The universal nostalgia of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
The first line of John Denver’s song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” calls West Virginia “Almost Heaven”, and when you’re in the mountains, that description can sound pretty accurate.
Almost Heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze
Country roads, take me home
To the place where I belong
West Virginia, mother of the mountains
Take me home, country roads
But those winding country roads were immortalized by someone who had never driven them.
Correspondent Conor Knighton asked: “Did you never been in West Virginia before writing the song? “
“No,” Bill Danoff said. “Well, in my dreams! “
Danoff, along with his then girlfriend and bandmate Taffy Nivert, performed a draft of “Country Roads” for their pal John Denver after a gig one night in Washington, DC.
John’s biggest contribution to anything at this point was just his enthusiasm: ‘Well, let’s finish it! “” Danoff said with a laugh. “You know, at 1:00 in the morning, 1:30, you know? ‘Let’s go!'”
The three stayed up late to collaborate on the version that aired 50 years ago.
Danoff said: “When it came out in ’71, you know the Vietnam War was really heartbreaking. And we had, oh, hundreds of thousands of soldiers there. So coming home was a big, big problem.”
It was a song about the house, but not about Danoff’s house. Knighton asked, “You’re from Massachusetts. Could it have been just as easily ‘Almost Heaven, Massachusetts’?”
“Yeah, except I didn’t like that word!” Danoff responded. “West Virginia” rang Well.
And it turned out that a lot of other people thought so too. The song was John Denver’s first hit, and despite questionable geographic accuracy (the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River in the lyrics barely lie within the state lines), West Virginia l ‘have adopted in a big way.
West Virginia University students sing the song after every home win.
It is a staple of wedding receptions. You can find the lyrics on posters and t-shirts, everywhere from small town storefronts to the back of Senator Joe Manchin’s boat.
But the lasting appeal out of the state was more surprising. From “The Office” on television to Octoberfest in Germany, the song is known around the world.
“We can think of the song as anywhere – it names West Virginia, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Sarah Morris, assistant professor at the University of West Virginia. She studied the global impact of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
“People take the song and reclaim it to speak to where they live,” Morris said.
“So they’re just exchanging their own geographic references?” Knighton asked.
“Change the geographic references, change the lyrics, change the location. But that doesn’t really change the song, and it doesn’t change the sense of the song.”
This version of Toots and the Maytals was a hit in Jamaica:
In Hawaii, it’s “West Makaha”.
From France to Brazil, there are countless reinterpretations. The song is very popular in Japan. The plot of the animated film “Whisper of the Heart” centers on a teenage girl translating “Country Roads”.
The feeling of nostalgia, homesickness, is universal. “It’s the rare song that doesn’t just sing something, it causes it,” said country star Brad Paisley. He grew up in Glen Dale, West Virginia. He’s been playing “Country Roads” since learning to play guitar, but the song took on new meaning for him when he left for Nashville.
“I think once you pull away the song takes on a lot more character and depth,” Paisley said. “You hear that on the radio and you’re not in West Virginia, like, you hear that in your car and it lights up, and when you hear that iconic part of the acoustic guitar – ‘while driving down the road , I feel like I should have been home yesterday. ‘”
Morris said: “Going home and coming home has always been something West Virginia has been through. But we’ve lost our population since 1950. So I think it’s a perpetual mood for the Virginia- Westerners. “
“I grew up in the capital Charleston,” he said. “I learned to ride a bike on country roads. I left the state after high school, but I’m still nostalgic about it. It’s like the song goes: ‘All my memories come together around her.'”
Morris said: “One of the things I thought of was a Welsh concept called hiraeth – that deep yearning for a place you can’t quite name is home but maybe more. It might be a place you’ve never been, or the house you’ve only dreamed of. It’s that deep attraction to the place. “
No matter what home means to you, there is no place like this. Danoff said, “The place is really irrelevant. This is ‘the place to which I belong.’ I think that’s the key line. This is what people are looking for in their life. “
“Like so many people,” Knighton said, “I didn’t go home for the holidays in 2020, which made the comeback this year particularly meaningful. At the end of the year, the place I am at. belong is at the end of a country road. “
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Story produced by Aria Shavelson. Publisher: George Pozderec.