My greatest first loves always start with music and cities. St. Lucia will always be New York for me.
I have an uncanny ability to photographically remember where I was, and what I was doing, when certain songs were playing at specific moments in time. It’s a bizarre, useless, auditory sensitivity I’ve grown accustom to loving and loathing. Everyone has those things. A smell. A place. For me, it’s always been music. A song will come on, and I’m standing right where I was when it first played. I’ll know what I was wearing. I’ll know who I was with. I’ll know what the mood was. There’s no undoing memories like that, however meaningless or meaningful they may be.
The first time I heard Bon Iver’s “Holocene”, I was standing alone on the Williamsburg Bridge. I was wearing a green utility jacket with leather sleeves, perched atop the pink railing. The lens of my Nikeon D3000 was pressed against a gap in the protective fence. It was meant to keep people off, but there I was scaling it for a photo.
The first time I heard Matthew Mayfield’s “Heartbeat”, I was sitting at a table for two in a Jersey City apartment for one. Messy and disheveled. Hungover and happy. I was wearing an oversized T-shirt and sweatpants. It was the first and last time I’d see the city from that perspective.
The first time I heard Sara Bareilles’ “Breathe Again” was in a parked car overlooking the city lights in Newcastle, Australia. An interesting parallel, because the first line of that song is, “Car is parked.” That was seven years ago. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I do remember this: For once, I wasn’t facing the ocean. The glittering buildings in the distance were more beautiful. That feels like a more telling detail to recall.
The first time I heard St. Lucia, I was North of Houston. It would have been 2013, the end of fall, right around this time. It was the awkward period between seasons where being outside is no longer easy and comfortable. To combat New York’s in-between weather, I wore fingerless gloves so I could control my music. This is a habit my mother scolds me for to this day.
“Carley, PROTECT YOUR FINGERS.”
I have a circulation disorder, but gloves with touchpad fingertips look lame.
As I was walking toward the train, shuffling through songs, “Elevate” came on. I stopped in my tracks. I remember stopping because that’s what I do when something grabs me. Whether it’s an idea, a person, a song, or a sweater in a window, I stop. I zero in. My excitement for the idea/person/song/sweater takes over and I can only do that one thing. In that moment, I wanted this song the way you want any great first love. I wanted it immediately and everywhere. I wanted it again. And again. And again. I stepped off the side of the walkway and waited for the song to download in iTunes so I could take it with me on my descent into the Bleeker St. station.
The only reason I remember any of this, is because of what happened next: On the dirty and crowded 6-train, I stood with one hand gripping my phone out in front of me, and one hand gripping the bar above me. It was then that a stranger behind me tapped my shoulder. I took out one of my ear buds and turned around.
“Yeah! I just discovered them.”
“You’ll never get them out of your head.”
It was the type of brief exchange that makes New York the most special place in the world. A fleeting connection over a song on a screen, with a stranger on a train, whom I never saw again. He had probably formed his own love affair with the song. The song that would follow me to a different city three years later.
On Tuesday night I stood in the House of Blues in Boston. One of 2500 people, each with their own first loves. There’s nothing like that energy at a live show. I always catch myself looking around the venue, wondering which songs mean what to humans I’m surrounded by. I wait for their reactions. Unbridled elation. Unassuming tears. I want to reach out to them and say, “Me, too.” Sometimes, I do.
Halfway through the show, I left my friend at our post to hit the bathroom. On my way to the head, I heard the infamous introduction to “Elevate.” Its catchy tempo. Its rhythmic drums. It’s keyboard kick-in. Bobbing and weaving in and out of the crowd, front row became my mission. For a moment, I forgot about my friend. For a moment, I forgot about going to the bathroom. I forgot I was in Boston. I was standing outside of the Bleeker Street station with my fingerless gloves, hearing the song for the very first time.
And how magical it was in that moment, to be in two places at once.
St Lucia will always be New York for me, but last night they were Boston.