Love Songs: “Being in Love”


On Music

Jason Molina. Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CCO 2.0.

I am not a terribly romantic person. An ex once described me as “stable,” which is hardly the most erotic quality. It’s not that I’m unfeeling, per se. I just prefer to keep these particular feelings at a slight remove, a step or two apart. So in those rare periods when love enters my life, the results are disastrous, consuming every private moment of my day. Even something as simple as a text message can make my body feel like it’s falling apart. Yet what other agony gives so much pleasure? For “being in love,” as Jason Molina sings on his song of the same name, which he put out under the moniker Songs: Ohia, “means you are completely broken.” When he sings of breaking, it is as the prelude to being remade. “And for the first time,” he croons with delight, “it is working.”

Molina, who died ten years ago, makes this statement of ultraromance sound like a dirge, all creaky organ and quaking drum machine with a single electric guitar keening softly overhead. The song exults even as it prepares to mourn. For as he notes, this passion—all-consuming, overwhelming—can burn through the fuel that fires it. I think back to Gillian Rose’s description of desire as something monstrous, driving the lover onward, onward, until they burn out or their beloved withdraws. It can be a pitiless sensation, love, especially love unreturned, love held in suspension. “There is no democracy in any love relation,” Rose writes in Love’s Work, “only mercy.” And there is no guarantee.

This is what makes love monstrous: it invests loneliness and disappointment and hope with significance, even pleasure. Yet Rose also declares: “Let me then be destroyed. For that is the only way I may have a chance of surviving.” Her work testifies to the inexhaustibility of passion, a thing forever reforming itself.

There is another version of “Being in Love” on an out-of-print live album. When Molina sings “If you stick with me you can help me / I’m sure we’ll find new things to burn,” his voice booms and the band surges, providing their own fuel for the song, pushing it through a full three minutes of overdriven guitar swells—like proof that “the heart is a risky fuel to burn,” proof enough that it’s worth the risk. There is no safe distance here, no step or two apart. You must set fire to yourself—you must let yourself be consumed.


Robert Rubsam writes fiction and nonfiction. His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Baffler, and elsewhere.