There’s something magic underneath the sound waves of music. Maybe it’s the understanding that performing instruments on a professional scale takes clout, passion, and talent, or maybe it’s simply the feeling that music elicits when it’s understood. Those broad neural networks simulating past emotions from a song that blared over WVW radio stations are more than that nostalgic experience. Take, for example, the first night I rolled ecstasy: I bought a McDonalds’ Happy Meal just for the toy that came inside the decorated box, and I feel that same tilt every time Earl Sweatshirt speaks on a lo-fi beat: “Rawer than the skinned knee cap on the blacktop.”

During those malleable years, Tony, the ginger giant, looming in at six feet five inches, was the only individual I knew who could vomit Earl unconscious. Take, for example, the first night I rolled ecstasy: Tony had drunk an entire twenty-four pack of Natural Ice to himself, alongside a handful of muscle relaxers, and sat stoic, eyes closed, head swaying. The reverb from the DIY stereo system rattled the glass panes in the front door as the song played, “Chilling for awhile on a pile of the rest of them.” That internal rhyme scheme on top of hollow production will always remind me of Tony.

Hollowness appears to be a trend in the music that continues to speak to me, dusting off more cobwebs from those networks. Deftones dropped their seventh LP while I resorted to warehouse labor to make ends meet in my early twenties. As I covered chalkboard paint across inserts of wood screwed into antique portrait frames, the new age rock gospel streaming through Spotify over it’s-got-to-work-for-now cellphone speakers lingered in my ears and guided my frayed paintbrush like the strokes of a pick against the strings of an electric guitar. When I screamed, “Cut through this razor wire and dine on your heart,” I accidentally lobbed, splashed, and smeared some of the black paint across my forehead.

You could hear the same band echoing from my ripe orange automobile as it rocked back and forth outside a house party somewhere in Keeling, VA, circa 2011. I find myself sweating and panting naked over Ivy who has her legs wrapped around my hips and her nails dug into my shoulder blades. The party isn’t over, she’s singing along, as hard as it is for her to keep a beat moaning, and I’ve never been more susceptible. We see the people passing by through fogged windows, but we don’t stop for anything. “Do you like the way the water tastes?”

After I got a call saying Tony had died, I felt a similar flicker growing outward. The spark that decays a fond memory into a moratorium. A familiar lo-fi beat began over my hatchback’s speakers as I held my head in hand, and it’s as if I could see him still in the backseat: “Rawer than the skinned knee cap on the blacktop.”