Insight: Music makes me nostalgic for a home I didn’t know I missed

“When I’m back in Chicago, I feel it.”

These words from the viral TikTok song “End of Beginning” by Djo hit me hard. The thing is, I’ve never been to Chicago. I might have stopped in O’Hare on a connecting flight when I was younger; I really don’t remember. It’s a pretty good song to be fair, but it’s hard not to be romantic about music, especially when it says things you didn’t even know you were feeling.

It isn’t just me: the tune has racked up over 350,000 posts as of Feb. 22, with creators missing both Chicago itself or their own hometown. 

But I’m not just homesick for where I grew up — I’m homesick for wherever I’m not. 

It’s hard to be away from home. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mile or a continent away: time brings homesickness. The burden weighs heavy as an ASU out-of-state student a thousand miles away from where I lived the first 17 years of my life.

I never had problems defining home before I left my first true one. Choosing to leave everyone I’d ever known to attend college in the complete unknown seemed tough, but it really wasn’t. I found my footing fast, meeting a community and lifelong friends from just about day one. But it was almost too good.

For my first year of school, every time I went home, I just wanted to go back to ASU. I loved Phoenix; it’s the kind of city that I’d always wanted to live in that really doesn’t exist in my home state of Arkansas.

But eventually, that honeymoon phase faded. Not that I don’t love it still, but now the peace of rural Harrison, Arkansas, calls to me like I never thought it could — but only when I’m not there.

Sometimes it’s frustratingly irrational to not be able to define home. It has to be where I came of age, where my family lives, where I’ve spent most of my life. When I’m away, I can imagine flowery scenes of my best memories in Arkansas and almost cry when I hear that song that brings me right back; it just doesn’t carry over when I actually get there.

That feels terrible to say, but maybe I’m just wearing rose-tinted glasses. And the nostalgia always ties back to music. 

Whether I’m missing Harrison or Little Rock, Arkansas, where I was born, I can always only see the good when I’m gone. When I listen to Steve Lacy’s “Apollo XXI,” I can close my eyes and instantly picture the tennis courts late at night back home or reminisce while listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” on driving south from one home to another.

Over summer, fall break and winter break, these feelings call me back to Arkansas. And then it’s the same again, but just for Phoenix. I spend months in Arkansas over the summer and find myself specifically wanting to go “home” to the Valley. Sometimes it’s even Long Beach, California, where I spent just five of the best days of my life.

Maybe memories aren’t dependent on the amount of time you spend somewhere, but on the quality. Maybe home accounts for the future. I don’t plan to live out my days in the Natural State, that’s for sure.

I really think music is the key factor. Music can make you miss something or someone more than you thought was possible, or it can make you miss something that you’ve never known. Sometimes it’s ridiculous: I can hear “Punch Drunk” by Sade one time and instantly want to drop everything to move to New York City (like Chicago, I’ve never been).

Music is the perfect puzzle piece to fill the voids humans leave in memory. Even Harvard studies have found this to be true. I’ve found that missing something can be specifically tied to a brief sonic reminder, from “So Anxious” by Ginuwine taking me back to my last week in Little Rock to “Mirror” by Kendrick Lamar being the anthem I needed as I left for college in August 2022.

Music will always strip away the details of my memories and leave me with my perceived theme. It’s mental filmmaking: pointing the camera at the right bits, cropping out the boring details, changing the color grade so it feels just right.

No matter how conscious I am of it, it’s still there. I miss “home” now, and I’ll miss a different home in a few months. Right now, all I can do is put on the rose-tinted glasses and let them do what they always do: make life as romantic as possible.

The grass might just always be greener. There’s too many special places in this world to be tied just to one, at least for now. The circle of longing might just balance the feeling of belonging in multiple places. Or maybe Tyler, The Creator was right and “EXACTLY WHAT YOU RUN FROM YOU END UP CHASING.”

Edited by Sophia Braccio, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.

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