Friday, August 3, 2012
Sheepish Musical Pleasures: John Denver, "Country Roads"
My parents mostly stopped listening to new music sometime in the mid to late 1970s, and for that reason I have an inordinate emotional connection to The Carpenters, Kenny Rogers, and John Denver, since I heard their music on a constant basis in my early childhood. We didn't have a record player or stereo, but played tapes on a dinky little one-speaker tape recorder until my folks got my sisters and I a boom box for Christmas in 1984. (I used to resent my parents for being so cheap, but now I am glad that I learned at a young age to not be wrapped up in owning material things.) My memories of my childhood before I started going to school can be instantly conjured by playing "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "The Gambler," or by hearing the theme songs to "The Price is Right" and "The Young and the Restless." The former was my favorite day-time game show, the latter my Mom's soap opera, the only one she watched.
Of all that music, no one song from my early years cuts right through me more than John Denver's "Country Roads." This has less to do with hearing it on a daily basis as a five-year-old than it does with our family road trips. Every summer we would hit the road in a Chevy van, usually driving out to Colorado and other points in the mountain West. Many of the same tapes we listened to at home would find their way into the van's tape deck, and my Dad always relished playing this song on the way home, even if we were headed back to Nebraska, not West Virginia. We always took a "shortcut" from I-80 to my hometown, which meant that country roads did indeed take us home.
Nothing ever made my father happier than these vacations, and his eyes still light up whenever we talk about our memories of them. He worked a job he disliked for four decades to provide for us, and the road trips were the one time when he could put all the stress and bullshit of his work aside and be out in nature with his family, which is still the thing that makes him happiest. Whenever I hear this song I think of hitting the home stretch on our return from vacation, a bittersweet moment of having to g back to normal life after so much fun. As much as I love where I live now, "Country Roads" also reminds me of how far away I am from my family and my homeland, and I badly I miss them.