Friday, June 13, 2008

No Place Like Home Part III

I alluded recently to a Mary Chapin Carpenter song where she says that she’d never really seen her hometown until she’d spent some time away. I’m sure some of you are way ahead of me and knew right away that I had the artist wrong. The song I’m thinking of is San Diego Serenade, which is a song written by Tom Waits and recorded by a number of artists. The version I’m thinking of is in fact by Nanci Griffith.

Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter aren’t really all that similar, and you’re probably wondering how I could mix them up. I’m pretty sure it’s because I keep both of their catalogs in the same box in my head labeled “Songs by Women I Like to Pretend Are Not Really Country Artists.” Lucinda Williams, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris have their music in there, too. Iris Dement would like me to put her in this box, but so far I’ve resisted. Michelle Shocked and the Indigo Girls are afraid they’re going to start appearing there. Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies doesn’t really want to be in the box of denial, but as long as she continues to sing songs with titles like Murder in the Trailer Park, she leaves me little choice. The women of the Waifs, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t mind if I put their songs in the box, as long as it meant someone from America was paying attention. My point is, it’s a big bin, and I can see how the contents have shifted over time.

The reason I bring it up at all, really, is just to say that I know what Nanci Griffith means when she sings about distance making things clearer. Almost every time I’m home I notice something that seemed perfectly normal when I lived there, but which after years on the West Coast, has started to look odd. Or at least noteworthy.

This time it was brick. Everything in Northampton that isn’t wood and isn’t made of huge blocks of stone is made of brick--unreinforced masonry brick with no X-shaped retrofitting braces in sight. I love that look—brick, clapboard, and brownstone are God’s construction materials as far as I’m concerned. I just realize now that the architecture is strikingly different from what I’m slowly getting used to in California. Aren’t people in Massachusetts worried about earthquakes? (Hint: no.)

Here is a link to some pictures I took when I was home. (I’m back in California now.)

No comments: