Saturday, July 19, 2008

They ask me "How far into Memphis, son, and where's the nearest beer?"

Went to see Steve Earle in concert last night (with my folks, odd as that is, but who had a great time). There are a few of his old classics that people went crazy when they heard the first notes, and when that happened at the opening of "Someday," I kind of chuckled. If ever there was a town where people are going to relate unduly to that song, I thought, it's a town like this. But then I realized, where can you go where they wouldn't? I'll bet New York and L.A. are just as full of people who identify; maybe even more.

For the uninitiated, this is the best song I've ever heard about small town life. It made me think of Steve at first as the anti-Mellenkamp, because I couldn't abide all that "I can breathe in a small town" BS. The crowd-pleasing chorus goes "Someday I'm finally gonna let go/Cause I know there's a better way/And I wanna know what's over that rainbow/I'm gonna get out of here someday."

When the narrator kid, working at a filling station, talks to people pulling off the highway and realizes "they don't even know that there's a town around here," it always reminds me of my first trip on the Greyhound. I'd lived all my defining years in one place. And when sleepy other passengers asked where they were, the answer didn't mean a thing to them.

The other part of the song that obviously resonates with people is one line. He did the concert thing where he stopped and turned to the audience to have them yell out the line because they're just going to: "I'm gonna put 'er on the interstate and never look back."

Now, that's a true American sentiment.

In retrospect, it's ironic that I only got as far this Obscure Midwestern Town, which seems to me the kind of place that the natives should feel all "Someday" about, almost as much as my town did. (Technically, I went further, but this is where I landed).

But what you learn when you get out is that getting out is a state of mind. You can get over "that" rainbow, a specific barrier, but not over "the" rainbow, to somewhere the skies are always blue. The same problems exist everywhere, just with different manifestations and proportions. Sometimes people escape the place where they didn't fit, where they felt trapped, and then didn't find anything better. Sometimes that can break their spirits, and the newspapers are full of their (at least seemingly) meaningless tragedies.

When I look at my life, though, I think I got out enough to have satisfied me, if I could have looked through time and seen how I'd end up. The particular limitations that I was kicking against, I've pretty much escaped. Getting out was about proving that I could choose who I was, how I was going to live, what I was going to value. I had to see for myself that there was more to life, and there was. There is. Luckily for me, my "more" hasn't been a Flashdance story where I needed to "make it big" to feel like I made it.

So I guess my parents did something right in letting my follow my own muse in life. Which is probably why they're Steve Earle fans.

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