Nothing is straight or narrow about the way T&S have changed my life.
(This is what I was working on last year for the high holy day of Tegan and Sara’s birthday, but never got around to finishing. Revisiting it, I found it to be rather poignant, and although this is last year’s perspective, it’s a love-letter I think needs to be shared.)
The first time I heard of Tegan and Sara, I was in the car with my ex-boyfriend Mark. We were sharing our music with each other. He’s into alternative stuff, and although I like a lot of foreign music, my taste in English music is admittedly mainstream. He played something for me. To this day I don’t remember what song it was – perhaps “I Hear Noises” or “I Know I Know I Know.” Something indie. Something alternative that you have a taste for or you won’t like. Their sound struck me as raw, unschooled. Juvenile almost. (Don’t hit me.)
Mark was telling me their life story – that they were twin sisters from Canada and had been writing their own music since they were children. I was half-listening. The part about them being children is what I heard, and my brain retained it as, “T&S are child songwriters.” So I thought they were about 15 years old, and the song that was playing supported that theory! Oh god.
About a year later, I was starting to have feelings for women, and I looked up “lesbian music artists.” I needed some jams that jived with my feelings, you know? Of course, Tegan and Sara was one of the first results, after K.D. Lang and Melissa Etheridge.
I typed their name into the search bar on Spotify and caught my breath in amazement at the picture that popped up: dreamy eyes and gravity-defying hair, x2. No shit, I thought. I’d tap that!
The #1 song was “Closer.” So I clicked on it. And that was all I needed: I was hooked on them forever after. It wasn’t as if it contained any explicit lyrics that screamed, “I’m singing to a girl and this is awesome gay music!” but there is something distinctly gay about this song.
All you think of lately / is getting underneath me
All I dream of lately / is how to get you underneath me
A girl doesn’t sing that to a guy, OK? I was at work listening to this, and I was grinning like a big stupid idiot. I clicked on the artist bio and started reading. A subconscious piece of cognition pulled up the conversation I’d had with Mark months ago and matched the details. Twins. Canada. Write their own songs. Play a lot of instruments. Wait a minute…
I sent Mark an IM. (Did I mention we used to work together? Yeah. We did.) “Hey, do you listen to Tegan and Sara?”
He replied excitedly, “Yes, I played them for you in the car, remember?”
“OMG! Well, get this. I just looked up lesbian artists, and they were one of the suggestions…I’m listening to their new album and it’s AMAZING!!”
“They’re lesbians?! Huh. I had no idea. And I don’t think I’ve heard the new album…”
Mark was an old fan. He didn’t exactly keep up with them, and Heartthrob was not his style anyway. I, however, would not have started listening to any of their earlier stuff nor discovered the amazing world that is T&S if I had never heard this album. I’ve always been a sucker for good pop – call me shallow – but I credit Heartthrob with reaching me. To all the fans who have called them sellouts for their involvement with mainstream music in the past few years, please remember this. Not everyone likes indie rock right away.
(Side note: I eventually fell in love with all of their songs, one at a time. Another one would get stuck in my head and I’d find myself singing it and then I’d add it to my playlist. I’d have to say that as of now I personally prefer the older stuff, although I very much support their exploration into pop. No matter the genre, they really own it.)
And so: the happy, sugar-sweet sounds of Heartthrob resonated with what I was feeling inside. Buoyant, ecstatic, full of light. All of the feelings that come with falling in love. And I was falling in love – with a deeper part of myself as I realized more of my true identity, and with an entire demographic of people. With women.
I listened to this album constantly at work. It made me feel good about myself. And when I would walk the 3 blocks from my apartment to Juneway Terrace Beach in the evenings and absorb the smiling sun and the long shiny hair and bronze skin of long-limbed women, whose hips I suddenly now wanted to press mine against, “Drove Me Wild” or “Love They Say” would pop into my head and I’d sing it to myself quietly, giddy with hope. To this day, I cannot listen to Heartthrob without having flashbacks to that beach and all of the feelings I felt there. The joy of watching the women, and the sudden sharp despair of realizing that I had a boyfriend, and my future was boxed in, forever.
I would get up from my spot on the rocks – as the sun was finally setting and the night sky was changing overhead – and turn away toward the the little graveyard to the north, to begin the long lovely walk to Evanston. I tried to drown my sorrow in walking. I tried to flush from my ears the sweet synth and bouncing beat of Tegan and Sara. As the months went by and I acted the part of a model hetero girlfriend, I stopped listening to that album, because their music was now a knife going in. I replaced the music with crock pot meals and Christmas decorations and lots and lots of hetero sex. I reached a place of fragile calm where I almost believed I was happy.
A few months later, I was sitting abandoned at my parents’ house, alone, shattered, without a job, laptop or change of clothes. I didn’t know how to exist without Mark. I would wake up in terror, crying, shaking, unable to sleep, eat or breathe.
I want your lungs to stop working without me…
Well, they damn well did!
Lesbian or not, my love for him as real; he was my best (and at times, my only) friend and now he was gone. He had said that he couldn’t co-exist with my mood swings anymore. That he questioned the validity of our relationship if I was so traumatized by being with a man. It was my fault: I had killed our love.
I wanted to die. I raided my parents’ medicine cabinet for the most lethal OTC drugs I could find, and recovered only an expired bottle of hydrocodone + acetaminophen pills (I didn’t realize they were expired – but I did when I took about 6 of them and they didn’t do anything). I thought of getting drunk and diving into the lake. I thought of many things. I don’t want to list those things here, now. But I didn’t.
I didn’t because one night, sitting at my brother’s computer, I happened to remember Tegan and Sara, and began watching music video after music video, interview after interview. They were like old friends waiting for me, receiving me with open arms and soothing empathy. I found myself sobbing while hearing their coming out stories on “It Got Better” and smiled through my tears at their adorable funny banters. And Heartthrob again became the soundtrack to my life: I migrated gradually from “How Come You Don’t Want Me Now?” and “Now I’m All Messed Up” to the triumphant “Goodbye, Goodbye” and that tender torch-song “Closer.” The whole world was at my fingertips, thrumming with possibility and hope and yearning. I plugged into Tegan and Sara like a drug. Every day I found hope because of them.
One night, watching “Body Work,” it hit me that Sara Quin is the hottest thing since fire was invented, and thus a new love drove out the misery. I haven’t felt suicidal since.