On Solo Music and Travel

I am in search of my own supreme truth. A cynic by design, I am trying earnestly as I get older to discover my own absolutes. I still have a pretty healthy sense of skepticism and pessimism as a young (very novice) journalist, though. I believe a satisfied life requires a balance of the two. I can finally say with astute certainty that my mother does indeed love me like she says she does. 

In the past year of living, loving, and traveling, I have built upon my personal reservoir absolutes that have yet to fail or lead me astray. While they are of personal importance to me, I believe them to be pretty universal. Here are some: 1. Choose to travel by train if the opportunity presents itself. 2. Listen to the solo projects of members of your favorite bands. 3. The happiest moments of my life have always been the simplest. 

One particularly freezing December evening, on an English commuter train, the three of these aligned to form what I consider to be the simplest but most special moment of my life. 

My brother Matthew was on a trip. I was on the trip. Sitting next to each other physically, we shared a vastly different moment cosmically. Matthew’s lived in Europe for 3 years. He’d made his European rounds already. Before the month of December, I’d never even left North America. After a month-long stint with my brother in Barcelona (his new home), we left to the only place I begged we see: London. All of our other travel plans were left up to him, as I was happy to mime his Spanish lifestyle for a few weeks. In London, I seized total control. It began with a train ride to Old Street Station in the most central part of the city, where we were staying.  

We put an end to a beautiful, frustrating (due to my slender grasp of the Spanish language), eye-opening three weeks in Spain, and headed north. Our flight landed at sunset. We’d been up since 5 that morning, traveling from the southern town of Cáceres by bus to catch our flight in Madrid. 

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As the train pulled out of Gatwick’s station, with another hour of travel ahead of us into the city, I unraveled my headphones and plugged them into my small grey iPod shuffle. I played Jack Steadman’s solo, instrumental, self-made, pre-Bombay Bicycle Club music the entirety of the ride. In general, I tend to be pretty particular about the music I listen to. It is, after all, one of the biggest constants in my life. We’re in it for life together. As such, I treat it with care. There’s a lyric by the band Pavement that says “Song is sacred” and it’s something I live by. This moment on the train served as a personal reminder that the music we listen to fundamentally alters our life experience. It shapes our perspective; it offers us new memories and leaves us reminiscing for ones we’ve never even been apart of. My choice to listen to this music in this space, in that tiny little moment, meant everything to me. I knew deep within myself that this was the only music that could contend with the things raging inside of me. 

London had been on my radar for years. So many of the bands that played a fundamental role in shaping my love and infatuation with music are from the United Kingdom. Like most people in high school, I was desperately searching for something to care about. While music has always been a constant in my life (shout out to middle school choir and guitar lessons), this newfound appreciation of British music absolutely formed a basis for my career and life aspirations to this day. Bands like Bombay Bicycle Club, Foals, and Coldplay (yes, Coldplay) sent me in search of a new world. Infatuation with the stories being told through music led to an infatuation with the storytellers and their upbringings. Learning what it meant to be English from these people led to an increasing interest in the geography. Interest in the geography and culture sparked something within me that I knew could never, and would never, be put out. 

As the train lulled through suburban London, I began to cry. It did not stop for a second throughout the duration of the train ride. I secretly wiped my eyes as I hoped Matthew wouldn’t look up from his phone or open his eyes as he drifted off to sleep and catch me. “Redsky” by Jack Steadman played as I pressed my forehead against the cold window and watched a homogenous sea of houses and cars rush by. I saw silhouettes appear under lampposts and wondered where those people were coming from or on their way to. I pondered what life in this place had been like for them. My crying ensued. 

Simply put, it was the most special moment of my life. “Redsky” ended to make way for “Give Up” to begin. As I began to imagine what the next four days would look like in the city I started dreaming about in my most vulnerable years, the music playing softly in the background served as an important reminder of why I was there in the first place.  

My deeply ingrained skepticism is here to stay, but I believe that music can move mountains. Music has altered my life experience for the better. I cannot separate my personhood from it. My absolutes have made themselves evident through it.  

I believe that you should listen to the solo projects of all your favorite bands. Even the terrible ones. Even the ones that only existed 5 years before the bands’ forming. Even the ones that Pitchfork absolutely rips apart for whatever reason the office full of men come up with that morning. They don’t know the music the way you do. 

I believe that life whispers the your most authentic and true-to-self happiness directly into your ear. Most joys are universal, but the ones that suit us best are the most specific. I invite all reading this to reflect inward on what they’re lacking. I sincerely hope my search to find things that matter to me never ends. When I channel my energy with my high school self, and think critically about what I need more of in my life, life always finds a way to offer something new. It is then that my absolutes are the most evident. 

I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever have a moment like this again. This kind of situation is left entirely up to chance and circumstance. I’ve never even tried to chase the feeling, because I now know that I’m waiting for life to catch up. For now, I’m perfectly content with wandering around the damp streets of Seattle, headphones in, finding the fragments of my life in the instrumental music of a Brit named Jack.