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Long Bus Rides and Other Journeys: What Music Means to Me

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I'm on the road once again, on a bus from Boston to NYC (a route I travel frequently), composing this article in my head. For you see, while all around me passengers are taking full advantage of the free Wi-Fi and available ports to get tangible work done, this is something I will never be able to accomplish. No, it's not an issue of procrastination -- it's motion sickness. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, when it comes to reading, writing, or watching "I cannot do it on a plane/I cannot do it on a train/I cannot do it on a boat/I cannot do it driving on a bridge over a moat" (sorry, that last one was a bit of a stretch, but you catch my drift). So where does this curse leave me? With a blessing in disguise: four hours of uninterrupted time with my iPod.

In a busy world, I rarely just listen to music. I might tune in on a walk, or while getting a bit of work done, or maybe while I'm doing some cooking. But it's rare that I have (or take) the time to just sit down and let my shuffle take me on a journey through my musical past.

I first really fell in love with music when I was a teenager. I saw my first live show at age 13 and couldn't get enough. From then on, it was all about concerts, mix CDs, downloads, online listening -- I was a junkie looking for my fix wherever I could find it. It's hardly surprising, then, that I ended up making music my career.

But it's not always as exciting as it may sound. My junior year in high school I shadowed a local music reporter for a class project. This writer (who shall remain anonymous) took me to a show he/she needed to review, and while the whole experience seemed somewhat magical to me, the critic in question was less than thrilled.

It was hard to imagine ever reaching a point when music wasn't fun anymore, but I've now seen firsthand how it comes about. Show after show, record after record -- they start to blend together, and it becomes harder to remember what makes music so special.

That's why these road trips, while somewhat frustrating, are completely necessary for me. As I close my eyes and let my music library take me where it may, I'm transported back to specific points in my life. One number makes me think of an old friend; another band reminds me of a summer program I attended. And that's why music matters so much: because it makes us remember, it makes us feel.

The part of my job I never get tired of is seeing not a moment, but a journey. Back in college I talked to a little-known opener called fun.; earlier this year I saw them perform again, this time in front of a sold-out crowd one week before winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. I saw Augustana perform their hit "Boston" back in Beantown in high school but learned the truth about what happens when a small band releases a major hit from lead singer Dan Layus years later. And just a few months ago I was backstage interviewing The Hush Sound, seven summers after a friend put one of their songs on a mix CD for me.

These stories are the ones that drive me, because in the end that's what music is all about -- journeys. It's about the songs that make you who you are, and it's about the all the moments that make up an artist's time in the spotlight. We wouldn't be who we are without those musicians, nor would they or their music exist in the same way without us, the listeners, the fans.

So as I sit here, on the bus, frustrated by the certainty that when I eventually write this up it will not sound nearly as eloquent as it does in this moment, I take a deep breath and am thankful for once (and only once) for this gift of uninterrupted music appreciation time that my travels and motion sickness have given to me. To those of you out there who can actually view words and pictures while on a moving vehicle, I suggest that every once in a while... don't. Unplug your computer, silence your phone, turn off your reading device (or, I don't know, close your old-fashioned "book") and get lost in the world your headphones can create for you -- it's worth it.