Helpless by Neil Young
This is sort of an odd post to write right now, seeing as I am currently in my hometown of Winnipeg. It’s Canada Day today, though, and that got me thinking of the places I’ve been in the past seven years on July 1st: Granada, Nicaragua (2012); The Perhentian Islands, Malaysia (2011); Tokyo, Japan (2010); Osaka, Japan (2009); Edinburgh, Scotland (2008); Moscow, Russia (2007); Oslo, Norway (2006). This is my first Canada Day IN Canada since 2005, and it will be a quiet one; a day spent at the Osborne Street Festival and a night with some friends and some beer.
I’ve written about how much I love Canada and about how much I miss Canada many times before – it’s my favourite country, and where I my mind wanders to whenever I think of the word “home”. Even though I’ve barely spent a collective year here in the past seven, I’m fiercely patriotic and proud to be from this beautiful and supportive nation. It’s no surprise, then, that occasionally I get homesick, either for Winnipeg or for Toronto. It’s usually on a bus, it’s usually raining, and I’m staring out the window, missing my family or reflecting on the past, present, and future. Oh, and I’m usually (more like always) listening to music.
I’ve already written about what I listen to when I travel; this is a different list. This is a list of songs, some Canadian, some not, that I listen to when I get gut-wrenchingly homesick. Warning: they’re all sad. Some of them have nothing to do with a place, or being home, or travelling, but they’re the tunes I want to repeat over and over again as the rain beats against the window. Melodramatic? Who, me?!
These are all totally personal, but I hope you’ll relate, or perhaps find a new song to add to your own list of songs you listen to when you’re in your hostel room and you didn’t make any friends that day and your family isn’t on Skype and it’s really cold outside and you question why you’re doing any of this at all (because it happens to all of us, seasoned travellers or not). So… here’s a list of songs to listen to when you’re homesick.
1. Chicago by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
This is a very political song, and (obviously) mostly about America. But there’s something about those harmonies, and about those words, that just make me think of being a teenager and riding around in a car on a hot summer night, thinking I could change the world. I’m pretty sure every single song associated with Neil Young makes me feel this way, and rightly so: he’s amazing.
2. Oh Canada by The Blow
When I was in university in Halifax I went through a huge K Records phase, listening to tons of Mirah, Built to Spill, Bikini Kill, Kimya Dawson, Beat Happening, etc. I don’t listen to much of it anymore, but I still love this song by The Blow; it’s simple in its music and its lyrics, and it happens to be about my home country.
3. I Miss You Now by Stereophonics
This song just ruins me. If you’ve ever said goodbye to someone while on the road, do not listen to this song on repeat. Especially if, you know, you don’t want to sob on a bus to Honduras and wish you were at home in your own bed eating chocolate chip cookies.
4. Skinny Love by Bon Iver
You’re probably like, duh, Bon Iver. I swear to you, though, I have heard this song all over the world, played either on the hostel’s stereo or by some backpacker with a guitar, and everyone always gets all weepy and reflective (it might have to do with the copious amounts of day drinking we’ve been doing, too). This song reminds me of two things: sitting in my room in Osaka with Kerri while we tried to figure out our futures (that was back in 2009), and sitting on a rooftop in Hanoi, Vietnam. All of us travellers were singing along, and I looked over to the building across the way; a little girl was watching us from her window. I waved, and she waved back. I’ve listened to this song on some of my worst travel days.
5. Codex by Radiohead
Basically anything ever performed by Radiohead could make this list, but in South America I was all about this song. The lyrics about the clear lake, with no-one around, remind me of going to Lake of the Woods in Ontario with my friends when I was growing up. I honestly don’t know if I would have made it through some of the long journeys I’ve taken without the music of Radiohead.
6. A Case of You by Joni Mitchell
Another Canadian on the list, and one of the greatest at that. The entire album Blue is absolutely genius, and I listen to it often when I travel and feel like getting lost in the memories of home, and of Canada. “I could drink a case of you, darling, and I would still be on my feet,” is one of the most romantic and tragic lines I’ve ever heard. James Blake also does an incredible version of this song, one that makes me homesick and broken-hearted. Not recommended for listening if you’re already having a bad day.
7. The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles
I grew up listening to The Beatles, as most of us did. I had a minor obsession with them in my teenage years; my first apartment’s walls were lined with Beatles posters. I insisted on going to Liverpool when I visited England with my mum in 2004. There are so many Beatles songs that could have made this list, but this one about the road, seems to really hit home (no pun intended) when I travel.
8. The Things We Did and Didn’t Do by The Magnetic Fields
If you are ever feeling a little bit lonely and a little bit regretful, do not, I repeat do not listen to this song while you are, oh, I don’t know, killing time in the airport in Kuala Lumpur and thinking you made a huge mistake. This song makes me want to sit on the couch and watch movies with my mum, without a care (or a regret) in the world.
9. America by Simon and Garfunkel
“Brenna, you insensitive jerk. How could you?! On Canada Day?” Hear me out. This song is about our neighbour to the south, yes, but it is about travelling and searching for meaning on the road, too. “‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping/ ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why…'” Does that not sum up exactly how you feel when you’re homesick? Canadian, American, Batswana, I think we can all relate to that feeling when we travel.
10. Hope She’ll Be Happier by Bill Withers
This song just breaks me in two. It’s about love lost, but it still pulls on the same heartstrings that homesickness does (if you’re not getting misty-eyed by the time he gets to that held note, you may be a sociopath). See also: Otis Redding’s These Arms Of Mine, and Sam Cooke’s I Need You Now. All three songs have been played far too many times on my iPod.
This is by no means an exhaustive list: I have an entire “Homesick” playlist on my iPod, in fact, that includes many more tracks by these artists as well as songs by The Rolling Stones, The Sadies, Bob Dylan, Regina Spektor, Patsy Cline, Ron Sexsmith, The Black Keys, Broken Social Scene, John Lennon, Metric, The Righteous Brothers, No Doubt, Pearl Jam, Wanda Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Buckley, Band of Horses, Florence and the Machine, Hank Williams, The 5 Satins, Arcade Fire, Blue Rodeo, and many more. Yes, it’s the weirdest list ever, but every song reminds me of home, or at the very least lets me wallow in my melancholy.
As I wrote in What I Listen To On The Road, “What I found very, very interesting about this entire process, spending time looking through my “recently played” and “most played” playlists, was that nearly every single band or musician I picked was one I had been listening to for years. Even of those listed in the honourable mentions, there are only a few that made their debut in the last decade. Most of the music I choose to listen to while I travel is the music I listened to either with my parents or as a teenager; it’s like my homesickness manifests itself through song. As I rarely ever feel homesick when I travel, perhaps it’s because I allow all of this familiar music to comfort me, to subconciously remind me of home and of being comfortable and safe.”
I still wholeheartedly feel the same.
Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canadians – whether you’re in the country or abroad and feeling homesick for some fireworks and poutine.
What do you listen to when you’re homesick?