unmanuscripted

Words, music, miles. NYC.
melanie.broder@gmail.com

How Spotify Killed My 1980s Teen Fantasy

[note: I originally pitched this to The Atlantic, as a response to calls for stories about personal interactions with technology. they sent me a really nice rejection, so i’m putting it up here instead.]  

If we lived in the eighties, Jake might have made me a mixtape. If we lived in Texas or Maryland or California we might have listened to it driving around aimlessly in the twilight. But it was 2012, in New York City, and I was still using iTunes.

We met on move-in day; he lived down the hall from me in a Columbia University brownstone. He didn’t roll up in a red Porsche but he might as well have.

He was, no exaggeration, the Platonic ideal of the American teen fantasy. Blonde hair cropped short except for a little flop across his forehead, glacial eyes, Brad Pitt jaw. He surfed, he skateboarded, he was a wide receiver from San Antonio. He wore crew neck sweatshirts with khaki shorts and worn-in Vans. His resting face was a brood, but he grinned occasionally. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, his mother had named him after Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles.

We started talking at a campus bar one night about Wes Anderson soundtracks, as people do at campus bars. When we got back to the brownstone, I saw that he had already placed his number on my door, written on a sticky note.

He was out of place at Columbia, more Friday Night Lights than Bright Lights, Big City. He was an American Anachronism. Where other collegians thought a “hey wut u up to?” text was a straightforward way to ask someone out, his sticky notes seemed delightfully analog. His request for a dinner date was like being offered Turkish Delight in Narnia.

We continued to talk, over the next few weeks, mostly about music. He convinced me to activate my Spotify account. Soon my inbox pinged with a red notification button. It was “Money Trees” by Kendrick Lamar. He suggested more: Beach Fossils, M. Ward, Toro y Moi. He twangily mispronounced “Moi” and “Bon Iver” and “Seu Jorge.” I looked forward to seeing that red notification on Spotify, more than I looked forward to his texts.

Sharing music has the effect of immediate nostalgia. I was collecting each interaction with Jake as I was each song. One day, sitting in his bed, he asked me what kind of music I liked most.

“I guess… music to zone out to,” I said. I named my next Spotify playlist that, thinking he might see it on the app. Spotify can act as a kind of social network where you stalk what your friends are listening to, but this hasn’t seemed to catch on much, giving Spotify libraries the kind of honest messiness that Instagram accounts had when people just wanted to make their pictures prettier, before we had hundreds or thousands of friends.

I never completed “Music to zone out to,” because soon Jake stopped talking to me. We stopped exchanging songs. Every time I opened Spotify, I felt indebted to him. Each playlist was imprinted with his personality, his taste, his influence. He walked out of the brownstone with his headphones on, always brooding, never smiling. Sometimes I checked to see what he was listening to. I realized I didn’t know him very well. I didn’t know him at all. He had a girlfriend back in Texas. 

A few weeks later I saw a little red notification button on my Spotify app. Jake had sent me, by way of explanation, a song. Specifically, “Southern State” by Bright Eyes. I think my eyes rolled fully into my skull, exorcism-style. I refused to open it. I have since refused to open it. Sometimes the little red notification button disappears, but it always comes back – on my phone, my work computer, my new laptop. I looked at the lyrics, something about a brooding young man who jumps into the arms of the first girl he sees in a new town. I got it. I moved on. I graduated. I started paying for Spotify Premium, writing for a music blog, and going on dates with people with even better music taste. 

Still, the reappearing red button works its nostalgic magic, the remnant of a weak and corny gesture, now years old. The kind of thing that only works in John Hughes movies. I use Spotify every day, and I’ll readily retire it when it fades into obsolescence. It’s less classic than a red Porsche, but no less transporting.

//images: Spotify, jessicaajg.tumblr.com

Flash floods good 4 sumn

Flash floods good 4 sumn

Sunday nights »» Monday mornings #warondrugs #northside (à North 12th/Kent - Williamsburg)

Sunday nights »» Monday mornings #warondrugs #northside (à North 12th/Kent - Williamsburg)

Help Me Lose My Mind

I stood surveying the booths dispensing flower crowns and scoops of Americone Dream. I saw fully-grown women hoist themselves onto the shoulders of boys. I saw the severed head and shoulders of the Statue of Liberty. I saw Superman dressed as Chance the Rapper. Was I having fun yet?

