by Erik van Rheenen, edited by Jesse Richman
This is a story about a boy and his headphones, and it opens in the grey days of autumn, two years ago.
When I stepped out of the bleak, wind-whipped Upstate New York fall and into the fluorescent lights of the Syracuse University bookstore, I had only two things on my mind: the long train ride home to Erie, and the new headphones that would keep me sane on the trip. The over-ears around my collar — a cheap pair of sleek blue Skullcandy ones — were terminally afflicted with intermittent crackling and less-than-admirable sound quality. My knowledge of headphones was casual at best. I didn’t care if the low end bottomed out. I didn’t pay enough attention to notice if the headphones lost the bass and highs in the shuffle. As long as they sounded all right and felt good, I was sold.
Twenty minutes later, I plunked a thirty-dollar pair of bulky red headphones on the counter for the cute blonde co-ed, earning her work-study cash the hard way, to ring up. I figured they’d make a suitable replacement for the nearly-busted pair hanging loosely around my neck. I trekked back up to my dorm, adjusted the new pair (the brand, Ear Pollution, proved nearly unresearchable for this writer) comfortably over my ears, and listened to Keasbey Nights in proper, my feet dangling off my bed as I laid on my chest with the liner notes. I didn’t think I’d one day be writing parting remarks for headphones that were less a music delivery vehicle and more a wiry extension of myself. I didn’t think they’d have a story worth telling.
A snapshot of two whirlwind years, in the frame of a still life: those headphones rattling against the window of the Erie-bound Amtrak as I listened to Streetlight Manifesto and fought sleep. Those headphones sinking into the cheap pillow of an early morning flight heading for a weekend jaunt in Philadelphia. Those headphones rekindling my love for The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee on a day-breaking, rollicking Greyhound bus to Cleveland, and for The Sunset Tree during a red-eye flight to Spain. Those headphones helping me survive sickness in a cramped train to Seville, and again on a bus back from Ronda, where I learned that the aching American sadness that bleeds from On the Impossible Past was just as longing and nostalgia-inducing against the backdrop of the Spanish countryside.
Such a great piece about not only loving the music you listen to, but loving the way you listen to it, by a pal of mine.