Wonder Could I Live There Anymore

We were talking earlier this week about the subgenre of country music devoted to songs about the simple pleasures of small town or rural life, songs that idealize the places where the high-school team nickname is painted on the water tower, where everybody believes in Jesus, etc. It’s easy to view the popularity of this sort of thing as a reaction to the world we live in. Compared to our harried urban existence, with its tenuous prosperity and impermanent personal relationships, and the way it randomly deals out fortune and tragedy, a world bounded by solid, simple, unchanging values is extremely attractive. It’s no wonder people caught in the former might want to gravitate to the latter. Because music has such power in our lives, songs about those values grab hard and hold on tight.

But, if given the chance, would people really give up modern urbanized life for a country idyll? Would they give up satellite TV and the Internet for sitting on the front porch at sunset? Would they give up the multiplex for the fishing hole, the megamart for the small-town store, the sports bar with HD flat-screens for the Dew Drop Inn? Some might, but others may find that in their souls, they’re not so down-home after all.

There’s a song about this. Charley Pride, who’s as down-home as they come, recorded “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore,” which sounds like a nostalgic encomium to a simple life on the farm—beautiful rural vistas, Uncle Ben milking the cows, Mama in the kitchen. But it’s revealed that Uncle Ben is working the farm because Daddy is working a second job in town “to pay our bill at the grocery store.” And in the final verse, Pride says that when he thinks about his childhood and his old hometown, he doesn’t miss them like before. “It’s nice to think about it,” goes the refrain, “Maybe even visit, but I wonder could I live there anymore?”

This isn’t a postmodern song recorded recently—it was a Number-One country single for Pride in the summer of 1970. And it’s a cautionary tale for anybody, especially urban cowboys, who find themselves tempted by what looks like the simple life.

Recommended Reading: I’m late mentioning most of these links, but go read ’em anyhow: Our friend Kinky Paprika from Songs of the Cholera King has launched a fascinating new web project that will appeal to anybody who enjoys the One Day in Your Life posts at this place. It’s called 5,478 Days, and I’ll let him tell you all about it. At Bloggerhythms, read all about the 16RPM record, and what the hell it was good for. And over at My Hmphs, you might as well listen to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” now, because every TV station in the country will be using it in news stories about the Rapture this weekend. And if you haven’t heard the Cars’ new album Move Like This yet, you should, because when the world ends, you’ll be sorry you didn’t. It will make you think you’re back in 1979—if that’s something you think you need. It’s streaming at Rolling Stone.com, right here.

4 responses

  1. I grew up in a small rural town (pop. approx. 6500) in Northern NY state on the Quebec border. While I do find myself missing the scenery I know I could never move back. There’s a soul-crushing, ambition extinquishing world weariness to the area that far outweighs the draw of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. My parents were both born and raised in the area and still live there. But when they were growing up there in the 30s, 40s, & 50s the town was a bit more idyllic with a bustling main street.. That all changed when they took out the railroad in the late 50s. The town was in a gradual decline after that. And when the state of NY put in 2 Medium Security prisons in the area back in the 80s it rapidly accelerated that decline. Shortly after I left for college the Feds stepped in and added a third prison of their own. The state of NY is the largest employer in that town (mostly prison guards and schoolteachers). When a Wal-Mart was opened there a few years ago they had to turn away over 70% of the job applicants due to drug test failures. That being said, if I’d never managed to have escaped I likely would have resorted to “pharmaceutical vacations” as an escape myself, so I’m ot about to judge.

  2. I grew up in northern New York as well, but on the other side of the Adirondacks from Perplexio…over by where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands isn’t just a salad dressing.

    Similar situation there. Our parents grew up there in the 1950s/60s when it was still a paper mill town. It seemed like a great place to raise kids — except for the pesky winter months — but something happened during the 1980s. One by one, those mills began shutting down. Where our parents were told, “get a job in the mill like your father/uncle/brother, it’s a good Union job, you’ll be taken care of,” my generation wasn’t hearing that since even the Union was disappearing along with the mills. Fort Drum expanded during the 1980s and there was a shift…like in Perplexio’s case, the government is the biggest employer in the area.

    It was once an accepted fact that people who left home (usually for the military or college) eventually made it back, but that is no longer the case. My graduating class never bothered to hold a 10th anniversary reunion because of the sheer number of us who quickly got out of town when we could get the chance. In fact, when they did manage to hold a 20th reunion, there were only a handful that arrived.

    Even though the farms in my part of the world produced dairy products rather than the ones mentioned in Pride’s song…and even considering I never grew up on one…when I hear that song I still think of my home town. And I agree, once I exited those village limits it was never quite the same there.

  3. J.A. Bartlett | Reply

    The scenes you guys describe are being repeated almost everywhere. Towns that used to have everything people needed to live from day to day—good schools with a decent tax base to support them, grocery stores, lumber yard, pharmacies, restaurants beyond fast food or bar food—are seeing those options shrink. Almost any aspiration a person might have requires leaving those places to achieve it, which only diminishes them further.

    You can’t go home again, because home isn’t there anymore.

  4. Since I graduated college I’ve only made it home for Christmas once. My then-fiancee (now wife) & I went out east for Christmas in 2004. This was my wife’s 2nd trip there (the first had been in the summer of 2003). After that first summer trip she couldn’t understand how/why I’d been able to leave such a beautiful part of the country. On that 2nd trip she completely understood. We went to K-Mart with my father to pick up a new bed for his dog. Looking around at the other people in the store they all looked so tired and world weary. There was a palpable sense of defeat that was downright depressing. The last few trips we’ve taken out there to see my family have been in the summer.

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