My sister came to visit me this month, bringing with her all of the things about home that I hadn’t realized I’d been missing. She smelled like the bus, but also like the laundry detergent our mom uses, and the fruit snacks from Costco that she keeps in bulk in our pantry. As we walked through Clinton Hill, past the brownstones and Saturday morning runners, she was amazed at how true New York was to the movies. Though my sister was on a one-day excursion away from our parents, she was there for another reason. We were seeing one of our favorite bands that night.
Jukebox the Ghost is a group that I would drop everything for, but up until this month, it had been a while since I’d listened to them. The band - comprised of keyboardist Ben Thornewill, guitarist/bassist Tommy Siegel, and drummer Jesse Kristin - formed over ten years ago in DC. Their music is all over the place—a bit of rock, a bit of pop, with the occasional mandolin and synth thrown in as well. They write songs about heartbreak and the end of the world, and throw rainbow horses onto their album covers (see 2018’s Off To The Races). They aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves (see basically any music video they’ve ever made). So, it came as no surprise that the group were throwing a big Halloween bash at Webster Hall on the 26th. Or, Halloqueen, as they call it, where Jukebox plays a set as themselves, then dresses up as the members of Queen to play a set of the British rock band’s songs.
Growing up, Jukebox the Ghost was one of the few things my sister and I could agree on. The two of us are as different as siblings can get, yet something about this music allowed us to find common ground. It’s what we would sing as I drove her to dance practice, what we’d crank up after late night 7-11 runs during the summer. We still send each other occasional Instagram messages of Jesse’s adorable dog Thelonious and freak out over all the new singles the band releases sporadically. As the two of us walked up to Webster Hall, the marquee reading “SOLD OUT” in huge letters, it felt like a moment made for us.
We spent the entire concert sharing smiles, the songs we’d screamed along to so many times before blaring through the speakers. We laughed as Jesse repeatedly dropped his drumsticks and gawked over Ben’s keytar solo in “Jumpstarted.” About halfway through, though, a familiar acoustic riff trinkled in slowly. Tommy’s gentle fingerpicking and soft voice rang out through the room. “Long Way Home” is a song off of Jukebox the Ghost’s 2014 self-titled record. It’s a quiet ballad, complete with soft harmonies and lyrics. The speaker is insecure about their place; in their relationship, in their life. The feeling lingers within each verse. When listening, I’ve always thought about it as the journey that a person needs to go through in order to find where they belong. I’ve viewed it as a want for stability, for comfort in hazy times. After five Jukebox shows, this was the first time I’d ever heard this song live.
This month was one of figuring out, in a way, where home was. It’s a common theme of being an overthinking college student. Maybe it was the stress of midterms or the sudden change of seasons, but I was bombarded with a collection of feelings I couldn’t quite decipher. I felt uncertain about my future, uncertain about what I was doing, what I was feeling. New York suddenly felt foreign when it had been a place of comfort for me for so long. Yet, at this show, screaming these lyrics alongside my sister, I was at ease for the first time in a while. There was a part of my old self along with my new one. It was a weird combination, but it made sense.
My throat was still sore as I took the train back from Port Authority on Sunday, after sending my sister off on her bus back home. It was a groggy morning, the rain tracking onto the platform, yet it didn’t bother me. I put in my headphones and pressed play on a song that is slowly making its way back into my life again. I’d lost track of the things that make up a home for a bit; the music, the people, the feeling. Maybe it took a recollection, but “Long Way Home” reminded me that you are never truly on your own. You can leave your heart in two places.