From Strangers to You Really Got Me


I knew the relationship was over when she told me she’d never heard of the Kinks. I could overlook her mood swings, her occasional cruelty and even those all-too-frequent phone calls with her “ex”-girlfriend, but music ended up being the deal breaker.

I had given her a mix tape, and I chose tunes that lived in my heart. Buddy Holly, Sandy Denny, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe, Kate Bush, Television, Big Star — a deeply personal canon.

I stayed up all night working out the ideal segues, pulling records and dropping the needle just so. I calculated minutes and seconds for the perfect track list. When “Waterloo Sunset” fit at the end of side two, I watched the turning reels come to a stop and paused in satisfaction.


A good omen, I thought.

At around 6 a.m. — I couldn’t wait longer — I rode my red Schwinn Cruiser to deliver the treasure enclosed in its plastic case. (I didn’t have a car at the time because a few weeks earlier my husband of 14 years had left, taking the VW Beetle with him, along with most of our record collection.)

I almost always have some piece of music running through my mind. This internal jukebox accompanies, amplifies and often makes sense of my emotions. Because it’s so foundational, music has connected me to everyone I’ve ever loved.

When I met him in college in Oklahoma, my ex-husband already owned more records than anyone I’d ever known. He kept them arranged alphabetically in crates stacked one on top of the other. Right after we got together, he gave me Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.”

After we were married, I spent countless hours by the turntable, studying liner notes, traversing rock’s back pages and making new discoveries — about music and about myself. Because it was the record he gave me in the beginning, we thought of “Blood on the Tracks” — ironically, one of the most famous break-up albums of all time — as “our” record.

One bit of “Tangled Up in Blue” pretty much sums up what would eventually happen.

We drove that car as far as we could,

Abandoned it out west.


Split up on a dark sad night,

Both agreeing it was best.

And so it was.

Fast forward from that ending to me on my bike, pulling up outside the woman’s house, cassette in hand. I rang the doorbell, heart racing. It was not quite 6:30 a.m.

She took a while to come to the door and then said, “What?” She didn’t look happy to see me.

I held out the tape.

She hesitated before accepting it, and then shrugged. “You don’t want to come in, do you? I have to get ready for work.”

Days later, she listened to the tape, or said she did. When I asked what she thought, she told me she just didn’t get it. She hadn’t heard of the artists, and she didn’t like any of them.

“Who are the Kinks? That’s a weird name.”

I wish I could say I ended things right then. But I let the affair drag on for months, like a scratched record that keeps skipping until someone gets up to lift the needle.

Many people who switch from being straight to gay will say, “It’s not the gender. It’s the person.” For me, I knew deep inside that it really wasn’t about gender — it was a passion for shared music I required in my love life.

Shortly thereafter, I met a remarkable woman who exceeded my wildest expectations. Cheryl has been a music lover since girlhood. An avid collector and archivist, she is most at home digging through the vinyl bins in search of “nuggets.” She came to L.A. to become a record producer.

One of our favorite stories is about her first visit to my house after we started dating. I watched nervously as she scanned my sparsely populated shelves of CDs and mere two crates of records. This was a year and a half after my ex-husband left.

“Nice selection,” she commented.

“I used to have more,” I said.

She burst out laughing.

Years later, I can hear in that laughter a prelude to our music-filled future and extremely happy marriage. Her male colleagues often complain about wives and girlfriends who think records take up too much space and who don’t want to go to any more concerts. My wife laughed back then because she could tell I wouldn’t be that way. Plus, she had a sizable record collection and knew she’d more than make up for whatever I had lost.

On a wall in our house, we have a picture of the two of us posing with Ray Davies after a show at the Wiltern. She not only knows full well who the Kinks are, she understands what they mean to me.

The mutual soundtrack of our life just keeps getting better.

Audrey Bilger is co-editor, along with Michele Kort, of “Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage,” a 2013 Lambda Literary Awards fnalist.

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