The first words you'll hear upon a visit to local indie-rock band the Wherewithals' MySpace page are "Pack up your shit/ Pack up your shit and get out of here." It's a fitting introduction to the band's oft-bitter, melancholic oeuvre of failed-love songs—and certainly not unfamiliar ground in the realm of songwriting.
Heartache and those who cause it have long been the subjects of great pop songs. From Dion's semi-playful warning about "Runaround Sue," Clapton's epic ode to "Layla" (George Harrison's once-wife Pattie Boyd, whom Clapton longed for, won and married, and then cheated on and divorced) or even Alanis Morissette's screaming about how "You Oughta Know," the paramount accomplishment of such songs—and the reason they're often so successful—is their ability to resonate with audiences. But what if the person "packing up their shit" is you?
Wherewithals lead singer Ben Firestone is my ex. In fact, he's my ex-fiancé and someone I spent six years of my life with. Though he hasn't spoken to me in three weeks, he's been singing about me every Saturday for over six months (assuming band-practice day hasn't changed). And much like I'd imagine it sucked for Joan Baez to hear Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" (whether it's truly about her or not), it isn't always easy for me to listen to the Wherewithals. As Baez probably knows, the only thing harder than hearing a song about how much you suck is hearing a great song about how much you suck—as is the case for me with the Wherewithals' Band of Horses-esque "Let You Go."
The song starts with a lone, brightly strummed guitar before the meandering lead steps in and hooks you. Then, Ben's gruff, world-worn voice (think Jeff Tweedy or Bill Janovitz) spits out such biting sentiments as "I should have let you drown/ I should have let you burn/ I should have let you go/ A long time ago." The Wherewithals also play cute/clever pop like "Robot"—which tells the story of a robot whose hard drive has been broken—and pseudo-romantic tracks like "Slow Again." And though the latter's lyrics—"You've got personality/ You've got all those things that I need/ You've got a smile that kills me/ You've got eyes that bring me to my knees"—probably seem sweet to listeners, they fucking kill me.
And, much like an average-looking guy or gal becomes hot onstage, most of the ugly emotions accompanying my breakup with Ben, believe it or not, melt away when I'm watching him do what he loves. He's at his absolute best onstage, and it makes me feel immensely proud and sad all at once. It also makes me wonder what his songs would be about if things had turned out differently.
I was clearly not welcome at the last Wherewithals show I attended, but I stuck it out because, however narcissistically, I love their songs. I stood face to face with my ex-lover and listened to him sing, vehemently, about me. But it feels like the passion in this band's music is, in some way, mine, too. I'm not sure I'll have enough of the Wherewithals' namesake to attend the next one, but you should, because you just might know exactly (well, not exactly) where their songs are coming from.
The Wherewithals play with the Morals Sunday, Nov. 26, at the Tonic Lounge. 9:30 pm. Cover. 21+. The band plans to release its debut, tentatively titled
in late spring 2007.