By Mackenzie Patel
Want Esteemed Contributor
Goddamn it. If only the opening measures of “Peer Gynt,” arguably the most calming and beautiful tune ever created, didn’t revolt me so much. My head groggily raised itself from the pillow, a curtain of half greasy hair tickling my clumpy eyelashes and chapped lips. A shapeless lump of flesh—my arm—groped for the phone, itching to strike the grimy screen until the fluttering notes of flute and violin were killed until tomorrow morning at precisely 8:13 a.m.
I never set my alarm to normal times, like 8:15 or 8:30. That gloriously boring luxury was made for suit and tie schmucks, not almost-women with absolutely nothing in their lives together.
The trip to the bathroom was a blurry haze, my contacts not yet inflaming my eyeballs and my hands too lazy to shove a pair of cat-eye glasses onto my face. I suddenly remembered the gift that I bought myself the day before and smiled excitedly. Today, today would be that self-defining day where everything dramatically changed and I would forever be branded as a trendy hipster.
I had barely finished squirting too much toothpaste onto my brush when my fingers crawled towards the radio on the counter. An icon of green, sliced by little black lines, quavered and expanded under my touch, my own digital world of personal sound. The playlists laughed their quirky titles and I blushed at the songs gracing the “Recently Played” list (I had a little too much amusement with the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana last night).
It was more thrilling than opening a package of Girl Scout cookies, more freeing than discovering an 8:30 class was canceled because the professor was hungover. Led Zeppelin was about to be the delicious anthem to my unremarkable, now remarkable, morning. The faucet spouted its watery chorus, joining in with Robert Plant wailing about some marketable stairway to heaven. And then the gooey brush hit my teeth, and nothing except the sound of bristles grinding against my pinkish gums was heard. Robert returned in full force once my trembling fingers painted eyeliner onto the lidded canvas, the beginning notes of “Stairway to Heaven” forever lost between my teeth (until I replayed it, of course). I never enjoyed realizing and then covering up my early morning flaws, but today, patting a sticky concealer over my eye bags and splotches was the ultimate 70s rock pleasure.
“Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow
And did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind”
No, Robert Plant, I did not.
Clothes that projected to the world “I don’t care even though I secretly do” covered my frame. Andy Warhol Converse laced up. Headphones jammed into a tangled wad in my palm. I ditched my cream-colored walls and cream-colored apartment for the blue of the world, resounding with nothing but snoring students and the sighs of dissatisfied bus drivers.
The bus ride to campus was uneventful and yet a daily, unforgettable experience—I now looked forward to these half an hour jaunts with an intense, almost feverish expectation. Once I plugged in those dirty, off-white headphones and shut these tired eyes, I entered the higher dimension of Spotify. For a few sweet minutes, I could ignore the world and the smelly guy sitting next to me wearing a Nirvana tank top and holding a book on wildlife ecology. I could ignore the Spanish girl gibbering loudly on her cell phone with her abuela about some puta. The bus driver yelling tiredly at us to “Move to the back of the bus, goddamnit” cruised past my ears like a confused insect flying throughout the interstate. I only heard the drums and his voice, the pulsing synth and my imaginings flitting under my lids.
The bus finally lurched to a purposefully hard stop outside the crowded hub, the bus driver’s sour expression doing nothing to dampen the musical high induced by “Like A Virgin” and “Ticket To Ride”.
“Thanks! You have a wonderful day,” I said cheerfully to the driver, spreading my lips to their fullest extent and not even waiting for an apathetic reply, Madonna’s high-pitched voice crooning in my ear the only sound that I needed.
Feet descending the entirely too tall bus steps. Hair attempting to be bouncily sexy, but really just getting in my mouth and tasting like rope. Eyes focusing on the small screen in my hand, song titles blurring by like the thousands of unconcerned students milling around me, each conducting their own personal orchestra. My lips popped together like one of those refreshed females in a Coca Cola ad. A new song started, the bass dropping steadily like my precarious grade in calculus.
And I started to walk.
I was 4’11 short, but in my imaginary music video, where I was Bruno Mars with the Cuban hat and these students with overflowing backpacks were my bitches, life was perfect. The brick, ivy-ridden buildings dissolved past me, and it was incredible that my peers had no clue what explosion was wracking my brain. I was currently being funked up by Uptown, dancing wildly in my chest, and yet no one knew! And no one cared! Bruno’s voice excited the air molecules, made the sidewalks vibrate with rhythm, melted the trees into heaps of R&B vegetation, and subtly nodded my head from one side to the other. Each student, harried and unattractive this early, became elevated to the role of “extra,” grungy yoga pants and dirty sweats transforming into purple suits and black wayfarers. I strutted like I owned this crosswalk, this campus. I would gladly die in this invisible dance.
