Heart vs. Hustle: As (over)Heard on the Subway

I was riding home on the subway recently, sitting across from a *man-spreader with an iphone on his chest, blasting music from the speakers loud enough for the entire car to groove along to the beat. We’ll call him Chad. Next to him was a fellow with very straight posture and a short-sleeved button down shirt tucked into khaki pants. We’ll call him Arnold.

So, Arnold leaned over to Chad and said “Do you ever listen to music?” I thought this was a sarcastic way to say 'please turn it the eff down,' But I was wrong.

“Yeah,” said Chad.

“That’s not music. People make music, not robots. That’s robot noise,” said Arnold.

Chad was not impressed by the judgment, but Arnold carried on saying he’s a jazz musician, and that jazz is real music because it has heart.

Then Chad paused the "robot noise" and said, “These guys have hustle and that’s art. They were selling drugs on the street and they turned to this art to save their lives.” 

And for the first time in six years of New York City life, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of a manspreader. Because, really, what is it that makes something music? Is it heart or is it hustle? In my opinion, it’s neither. The only thing that really makes something music is the listener.

You know the age-old question, ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ Well, it turns out it does not. Because, by definition, a sound is a vibration that travels through the air and is heard when it reaches an ear. It has to be received by someone, or it's just a noise. 

I see music in the same way-- as a connection that must be received. It is not the instruments used to create that connection any more than a house is the tools used to build it.

For example, I’ve always been a lyric-obsessed music fan. To the point where I actually had an embarrassingly hard time understanding how anyone could possibly care about any piece of the song more than lyrics. Then I started talking to other musicians and songwriters about their favorite songs, and realized that most of them didn’t care about lyrics AT ALL! Some of them couldn’t even sing back the words to their favorite song!! Others even dared to love music in languages they couldn’t understand. I’m not proud of how closely I could relate to Arnold’s difficulty at distinguishing the tools from the house here. Just because the words were the tools that connected to me, didn't mean melodies, rhythms, chords, the artist’s story, or any other piece couldn’t do that for someone else.

Chad and Arnold each connected to their respective types of music because through them, they were reminded of truth. Of the search for something better. Of their own lives. And the fact that the sounds giving them that reminder were produced by wooden boxes or metal boxes was irrelevant.

Well, I’m sure you could see this coming, but Chad and Arnold did not end up coming to any sort of agreement. Their story ended when Arnold said, “Go listen to jazz and classical music. I’m always happy to help people in their choice of listening.” And then added, “Those guys should have stuck with drugs,” before getting off the train. 

And with that, the robots resumed.

Love Love Love,

*Man-spreader (n): Dude who sits on the subway with his legs sprawling wide, taking up multiple seats, oblivious to the fact that there is a pregnant woman on crutches forced to stand right in front of him.

Share this:


  1. Hi! I’ve been following your weblog for a long time and from here
    I Get the inspiration to go ahead. Just wanted to mention keep up the great job!
    Aaru Garg
    My Blog: https://realbahubali.blogspot.in/

    1. Thanks so much, Aaru!! That means so much, I really appreciate it :) Best of luck with your blog as well!