Each of the fifty United States is represented by more than just a flag. America’s state symbols include animals, birds, trees, flowers, and songs. As a kid growing up in California I memorized these items, and years later I’ve still got them. The “Golden State” has the Grizzly Bear, the Valley Quail, the Redwood, the Poppy, and “I Love You, California”. Imagine my interest then, when Brooklyn Magazine took an updated stab at the state songs, publishing “The Musical Map of the United States”.
Brooklyn Mag’s map is more than meets the eye (see here). It’s not a collection of easy ditties you and I might come up with: Beach Boys for CA, John Denver for CO, Frank Sinatra for NY. Instead, it’s a broad spectrum of lesser-known tunes, attached to the states by writers who chose them. Read their stories and listen to their song choices. It’s like 50+ blogs in one, plus a playlist if you want to shift the whole shebang to your smartphone.
Here’s a sampling of the Map’s creativity. The writers chose Kenny Knight’s “America” for Colorado, a “dusty, country rock gem” with lyrics befitting its patriotic title (even if the song itself twangs along modestly). For California, the writers needed two songs – Joni Mitchell’s “California”, and Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”. The former artist is Canadian; the latter raised in the gangland streets of Compton near Los Angeles. You’ll find Mitchell’s folk music as appropriate as Dre’s rap for such a diverse state.
As I studied the Map, I realized each of us possesses our own musical geography, accumulating map dots as we move through life. My own map began on the 8-track player of my father’s Cadillac in the 1960’s, crooning along with Perry Como as he claimed, “the bluest skies you’ve ever seen (are) in Seattle”. By the 1970’s, I’d moved on to a hard-earned collection of 45-rpm records (“singles”), focusing on Top 40 bubble-gum one-hit wonders like Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died” and Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun”. Also in the 70’s – courtesy of my brother’s extensive LP collection (and a stereo capable of a sonic boom) – I mapped to all kinds of rock, including Emerson Lake, & Palmer, The Eagles, Elton John, and Linda Ronstadt.
By the 1980’s, I’d graduated to cassette tapes and the easy-listening music of John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, and Barry Manilow (to which some would say, two steps forward three steps back). Later in the ’80’s, I embraced compact discs with a budding affection for country music (Alabama), continuing to this day (Thomas Rhett).
Throw in a handful of downloads from my kids (Katy Perry, Meghan Trainor), sprinkle the whole mess with classical symphonies and concertos – a carryover from childhood piano lessons – and you have my musical map. I’ll bet yours is wildly different.
Even the world of sports has a musical map, as Steve Rushin wrote in an excellent piece in this week’s Sports Illustrated (“Cheer and Trebling”). You can’t hear the whistling of “Sweet Georgia Brown” without thinking Harlem Globetrotters, just as you can’t make it through baseball’s seventh inning without singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. You won’t leave Yankee Stadium without Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, just as you won’t hear John Williams’ spectacular “Fanfare” without thinking Olympic Games. Moments of silence at sporting events are literally reserved for the dearly departed. Otherwise it’s all marching bands, pipe organs, and loudspeaker instrumentals.
My now-home state Colorado has a set of symbols like California. The “Centennial State” has the Bighorn Sheep, the Lark Bunting, the Blue Spruce, the Columbine, and John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”. But the song could just as easily be Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, inspired by the Rocky Mountain peak I can see as I type. The song could also be Kenny Knight’s “America”.
You listen. You choose. There are no right or wrong answers here. Remember, even Google Maps gives you several options as you navigate your way.