“I’m too hot (hot damn)
Called a police and a fireman
I’m too hot (hot damn)
Make a dragon wanna retire—”
And then the hotness disappeared as I dropped my phone, my mood and screen shattering on the gum-riddled sidewalk. The music video buffered, my thoughts emerged from the daze like a pruned head breaking the surface of water. Birds chirping, bike tires squealing, and the sound of an out of tune piano clanking away in the music building flooded my ears. I didn’t want this unwelcome reality, lacking in synthesizer and angsty lyrics.
But Spotify was still working, my headphones weren’t too dirty, and my ears were thirsty for that $4.99 premium service.
My morning passed in a haze of integrals, Napoleonic history, and more bus rides serenaded by the little app that sculpted a life of rhythm and electric guitar out of something so ordinary. I wasn’t just another accounting student struggling with cooking dinner and fitting in among thousands. I was a student with Mac Demarco, John Lennon, Tracy Chapman, and Tchaikovsky in her palm, ready to tackle debits and credits as long as the Wi-Fi was working.
I finally collapsed onto my unmade bed for a nap, the sweet and spicy sounds of Flamenco guitar exciting my heart just enough to induce fantastic, Don Quixote-esque dreams. The wavering line between true sleep and heavy daydreaming was never defined, but the music infused itself throughout this strange state, molding the images to its tempo.
“Do you need me to buy more yogurts for you at Publix?” No, I thought to myself, I’m Don Quixote riding throughout the Spanish countryside and battling imaginary giants. Why would I want yogurt right now?
And then the pillow unstuck from cheek and these sheets, crumpled but smelling faintly like my candy-like perfume, whisked away any semblance of a European dream. For the second time today, I looked around groggily, Spotify and Spanish guitars calling me back to the land of Greek yogurt and Publix runs.
“Ummm some apple pie Greek yogurt would be great.” The clock screamed 4:50 p.m.
“On second thought, that creamy deliciousness will have to wait until tomorrow. I need the car now.” I hastily put on the heart-racing soundtrack to The Force Awakens, the sheer brilliance of John Williams making this rush to get ready an epic, galactic journey. My hair raged about me like Luke Skywalker’s as I undid my ponytail, my eyes burning with Jedi wisdom. My hairbrush became a lightsaber as I struggled to unknot the black mess that in my sleep had become a Rubik cube. I even donned my sexy Darth Vader socks as I slipped on open ballet flats.
I was supposed to pick up a friend at 5 p.m. and go to Walmart for art supplies, but I’d just have to tell him my hyperdrive was short-circuited.
I selected the Random playlist and “Heroes” by David Bowie blared out of my speakers. It was cheesy and straight out of Perks of Being a Wallflower, but in that instant, when the traffic had let up and I was free to push 55 down southwest 13th, no higher perfection could be reached. It’s interesting to think that the music chooses you, not the other way around. I rolled the windows down, fully realizing my Luke Skywalker hair would be destroyed as thoroughly as Anakin’s legs. A balmy, mosquito-ridden breeze sailed through the open windows like a schooner riding the tide of reckless driving, Italian sunglasses, and timeless lyrics. The harder I pushed down this pedal, the louder the music became, morphing into an invisible passenger of 80s music in the seat next to me.
“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day”
My glossed lips were covered in flyaway hairs, but I felt just like Bowie’s Queen, singing horribly and out of tune while the lights turned red as I slipped away underneath them. Even when I had to slow down to 20 miles per hour on campus, the royalty was real and slow speed made the music even sweeter.
Pulling up to my friend’s dorm, I was blasting “The Real Slim Shady” by the god of white rapping, Eminem. My entire being was a chaotic mess, but I couldn’t care less. I felt like the embodiment of a sweaty summer night, stickily free and not caring about my appearance or future, but only if the music was just right.
A tanned, angular face masked by black wayfarer frames was smiling down at my sheepish smirk from the sidewalk.
“I know it’s your favorite,” I said jokingly, watching as he folded his spindly frame into the passenger seat. He simply seemed to be too tall for this car, my petite body and vulgar rap lyrics leaving little room for his striking height.
He suddenly lunged for my phone and proceeded to scroll through my Spotify, traipsing across my playlists—some of them more embarrassing than others—like he owned my musical tastes.
“Wow. Your taste in music is really similar to mine–our playlists are nearly identical. No way, you like MGMT and The Lumineers?”
