Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going Home - A Prodigal Playlist

This weekend I went back home to Southeast Iowa. The weather was crisp and cool, the leaves were crunchy on the lawn, and I was feeling very reminiscent of growing up in the rolling foothills of the Mississippi Valley River Valley. In honor of my voyage home, I'd like to share a few songs about going home.

Pilgrims Chorus, from Tannhauser - Richard Wagner

This song is a part of Tannhauser, one of Richard Wagner acclaimed operas. The piece was first performed in 1843, and this particular number was infamously used as a victory march for the German armies as they marched through Berlin.

More recently (and more pleasantly), my good friend Richard Harrod used this song to herald his arrival in his home state of Maryland after a fifteen hour drive home from Monmouth College.

This piece definitely evokes feelings of homecoming, if listened to in context. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of German.

Sloop John B - Beach Boys

While this summer-fun tune from the Beach Boys' 1966 Pet Sounds album is often lost among bigger hits such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", I find "Sloop John B" to be one of the most entertaining songs on this record.

Maybe it's because the Beach Boys veer away from the surf themes, love crooning, and hot rods, choosing instead to sing about how miserable life is aboard a sailing ship. Add in the eternal perkiness of Wilson's music and you get a peculiar, camp-song quality that I personally can't help but smile at.

Side note - What is going on with this album cover? Possibly one of the weirdest album covers the Beach boys ever came up with.

Homeward Bound - Simon and Garfunkel

This is the quintessential Homecoming song. Written in 1965 by Paul Simon while touring, this music will eternally be belted in cars while travellers young and old make their way back home.

This song, and really Simon and Garfunkel in general, bear special significance to me personally. I can still remember when I first heard the names "Simon" and "Garfunkel". When my sister was around thirteen, she had asked my dad for a Beatles album for Christmas. She was going through a personal Beatle-mania, and hoped that my father could facilitate her obsession.

I remember her getting that small rectangular package, then the excitement in her eyes shift to horror and confusion as she ripped off the paper to discover some strange album - Sounds of Silence. I remember thinking, "what kind of name is Garfunkel, anyway!?"

In retrospect, I am eternally grateful to my father for inadvertantly exposing my to two of the greatest poets and musicians of the last fifty years.

Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show
Old Crow Medicine Show will always remind me of a different sort of home - not physical or geographic. The feelings evoked by this band are that of comradery and brotherhood. Wagon Wheel is one of those songs that any time we get together and there is a guitar laying around (and lets be real - when is there NOT a guitar laying around?) this song is belted out.

It's a great ballad of life on the road, the tribulations of travel, and that deep yearning to be back with the ones you love. Even though this song was written in 2001, the band gives their music an early twentieth century flavor that evokes the spirit of hobo's, gunslingers, and traveling shows.

Gravel Road - William Elliot Whitmore

This song will always be my homecoming song. I am proud to boast that William Elliot Whitmore and I share the same homeland - Both growing up in Southeast Iowa. Because of that connection, whenever he sings about farm life, the Mississippi River, and old coal trains, I know exactly what he means, because I've lived alongside the same rivers, farms, and trains. 

The song Gravel Road gets me every time with the line, "Lifes mysteries unravel when my tires hit that gravel and I leave the paved road far behind."

While I love living in bigger cities, this song perfectly capitulates the unquantifiable love I have for the rural beauty of Southeast Iowa. And Whitmore is the only person who has ever articulated that love with lyrical perfection.

So those are five songs of homecoming that I personally hold dear. I'm sure there are countless others, both general and specific to ones experiences. What songs make you want to go home? Which ones do you crank as you are rounding the bend to your childhood stomping grounds?

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