I moved to New York City on March 13th, 2015. It could have been a lot colder as my sister and I unloaded the first wave of my belongings (my mom would be by a week later with the rest of my stuff) from back home in West Virginia as I began the first leg of my journey as the new Managing Editor of Baeble Music which began that night as I covered my first show of the year when Milo Greene played the Music Hall of Williamsburg
. That was six months and seventeen days ago. I've lived away from home before. I lived in New York City for four months in 2012, and I spent a summer studying abroad in Florence, Italy. But this move was the real deal. I wasn't coming back home. I was gone. This was the new chapter of my life. I wasn't that kid who'd essentially thrown his education away and was stuck working at a shitty (and dangerous cause I got robbed at knife point once) slots lounge scraping by on tips and occasional paid freelance work. I was in the big leagues now, and the patch of rural countryside and hills that I had called home was in my rearview mirror. I just wish somebody had told my brain that.
Homesick isn't a sensation I ever experience. I love my dad and my little sister and my friends and the rolling hills and lush trees of Appalachia. Have you ever been to West Virginia in the fall. New England can f*** off. Drive down I-68 towards Maryland as the last embers of summer and warmth fade away and you are treated to an explosion of oranges and yellows and reds. It's a visual feast of warm earth tones and a celebration of the cycle of life and death and renewal. And the hills give the breathtaking vistas a painterly composition. It doesn't look like real life. But when I was younger, I never felt homesick. Maybe it was cause I always knew I was coming back home some day or it's just the fact that youth is wasted on the young or maybe it was the fact that the reality of being someone who's primary pursuits are cultural makes growing up in the isolated and culturally stinted and devastatingly poor (second poorest state in the country) an often miserable and frustrating experience.
But these last couple months, I've found myself thinking about West Virginia more than I'd ever anticipated. I'll be riding the G train to Williamsburg and staring out the window and then suddenly the lights will be on in an underground section of the track and I can see the pillars and rails and dark recesses that are normally dark and out of reach and I'll be back home, in my dad's car, speeding through I-79 and it's the day he's dropping me off to college and neither of us want to cry but we both obviously did by the time he dropped me off at Brooke Tower at West Virginia University. Or I'll be walking through Prospect Park and there are actual trees instead of those sidewalk decorations that pass for trees in Park Slope and suddenly I'm eight years old and I'm running through our yard at night under the cover of trees and stars -- cause you can actually see stars back home; it feels like you can see every star in the sky and you feel dwarfed by the immensity of the little patch of the Milky Way that you get to call home -- to your grandpa's cause your mom needs you to bring something to him but it's dark and you're scared. Or I'll be at a bodega and I'll say thank you to the cashier and tell them to have a good day as I'm leaving and they return the sentiment and don't look at me like I'm a crazy person cause apparently people in New York aren't friendly with strangers. And I listened to The Cerny Brothers
' cover of John Denver's classic ode to my home state, "Country Roads," I felt myself drowning in a torrent of memories as I could smell the pine trees and the farms and the coal and I could taste pepperoni rolls and I could picture the way the Philippi Covered Bridge looked over the Tygart River, covered in snow at the height of winter.
That's the power of a great song. It's transportive. You hear it and in an instant, you're somewhere else. It's biology. Our sense of identity and our sense of self is just an extraordinarily complex set of neural connections and relations, and certain songs become intrinsically tied to emotions and places because you've experienced those songs so many times in that mindset or that geographic location. But just because something is a natural body function doesn't make it any less magical. Did John Denver know in 1971 when he and his co-writers were putting "Take Me Home, Country Roads" together that it would become our state's unofficial anthem? I doubt it. But I can't hear it now without thinking of Game Day in Morgantown when the Mountaineers prepped to take on our Big East (and now Big 12) rivals. I can't hear it without realizing it's one of like 3 songs that I can sing every word to without needing any mnemonic prompts of any kind. And on their cover, the Cerny brothers capture precisely what makes "Country Roads" so special (and universal to folks who might not necessarily be from West Virginia): it finds the inherent longing and nostalgia of the places we call home.
I hope the band forgives me here if it seems like I wasn't talking about their performance as much as I should have. Their harmonizing adds something that was missing from the original, and hearing the song performed by an actual band as opposed to just John Denver adds a richness to the track's sound, but the second I turned on their cover (and video) and saw them at home in Illinois with their familes and driving down lonely interstates with houses with yards and all those visual touchstones of a rural upbringing, I started crying at my desk. And if music moves you to tears, it did something that 90% of the music out there can't do.
So I'm just going to end this with some final words from John Denver, Taffy Nivert, and Bill Danoff (the song's writers).
"I hear her voice; in the morning hour she calls me.
the radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday."
Take me home to those country roads, indeed.