I’m Walking Backwards to the Place That I Come From: The 52 State Pick-Up Mix, Part 3
If you find yourself driving through eastern Kentucky on scenic Highway 23, the “Country Music Highway”, you will see a turn off sign for the Loretta Lynn Home Place. After several miles and several turns, you will eventually reach the tiny town of Van Lear. Keep going. Butcher Holler (or Butcher Hollow, depending on who you ask) is a few miles past that, up a tiny dirt road that is barely wide enough for two cars. Before you reach Loretta Lynn’s house, you will pass her brother Herman’s house, and if you park and honk, and if he is home and he feels like it, he will come outside and give you a tour for $5. Herman didn’t feel like it the day I visited, but I didn’t mind, we were passing through and stopped on a whim. If you drive past her house, the road narrows and the neighbors’ pregnant hound dogs will be napping in the road, reluctant to move unless you ease the car right up next to them and honk the horn. While they slowly stand and get out of the way, look down the ravine into a yard of parked cars with dozens of more dogs laying about on hoods and rooftops. Be careful of the three point turn at the top of the hill, it’s steep. On your way out, hop out of the car and walk around the gate to get a photo of yourself next to the sign to mark the occasion.
I think you know what today’s first song is for part three of The 52-State Pick-up Mix.
Last week, I focused on the South, and we’ll stay in the general vicinity, focusing on the “border” states that have some South, some Midwest, and some regionalism all of its own.
The Bluegrass State’s most famous ambassador to the music world, the coal miner’s daughter herself.
I would previously have always placed the Buckeye State firmly in the Midwest, but that was before I visited the lower half of the state, which abuts the Appalachians in the southeast corner and is reined in on the bottom by the Ohio river. I was initially considering Neil Young’s Ohio (as p0plife also suggested), but that song was mostly about Kent State incident of the time, and I wanted instead to use his Alabama song, so I decided to take it in a different direction. Here’s Olivia Newton John singing sweetly about killing your love down by the river. It makes Loretta’s Fist City seem like a vacation town.
Speaking of Appalachians, the Mountain State is full of them. West Virginia is a bit like Arkansas – it is definitely southern, but mountain people also have a way of living all their own. For this state I went well beyond my own catalog and ended up learning all about Hazel Dickens, a bluegrass performer at a time when the field was dominated by men – I mean, even more than now. She wrote and became famous for this really lovely folk song about her home state, it is frequently covered by other bluegrass and folk singers, but I’m partial to this live version from a few years ago.
Carolina comes up in songs A LOT – but rarely do the songs specify whether they mean the Tar Heel State or the Palmetto State. Both are firmly “the South”, but the split between the two, as well as the notoriety of South of the Border, means I’m including them in today’s section. I do love sweet baby James’s Carolina in my Mind and it was hard not to pick it, but I went with two other choices instead. First, the literal:
Ooh, Shooter Jennings. You were my favorite part of Walk the Line, playing your dad. I’m not someone who always goes for dirty bad boys, but I wouldn’t mind waking up behind the bar with you. Now, the metaphorical:
M. Ward’s soft ballad is the aching voice of being split in two from a broken heart. I’ve worn this song out at certain hard times of my life, and it felt like a good segueway after the grit of hard living featured in songs this section.
Alright, it’s your turn to tell me what I missed from these states!