This song always reminds me of New York. Not because I listened to it when I was there. By the time it came out, I was already living in Taiwan and going through my “indie electro” phase. I hated living there. So to keep myself a New Yorker at heart, I listened to music that I knew our local radio stations wouldn’t play. Every day, I would trawl Pitchfork and Hypem to look for something that was a little esoteric, but not too challenging for my pedestrian tastes. And that’s how I found “Midnight City,” by M83. I hear it, and it’s like I’m in Manhattan again. For four minutes and three seconds, I’m 22, and shuffling to my office 27th and 7th while avoiding eye contact with the students loitering outside of F.I.T. It’s windy out, my hair’s still damp from my morning shower, and I’m fishing out the dimes that have slipped through the holes inside my coat pockets. I listen to the song a second time, and I’m outside of K-Town, awaiting a friend who will insist that we get Pinkberry after dinner even though it’s barely 40 degrees out. I listen to it a third time, and I’m walking past that dorm in NYU with a facade that looks like a church. I’m waiting for somebody. I always am, in these imaginings. It’s always winter, and I am always outside. But then those four minutes are over, and I either hit “repeat” or I venture into the living room, where my mother passes the time by combing out the knots in our dog’s fur.
Now that I’m living in Singapore, I don’t seek out music like this anymore. I don’t know if I ever really liked it, or if i just liked what it sustained in me. You would think that “Midnight City” would remind me of those afternoons in my Taiwan bedroom, which I left only to pee or help my mom set the table. But no. The synth comes on and in my mind, I’m among skyscrapers and $1 pizza joints again
I realize now that’s not my actual life in New York that I return to when listening to this song, but the fantasy that I inhabited during that year I lived in Taiwan. And maybe that’s why the effect is uncomfortable, rather than nostalgic — because it reminds me of a place, and of a life, that I created and have since outgrown. Of the New York I could have had, and that persists only in daydreams.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
TS Eliot, "East Coker"
I’m just like,
The story of my life
“And the only solution was to stand and fight,
And my body was bruised and
I was set alight,
But you came over me like some holy rite,
And although I was burning,
You’re the only light.”
Florence and the Machine - Only if for a Night
— Anna Kamienska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook (translated by Clare Cavanagh)