RoadNotes #5 Home, Politics and Music: Where ya’t, where ya from?
Where is home? For many of us this can be a complex question. Is it where you were born, reared, live now, where your loved ones are? I feel at home in a sense when I’m with my family, no matter where that is. The geographic place where I feel most at home is Berlin. But then there is Oklahoma, the place of my birth and where I lived all of my formative years.
My experience of Oklahoma is both negative and positive, with the positive happening mostly in the last twenty years. To be sure, there are lots of good people everywhere, including Oklahoma. But it has been, to my experience, one of the most anti intellectual places on the planet, and possibly because of this one that is not, on the whole, very tolerant of differences. Since I was a somewhat different person growing up from the ideally athletic, devout, obedient and patriotic Okie son, I never really felt I belonged there. In fact, I felt more at home in West Berlin the minute I set foot in the place than I ever did in Oklahoma.
However, all of my early musical learning happened in Oklahoma – most by osmosis but some from singing in a very good church choir. I finally realized when I was in my early forties, that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get the Okie out of my voice. If that won’t go, then other inheritances also remain a part of me. I’ve now stopped trying to rid myself of these things and have grown to be very proud of my red dirt musical upbringing, as are almost all Oklahoma musicians I know. This realization has brought about a much more nuanced relationship with my home state.
For all its willful ignorance, science denying, political stupidity and mean spiritedness, Oklahoma has produced a profound artistic heritage, of which all of my fellow Oklahoma musicians are rightly proud. Among its sons and daughters are the likes of musicians Charlie Christian, Woody Guthrie, Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, Wanda Jackson and Jimmy Webb. I could also continue with long lists of accomplished and important artists, dancers, writers and other creative people.
So I have partially taken the advice of Nobel Lauriat Patric Modiana, who wrote in his Occupation Trilogy:
“That town in which we were born, in which we were a child, an adolescent, is the only one we must forbear to judge. It is part of us, it is ourselves, we carry it within us”.
As most of you who know me can attest, I have yet to learned to forbear to judge Oklahoma, but I now know that when that judgment is issued, it is a judgment of myself as well. I have now come to be not just a critical but also a proud Oklahoman.