Mar 21, 2012
The song Country Roads filled the ears of all those at Dr. Marsha Mead’s presentation for the Appalachian symposium in February. She showed us all the song, reminding us that we are all drawn back to the mountains--back to the place we call home. She pointed out that the Appalachian people hold home close to their hearts. Country Roads echoed that perfectly.
My first thought, though, as I hear that song is not of mountains or West Virginia. It is of walking down a busy sidewalk in Nanjing, China, singing with Harry. Country Roads isn’t just sung in one state. They know about West Virginia in China. They know about the hills and the mountains, and I sang about those country roads when I was set with an ocean on either side of me.
The Appalachian people are often seen as backwards. It is often a place that is discriminated against by the media. Stereotypes are made into movies that feed on the fears many have conceived of a backwards, cannibalistic hillbilly. It has been said that this mountain culture is the only place where open negative stereotyping is still acceptable. And examples of this are rampant in commercials, documentaries, and movies.
But this contrasts sharply with the music that people hold dearly, music that has come out of Appalachia, music like Country Roads. These songs show another kind of Appalachia, a beautiful kind that inspires and holds magic that many people don’t understand. And this music captures the mind and the heart with soulful, timeless lyrics.
And I am taken back to standing on the other side of the world. Amber is with me, Harry and Leo. We’re singing. We’re singing at KTV and KFC and on sidewalks beside stores with names I can’t pronounce. But we aren’t singing Lady Gaga. We’re not singing about California or DC. We’re singing about West Virginia, mountains, and the winding country roads that take our country hearts home.
Dr. Mead focused on an idea of the home place, the idea that the people of Appalachia appreciate their home. The Appalachian people love the mountains. She shared a quote about how the ocean is beautiful and lovely and captivating… but there is a feeling that cannot be described when one arrives back home.
I have had many friends leave Bristol, where I have lived the past few years. They were ready to go to a new place, a bigger city, a place where there are “things to do.” They get on airplanes and fly across the U.S. or move close to a city and speak of their excitements at leaving and going to a new and bigger place. Later they tell me that they miss home. They miss the mountains. They will be back soon, they say, soon.
It’s like the song says: “Country roads take me home to the place I belong.” After everything else, we want to go home. Home has gotten lost in too many moves. Home has gotten lost with death. Home has gotten lost with pain and time and tears. But our hearts are still singing about country roads taking us home. Not just the people of West Virginia; not just the people of Appalachia. People are singing across the world because in everyone’s heart, we feel the desire to go home.
The people of Appalachia are different. Different because everyone wants to go home, we all have that desire. But Appalachia still has country roads and her people still know how to follow them, follow them home.