So…Where Are You From?

I’m always interested in where people are from. Maybe it’s because it allows me to end a sentence with a preposition without fear of reprimand. After all, no one asks “From where do you hail?

Maybe it’s a Kentucky thing. One thing you often hear in Kentucky is something like this: “He ain’t from around here. He’s from somewheres else.” Seems like we’re always asking people where they’re from–Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, etc. You might even be from Louisville, which is part of Kentucky in only the most technical, geopolitical sense.

Everyone is from somewhere. I’m sure someone famous said that at some point. I live in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington is a college town and, as such, most of us Lexingtonians are from somewhere else. I suspect that’s true of most college towns. In fact, one of the first things you want to know when you meet someone here is “Where are you from?

Where you are from is important. Okay, it might not be as important as where you are. How you got from where you’re from to where you are is even more important. After all, that’s your life. It’s certainly more important than where you’re going since you might never actually get there.

When I’m out of state, I’m from Lexington. For example, I was in Newberry Springs, California a few months ago and a guy named Shaggy asked where I was from. I said “Lexington, Kentucky” without hesitation. Truth be told, I’m not from Lexington. I only live there. Actually, I’m from Harlan, Kentucky.  If you were familiar with Harlan, I’d never tell you I’m from Harlan, though. Harlan is a town, and I never lived there. I’m from Harlan County, a much broader designation. To a fellow Harlan Countian, I’m from Loyall. I might even specify Rio Vista or Park Hill. If you knew anything about Loyall, that would make sense.

My father was from Evarts, also in Harlan County. My Mom was born in Detroit but grew up on Island Creek and in Cumberland. So, she was from Pike and Harlan Counties.

I’ve probably met people from all 120 counties in Kentucky, which is an ungodly number of counties. By contrast, California has 58 counties. Texas, on the other hand, has 254. I’ve met very few people from either of those states.

I’ve traveled through a lot of small towns in America. They all have one thing in common. Someone is from all of them. Some folks are so well-known that the town claims them.

In Kentucky, we claim Abraham Lincoln who has born in Hodgenville. Nevertheless, Illinois is The Land of Lincoln. Honest Abe is one of those folks claimed by a lot of places. Will Rogers is like that. He’s all over Oklahoma. If you fly into Oklahoma City, you might land at the Will Rogers Airport. If not, you’ll land at Wiley Post Airport. Oddly enough, Rogers and Post died in the same plane crash but not in Oklahoma. Claremore, Oklahoma honors Rogers even though he wasn’t really from Claremore. He’s also not from Vinita, Oklahoma, which has a statue of him near what used to be the world’s largest McDonald’s.

I read an excellent essay by Ander Monson, The Exhibit Shall Be So Marked, in which he notes the generic qualities of small towns. In my travels, I’ve noticed the same thing. Small towns are small everywhere. There are scandals and gossip, good people and bad. They all have an air of folks living easy and hard. Being there because they love it and because they can’t leave. Not all small towns are friendly. Some people are friendly and some won’t give you the time of day. It’s not all Norman Rockwell.

With the exception of geography and accents, I’m not sure that you could tell the difference between Prestonsburg, Kentucky and Commerce, Oklahoma. That’s not entirely correct. The major difference is that Mickey Mantle is from Commerce. Folks in Commerce know it, too.


Brantley, Alabama, knows it’s the home of Chuck Person aka The Rifleman, former Auburn University basketball star and long time NBA player. Brantley is an otherwise quiet, nondescript town that has seen better days.

Brantley loves Chuck Person.

Brantley loves Chuck Person. I’m sure they love his less famous brother Wesley, too.

 Brantley isn’t a lot different from Binger, Oklahoma, home of Johnny Bench. Schools, churches, stores, city hall and better times long ago.

JB's sign needs straightening

JB’s sign needs straightening

A lot of people are from Oklahoma. Eric, Oklahoma is the home of Roger Miller. How do I know? Well, they have a Roger Miller Museum, just as Binger has its Johnny Bench Museum.

IMG_7795JB Mus

Twenty-five or so years ago, I was in Yukon, Oklahoma. Someone told me that Garth Brooks was from there. I had never heard of him. Of course, that changed. Now, no one has to tell you that Garth is from Yukon. They’ve painted it on their water tower.

