On Sarah Cothran, Apocalyptic Romance, And Geopolitical Fan Fiction
THIS ESSAY WAS ORIGINALLY SHARED ON JUNE 23, 2021
Bob Marley was right. When music hits, you feel no pain. But that isn’t what makes music special. The best thing about music is that if you ask 100 people why they like a specific song, you will get 100 unique responses. It doesn't matter who wrote a song, why they wrote it, or when it came out; certain songs strike certain people in the impossibly beautiful way that it becomes the soundtrack to their life. The material takes on new meaning and purpose for someone not present at the moment of creation. The same was true at the dawn of man as it is now. The only thing that's changed is the production.
The sole purpose of Spin Cycle is to define the way I've defined myself my whole life. I grew up being one of those kids who swear music is their entire life. People would ask what that meant, and I never really had an answer. Music was everything to me. It was the reason I got out of bed, it was my every waking thought, and it was the thing I look forward to the most. I was in love with music. The only thing I ever wanted to do with my life was to enjoy music and the discussion of it, which I've been fortunate enough to do. When you read anything I write, you are witnessing my attempt at explaining how I explain myself. I'm telling you why this song made me who I am and how it can do the same for you. Or maybe I can't! I don't know. That's the beauty of it all.
Let me give you the perfect example. I don't know how much time you spend on TikTok, but it has become a part of my daily routine. Multiple parts, if I'm honest. The sheer amount of creativity is impressive, but what I love the most are the musicians trying to make a name for themselves. I love witnessing raw talent on display. It may not get other people to click the link in their bio, but it works on me. I am the person clicking those links.
Lately, I've seen many TikTok's featuring this audio where a young woman is singing this big, dramatic hook about lying with her lover as an atom bomb falls. It's the kind of thing that sounds like the romantic cue from an anime you've never seen. There is a sullen sense of acceptance that, even in the clip, sells the whole thing. You know you cannot run or hide. The end is here, and all we have is this moment before everything changes. Of course, that is always true, but to have it crystallized by a mass extinction drives the notion home.
You put your final suit on
I paint my fingernails
Oh, we're going out in style, babe
And everything's on sale
We creep up on extinction
I pull your arms right in
I weep and say goodnight, love
While my organs pack it in
And here it is, our final night alive
And as the Earth runs to the ground
Oh girl, it's you that I lie with
As the atom bomb locks in
Oh, it's you I watch TV with
As the world, as the world caves in
The whole thing evokes epic fantasy and emotion. It's what many awkward parents across America would probably call vibes in a desperate attempt to connect with their children. The voice in the audio is Sarah Cothran, but the song is not hers. "As The World Caves In" was written and released by Matt Maltese in 2018. At the time of release, Maltese told The Fader:
"It's a love song based around Theresa May and Donald Trump having one last night of romance together while they trigger atomic warfare. Hopefully, it comes across romantic, sexy, but also sinister and stupid."
I’ve thought about the song and its inspiration every day for the last week. Here I am, much like many others, falling in love with what sounds like an epic love song about the final moment's soulmates share at the end of the world. The material didn't serve as the soundtrack to any epic romantic moments in my life, but my mind races with a highlight reel of unforgettable heartbeats as it plays. The song is retroactively working its way into my life. As I sit and type, "As The World Caves In" is rummaging my subconscious and aligning itself with any instance of romantic vulnerability.
We've heard songs like this before, though they come in many forms. I don't know if it's a specific tempo or melody, or pitch, but something happens in songwriting that makes a track evoke a sense of universal relatability. It's as if the song knows everything about you. Every thought you've kept to yourself, every doubt and insecurity, and all your hopes and dreams. All the intimate details of what makes up your identity are somehow present in a piece of music you didn't create. Not unlike a miracle, a comes along that perfectly captures a feeling you've already felt or one that you long to know, as if it's soundtracking memories before they happen.
Soundtrack moments are any instance when your life shifts. It can be a big or small change, but it signifies transition. The perfect example is your first real kiss. I don't mean the first time someone that wasn't a family member kissed you. When was the first time your lips connected with someone in such a way that you felt that thing that we identify as love? Some people experience that as their first kiss, but others don't know that feeling until much later in life. Some people spend their entire life searching for it. But if you ask anyone to describe it, they will most likely recall something from movies or television with perfect music cues. We associate music with memorable moments.
Some soundtrack moments haven't happened yet, but there's a song I know will fit the occasion. I've never driven through Alabama and felt the cool shade of the pine trees lining king stretches of highway, but when that day comes, I know Jason Isbell's "Alabama Pines" will be on the stereo. He's already set the scene. I just need to live it.
"As The World Caves In" takes us to the end of the world. The planet is dying, all hope is lost, and nothing can stop what's coming. The two of us, me and [TBD], are about to share our last night on Earth. We dress in our finest clothes, drink ourselves blind with red wine, and pass clumsily dance around our living room like we're the last couple sharing the final dance before we cease to exist. There is nowhere to run and nothing to do except being together. Everything is ending. We are all we have. This moment is our last.
If I close my eyes, the song cue hits in that split-second before the explosion eviscerates us, a Zack Snyder level slo-mo sequence plays out. One hand gently moves through my partner's hair while the other rests on their lower back. Our eyes are locked. We are inches apart and still ever-so-slightly pulling one another forward. As my mind's eye moves like a camera, swirling around the two of us at breakneck speeds, everything falls into place. There are no more worries or pain. In that instant, we are infinite.
And as all that information flows through my brain as Sarah Cathron's soaring vocals bring the chorus to life, a wave of immense anxiety washes over me. I'm not overthinking the end of the world. Much like Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, I don’t lose sleep over the ending. The gentle embrace of an endless abyss is, in many ways, a comfort. It’s the hug at the end of everything reminding you that it’s okay even when it isn’t. What I stumble over is the other half of the story. The person with me at the end of the world. The last person I see before it all goes black.
Some of you are reading this right now imagining the person beside you as the atom bomb falls. If I asked you to say their name out loud, you would reply without hesitation. Maybe they're your spouse or your best friend. You have someone. I love your certainty, and I love you. Good job.
The rest of you probably feel like the business center of your mind is currently on fire, and the employees are trying to salvage as many files as possible. One person? Is it the person I'm with right now? Is it the person I was with before? Is it someone I have yet to meet? They have to give us a warning, right? The bomb couldn't just fall tomorrow. That wouldn't make any sense, right? I need time to overthink!
(I also love you. Keep going.)
Ultimately, it doesn't matter who you would choose. Whoever is present when that moment comes is going to be the person. You won't get to swap them out. If there is any lesson to learn from the song, time is of the essence. As the hook grapples with soaking up every last millisecond of those final moments, the track urges us to live every moment with that sense of urgency. Find people to love and love them. Period.
I can't say that every relationship I've had was good or even healthy. There have been countless times that I have made mistakes that I've hurt people, and those are just the instances that I know. But after everything I've been through and the stories of people I've met along the way, the one thing I know for sure is my utter lack of control. Whether it's the atom bomb or a meteor, or a drunk driver on a Tuesday afternoon, everything can end in an instant. With that in mind, it only makes sense to love and be loved in return. I can think of no greater mission.
But if we're entirely honest, I do have an image of the person watching the end of the world with me. It's not so much a physical depiction as it is the feeling I get. There is warmth. If your home can be skin and bone, and they are where I leave my head to rest. As we gaze upon an impossible sky with fists clenched and watery eyes, I'll know they are more than enough for me. The scene is set. I just need to live it.
My only hope is that they like me.