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Music for an Open Mind
(Sept 2015)

Posted on Sep 20, 2015

In a line of 20-some-year-olds itching to hear rock band Muse at the Webster Theater, Jon stands alone, hands in the pockets of his oversize blue jeans, grey hair neatly pulled in a ponytail.

He’s in Manhattan to see Muse, but he isn’t a die-hard fan like the rest – his years of work in the music industry get him free VIP tickets to concerts around town, and Muse happens to be on the menu tonight. He’s arrived an hour early, calmly waiting for a new experience to digest.

Jon grew up in one of New York City’s many housing projects, almost 200,000 apartments spread across the city intentioned for low-income residents. The projects have been referred to as “physical proof of the city’s crime rates,” “a tax-draining vector of institutionalized mayhem and poverty” and “out of sight and mind.”

Jon is an anomaly – he got out of the projects, got a steady job, married, and moved his family to the New Jersey suburbs. But, unlike others, he would regularly take his kids back to the projects to show them what life was like there.

“I raised my kids in the Jersey suburbs because I wanted a better life for them. But life isn’t all green-lawn suburbia.”

The choice to move to suburbia seems to conflict him. He made the best decisions he could, but he doesn’t assume he made the right ones.

“Who knows if they got a better life, really,” he adds with a shrug.

When Jon got divorced, he moved back to New York City and built himself a life that revolves around music.

“I listen to all music,” he says. “People get stuck in the music they like, but you should listen to different music. It keeps you open. That’s why there’s so much prejudice in the world – because we judge before we even know what the ‘other’ person, place, or culture is like.”

“You know, my father used to turn off music he didn’t like when we’d ride in his truck. I promised myself years ago I would never, ever do that. There is always something to appreciate in the unknown. You see a Chinese guy? Sit down with him, ask him about his life, just talk to him. It’s simple. It’s so simple!”

Jon practices what he preaches. Last year, he went to see Pink with his daughter. Music, in all its shapes and forms, is guiding force in his life.

Years ago, Jon was running a small sandwich shop in Queens and, one day, he was shot in the arm. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years afterward. Many other “macho” men he knew struggled with PTSD silently and alone. But Jon went to a psychiatrist to get help, and was willing to try different methods to recover, including music therapy.

And music now helps him to prioritize the present. Looking back, he has realized that life got in the way of his marriage, his happiness, that over the years people “forget the things that attracted themselves to each other. Do you take pictures?” he asks. “You should make albums, or you’ll forget.”

“Even if you have plans tomorrow, you have to live through today. So you might as well focus on today instead of living in your plans.”

And as he turns to enter the theater, he smiles, waves and shouts sincerely and full of kind meaning, “Have a good life!”


  1. This post about Jon’s connection to Music very much resonated with me. It’s a reminder to all of us to ‘stop and smell the roses’. To try and live in the present, appreciate what is ‘now’, and all that is good. We can attempt to change much of what we live with, even areas infused with challenge, to align with that silver lining which can be captured in almost every experience. It seems for many, Music can be a vehicle which can facilitate this process. For Jon, it seems music helps put things in perspective. It is healing and inspiring all at once. It nurtures his soul.

  2. Life in the past is gone (lessons learned), Life in the future is a dream but Life in the moment is a “present” – the best present one can have. Live it to the fullest. I think that Jon’s story that is depicted in your “Ways of Living” is very powerful. My wife and I just visited my mum today and it has been just over 5 years since dad passed away. Even after 5 years, I could see in mum’s eyes a painstaking reality that we (especially mum) will never see dad again. I could see in mum’s watery eyes that there were times they should have thrown caution to the urgent things and done what was important – “spending quality time with each other”.

  3. Maybe since it’s in New York the connection is pretty obvious, but this story is like what I’d imagine a longer form version would be of the quotes/stories in Humans of New York. The writer’s influence is mostly behind the scenes, and the narrator is telling his own story.

what do you think?


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