“And anything by John Williams. And basically any classical music ever, except the “Firebird Suite” by Stravinsky. I’m not a massive fan of experimental Russian symphonies.”
We stopped at a red right and I felt him shift his whole body, consisting of nearly 6’3 skin and PacSun flannel, towards my little one propped atop a green driving pillow.
“You. Like. John. Williams.” The light switched to green, but I barely took any notice, his intense stare freezing my cocked eyebrow and unsure expression. An orchestra of car honks was reaching their forte all around us, the different pitches enough to excite any conductor. I slowly raised my foot with its be-dorked sock until my leg was nearly perpendicular to my seat. His eyes widened at the sight of Darth Vader’s yarn mask and time slowed down to thickened gravy. His feet, ten miles away from his twenty-mile-long torso, slowly lifted to my eye level and we burst out laughing, our gasps of air more heavy than the moisture-ladened air.
His socks featured Princess Leia and Chewbacca peeking out from behind palm trees.
Because I could, I unleashed my entire Star Wars playlist, blasting Cantina Band and Rey’s Theme as we cruised like uncool kids to Walmart. The Spotify algorithms must’ve been going berserk, reconfiguring my playlists into the dorkiest (and best) selections possible. If only these fifteen minutes of gloaming were two hours, and we could watch an entire George Lucas classic simply with our ears and this film score—the dialogue, planetary systems, and rebel starships were already imprinted on our imaginations.
The call of the Ewoks accompanied us to Walmart’s doors, and I was already anticipating the stellarly non-silent ride home.
Brushes bought. Paint acquired. Mental playlists calculated.
Dusk was blanketing the sky in its dusty purple hues, nothing awry except the lack of music during the walk from Walmart’s doors to my car.
“You’re in charge Captain Spotify,” I said, backing out of the narrow space and nearly hitting a woman carrying a bunch of fake roses. He suddenly snickered the most diverse monotone laugh I had ever heard, sarcastic and sincere in those five seconds.
“You have One direction saved? And Nick Jonas? But I’m digging the “Sexyback” though.” And he proceeded to select—and sing along to—the anthem of JT’s attractiveness.
“So this is your theme song?” I said jokingly, unable to contain my laugher as I saw his lips supplying the velvet night with the awkward, 2006 lyrics.
A badly mimicked “Get your sexy on” was his only response.
“Did you know my friend is on Spotify? It’s the one you met downtown last week,” he said off-handedly after Justin exhausted his voice in my speakers.
“What? That’s awesome. Play it for me.” In a matter of seconds, an indie track was surrounding me, relating to me, nestling down inside my chest until my body was composed solely of quarter and eighth notes. The sprawling fingers of this music reached out of my windows to caress the shining gas station sign, the Georgia license plate lumbering along in front of me, and the vivid Poinciana trees looking like giant, giggling shadows in the hot breeze. It seemed to swell the whole of Gainesville with pure, delicious sound.
“Life tries to take us to where we need new shoes
worn out, so what I can do?”**
And really, what could I do? I was nineteen and clueless, but I knew amazing music when I heard it. And this song, with a voice that I had met outside a club last Thursday night, was trapped splendidly under my fingertips in that little green app. His floppy hair and liberally applied smile seemed so vivid and neon to me now, a cigarette between lips that held the secret of his talent.
I dropped my friend off and drove slowly home, no longer flirting with illegal driving speeds but soaking in the melody, completely new but strangely familiar at the same time. I was somehow reminded of shots of disgusting liquor and beautifully blistered feet after an unreal night out.
“I’m feelin’ electric tonight
Cruising down the coast goin’ ’bout 99
Got my bad baby by my heavenly side
Oh if I go, I’ll die happy tonight”
I didn’t want to die tonight nor did I feel particularly electric, but something about the monotone, drawn out voice of Lana Del Ray put me to sleep within minutes. I kept scrolling through her albums, each song starting to sound the same after the fifth track. They all involved despairing verbs, angsty adjectives, and infusions of synthesized violin all in the name of being “dark” and “misunderstood.” But the depressing vibe allowed Sleep to settle in and my thoughts to wander freely around the landscape of my wants. I wondered how much Spotify would cost if I kept renewing my subscription until the day I died. $4000? $5000? Whatever the cost, it was worth it just to play out my emotions whenever I wanted.
Really, all of life was one continuous song without the Spotify premium. I wish I could select what mood and what memory I was seeking in an instant, but I couldn’t. No amount of $9.99 payments could give me that.
**Cobbler by The Gold&Embassy
Photo Credit: Scott Beale