May 8, 2009
One of country music's gifts is its ability to evoke strong images and feelings through its relatable lyrics. And nothing engenders intense, occasionally conflicting, emotions like your hometown. Whether or not your hometown is a reflection of who you are or have become, it is an integral part of your personal history and has influenced you in ways perhaps too obscure to realize.
I love hometown songs because of the obvious emotion behind the lyrics. That emotion is always imbued with a sense of nostalgia or longing (for what was or what could be or what might have been), even if the lyrics don't necessarily shine a positive light on the hometown. It's an irresistible combination, especially for country music listeners.
I have no doubt that I am a product of my hometown. Despite being couched between two large sprawling metropolis', it's an intimate and friendly place, a beach town where you can't leave the house without running into somebody you know. I babysat the girl tearing my ticket at the local movie theatre, my neighbor's son takes my order at the restaurant down the street, and a few minutes spent strolling through the local grocery store or Target is akin to a high school reunion; a verifiable “who's who” of my past and present.
I love the fact that I can wear flip flops pretty much anywhere, and that the people are open, laid back and affectionate. I love that my old high school has a highly ranked surf and bodyboarding team, and it's still considered cool to own a volvo station wagon (hello, the board fits in the back!). I also love that it has maintained its quirkiness despite a certain amount of gentrification, and that the locals still devoutly support their favorite hole-in-the-wall taco shops and music stores.
Of course, it's not quite so small that “everybody dies famous” (it's definitely more than a
“single stop light town”). And while it's not remotely in the American heartland, I spent plenty of days “suckin on chili dogs outside the tastee freeze” and cheering on my local team “from the cheap seats.” It also has its very own marquee, but I can't say that “when people leave town, they never come back.” If people do ever leave town, they nearly always come back. (I did.)
Although every hometown song makes me a wee bit nostalgic for my own, given that I didn't grow up in the South or the Midwest it's hard to find a country song with direct application. Ironically, the country song that most reminds me of my hometown is Kenny Chesney's “Anything But Mine” (the only Chesney song on my iPod).
Summers in my hometown have always been signalled by the start of the local fair in June. I still recall that tingling excitement back in my school days that came with the opening of the fair. The fair meant that school was nearly out and an entire summer of fun in the sun awaited.
Chesney's song refers to a beachside Boardwalk, e.g. the Santa Cruz boardwalk, but my local fair is essentially located where the surf meets the turf of the fairgrounds, so these lyrics always have the ability to make me smile and reminisce:
You can hear the cries from the carnival rides
The pin-ball bells and the ski-ball slides
Watching the summer sun fall out of sight
There's a warm wind coming in from off of the ocean
Making its way past the hotel walls to fill the street
Mary is holding both of her shoes in her hand
Said she likes to feel the sand beneath her feet
I still remember summer as a time for fleeting crushes, orange slushies, giant ferris wheels and late night bonfires at the beach. Great memories. And this song manages to bring all of them back.
What song reminds you of your hometown?