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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Valentine's Day is this Saturday, don't say we didn't warn you - plenty of time to get into the spirit of hearts and flowers. We're going to spend the next few minutes on the other side of love - the disappointment, the heart break. It's a subject musician Eleni Mandell specializes in with her sweetly dark tales of love lost. She credits that sensibility to growing up in the 1970's and '80's in the Valley, outside of L.A.

Ms. ELENI MANDELL (Song artist): There's something sort of missing there and it's not that pretty. I guess I sort of find the romance in the emptiness in a way, romance in the mini mall.

(Soundbite of song "It Wasn't the Time, It Was the Color")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) It wasn't the time, it was the color. My mother wore a yellow dress carrying my brother. The summer always stung, bright like metal, my bank was built with green glass…

MONTAGNE: Under that metallic glare, Eleni Mandell remembers her first kiss with the cutest boy in school.

Ms. MANDELL: It was a week after the end of eighth grade and I was with friends after getting back from the beach, waiting for one of my friend's mothers to pick us up. And he was on a bus driving by and saw us. And he and his friend got off the bus and he said, aren't you going to kiss me goodbye? You know, he kissed me more than I knew he was going to kiss me. And I remember really feeling like my knees sort of buckled and…

(Soundbite of song "It Wasn't the Time, It Was the Color")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) …shag carpet, brown sofa. The summer always hot, white, and still. He asked if I would kiss him goodbye. I knew the answer, I will. One look, one look, one look and he'll remember. One look, one look, one look and he'll remember.

MONTAGNE: Eleni Mandell's first kiss led to this song, "It Wasn't the Time, It Was the Color." It would take the advent of MySpace, but that boy proved he hadn't forgotten, even years after junior high.

Ms. MANDELL: He was this sort of celebrity figure at school, so when he contacted me, I just about died. I was so excited that he remembered me.

MONTAGNE: There are moments when it's really particular about the time - shag carpet, brown sofa - it didn't mention, I don't think, an avocado refrigerator.

Ms. MANDELL: No.

MONTAGNE: But that would…

Ms. MANDELL: We did have velvety, green wall paper, in addition, but that didn't make the song.

MONTAGNE: I'm not completely surprised that you would have memories that fix in a sense on the fabrics and the colors, partly because I gather that you make a lot of your own clothes. There's a song called "Needle and Thread"…

(Soundbite of song "Needle and Thread")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) Needle and thread, needle and thread, keep me together, keep me together.

(Speaking) I was having a romantic entanglement and it, not going exactly as I wanted it to, and I realized how therapeutic sewing was for me. I thought, oh, if I just make this dress, then, you know, I'm going to survive this. And it's the one activity I've found that really focuses me and sort of gets me out of my own head.

(Soundbite of song "Needle and Thread")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) For now I'll try to be good, for once, was careful and smart. Forever looking for the miracle and dreaming. Needle and thread, needle and thread…

MONTAGNE: You know, when I think of needle and thread, I also think of things one might wear, and for a woman, something you might wear to attract, or the opposite of memory of something you were wearing when everything went bad.

Ms. MANDELL: Yeah, I mean and also the hope that the new dress or, you know, the perfect outfit is going to somehow change somebody's opinion of you and you'll fall in love and everything will work out.

(Soundbite of song "Artificial Fire")

MONTAGNE: And if it doesn't, Eleni Mandell takes on that subject with the title track of her new album, "Artificial Fire."

Ms. MANDELL: Well, the title is a translation from English to French back to English, because I was studying - I was trying to learn French from my friends in Quebec. And I was in Montreal, and there were fireworks, and I asked my friend, how do you say that in French? And he said, Feu d'artifice, and I thought, oh, that's so interesting, artificial fire. That is kind of the perfect metaphor for another failed romance.

(Soundbite of song "Artificial Fire")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) I was drawing a map, but I couldn't have known, take a right, take a left, you'll know when you get there. The puzzle will fit, late one night Montreal with his clothes on the floor and his artificial fire.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course fireworks have all kinds, though, of scenes in old movies where you see the fireworks…

Ms. MANDELL: Right.

MONTAGNE: …and you know something's happening that you're not allowed to see and usually it comes to something of bad end. It's never the wedding, it's the romance.

Ms. MANDELL: Right. Yeah, and so if it's artificial fire, then it isn't even quite the romance. It's, you know, a close imitation.

MONTAGNE: I'm almost wanting to say Happy Valentine's Day, but I suppose - what would be a different version of that for you?

Ms. MANDELL: Well, you know, I really love all these experiences that I've had and I definitely haven't give up on love. I have a sweetheart. So, you know, I keep plugging away on it. So Happy Valentine's Day is good.

(Soundbite of song "I've Got the Right Side")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) …I've got the right side.

MONTAGNE: Happy Valentine's Day.

Ms. MANDELL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "I've Got the Right Side")

Ms. MANDELL: (Singing) …the right side. I've got the right side. I've got…

MONTAGNE: Hear songs from Eleni Mandell's new CD plus a full concert on our website at nprmusic.org. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(Soundbite of "I've Got the Right Side")

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