Elk City, Oklahoma is notable not for elk but for a huge oil derrick in the middle of town. It’s also the home of Jimmy Webb, who wrote the  MacArthur Park and bunch of other great songs.

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania doesn’t have a Perry Como Museum, but they have a Perry Como statue in a down town that could be anywhere in the country, except for the Perry Como statue. Perry doesn’t stand on Bobby Vinton Boulevard, though. That would be awkward.

Your author and Perry Como.

Your author and Perry Como.

Canonsburg is close to Washington, Pennsylvania, home of Jerry Sandusky–no statue of him.

I’ve been to Wailuka, Hawaii on the island of Maui. Baseball player Shane Victorino is from Wailuku, but they don’t have sign or statue or museum for him–yet.

Carthage, Missouri has a beautiful courthouse. It also has both Marlin Perkins and Old West outlaw Belle Starr as natives.

Edd Roush was from Oakland, City, Indiana, through which I happened to drive when I was lost once. If you don’t know Edd Roush, don’t feel bad. He was one of baseball’s great stars in the early 20th Century. That’s why they have a park named after him.

I once spent a couple of days in Newark, Ohio, which is pronounced “Nerk” from some reason. I didn’t spend as much time there as Wayne Newton did. That’s where he’s from.

Cuba, Missouri is the City of Murals. As far as I can tell, no one is from Cuba (which can’t be literally true), but Bette Davis and Amelia Earhart visited Cuba–at least according to the murals. I’m not sure if they were together, but that seems unlikely.

Kennesaw, Georgia is a nice town. It’s best known as the town with an ordinance requiring everyone to own a gun. I didn’t have a gun when I was a there, but I was just visiting. Thankfully, I didn’t get caught. A lot of people are probably from there. And they’re packing.

You can get some good barbecue in Clinton, Oklahoma. Country singer Toby Keith is from Clinton, at least that’s what a waitress told me. Why would she lie about that? She wouldn’t.

I ate lunch in Needles, California on a 115 degree day. It was probably that hot when Charles Schulz lived there, but I don’t think he was born there. Then again, maybe he was. Snoopy’s brother Spike is from Needles, too.

What about Loyall? We have Jerry Chesnut.  Jerry is a country music songwriter of some renown. He’s in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He even has a website. It’s no wonder we named a road after him.

Other people are from Harlan County. Wallace (Wah Wah) Jones was a famed basketball star at the University of Kentucky. Legend has it that Nick Lachey was actually born in the county, but we don’t have a sign or anything for him.

Kentucky claims a few people. Muhammad Ali is from Louisville. So was Hunter Thompson, but Louisville is a big city. Lots of people are from big cities. It’s a numbers game.

Charles Manson is from Ashland, Kentucky. As far as I know, they haven’t built a museum or park in his honor. Maybe after he dies….

Jesse James wasn’t from Kentucky, but he robbed a bank here. So did Willie Sutton. Col. Sanders was a Kentuckian, but you probably knew that. He wasn’t a criminal.

Larry Flynt is a Kentucky boy, from Magoffin County. Unrelated but just as interesting, famous White House correspondent Helen Thomas was from Winchester. We also claim Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence and Ashley Judd, so we have are fair share of beautiful people, too. Flynt and Thomas are not two of them.  You probably wouldn’t guess that any of these folks were Kentuckians (except for Flynt), but they are.

Some people have a hard with identifying where they are from. Military people are a good example. They’re from all over the place. Some folks are embarrassed about their origins and will only vaguely answer with something like “Eastern Kentucky” or “back East.” If you push them, you can get the details.

Of course, accents can give you away unless you are from Kansas or Nebraska or some other accent-less land. I have an Eastern Kentucky or Appalachian accent. I knew a woman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and found it odd that she would say “eh” of “hey” at the end of sentences. I found out that was a dead giveaway of the UP.  Similarly, folks from New England speak with an odd brogue and say things like “aayuh” during casual conservation. There’s no hiding where they are from.

We’re all from somewhere, even without road signs, museums and parks in our names. I guess most of us are proud of where we’re from or, at the very least, we don’t lie about it. Taking pride in it does seem a little odd given that we really have no say in the matter. Oh well… so, where are you from?

