1. Song No. 1: “A,” Cartel
Nearly 10 years later, the response to “Q” and last track on “Chroma” still gets this rig rolling. And it still gives me chills when I think about how seriously I took these lyrics as a romantic call to action for a life less directed by purpose than shaped by passion.
Our days were numbered by nights
On too many rooftops
They said we’re wasting our lives
Oh, at least we know that if we died
We lived with passion
They said we burned so bright….
In 2005, when this band and this song and this album strolled into my life, I was at peak starving-artist ideation, escaping to daydream visions of myself living a charmingly bare-bones bohemian life in NYC as a chronically underpaid journalist or drifting writer picking up odd jobs as needed. Life would be an extension of college’s perfect balance of freedom and responsibility, a journey of following my heart but taking occasional input from my head when the real world intruded again.
At that point, I had accepted that writing was the only job I could see myself doing for the rest of my life, because if I had to go through the rigors of adulthood, I was doing it on my terms. I was right, but it’d be years later until I realized I had supplied the correct answer but asked the wrong question. This song, however, is evidence that, really, the question doesn’t have to be fully formed or perfectly on-point to nudge someone in the right direction. “Q” puts it right out there with “if you’re not getting answers / Ask better questions.” Sometimes those questions need a little more context and lived-in experience and nuance to get to the heart of the matter, but the journey to defining and refining those terms can yield just as much of a valid answer in its own right, especially if it teaches you how to ask better questions.
Nothing scared 20something me like a life without passion, and writing was what made my heart thump. This song was anthemic for that part of me. The freely celebrated admission that a life well-lived is never wasted, that finding what you love and letting it kill you was preferable to outliving your drive to live and do and feel everything.
Surviving is a flat existence; thriving is a multidimensional experience. That spirit is why I’ve said yes to a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have, but there is so much to learn about the shared human experience by at least being a curious tourist once in a while and venturing a taste of the world outside one’s comfort zone and routine. Novelty and passion are, I think, inherently intertwined and infinitely rewarding. Sometimes it takes a departure from the familiar to reignite one’s love for it. And nothing encourages a new take on the comfortable quite like seeing it through a new lens.
At 35, bitterly entrenched in a job I hated, I admitted that I’d let myself listen to my head a few too many times and strayed from the course. Making what I laughed off as the dumbest financial move I could have made while secretly panicking over the fear that maybe this was too much of a risk and too big a pay cut, I ran back to the newspapers I’d been missing for 10 years. At four months old, the adventure is still a fairly new one but I can say that I got here by finally asking the right questions. And I got the answer I’d been pretending wasn’t right in front of me the whole time with the homecoming I finally admitted I wanted.
And just as I’d felt them it in the long-ago dorm room where I first sang along equally as ardently as off-key, I couldn’t ignore the goosebumps and wave of emotion that accompanied belting out “We know there’s an answer / We know by going home we’ll find it by ourselves.”