Killers' worst. But it was perfect for that moment. Ostensibly, the song is hopeful; there's nothing but hope in such a title. The tone, however, stands in sharp contrast. Melancholy -- almost mournful -- it says exactly what was on my mind on the time, which was "Paul, what have you gotten yourself into?"

I probably won't spend much time listening to "Everything Will Be Alright" in the next few weeks but, as is always the case, it's nice to know that someone out there (Brandon Flowers) felt the need to reassure himself that everything will be OK. I keep telling myself the same thing.

"Come Back," Pearl Jam

For the first few months of our relationship I would fly to Barcelona on weekends. At times, I would have to beg my team's management to allow me to leave the island on off days, a setup that did not make me like basketball any more than I already didn't. When the season ended, I packed up the few possessions I had in Menorca and moved to B's apartment in Barcelona. The period including the next 3½ months would be our longest continuous time together.

[+] EnlargeEddie Vedder
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyPearl Jam's Eddie Vedder put it best: "From wherever you are, come back."

From there, it was a week in Barcelona, a week in Kansas City, a month in Malaga, a month in Barcelona, a month in Kansas City. Most of those stints were separated by longer stints, and all of those separations were punctuated by doubt, longing and confusion.

I chased when it was warranted. I gave her time when she asked for it. I stayed away when she needed me to. I put everything I had into our relationship. It didn't work. It failed. But that doesn't stop me from thinking about what might have been: a sentiment that sprung up often, whenever we were apart.

Because I'm not the poet that Eddie Vedder is, I'll borrow from his song:

"From wherever you are, come back."

Throughout our relationship, whether I was leaving Barcelona, she was leaving Kansas City, or we were both leaving Malaga, I always felt like I was trying to get her to come back. For a while, she always did. But no more.

Even now, after she has told me unequivocally that she needs a different sort of man than the one I am, and even though I know this decision is likely the best one for her (and possibly the best one for me), the part of me that dreamed about her for so long is fighting with the part of me that knows that everything will be OK for the right to admit that I just want her to, well, come back.


Moving on to something more positive …

Recommendation of the Week

If you ever have the chance, go see Gogol Bordello live.

[+] EnlargeGogol Bordello
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty ImagesGogol Bordello must be seen live to be fully appreciated.

Last Wednesday, I watched Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction perform at one of Kansas City's best venues, the outdoor Starlight Theater. I had been looking forward to the show for weeks; two months ago, I toted around my backpack on a Barcelona day because tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Eastern time in the U.S., and I knew I'd be in the city at 5 p.m. Barcelona time. I found WiFi at a sandwich shop near the Pedralbes section of the city, logged in, and found tickets.

The show didn't live up to my expectations. My main complaint was the order of operation: NIN was first and Jane's Addiction closed. I'm not sure if everyone is aware of this, but Jane's Addiction isn't all that good. They were pioneers, I suppose, and Dave Navarro is one hell of a guitarist, but beyond that, they're limited. At the very least, I think it's safe to say that they haven't stood the test of time like Trent Reznor's outfit.

Two days later, on a whim based on reading about the band in music magazines, I went to a Gogol Bordello show. Because what I had read had been raves about Gogol's live show, I assumed that there was no way the event would be as good as I expected. I was wrong. It might have been the second-best live concert I've ever seen, just behind a face-scorching set I saw Mogwai perform several years ago.

Gogol Bordello is a collection of New Yorkers of varied ethnic backgrounds who play an amalgam of music that is best described as Gypsy music performed by early Green Day on 78 rpm. I arrived at the show with no previous aural knowledge of the band's work; now that I've seen them live, I'm not sure I ever want to listen to the recorded version. There is no way to replicate the energy, passion and entertainment I saw on a digitized recording. I'm sure a person could appreciate the gonzo mix of electric guitar, electric fiddle, accordion, bass and drums, delivered with an Eastern European hippie vibe, but to truly understand it, that person needs to go to a show.

Check this link. If they're coming to your town, go.

Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams: the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. He can be found at myspace.com/paulshirley and by e-mailing him here. His book "Can I Keep My Jersey?" -- which is available in paperback -- can be found here.

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