Despite living in a city of over 8 million voices, few seem to be listening to them. As contradictory as it sounds, one of the quietest places in Manhattan is a subway car during rush hour. The small space could be bursting at the gills with people, yet most have the outside world firmly clamped off with a pair of headphones. No one speaks. No one listens.
I, perhaps, am not very qualified to offer any critique, for I am one of them. Run into me anywhere in this city and you'll have to contend with the concert crashing between my ears for my attention. I'm guilty of only letting the city in when I want to. In my defense, it's easy to do. Who wants to be assaulted with sirens, horns, crying children, and pleas for attention when you can fill the void with music?
No one needs to convince me of the power of music. It can offer clarity to any emotion, or change it completely with a few simple notes. It can awaken you, sustain you, and lead you peacefully into the night. But if you let it run rampant through your every action, you can become dependent. Suddenly, you can't walk to class, take the train, or even step out the door without it. The soundtrack of the city slips into inferiority.
A writing professor of mine once told our class that he hates people who listen to music on the train.
"Inspiration, dialogue, characters, and stories are sitting right in front of you," he explained, "Take advantage of it."
In short, those who shut out the city with music are missing, as Jane Jacob's personified in her famous description of Hudson street, the world's greatest ballet. Constantly filling your head with the art of others can suffocate the potential of your own.
When my mom comes to visit me, the music stops. I talk, and don't always get to choose what I hear. She will always be a visitor here, never hesitating to point out the sirens, the horns, and the general chaos of it all. She'll always wonder how I manage to put up with it. Yet, in truth, I don't. I usually push it away until I'm safely sheltered behind my own door.
Deprived of my music, I am forced to remember the pandemonium, which at times, can be insufferable. But every once and awhile, a few notes manage to fall perfectly into place. The little boy telling his mother everything he knows about outer space. A homeless man reciting poetry on the corner. Another in the subway strumming the theme song to a show I used to watch with my grandfather on a beat-up guitar.
It's a concert that requires patience.
So, to anyone starved for words: Unplug and listen up.