Sarah Nichols uses the alternative music albums she invokes in Press Play for Heartbreak—by Depeche Mode, The Cure, Joy Division, Radiohead—as a conduit, incantation, exorcism, an archive of obsession. Reading about her experiences with these songs is “like finding a diary after the end of the world…. You can’t say you weren’t warned. This comforts me somehow.” But comforting in the way that the tongue constantly seeks the wound from the pulled tooth. The effect can “make guilt sound like something you’d want,” a mix of pain and pleasure, high and withdrawal, regret and relief. These pieces emphasize the ache, the -algia, of nostalgia for which there is no analgesic except listening to more music, preferably in a dark room.
I challenge you to find someone who blends pop culture with craft as seamlessly as Sarah Nichols does. Press Play is the newest example of her brilliance in this subgenre. “I guess I’ve never cared for reality that much,” she writes in “A Life in Nine Songs: Depeche Mode’s Violator.” Who does? And why bother? Living in the glow of music you love is the far better alternative, and Sarah will tell you why with the expertise that comes only from loving something fully and without remorse.
Sarah Nichols lives and writes in Connecticut. She is the author of ten chapbooks, including Hexenhaus (Milk and Cake Press, 2020) and She May Be a Saint (Porkbelly Press, 2019.) A poet and essayist who writes frequently on popular culture, her work has been widely published. Press Play for Heartbreak is her first collection of non-fiction.