"A thought is love's currency" —Mac Miller, “Objects In the Mirror”
Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the shape of love. I’ve also spent a lot of hours in cars over the past two weeks. These two things are inexplicably linked, trust me. As I write this, my neighbor cracks open his door for a smoke. Both our units seize up because the wood in the building is old and tenses from cold. He can hear my music through the window. I care for him, so I don’t turn it down. I’m playing Kali Uchis and I’m sure he’d love her. All of these things—the love, the hours, the neighbor—are related. I’m finding now, as it is the holidays and loneliness grips so tightly, that love comes in the shape of sharing more than it does anything else. Now, you can share anything with another person, but I share music. I share music, and I cultivate family.
I listen to music because I have very little sense of family. Family is defined by blood, but when you have to rely on your chosen family, you make the rules. Family, to me, is your sharing circle. These are the people you can share anything with, give anything to, and know it will be protected. So you share, and in the process of giving yourself, you slot into a thing. With your share, finally, you belong.
Usually, I struggle to belong to a place, to people, to a thing outside of myself. But I belong to my music. Without question, I am a servant to a culture that saved me when it did not have to. It was not made for me and I found myself in it. So I share music, mostly, lately, in cars. Music is the soul of who I am, and though I am a writer, I often have no words for how I am feeling. Music is my word. If this all sounds as if it’s teetering on holy, then you’ve picked up on how I find my place in the world, how I find my family.
Of course, everyone knows the high of getting a good reaction when it’s your turn with the aux cord, but there is something deeper than validation going on here. At its core, what we have is an exchange of selves. With every track shared, we are creating new ground to communicate who exactly we are and what exactly we love, and in that way, we are loving each other over and over again.
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I celebrated traditional, American Thanksgiving for the first time this year. It’s a tricky holiday, but our story does not take place at the table or in conversation with the truth of genocide and stolen land. Our story takes place on the car ride home when I put on Smino because I’ve spent all day thinking about how the people in this car would love Smino, because I love them. What we forget about sharing is that it is fundamentally a type of curation. When you curate, your mind is on the heart of another person. Curation, of course, is a shape of love. Curation is how we establish our chosen families.
All of this, too, revolves around time. All we have to give is time. Love is a manifestation of time. When we review albums, we note their length, and wasting our time is an offense worse than most. When you share music with another person, you ask them for their time. You make a promise, too, that their time is going to be well spent. You’re family now, so they trust that you will treat their time with love and care, and then you press play. We take for granted the implicit promises made when we pass the aux cord, but they exist and they mean the world to us storied music heads.
To be frank, all of this is because I am insecure, but not because I worry about my taste. I worry over how I will be received. The song is but a song, but the song is firstly a reflection of myself. A week ago, I asked a buddy to throw on a song and he told me, “Only if it means a lot to you.” We rarely stop and think how many times per day we put ourselves out there and perform. Any artist’s performance, when I throw them on in the car, is my performance. I want to be known and heard, and the song is my voice. When the people in tow nod along to a verse, I feel understood. We are being struck by the same thing. My unconscious is tapping your unconscious on the shoulder, and they’re totally hitting it off.
The people in the car on the way home from Thanksgiving, they loved Smino. Kali Uchis was a hit, too. Both of these artists make music that speaks for me when I cannot speak. I see myself in Smino, but I can never be him. He exists as an artist that fills in the gaps of my understood character. I could be the slick loverboy, but I am not. The fantasy is enough; the drip of dope when I hear about his escapades and the way the syncopation stands in for his effortless cool is enough. Kali Uchis has spoken for me plenty, too. She’s spoken for my dark days and soundtracked my resurrection. With her music, it’s less obvious the bond we have, but the positive reaction gives me the ground to delve into those topics when I’m ready.
We are a culture groomed to share and overshare. Does this mean each share matters less than the last? That’s not for me to say. I would wager, instead, that each share matters more because despite sharing being understood and watered down, we still do it. You can devise a social media persona in a day, but the need to be heard and the need to be loved cannot be wiped away by internet habits. We are still people, and we can still feel the difference between peacocking and a genuine share. When you throw on a song for someone, that will always be a genuine share.
Two weeks ago I drove three hours to the beach, six months after moving away from the beach. I took someone with me and as we were driving back, freezing and spent, we started trading songs. Little gets me excited like the phrase “Can you play… ?” if only because what you’re really saying to me is: “I want you to know this about me.” After all, all we have of each other is what we’ve felt ready to share. So we went back and forth with the music. There was some EDM, and there was some Wiki, and there was some Ariana Grande, and there was some Lil Peep.
Eventually, finally, we got to the train station and before she got out of my car, she said to me: “I feel like we bonded.” Of course we did. In some small but meaningful way, we are each other’s now. Family? Not quite yet, but closer, definitely. Closer than we would have been without the music. What could be more beautiful?