Usually the process for writing these letters is standardized. On the eve of our last production night, I’ll set up camp in the Stroffice and bang out a draft in a couple of hours. It’s easier—and somewhat necessary—because of the time frame they exist in: half reconstructing some bygone anecdote, half addressing the reader of a magazine that has yet to be printed.
Today I’m taking a different approach. This dispatch is being typed out haltingly as Amtrak’s free WiFi cuts in and out. It’s golden hour on the Northeast Regional from Boston to Philadelphia, where the motes of sun seeping in a welcome reprieve from the train cabin’s recessed LEDs. Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull rides Bluetooth waves across the foot–and–a–half distance between my phone and earbuds. It is both blasé and remarkable, how that’s something we can do.
In my more grandiose moments, I like to think of my life as a sort of long–running TV series, with arcs and eras and a cast of recurring characters, each of whom holds some essential part of my character. Of course, the season finale is a crucial part of this model—a hypercondensed period of personal growth, where the stakes and emotions are heightened to match.
Sparing the gory details, this past weekend involved a G&T, a Marxist, a rabbit named Rutabaga, and too many pairs of deadstock jeans. Suffice to say it gave major season finale. Like, Girls season finale levels of season finale. Is this the first time I’ve mentioned Girls in one of these? It certainly won’t be the last.
And the whole time there’s been a running soundtrack—curated by yours truly, of course. I tried my hand at a bit of masochism with “Montezuma” by Fleet Foxes, but decided that song is owned by Lena Dunham. Then it was the Joan Baez cover of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” which wasn’t quite right either. There’s definitely something sad about the feeling that you’re leveling up as a person, but it’s not only sad.
People bring music into their lives for a lot of reasons, but there’s one I’ve seen shared between all of the people that really care about what they’re listening to. Music lets us build a heightened version of the present while we’re living it. That’s why we develop such deep connections to our favorite albums, even going to the mat for them in roundup form.
For some people, music doesn’t just heighten those moments; it creates them. This issue’s twin features shine a light on two groups that have that, and a lot more than that, in common: the inhabitants of Philly’s DIY underground house show scene, and a student radio station fighting for the space to exist on campus.
Eventually, I opt for “Cactus Tree,” the last song from that aforementioned Mitchell record, to elevate my journey home. It strikes a good balance between melancholy and a feeling of slight, but that isn’t the main reason. “Cactus Tree” isn’t only mine; I share it with my friend Sophie, who I visited in Boston and who, as I mentioned above, unlocks a version of me I can only be when I’m around her. I love you Soph, and I can’t wait to crush you in Gin the next time I see you.
“And her heart is full and hollow / Like a cactus tree,” Mitchell sings, “While she’s so busy being free.” And the credits roll. Of course, they don’t, really. With the end of one season comes the start of another, and we keep on singing along.