Some would say that the best thing about music is that when it hits, you feel no pain. Some people would note that it hits different in that regard. We’re all familiar with these new situational playlists for giving “main character vibes” or “low-key studious” or whatever else Spotify cooks up for your genre tags at the end of the year. This playlist of songs sounded better when I lived in New York. Everything on it is great, but it’s all amplified by people living their lives around you and passing in and out of view, to whatever awaits them next.
It’s kind of a beautiful thing that in New York, one embarrassing event is wiped away simply by keeping it moving to another street. After you turn a corner, nobody knows that you had to look at the map on your phone to find a restaurant. Nobody knows that you slipped on ice and fell on your ass two blocks back. You can disappear. You don’t have to be anyone or anything you don’t want to be. And that’s not to say that it isn’t that way everywhere, but the frequency with which New York allows you to be someone else, or a truer form of yourself, occurs more than anywhere else I’ve been.
You’ll notice there’s a song called “Chicago” on this playlist. I know. I was listening to it on the train one time and it made me think about all of the people and all of the places I’d seen. I was about to go on a first date and wanted to think about anything except for the date. I didn’t want to be a guy going on a first date, I wanted to look and feel like this was our forty-third date, a date we didn’t even think about. We stopped counting months ago, in my mind. The date went well. We kissed each other good night on a street corner in the East Village. As we stood there, unconcerned with the world around us, a loud beeping sound kept going off. I’d guess it was about 30 seconds before a guy said, “Yo, excuse me but we gotta get this trash,” and NY’s finest, the sanitation department, made us move aside so they could clean up that part of First Avenue. We laughed and said our goodbyes, then I put my headphones on and walked to the train. All things go.
There’s a very goofy and corny Beastie Boys song on here but I love that song. It’s so dated at this point, a unifying post-9/11 track for everyone to get along to. It’s also used in my favorite scene of Succession, a show I spent a lot of time watching in New York. It was on in the background of hangs and I’d watch it by myself when a new episode dropped, then maybe I’d catch an old ep with friends who hadn’t seen it before, then I’d hear it from the other room when a roommate would watch the new episode. It was inescapable. The Succession scene is in the first episode, you can’t miss it. Jeremy Strong is Kendall and you learn everything you ever need to know about Kendall in this scene. He is out of touch, he is overconfident in his abilities, he believes himself to be a man of the people but has more money than God. The more I watched Succession, the more I thought about that scene, and how his character doesn’t develop but stays static in such an entertaining way.
The other day, my almost-lifelong New Yorker friend said, “There’s a level of abuse that everyone can tolerate when they live in New York, and you find out where your breaking point is, sooner or later.” I think spending a good chunk of change on noise-cancelling headphones, mainly to block out every sound my roommates or neighbors or just other people on the train made was my sign that I was done. I wasn’t really “over” New York, but I don’t find myself wishing I was there. When I listen to this playlist, I can at least remember how it felt. Here’s hoping it makes you feel that way about a city you love.