Maybe the two bottles of cheap champagne we had for breakfast weren’t enough. It was time to start having some fun. 

Disclosure was the answer. Disclosure is fun.

Allison and I walked through the puzzling configuration of standalone lanterns and across the field to the Honda Stage, where they were slated to play at 4:45pm. She went to get us drinks; while she was gone, I befriended an elaborately bearded man and his friends from LA. He told me he had traveled to Coachella five years in a row. If Coachella was Mecca, I began to wonder where Gov Ball stood. It started in 2011 as a one-day concert with twelve acts, and had gotten progressively bigger until it became the three-day extravaganza it is today. It is unmistakably New-Yorky, complete with commuting, food snobbery and clusterfucks of people.

After twenty minutes, I called Allison. Neither of us could understand the other. Soon I was yelling into my phone, “I’M BY THE PIRATE FLAG! IN BETWEEN THE PINK FLAMINGO AND THE ORANGE MONKEY.” Was I having fun yet? Yes, kinda.

When I found Allison, she was frazzled, with a spot of red lipgloss dotting her chin. She and I walked to the back of the field, hard ciders in hand. Disclosure started playing “Help Me Lose My Mind,” and I paused for a moment, happy to stand in the space around me, listening.

 Was I a festival person? Being a festival person means being able to jump headfirst into a world that doesn’t really exist. It means being able to accept the festival’s limitations while embracing its advantages with full abandon. But isn’t that most communities? Arbitrary lines drawn to enclose its members in a womb? In the case of Gov Ball, the line was an arch of balloons a football field long, floating above our heads.

 The music mattered too much to me to give myself over fully to the festival. I bristled watching the people who had come simply to party. To me, pop music had always been a little more serious, a little more personal, and much more intimate. I didn’t know how I felt about sharing it so freely and casually. Sure, the populism of pop is one of its most redeeming (and defining) qualities. But I had never had to face pop’s popularity so baldly as I did at Gov Ball. To join in would be to share a part of my identity with thousands of strangers – and I don’t trust strangers.

We made our way over to the main stage for the Strokes. The sky gained a white orange haze, the dusky twilight of a day spent in a foreign land. I thanked the festival gods that this wasn’t Coachella, and that I would sleep in my own bed that night.

 There is not a lot to be said about an outdoor concert in perfect early summer weather, except that there is nothing better. This doesn’t mean losing your mind doesn’t have consequences. Caught up in the debauched and expensive revelry, it is easy to forget that two people died on Randall’s Island last summer at a festival, Electric Zoo.  They were Jeffrey Russ and Olivia Rotondo, 23, and 20, respectively. According to the Huffington Post, Olivia told emergency workers that she had taken six hits of Molly before collapsing into a seizure. There’s no way to know if they were having fun, but they were more than likely in pursuit of it.

 What else is there to pursue when you are 19, 20, 23? I had thought about this on the ferry ride to the island.  Like children, we who have the privilege to do so choose to chase fun at all costs. As adults, we can be more aware of the risk that drives the thrill.  That too, though, is a choice.

 I didn’t realize until Julian Casablancas started singing how tense things were in their absence, and how easy it was to be together again. I’d last heard the Strokes when my iPod was a silvery green brick that rarely saw the outside of my bedroom. They rumbled through a few new songs, mostly the hits, looking a little old, a little professional, never quite shrugging their signature insouciance, but never quite convincing me they didn’t care. A group of handsome Spanish speakers in front of me offered a joint, laughing with each other and singing along. I handed it back. “Did you get your mind right?” they asked.

 “My mind is pretty good right now,” I grinned.

 “My feelings are more important than yours,” I sang out with the crowd and with my hands, as unself-conscious as I’ve ever been. “Drop dead, I don’t care, I won’t worry.”

 With each chord, the festival won me over a little more. I began to feel I could subsist on this.

