I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Over The Rhine: Ohio

When I was young and had more time, I used to buy cassettes (yes, cassettes) of my favorite bands and I’d unravel the cardboard insert with the lyrics with the greatest of anticipation. I’d read through the lyrics, finding the songs that spoke to me, and then I’d pop the cassette in and listen to it, following the lyrics as the songs rolled by.

I rarely do that any more.

It’s not because I don’t love music, but I’m busy, and frankly, so much music is full of ridiculous lyrics. I’m older now and I crave depth. That’s where Over the Rhine comes in. I’ve written about them here several times. Over the Rhine is made up of the husband-wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist.

I was watching a few of their live performances on YouTube yesterday when I ran across this one -- a song called “Ohio” which is the title track to their double-CD that was released in 2003. I love this song and seeing Bergquist perform it live made me love it even more.

I don't know if you have the time today to hit play and pause a few times, but if you do, I'd love to have you follow along with me verse by verse (if you are receiving this via email subscription, videos won’t show up in the email, you’ll need to click here and view the video on the blog):

[Hit Play]

Hello Ohio
The back roads
I know Ohio
Like the back of my hand
Alone Ohio
Where the river bends
And it's strange to see your story end

[Hit Pause]

This first verse is chilling to me. Bergquist is singing about watching life as she knows it come to an end on the back roads of Ohio. For the record, Linford wrote the song, but the sentiment is the same. And you get the feeling she's going to camp out and reminisce for a while because that's what humans do when we want to make sense of change.

As I watched this video, a picture flashed into my mind -- a picture I took on the back roads of Arkansas, which is where my father's side of the family is from. As a kid, I traveled with my grandparents and sister to Arkansas most summers and we would meander down one dirt road after another visiting relatives. When I got older, I drove my grandmother down those same dirt roads. We took two trips, one in 1991, I think, and the other one was in 1993.

She wasn't great at navigating me from city to city because things had changed and she pretty much went by the way things looked rather than actual street names, but once I found the cities, she could take me right to the dirt roads we needed to travel to visit relatives. During one of those visits, we stopped at an old cemetery to visit the graves of family members. After we did that, I did a little exploring and I remember seeing grave markers dating to the late 1700s in that cemetery.

I don't know why, but before I got into the car to leave, I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo of the dirt road that went past the cemetery. I think I took the photo because I wanted a clear reminder about how much life, and ultimately death, existed on the back roads of my heritage. I needed the tangible proof because the mind doesn't do an adequate job in remembering. At least my mind doesn't.

Here's the photo, dated October 22, 1993:

It wouldn't mean a thing to anybody but me, but now you know why this song moves me so much.

[Hit Play]

In my life I've seen a thousand dreams
Through the threshers all torn to pieces
And the land lay bare
Someone turned a profit there
And a good son lost his life in a strip pit


[Hit Pause]

Bergquist is lamenting the fact that the landscape of Ohio has changed. When she gets back to the chorus, you can just feel her emotion. She doesn't over sing the way some writers use exclamation points to dress up their words. Instead, her emotion pours through the words themselves and no dressing up is necessary. You feel for her because you know what a changing landscape can do to a person and in the purist way imaginable you just want to reach out and put your arm around her and say, "I know. I know."

I haven't been back to Arkansas since 1993, but I'm planning to go this September. Most of the relatives I used to visit are gone now. Their kids are mostly grown up and moved away. I doubt if many of my relatives who remain will even remember me. And the landscape is going to look different. I just know it in my soul. As I pull up to the little towns that are trapped in my memory, they are going to mock me. Or at the very least, treat me like a stranger.

[Hit Play]

When the sun went down we would all leave town
And light our fires in Egypt Bottom

And the reservoir was just as good for Joni
'Cause we knew we would
Dream outloud in the night air

Holly said, Don't go inside the children's home
Mary said, Don't leave your man alone
Valerie was singin' to the radio in Ohio

It was summertime in '83
We were burnin' out at the rubber tree

Wonderin' what in the world
Would make this worthwhile
And if I knew then, I was so much older then,
Would I see regret to the last mile



Now Bergquist gets personal. She tells us about her friends and she talks about how they dreamt outloud. And she remembered wondering about the future. In some fashion, all of us fear looking back on our youth with regret. But I think she is talking about more than that. I think she is talking about looking back on that particular time in her life with regret because she didn't value the moment long enough, but I could be wrong.

I didn't grow up in Arkansas, but my father was born there. I don't feel regret about the place as much as I feel regret about not capturing the precious moments I should have -- the pictures I didn't take while visiting relatives on houseboats, the journal entries I didn't write to remember every detail of my fishing trips with relatives there, the letters I didn't write afterward to the relatives I visited. So, in some small way, this post is about remembering life on the back roads, even if my memory is flawed.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...