With the semester coming to its bittersweet close, the time has come for Berkeley students to embark on their winter migration home to who, what or wherever the word means to each of them. Good or bad, a stage in each of our lives is coming to its close, and we now must say our goodbyes. The December train ride home takes its place in the in-between: melancholic solitude wrapped in a warm blanket of vehicular tranquility. As we each take our moment of transitory reprieve — whether by train, plane, car or subway — here are some songs to offer an empathetic companion.
“America” by Simon and Garfunkel
Sentimental hums and a dulcet guitar usher in Paul Simon’s ode to the somber frontier. A story of young love and a road trip, this song melodizes the particular emotional cocktail found only in the woozy air of shared transportation with strangers — giddy wanderlust and isolation in a crowd. From “laughing on the bus” to feeling “empty and aching” without knowing why, Simon simply gets it. The time spent staring out the window is intimately blithe, but something forlorn is reflected in the glass.
“Flowers in December” by Mazzy Star
Gazing at the passing plains, it is clear that the December air is like no other. In its frigid stillness, it waits for you to make the first move. Though the chaos of the holidays would rather us forget, the natural world comes to a pause at the end of the year — from slumbering bees to hibernating bears. We, too, deserve the time to idle as nature itself goes to bed. The honeyed vocals of Hope Sandoval make for a dreamy reminder of this fact. Rest lies at the end of the trek now that the semester is done.
“I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” by Nina Simone
As a master of rending hearts with just a few notes on the piano, Nina Simone’s rendition of this jazz classic is nothing short of divine. Her voice is molasses rich — deep and amber, with a sweetness coating every tonal inflection. The lyrics portray a speaker trying (and failing) to hide their pain from missing someone close. “Should I phone once more?” she sings, her tone dripping with melodious caution. This song is for the homesick. Whether you’re missing family, friends, pets or your favorite restaurant, the time will soon be over for attempts at burying your nostalgic tenderness.
“Half Return” by Adrianne Lenker
Dolefully, the voyage home is not all warm fuzzies and childlike reminiscence. With every return hangs a dull ache — that distant yet ever-present knowledge that neither you nor your home are the same as you left it. Lenker’s eerie voice paints the feeling in an earthy hush, whispering what we know to be true: Home is not always a place, but an amalgamation of memory and sentiment that exists in flux. It can feel as though we never return fully to our past homes, even if the train stop doesn’t change.
“New World Coming” by Cass Elliot
But train rides are not just for sticky schmaltz that wants nothing more than to drag you down emotionally. There is a sparkling gaiety to be found halfway between points A and B. Let Cass Elliot’s crystalline melodies guide you along the tracks. Take note of the excitement that fizzes as you proceed into the future with lessons learned in the past. “There’s a new world coming/ and it’s just around the bend,” she sings, and it’s true! What will you make of it?
“Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel
In all honesty, the entire Simon and Garfunkel discography deserves a spot on this playlist, but just the two songs will suffice. Their gentle strumming behind arcadian harmonies seems handwoven for journeys home, and no track is more fitting than “Homeward Bound.” “Sittin’ in the railway station,” a longing Simon sings, wishing he were on his journey home rather than stuck in the city that has become synonymous with his work. This song’s chorus, a joyous refrain of the title, encapsulates the wistful coziness of our journeys home.