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A Love Letter to “The Forbidden Love EP”

Possible romantic Teddie Bernard on the pliability of Death Cab for Cutie’s “The Forbidden Love EP.”

By Entertainment, Featured

illustration showing a cowboy boot clipped to the branch of a wispy tree. A person is holding onto other branches, gazing and moving toward the boot.

Illustration by Teddie Bernard.

You’re not always going to be the hero or the victim.

Sometimes we want all our good intentions to be enough to make us good. Sometimes we want the fact that we care, that we try, to be enough to justify our actions. There’s a hopelessness in knowing you can’t always be the one who saves the day, and you won’t always be the one being saved. Sometimes you’re the one who hurts others. Sometimes you’re the one who hurts yourself. And sometimes, a connection you shared with someone that seemed entirely important and helpful, well…

It becomes clear that “it was hardly love.”

“The Forbidden Love EP” came out a few weeks after I was born in October of 2000. The five-song EP includes two reworks of songs from Death Cab for Cutie’s prior album, “We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes;” specifically, an alternate version of “Company Calls Epilogue” and an acoustic version of “405.” I found the EP 16 years later in the used section of Down in the Valley — a record and CD shop in Golden Valley, Minnesota, infamous not for a great selection of music but rather for its unabashed sales of bongs and other drug paraphernalia. It wasn’t the classiest place to buy CDs, but they frequently had music in their used section that I couldn’t find in Minneapolis record stores like the Electric Fetus, where music fans actually went to buy music. Little did I know, this three or four dollar purchase would go on to become one of my favorite twenty minutes of music. 

I became really hooked on the EP in December of 2016. I was a freshman in high school. My first serious relationship had started a month earlier. The warm angst of the EP stuck out to me. I was young and confused and discovering who I was. The EP showed me a messy kind of future, one where sex and love and emotions were traded across seasons. A future where contradictions of love and hate and passion and apathy existed simultaneously in one space. 

I always wanted to be a romantic, and maybe I am. It’s that “maybe” that draws me back to this EP again and again. The songs are all heartfelt, they’re all nostalgic for the kind of simplicity young relationships bring. Trading letter jackets, visiting parents’ houses, taking photo booth pictures. Maybe these are romantic. But it’s not enough to sustain ourselves when we start to grow up, when the gaslighting comes into play, when you start questioning your sexuality … Who remembers a borrowed letter jacket, then?

I became hooked on “The Forbidden Love EP” again in December of 2020. I was a sophomore in college. The same relationship I had started five years ago had just ended. Those contradicting emotions were what I was wallowing in the most. Back then the two of us took photos at prom but now they’re a reminder of broken promises. Back then we stayed up every night on the phone but later I’ll block her number. Did I do the right things? Did she? Did we try to minimize the damage between the two of us, or did the degradation of our feelings hurt us both much more than we care to admit?

My listening habits four years apart bookended a chapter of my life that feels otherwise nonlinear and hard to chart. The way the EP leads you through different realities, different ways people come together and push away, makes it an apt EP for both the start and end of a relationship, especially for someone who’s “maybe” romantic. 

The EP opens with “Photobooth,” a melancholic song about memories, summer, and a relationship that is passionate in extremes; love and hate flipped like a coin. It’s about a summer love fading as autumn comes around, about a narrator realizing that their relationship is ultimately hurtful. “Technicolor Girls” feels like a movie set high school. Girls gossip on phones, boys are “transistor radios,” teachers break rules in the parking lot. The most treasured item is a borrowed letter jacket. It’s deeply heternomative but in a way that feels naive, picturbook-esque. “Song for Kelly Huckaby” is about photographs and the memories that arrive from them, speeding through the streets in a car. “405 (Acoustic)” breaks my heart. All of the angst of a love that isn’t working from “Photobooth” has returned, the narrator in a relationship where their love keeps “twisting the truth.” It’s about driving on terrible highways to visit someone you know doesn’t care as much as you do and how that kind of effort deteriorates someone’s spirit. The acoustic cover works much better than the original, adding a folksy lightness to the song. “Company Calls Epilogue (Alternate)” is about the narrator’s love getting married to someone else and how that wedding affects them. Deeply angsty and filled to the brim with self-pity, it’s the last stab in the heart of a relationship that never worked out. 

Despite all the sadness — despite the absolute heartbreak that ending on “Company Calls Epilogue (Alternate)” leaves you with — this EP carries a lot of love with it. It’s an EP about trying. Trying to make sense of a summer fling, trying to make your high school romance last, trying to drive a car really fast, and trying desperately, desperately, to do anything to make it work. To do anything to get your love back, and fail. You fail, and maybe you’re the one who was in the wrong; maybe you’re the one who said the last hurtful thing that pushed it all over the edge. You’re not a hero, you’re not a victim, you’re not a villain. You’re a hurt person, a hurt person who tried

When I listen to the EP, I’ll play it back to back. Sometimes just two or three times, but if I’m really wallowing, I can listen to it anywhere up to eight times in a row, filling hours of my time with the same five tracks. It’s a cyclical story in that way. You pick yourself back up after the broken wedding at the end, you arrive back in the photobooth with the summer love you know won’t last. And it repeats, all over again. You know it’s going to go wrong eventually, but those little moments of joy, those chords that absolutely strike your heart, feel so good. You’ll do it again and again and again.

I’m happy to say I’m in a better place than I was in December of 2020 and December of 2016. And as much as I love “The Forbidden Love EP,” part of me wonders if something like it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m in love again, and I still love this EP, but it doesn’t feel like an anchor on my heart. It doesn’t feel like it’s pulling me back towards the same fate, towards the same five-song conclusion, again and again. Instead, it’s a piece of the sails. It’s a part of me, sewn into what helps me move forward. But rather than pulling me away from a happier self, it reminds me of where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

But maybe that’s too romantic. 

I think there’s room for growth. Part of being hurt is learning to heal, learning that nothing holds true forever. As noted in “Technicolor Girls”:

“And as they all grow older, the truth will be understood. Because we never turn out the way we thought we would.”

Teddie Bernard (BFA 2023) is the Comics Editor at F Newsmagazine. They have never had a Pepsi.

Teddie Bernard (BFA 2023) is a multimedia artist and cartoonist who has never had a Pepsi. Find more of their work at www.teddiebernard.net.
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