WVU Professor Says “Country Roads” West Virginia Anthem | News, Sports, Jobs

John Denver, seen on stage on November 7, 1988, says he has not been a “radio darling” despite his success in producing blockbuster albums. “I always like to use a real orchestra, not a synthesizer or a drum machine,” he says. (AP Photo / Chad Surmick)

WHEELING – “Country roads, take me home to where I belong – West Virginia” is part of the refrain of a song popular around the world, even among those who have never visited ‘State of the mountains.

The enduring popularity, global appeal, and nostalgic nostalgia evoked by the song were the subject of Sarah Morris’ presentation on Tuesday’s “Lunch with Books” program at the Ohio County Library. Recordings by artists as disparate as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Marie Laforet exist, with a few covers completely changing the lyrics to better reflect their own country.

Morris, professor of English at the University of West Virginia, explained to the assembled crowd how the song evoked a kind of nostalgia – the Welsh call it “hiraeth” – for an idealized and unrealistic memory associated with headache. perpetual country. Critical to Mountain State natives, Morris felt the song evoked a strong sense of personal identity that quickly set in at a time when West Virginia needed a positive identity.

“Country Roads has this simple, distinctive melody that is easily sung, with a universal message of heartbreak for a home whether the listener is from West Virginia or not,” she said. “… It is a feeling felt for a place, a person, a house that we know, but an idealized house. A place we can’t quite come back to, but the home of our memories and hearts that exist in tangible space.

“When we think of home in ‘Country Roads’ it isn’t so much about the home, town or state we grew up in, but where we belong,” Morris added. . “West Virginia has long felt this particular form of homesickness. “Country Roads” gives us a framework to talk about and reflect on our identity as West Virginia in new ways, and it can influence the stories we tell about ourselves. “

Morris said common themes and perceptions associated with Appalachia, according to those who study the subject, generally focus on the region’s weaknesses, such as poverty, lack of education, and other negative stereotypes. “Country Roads” offers West Virginia an accessible and very popular song to associate with their song and with themselves.

“The stories we hear and tell about the Appalachians, according to Appalachian studies scholars, reflect common assumptions, with an emphasis on themes related to poverty, educational deficits, illiteracy and death. ‘other stereotypes,’ she said. “Framed through the scope of relatability, the stories… fit into frames that are easily read as true, as they align with cultural expectations.

“The indescribable stories, the ones we do not share in the media, are those which challenge categories of experience and are closer to the experiences of individuals, and may be closer to the truth, but they do not correspond to the acceptable expectations. . “

To better tap into the hearts of West Virginia, Morris has offered songs such as “West Virginia State of Mind” by John Ellison and “If You Love My West Virginia” by Colleen Anderson, which offer a more sincere and local take on the mountain state and the people in there. She also pointed out that West Virginia has three other official state songs, adopted simultaneously in 1963: “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home”, “The West Virginia Hills” and “This Is My West Virginia”.

While the songwriters of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” had a relatively less lived experience in West Virginia, Morris said West Virginia can both embrace the song as an ideal while raising the voices of inhabitants to represent their own state more distinctly through a myriad of art forms.

“I think the truth I come to is that we can love it and continue to have the voice of West Virginia heard,” she said.

“There are so many amazing West Virginia singers, songwriters and musicians. For many years when I grew up in West Virginia, I didn’t know there were writers in West Virginia.

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Toya J. Bell