I spent almost the whole day yesterday listening to music.

I started in the morning with classical, while I was reading the paper, and found it relaxing. When I began cleaning the apartment, I switched to bluegrass. Then I stopped and put on folk tunes. From there, jazz. During my afternoon run, I listened to funk, and grabbing dinner on the way home, I was on a gospel kick.

When I got back to my apartment, something like 10 hours of the day were gone, and I hadn’t done much except ingest all these different sounds. I started to wonder about its effects. Like, how that kind of sustained listening alters one’s mood and perception of the world. This wasn’t the first time I’d done this. I spend many days sitting around listening to music for hours on end. But I’d never really thought about the activity itself that deeply.

I was raised in a musical household. There was always music on. We listened, we talked about it, we made it. Well, I made it. And drove my father insane. But that’s all to say that music was the main attraction in our house. Much more than television or even the internet. To get a new CD or stay up late listening to the radio so you could hear all the new stuff get played, those were life’s important things.

Growing up that way, your home life set to music, practically from the day you’re born, it’s got to influence your development. I suppose you begin to think life comes with a soundtrack. But then you go out into the world, realize it doesn’t have one, and things don’t make that much sense to you. Without music, life seems kind of boring — and it is. When you get older, you notice this much much much more. You don’t have all that free time to lose yourself in sound. You’ve got shit to do, and it sucks.

At about 10 o’clock, after being away from my computer and social media for 48 hours, I sat down at my desk. I went to Twitter, because I’d made the mistake of choosing happiness for two days and needed a reminder that I should probably kill myself instead, when the first update I saw was from a website — I don’t know which one, they’re all the same now — that said Alan Vega, lead singer of the band Suicide, passed away.

Upon hearing this news, I got terribly sad. Which was odd, because I’m rarely sad when celebrities and people I have no connection to pass away. I’m not really sure why that is. Prince. Robin Williams. David Bowie. I mean, yeah, I cared when their lives ended, but I’m not sure how much I really cared.

After reading about Alan Vega, I immediately turned on the song “Dream Baby Dream.” I hadn’t listened to it in some time, but there I sat, headphones on in the middle of my apartment, taking in its repetitive refrain.

Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream
Dream baby, dream baby
Dream baby dream
Forever

Dream baby dream
Come on baby you gotta keep those dreams burnin’
Keep those dreams baby
Dream baby dream
Dream baby, dream baby,
Dream baby, dream baby
Forever…

Keep that flame burnin’
Keep that flame burnin’
Forever

I thought to myself: man, this might be the most profound song ever written. It’s almost like a distillation of the purest, most honest reason for existing. Or for doing anything, really.

Before I realized it, tears were welling up in my eyes. I kept thinking back to some really dark, lonely nights, when my reason for existing didn’t really seem that clear; but this song, listening to it, endlessly, repeatedly, did something to me. It gave me hope.

I got up from my chair, put on my sneakers, then walked out into the New York City night. The air was muggy and thick, like a swamp with buildings growing out of it.

My headphones on, “Dream Baby Dream” on repeat my ears, I walked around for a while, maybe an hour, and there were so many people out. Young people, old people, black people, white people, all people. At midnight, where the hell was everyone going. Just an energy there, you could feel it.

When I got Madison Square Park, I sat on a bench facing 23rd street. A shaggy-haired bum sat on the bench next to me, smoking a joint. When he finished, he laid down, seemingly out for the count. But five minutes later, he was back up again, twisting another joint, right there on the street. He put the joint to his lips, inhaled, then closed his eyes.

All the while, Alan Vega just kept singing to me.

Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream
Forever, and ever
Forever, and ever

And I thought — fuck yeah, man. That’s what this crazy life is all about.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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