***

The next evening I went back to Gov Ball by myself. Along the way I watched people coming out of their apartments, leaving the gym, meeting up for dinner. I wondered why I was not doing any of these things, but instead boarding a boat to a dystopian carnival island, sober, by myself. A bro in a ‘Cuse shirt and ankle socks, also alone and uncomfortable about it, ambled alongside me in the ferry line. I shored my resolve by reminding myself that Manhattan, too, is an island.

 I was over an hour early for the headliner, Vampire Weekend.  Modern Vampires of the City came out right around the date of my college graduation, and was hailed by many as the best album of 2013, so of course it’s what I turn to when I dread becoming an adult.

On “Obvious Bicycle,” the opening track from Modern Vampires of the City, Ezra Koenig croons, “You ought to spare your face the razor, because no one’s gonna spare the time for you,” crystallizing the weary micro-bravery it takes to get up and go to work each day. “Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth,” he muses on “Step,” completing the verse, “Age is an honor, it’s still not the truth.” Twenty-two to twenty-three is a strange year, when you find yourself hovering around the adult world, unsure if you want to join the inevitable procession. You have grown accustomed to a womb but you find yourself on an island. You begin to wonder if you will always be floating, caught between the rules of impulse and knowledge, between fun and something maybe more substantial.  These feelings will pass, you know, and you know you will miss the melancholic unmooring that allowed you to invest so much in a Vampire Weekend album at 23.

The boys started playing at 9:14 and coasted through the 90-minute set, echoing some of the uninspired professionalism of the Strokes. They played all of their best songs, and played them well, but I experienced a bit of fangirl-letdown. Ezra Koenig wore a pair of camouflage shorts with embroidered dogs. It was precious and I loved it, but it was also disappointing.

 For most of the show I stood sandwiched between a very tall couple and an overweight teenage girl whose belly pressed against my back as we all lightly bopped and sang along to the flawlessly produced songs. Yellow Snapchat screens lit up. And then it was over, and there was a recording of Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” and fireworks, and long lines, and rivers and avenues and platforms to cross, Monday only a few hours away. 

CHVRCHES @ Terminal 5

CHVRCHES @ Terminal 5

114th Street | poem

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tree

tickled like backpack rap

massaged beneath by the subway

whistling at nurses and co-eds

I see you, baby

tremble in the hurricane.

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A Break-up Letter to Equinox Fitness Clubs

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Dear Equinox, 

I never thought I’d actually have to say something when the time came. I figured we’d go our separate ways, perhaps reunite later in life, when I have a stable income, but probably not since I am a writer. I figured you’d respect my decision to burn fat and calories my own way, instead of yours. I didn’t think I’d care so much.

But damn it, Equinox, I do care. Even if I have been cheating on you with the Central Park Track Club (mea culpa, the Boston Marathon is coming up). Because there is so much to love about you. Originally it was the Eucalyptus towels and Kiehl’s products that drew me in, but I stayed for other reasons. You always make plenty of top-of-the-line machines and weights available. From yoga to spinning to Zen Combat to Barre Burn to METCON3, you always keep things interesting - and intense - in group fitness. Vinyasa flows are such a joy when your teacher’s literally a French model. Your locations are convenient to the office, home and brunch places in Manhattan’s every nook. Your trainers don’t get that mad when I take a free session without signing up for additional ones. Your front desk staff greets me by name and offers to keep an eye out for my “stolen” water bottle even when it’s in my gym bag. Juice Generation is fucking delicious. You make my body feel so good. 

And for a while, you made my mind feel great as well. For a while, going to you was like taking a mini vacation from the everyday - it was an extraordinary luxury, sure, but one that felt particularly helpful in maintaining a good quality of life. You, and the copious exercise you engendered, made me feel like I had found a healthy high that I could tap into at any time. Being with you felt like I had won the lottery. I felt hot. I felt rich. I felt invincible. 

It didn’t shatter all at once for me, but a revelatory moment did occur at the SoHo location. I was standing at the mirror, pointing the complimentary hair dryer at my temple, trying to figure out what to do with the hickey-like chafe marks from my sports bra, when I saw a woman step on the scale in the mirror’s reflection. She was tall and thin, and her eyes were pale and symmetrical. I began to guess her weight in my head. When I ran over to the scale to check what it said under the guise of weighing myself, I knew something was wrong.

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Union square vibes 

Union square vibes