The Heart Will Go On


The heart’s a resilient little creature. No matter how many times it’s stomped, stretched, squashed, and splintered, the sucker regenerates. It’s practically built with an Acme warranty. But can it really break? The great poets, pop songwriters, and Dr. Phils of the world seem to think so. Still, one shouldn’t exclude AM-friendly powerpop bands of the late ’70s from the lonely-hearts club. Progenitors of nerd-boy patois like Elvis Costello, the Rubinoos, and the Chords managed to muffle their tears by revving up the guitar and drum. With the aptly titled 1980 single “Breaks My Heart,” Chords vocalist Billy Hassett climbs to the peak of a vocal timbre like it’s a twine-bound ladder. And his bandmates are the only guys there to hold that ladder steady.

Portland, Oregon’s the Exploding Hearts understood this special group dynamic. And they also knew it took more than a ripping C-chord to make a guitar romantic, which is what they named their CD. Guitar Romantic is a straight-from-’78, post-adolescent meltdown. Amid the clipped production, Adam “Baby” Cox cops Hassett’s chorus on “Thorns in Roses” with a vocal one-two: “I’ve got a heart/till you tear it apart.” “Modern Kicks,” “Rumours in Town,” and “Jailbird” froth with pure earnestness and not a trace of novelty. Admit it: Hearing twentysomethings in 2003 croon “I’m just a jailbird for your love”—like they mean it—is as likely as catching Radiohead on a Sullivan rerun. Guitar Romantic is timeless; youth encapsulated in a Budweiser bottle. And now, it feels eerily prescient.

On July 20th, 2003, Cox and bandmates Jeremy Gage and Matthew Fitzgerald were killed in a van accident near Eugene, Oregon. The incident once more tests the endurance of a miraculous instrument: trodden over time by such circumstances, but never really broken.