I want to share with you stories of how music shortened the distance between others and me. I’ll spoil the first story for you now — it doesn’t really have a happy ending. The second story, however, offers some hope.
My first-year roommate and I had very little in common. I would wake up and go to bed early — he would wake up later and arrive back in the room early in the morning from his late-night study sessions. I liked the room a bit cool and he liked it a bit warm. We hardly spoke to each other. But when we did, we talked about music. Granted, these occasions numbered maybe two or three, but you must understand that we never spoke to each other, so talking about anything at all was a sign of significant progress.
I remember we were both working at our desks with our backs to each other. No more than five feet stood between us. My roommate was playing music on his laptop and a Jim Croce song came up. The thumping of the acoustic guitar and Croce’s Cajun accent immediately transported me back to the days I spent sitting in the backseat of my dad’s Chrysler minivan on our way to our favorite lunch joint, Earl’s Grill. During our weekend trips out to lunch we would listen to my dad’s CDs, and one of his favorites was “Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits.” Both the minivan and Earl’s are long gone, but hearing “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” plopped me right back into that car seat.
I felt compelled to sing along to that song coming from my roommate’s laptop, and I believe I did so for a few reasons — first, because of the nostalgia. Second, I remember harboring a completely logical desire to annoy him a bit. Third and most importantly, though, I wanted to express my love for the song itself.
I don’t get the opportunity these days to talk to others about a shared love of a specific artist, so choosing to sing along was a signal that there we were not completely opposite people. Having that in common was simply wonderful, especially since we had seemingly shared nothing else.
I don’t remember what happened after I started singing. Maybe we chatted about Jim Croce for a few minutes, or maybe he changed the song until he found one I didn’t recognize. The only other time we expressed a love of a shared artist was when I was playing a Vampire Weekend song that caught my roommate’s attention.
“You like Vampire Weekend?” he asked.
Beyond our brief encounters with Jim Croce and Vampire Weekend, I don’t remember any specific moments or conversations I had with him. It’s sad, but true. Nevertheless, those moments have led me to realize that people who mix like water and oil when trying to live together can still find a foundation upon which to start a conversation.
Music was a step towards meaningful conversation between me and my roommate, so when my sister started showing me music she listened to, I was sure to listen. She lives in Boston, so I don’t see her too often. We hardly texted until she showed me some K-pop music she was listening to last year. She would send me links to YouTube videos of her favorite K-pop groups practicing their synchronized dancing or performing at concerts and musical group competitions in Korea.
I am personally not a big fan of K-pop music — okay, I guess I can be a fan of the dance moves, sometimes — but I was genuinely interested in learning more about Korean culture. So, my sister would recommend Korean TV shows, movies and musical groups for me that were more to my liking. She introduced me to Epik High, who is now one of my favorite groups — I even follow their frontman, Tablo, and his daughter, Haru, on Instagram, and I listen to Tablo’s podcast every week.
Now my sister and I talk a lot more than we used to. I owe it to her for reaching out to me and trying different ways to discover a topic we could converse about. She has taught me that starting a conversation can be hard, but is well worth it to start a dialogue with people important in your life.
There was definitely a great deal of distance in my relationships with both my first-year roommate and my sister for a while. Still, there was a commonality that, although it took some time and effort to bring to the fore, gave me a platform to try to close the distance in these relationships. In both instances, that commonality was music. Music didn’t particularly spark much in terms of conversation between my roommate and me, per se, but it did offer a path toward a better relationship with my sister. Who knows, maybe the next time I see my roommate, I’ll try to jumpstart the conversation with Jim Croce or Vampire Weekend and see if we can take it from there.
Zachary Forstot is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.