Like a lot of dot-com success stories, the idea for Ruined Music came over a casual lunch. Only, this was not businessmen or even buddies, but a couple discussing their relationship.
"We were talking about all the songs that we would not be able to listen to anymore if we were to break up," co-founder Mary Phillips-Sandy recalled. "Bryan [Bruchman, boyfriend and co-founder] is a musician. I love music. We made mixtapes for each other in the beginning. So there's a lot of music that we share and have shared as our relationship grew. And the list of songs that would be ruined would be a very long one."
Phillips-Sandy left the lunch still mulling over the topic and eventually put her thoughts to paper, writing the story of an early boyfriend who had ruined Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia" for her forever. As a writer and editor by day, she then convinced a few friends to write similar essays, which she and Bruchman began posting May 1 on the Web under the address RuinedMusic.com.
Within weeks, the two were being bombarded with essays, and they now post three new pieces a week from ruined-music victims around the world.
"The word of mouth has been really incredible," Phillips-Sandy said. "People love to talk about it and I think that really proves to us that it is in fact something that we all have in common."
In just over six months, RuinedMusic.com has amassed a sizable audience and become a favorite link for popular music blogs like Stereogum.
"I think there's an element of voyeurism for sure," Phillips-Sandy said. "People like to read about other people's tragedies. But there's also an element that people can relate to it and feel compassion. And a lot of the stories we've gotten have just been really funny, especially the ones from high school, awkward teenage things. There's a cringe factor, but the stories that we post are well-written, funny and a good read."
Although a majority of the essays chronicle bad breakups, Ruined Music's founders encourage all stories about music being ruined.
"People have sent us brief stories about people being in car accidents, where like, 'This song was playing while I rolled my car three times,' " Bruchman said. "Others are about friends, a relationship but not necessarily lovers. And just general time periods. A lot of songs associated with high school, where some people don't have the best experience."
"We had a great story from a guy who was performing at a high school talent show and he and his friends tried to cover the song and failed miserably, got booed off the stage and nowadays that song just makes him feel really lousy when he hears it," Phillips-Sandy added. "I guess the idea is that forces beyond your control can take away your enjoyment of a song, and that's not fair, so tell us about it and maybe you'll feel better."
And that, along with some good entertainment, is Phillips-Sandy and Bruchman's motivation for keeping RuinedMusic.com going.
"People have told us it's been cathartic," Phillips-Sandy said. "We've definitely heard that somehow telling your story, getting it out in public, being able to laugh about it, knowing you're not alone, that that can make things better for people. And if the site works that way for people, that's great, because no one should lose a song they like because of something someone else does."
And that includes actual musicians themselves. So, in an attempt to make a few of our favorite stars feel better, we decided to publish their ruined-music stories ...
Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach "I'll tell you a ruined song, dude. It was 'Look What the Cat Dragged In' by Poison. And it was when I was 16, I was losing my virginity. My mother walked in the room while that song was playing. It wasn't a very good experience. So 'Look What the Cat Dragged In' just reminds me of lying on my bed butt-naked and my mom looking at me like, 'Oh my God!' And I'm like, 'Oh my God!' Embarrassing."
Bono of U2 "A good friend of mine, DJ Howie B, was playing with us when we played Nuremberg [Germany]. And we played in this place in Nuremberg where all the Nazis were buried. And Howie B was very angsty about playing there. And I said, 'Look, music will chase the demons out of this place.' And he wasn't sure he could do it. And I said, 'Well, it's up to you, you know.' And my idea is, let's make fun of the Nazis. So I heard him go on, and he played [the Three Degrees'] 'When Will I See You Again.' And now I can't listen to that song without thinking about Nazis."
Brandon Flowers of the Killers "My ex-girlfriend, two girlfriends back, really liked to listen to Suede a lot. And they're a good band, but I can't listen to Suede without thinking of her, and I really don't want to think of her. That kind of has ruined Suede for me."
Keith Nelson of Buckcherry "I have an ex-girlfriend and her ringtone on my cell phone was 'I Walk the Line' by Johnny Cash. And every time she would call me the song would start playing, and I can't listen to the song anymore. It's been ruined."
Carl Newman of the New Pornographers "There was an album from the mid-'90s by a band called the Scud Mountain Boys called Dance the Night Away, which is this really mellow kind of heartbreaking record. And I listened to it all through this breakup and it served its purpose. And I loved it during that breakup, but then it was like, 'I will never listen to that album ever again,' 'cause if I did I knew it would take me back to this hideous place. Thank God for that album, but I just want it to disappear now."
Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters "God bless the Rolling Stones, but did they really have to do the Microsoft ad? Did they really need the money? Because now whenever I hear 'Start Me Up,' I think of Microsoft. It's just sad."