Our Love

Album: The Instigator (2002)
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  • Rhett Miller opens his second solo album with this pop-rock guitar number that compares his complicated love life to the affairs of Czech novelist Franz Kafka and German composer Richard Wagner.

    On a break between albums with his band, the Old 97's, the singer went on a backpacking trip to Europe in 2001, where he caught a production of Wagner's opera Tristan And Isolde at the Prague Opera House. Not realizing the show was seven hours long, Miller had a lot of time to kill between acts and was fortunate to have a copy of Kafka's letters to occupy himself. He also read up on Wagner and discovered a connection between the artists. He recalled in a 2022 Songfacts interview:

    "As I researched [Wagner], I just realized what a creep he was, politically, with his antisemitism and his friendship with Hitler. I also realized, just in terms of lifestyle choices, how much he had in common with Kafka. They were both these intense artists, who lived and died by their work, and threw themselves into their work. And both of them wound up having affairs with wives of their friends. That connection between the two of them - one of them, a historic antisemite, and one of them, Kafka, my favorite Jewish writer."

    Miller also saw similarities in the men's romantic histories and his own struggles in a relationship with a woman who was already taken, which inspired the song.

    "I, at the time, had just met the woman I was going to end up marrying," he continued. "She also had a boyfriend at the time. I was falling in love and it was forbidden and both of these wildly different men were involved in these forbidden romances. It all kind of stacked up and became this song, and it's such a weird song. It's got this historical structure where I'm talking about Wagner and then I'm talking about Kafka, but really, I'm thinking about my own stupid situation."
  • The first verse recalls Wagner's infatuation with the German poet/author Mathilde Wesendonck, which ultimately destroyed his marriage but inspired the Wesendonck Lieder, five songs set to Mathilde's poems, and his dramatic composition of Tristan And Isolde. The opera, based on Gottfried von Strassburg's adaptation of the 12th-century romance, premiered in 1865. By this time, Wagner's affair with Mathilde had long ended and he was involved with Cosima Bulow, the daughter of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. She was also the pregnant wife of Tristan And Isolde's conductor, Hans von Bulow. Wagner was the father of the baby girl, who was given the name Isolde.

    The second verse references Kafka's relationship with Milena Jesenska, a Czech writer whom he shared a passionate correspondence with from 1920 to 1923. Kafka was acquainted with Milena's husband, Ernst Pollak, a Jewish literary critic who moved in the same circle of intellectuals in Prague. Although the affair didn't last, the love letters endured in the collection Briefe an Milena (Letters To Milena), first published in 1952.
  • The Instigator, Miller's second solo album, was released in 2002, a year after the Old 97's dropped Satellite Rides. The singer made his solo debut 13 years earlier when he issued Mythologies in 1989.
  • The album was produced by Jon Brion, who was a touring musician with Aimee Mann's and 'Til Tuesday before becoming a producer and film score composer (Magnolia, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind). Miller credits Brion with making a weird song like "Our Love" work.

    "It's one of those things where it should not work, but for whatever reason, it does," he told Songfacts. "And it's certainly helped by Jon Brion's production, which is such a great, tight recording of a song."


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