Spring break was a series of ice-cold cars and off beat record stores. After a sunrise flight into Chicago, Jack and I found ourselves at the mecca of Midwest hipsterdom: Wicker Park. In Wicker Park, grunge is alive and well and being alternative is still too mainstream. The slew of hipster coffee shops and thrift stores lining Milwaukee Avenue, the neighborhood’s main artery, punctuated our record store pilgrimage while simultaneously boosting our caffeine levels and emptying our wallets.

In Reckless Records, the crown jewel of Wicker Park’s music scene, speakers blasted lyrical genius of Neutral Milk Hotel as we dug through bins upon bins of ‘the best 1970s folk you’ve never heard of.’ Jack’s lanky figure disappeared among the countless record-carrying milk crates as he searched for some obscure band (which in the Reckless Records world was not obscure at all) as my feet remained glued in front of the P-S Artists record bin. It was here, under the handprint and graffiti covered ceilings of Reckless Records, that our Midwest music road trip officially began.

With our new-found records safely stored, we rode the rattling L train southward through the bowels of the city. At nearly every underground stop in the Loop, Chicago’s central downtown business district, the station’s self-perpetuating wind swept raucous jazz into the tightly packed cars. I caught brief glimpses of the bundled troubadours playing in specifically Chicago Transit Authority designated platform areas as we whizzed by. Some stops had whole bands, complete with horns sections and matching outfits, while others had old men acoustically playing guitar.

The train itself added to the music on the platforms with its own unique, industrial sound— a combination of the creaking of the old cars, the friction on the tracks, and the general movement of the passenger heavy cars— as it sped through the tunnels. Through its sounds and movements, the L came to life. From the L to the cab to the soft crackling of my friend’s record player, music was everywhere in Chicago.

Three days in, our musical journey extended across state lines to the boomtown of Beloit, Wisconsin. Jack and I painted the sunset soaked suburbs with the tunes of our iPod playlists before the bus ride lulled us to sleep. We hopped in my friend Marie’s old Volkswagen at a roadside gas station as nightfall passed. After getting both the driving and walking tour of the tiny, liberal arts Beloit College, we headed to the school’s pool hall, iPhones in hand.

Although Beloit is a school grounded in tradition, there were no record players in sight. Instead, we made due with iPhones on full volume and obnoxious shout outs for song requests in a room full of strangers. Besides Marie and Jack, I’d never seen anyone in the pool hall before, but within a few hours had a whole host of new friends. The dreamy beach vibes of Real Estate transformed the pool hall into a vivacious oasis in the midst of a snowy and desolate campus, which sat squarely in the middle of nowhere. More so, the music made a strange place feel like home and strangers become friends, all through low-quality iPhone speakers.

After breakfasting at the greasiest of diners, we hit the road yet again, this time for Madison. Cramming into Marie’s car, we passed the time played musical Russian roulette and making a mini road trip while already on the road. On the way north, the Bob Dylan heavy playlist reflected the barren fields and frostbitten small towns that blurred together as the miles increased. Dylan’s raw folk seemed to both speak to and for the dreary Wisconsin scenery and as his hits played on, a hush fell over the car, save for the quiet humming of Jack in the back and Marie in the driver’s seat.

Unlike the upbeat music on the subway or eclectic DJing in the pool hall, the choice of Dylan while driving through the country evoked a refreshing level of introspection. I not only listened to the lyrics, but looking out the window I thought about their meaning in the greater context of today. This musical choice was doubly poignant in the fact that many of Dylan’s messages are timeless, just as the wide, sweeping Midwest landscape is.

These small musical vignettes colored our time in the Midwest, but it’s not until I began writing this piece that I actually thought about them in a concrete, coherent way. Often times, I take the music of the world around me for granted, labeling it as background noise or inconsequential. Ironically, I’ll often block out these sounds with my headphones. So what, there’s a band on the L platform or the trains make noise or we’re blasting music in the pool hall. What does that matter, in the big picture? After venturing through America’s heartland, I have an answer to that question: music creates an atmosphere and colors how we see and feel about the world. It matters completely.

Margie Fuchs is a junior in the College. Face the Music appears every other Friday.

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