© 2014

Five Songs That Make Me Go “Hmmm…”

Like most folks, I like music.  I don’t like ALL music, but I like a lot of it.  If an auto-tuner is involved, I don’t care much for it.  Otherwise, I’m pretty open-minded.

I’m not a deep person, and my shallowness extends to my musical taste.  I once read that Angus Young of AC/DC described his song writing as “getting from one rhyme to the another.”  AC/DC is one of my favorite bands.  Their songs rhyme (mostly), and they flat ROCK!  Good stuff.

Occasionally, though, a song fascinates me not so much by the music, but by the lyrics–the story of the song.  Here are five that fascinate and confound me:

COWARD OF THE COUNTY by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler

You know this one, made famous by Kenny Rogers.  It tells the tale of Tommy, a cowardly nebbish who has been cautioned by his late father to disavow all violence (Promise me son not to do the things I done….).  Tommy’s father it seems died in prison while serving time for unspecified acts of violence.   The song’s narrator–brother of the incarcerated father–tells the tale of Tommy’s life of non-violence and the hideous consequences of it.

Tommy’s Dad impressed upon him that walking away from violence was the true measure of a man.  Weakness, he urged, was not found in turning the other cheek.  How wrong he was!

Because of Tommy’s Ghandi-like vows, his true love, Becky, was subjected to a brutal gang-rape by the Gatlin Boys, a group of ruffians who were sure that Tommy would do nothing to stop the attack.  Well, they were right about that; however, Tommy then went on the vengeance trail and beat the Hell out of all three Gatlin  Boys.  The song leaves it to the listener to determine the outcome, but I believe that he beat them all to death–at least I’d like to think so.

The lesson of the song?  Non-violence will get you picked on and called names (Coward of the County?) and get your girl friend raped.  Violence, on the other hand, solves everything.

This story was so compelling that someone made a movie about it starring, of course, Kenny Rogers, as a preacher (!). So, there’s that.

I haven't seen this, but I'm sure it was heinous.

I haven’t seen this, but I’m sure it was heinous.


This classic of Alt-Rock was written by members of REM.  I’ve listened to it about a thousand times and have no idea what it’s about . It starts out like listening to someone recite their Facebook post (That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion….) and then drifts into a stalker’s rant (Trying to keep an eye on you like a lost, hurt and blinded fool).

Ultimately, it sounds like Michael Stipe is talking to his therapist:  Consider this: The slip that brought me to my knees failed.  What if all these fantasies come flailing around?  The song concludes by speculating that all of this may well be a dream.  Okay.


Jimmy Webb is a great songwriter.  He wrote Wichita Lineman and a bunch of other good songs.  No list of odd songs is complete, though, without his classic, MacArthur Park.  I know MacArthur Park is in Los Angeles.  Otherwise, I’m completely lost.

It’s the story of love gone bad told through the allegory of a cake sitting in the rain until the icing runs all over. ” Someone left the cake out in the rain… I don’t think that I can take it ’cause it took so long to bake and I’ll never have that recipe again…”  The singer’s love–like that cake–took so long to develop that there is no way it can happen again… or something like that.

Beyond the bizarre mescaline-induced lyrics is the fact that Richard Harris made the song famous.  Richard Harris was a great actor and a shitty singer.  No range.  Off-key.  He sounds drunk.  He also says “MacArthur‘s Park” throughout the song.  THAT’S NOT THE NAME OF THE SONG!  Then there’s the part in the middle that sounds like it came from a completely different song.  It’s all just plain weird.

I couldn’t find a link to live performance by Richard Harris, but here is a link to Dave Thomas of SCTV as Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park.  It’s pretty close to the real thing.  By the way, Donna Summer covered it a few years after Sir Richard.  She sang it much better, but that didn’t reduce the weirdness of it any.

As an aside, I once had a secretary who had a photo of her and Richard Harris on her desk.  He looked drunk in that photo.


Ah, the rag man draws circles up and down the block

I’d ask him what the matter was

But I know that he don’t talk

And the ladies treat me kindly

And furnish me with tape

But deep inside my heart, I know I can’t escape

Thus begins this Dylan classic which clocks in at over seven minutes.  It’s hard to say what Bob was shooting for here, but it’s a catchy mess of a song.  The imagery contains Grandpa shooting up a fire, Shakespeare wearing pointed shoes, someone punching a cigarette and smoking eyelids and other disconnected thoughts.  The Grateful Dead used to cover this in concert.  I guess it makes more sense if you’re wasted.

