Songs w/ Substance #6: Eels – “Line in the Dirt”


You don’t need to be in the midst of a break-up to enjoy a good break-up song. I’ll rock out to Motley Crue’s “Don’t Go Away Mad” or Alannis Morisette’s “You Outta Know” any day of the week. But it does take one hell of a break-up song to reach down and rattle you the way a real break-up can.

In Eel’s “Line in the Dirt,” singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett doesn’t try to create some sappy dramatization of departed lovers. This break-up is real, raw, and reflects the idea that life is never quite like the movies, not even the sad ones. There are no grand crescendos or culminations, just a last fleeting gasp of a relationship that has been fading for some time. The falsetto whimper when “she says that I don’t want to be alone, but I think that you do,” possesses a sadness so palpable that it can bring you to your knees—a line sung so tragically that it can make you feel alive.

The song doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for hope, and it shouldn’t. Break-ups hurt and don’t often leave you in a very hopeful place. He “drew a line into the dirt, and dared her to step right across it, and she did.” Now it’s over. Now what’s next?

Yet, in some ways, the song still comforts. It comforts in the sense that whenever we are sad or lonely or hopeless, we know that we’re not alone. Suffering is a part of life, and sometimes music can alleviate that burden by reminding us that that suffering is shared. He may be “driving straight into the night,” but if he drives for long enough, he’ll eventually reach the dawn. Hopefully the radio is blasting some good break-up tunes to keep him company until he gets there.


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Songs w/ Substance is a running segment that explores songs that say something meaningful about the world and the human beings that inhabit it. Aside from being good music, these songs provide powerful social commentary about the human experience—about what it means to live and love and laugh and die on this planet. These write-ups represent my reflections on those lyrics. If you would like to share your own, please do so in the comments section below.  


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