Give Me Time To Rest My Mind: The 52 State Pick-Up Mix, Part 9
The geography of the West – I didn’t fully understand why people went on and on about it until I started visiting and witnessing the dramatic landscapes for myself. Last week I drove through eastern Washington and Oregon for the first time, along the path of the Columbia River cutting through the isolated desert, surrounded by sharply steep mountains, where the highway follows the water with the landscape resembling fjords (lest you think that merely simile, the Hood Canal in the Puget Sound of Washington does scientifically qualify itself as geological fjord). The more time I spend out west, the more landscapes of states I see, the more I get it, people of the West. What I once mistook for arrogance is more often the reality of being humbled every day by your surroundings, living under the power of the land.
This next set takes on some of this drama: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.
The Evergreen State has a heavy hand in the music history annals: the grunge bands of Seattle, the riot grrls of Olympia, the indie label Sub Pop, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Yep, the Baby Got Back rapper represents the pacific northwest. Unfortunately, not many of these people name check the state. I almost tried to pass off a Sleater-Kinney song, since the band name is a road name, but I’ve made it this far with only minor cheating, so I didn’t want to break my streak. Then, I found this song by The First Edition, or Kenny Rogers & the First Edition as they more famously billed themselves as, once it became clear that Kenny’s voice was the powerhouse. I always knew vaguely that he was in a 60s/70s country rock band before going solo, but didn’t know many songs besides Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town). This song, “My Washington Woman”, is pretty brutal for not being a murder ballad: a man loses his job then meets a rich woman from Arkansas and decides to follow her and her money home — leaving behind his Washington woman who is pregnant with his baby. The last verse is how years later, she sends him blank letters occasionally, with nothing but a picture of the growing child. It’s not a sympathy song for his actions, it’s just shows he got exactly what he deserved.
While in Portland briefly, I stayed at the Kennedy School, which is what I like to call, Some Portland Isht. It was a renovated elementary school, where the classrooms were converted into guest rooms, closets converted into corner bars, cafeteria converted into brewery, a teacher’s lounge was now a soaking pool, the gym was stage for local folksy bands to play covers of the Ghostbusters theme on ukelele. The hallways were filled with surreal modern artwork in the Portland style and the rooms had chalkboards for leaving your mark. Portland, like it’s sister city of weird Austin, has many gifts, but sometimes when you tack all of them together and everyone is else doing it, it’s not so weird anymore — but that’s when you drive out to the rest of rural Oregon and gain some perspective. The Beaver State doesn’t have many songs with it’s name in the title, and though this band The Cat’s Miaow is actually from Australia, they’ve been doing the indie pop thing since the early 90s and I just genuinely enjoy this 2 minute ditty. “Sorry for the weather, but it doesn’t always rain as much as this.” I almost believe it.
This was a tight race, I very nearly picked the song “Colorado” by an electro garage band from outside of Moscow, Silver Pills. Give it a listen, too. Instead I went with a different sounding song also named after the Centennial State, by a favorite band of mine, Grizzly Bear. Having a trippy fan video made up of camera shots while roadtripping sold me on choosing this, though having a recommendation by our music editor P0plife didn’t hurt either.
“I’m still a fool for a one-way romance.” My first experience of the mythical west was a trip to Reno in college. I learned the correct pronunciation: a short-a sound on the second syllable, like “cat” (and not NeVAHda). I was driven around in a Ford bronco to smoke cigarettes while watching the moon rise over Pyramid Lake and lost money gambling in a casino for the first time in my life. The Silver State was my personal gateway to the west, so I always have a soft spot. There are plenty of songs and stories about Vegas, but Mark Knopfler singing about the sand feels more like the geography of the state to me.
The Beehive State is more often though of as the Mormon state, which can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouth, but once I visited and saw the salt flats, flaming gorges, and red stone arches, I understood her other side, I gained a tender spot for Utah. So why not give the floor to a couple Mormons I also am soft about? No, not the cast of Big Love, but Donny and his brothers. (Marie never sang with the group, she had her own solo singing success, before joining up with just Donny later on.) This song’s guitar riff is clearly the result of listening to some T. Rex, though instead of dirty sweet gong banging, it’s about missing your girl, your family, and home. Aww. But sometimes that is what happens on a long roadtrip, too – no matter what amazing things you’re seeing, sometimes you miss your everyday sights and sounds.
Any other songs about the west and pacific northwest I should have considered more thoroughly?