This song has to be about something.  All Bob’s songs are about something, aren’t they?  What is railroad gin? Texas medicine? How do you steal a post office?  Why did the Senator hand out free tickets to his son’s wedding?  Why did the preacher have 20 pounds of headlines stapled to his chest?   Who are the neon mad men?  What price DO you pay for going through all these things twice?   Did all this strange shit happen in Mobile?

If I had to guess, I’d say Bob was tired of everyone saying that all his songs had deep meaning, so he just wrote a long song full of disconnected lyrics.  It’s pretty good, though.

MONGOLOID by Gerald Casale

Those of us of a certain age remember the New Wave band, Devo.  They were not particularly talented, but they were odd which was all that was required for air play in the early 1980’s.  They wore rubber/vinyl suits and pots on their heads.  They didn’t so much sing as sort of chant.  It wasn’t singing, and it wasn’t rap.  It was Devo.

The boys from Devo sounded just liked they looked.

The boys from Devo sounded just liked they looked–like a bunch of corn-fed Buckeyes.

Devo had a number of fairly popular songs:  We Are Devo, Whip It and a bizarre cover of Satisfaction.  Their strangest song is a vile number called Mongoloid written by Devo bassist Jerry Casale.  Now, the title alone tells you this will be different.  By the 1980’s, “Mongoloid” had drifted from the medical to the pejorative, much like “idiot” and “moron” of an early generation or “retarded” today.

The song tells the story of man suffering from a chromosomal disorder who manages to live a normal life.  As the singer tells it:

And he wore a hat

And he had a job

And he brought home the bacon

So that nobody knew

That he was a Mongoloid, Mongoloid

His friends were unaware

Mongoloid, he was a Mongoloid

Nobody even cared

On some level, I suppose this is inspiring.  This man overcame his disability to have a job and be a productive member of society.  Apparently, all that was required was the donning of a hat.  While one might question whether this is a realistic portrayal of intellectual disability, it’s hard to criticize the sentiment, despite the politically incorrect title of the song.

It’s not the title or even the substance of the song that get me.  It’s the fact that it’s pretty catchy.  I won’t link to it here, because I don’t want to hear it.  Why not?  Because it gets stuck in my head.  You can search for it and listen if you want, but be forewarned:  It will burrow into your brain.  Don’t blame me if you find yourself involuntarily singing:  He was a Mongoloid, a Mongoloid…. If people hear you singing that, you’ll lose friends, as well you should.

Oh, despite Devo’s weirdness, the members aren’t British.  They’re from Ohio.  Buckeyes.  Go figure.

AQUALUNG by Ian and Jennie Anderson

This is a classic song by Jethro Tull.   Jethro Tull is not a person.  It’s a band fronted by Rock’s greatest flautist, Ian Anderson.  Ian and his wife, Jennie, wrote Aqualung.  I was quite the Jethro Tull fan and quite the Aqualung fan.  My enjoyment of the song is not diminished in the slightest by the fact that I have no idea what it’s about.  It starts like this:

Sitting on the park bench —
eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Snot is running down his nose —
greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.

Aqualung is a man, maybe.  Possibly a pedophile, too, since he watches the “pretty panties run.”  His beard freezes (probably from the snot), he picks a dog-end (whatever the Hell that is), warms his feet at the bog and eventually it sounds like he dies.  What the…..?!?!?!

It’s a long song, too.  Like MacArthur Park it breaks into a part that sounds like it came from another song.  It’s all redeemed by Anderson’s great voice and peerless flute-playing.  Okay, it’s still weird, but I like it.

Ian Anderson's flute can fix any song.

Ian Anderson’s flute can fix any song.

So, those are five songs that make me think or at least confuse me.  I could come up many more–any song by Nick Cave, for instance (“Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Kapital.”).  Bob Dylan has many others, too (Quinn the Eskimo, Subterranean Homesick Blues).  I’m sure you have your own.  Think about them.  It’s fun, and you just might learn something.

© 2013