Monday, September 9, 2013

What Goes On At Rocky Top?

This past weekend my wife and I enjoyed a performance by one Mr. John Hodgman, the humorist who is a contributor to The Daily Show, writer of several books, fake judge, and self-proclaimed deranged millionaire. It was a fantastic performance, the sort of thing that really can't be explained unless you were there.

Part of the performance--spoiler alert--involved a remarkably haunting performance of Rocky Top, the bluegrass standard. (There's a reason he sang it, and, no, I ain't telling.) I'm a sucker for bluegrass standards and so it was particularly enjoyable, especially in a room full of nerds and hipsters who probably only hear good ol' shitkicking banjo-playin' when they pass the country station on the Sirius Radio receptor they've ironically soldered to their Schwinn.

However, for whatever reason, I decided to look up the lyrics to Rocky Top, since I didn't really know them. After reading them, I think perhaps we should have someone investigate Rocky Top, because it's pretty much X-Files strange up there. (For the record, each version of the lyrics I've look up for Rocky Top are slightly different, in what I am assuming is chalked up to "charming regional dialects" but in reality are "alarmingly irritating" when doing vigorous research like this.)

Let's take a look:
Well, I wish that I was on old Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
'Cause there ain't no smog, no smoke on Rocky Top
Ain't no telephone bill
OK, this isn't so bad. There's a large portion of every population center everywhere whose sole goal is to get to the point where they can get away from everyone and everything, including utility debt collectors and your boss wanting to know why you haven't shown up to work for six days in a row and why your voice mail is just someone playing a Dobro. Still, taking refuge where you actively know that there isn't any cell phone coverage tastes a little Ted Kaczynki to me.


Once there was a girl on Rocky Top,
Half bear the other half cat.
Wild as a mink, sweet as soda pop,
I still dream about that.
I get the broad metaphor strokes in all this, but there's a little bit too much weird animal imagery going on here. I get the feminine allusions to cats and the sexy mink part, but I'm not exactly sure what the bear is supposed to represent. More importantly, once you get past two in the "animals used to describe the person I am physically attracted to," it's no longer straight-up description and more creepily Frankensteinish. And if I am dreaming about a sexy three-part yet somehow half-and-half Cat-Bear-Mink (Tennessee fractions, I presume), it's not sweet as soda pop, it's a fucking night terror.
Once two strangers climbed on Rocky Top,
Lookin' for a moonshine still.
Strangers ain't come back from Rocky Top,
Guess they never will. 

What sort of transaction was this? Some guy is wandering around town, meets a complete stranger, and thinks to himself "Hey! I know, person I've never met, let's go look for illegal moonshine stills in the dark forest the sort of which are usually defended by protective hillbillies who own multiple firearms! What could go wrong?" I get the burning desire to get a little thunder in your belly, but if you are trawling the streets picking up strangers so you can tromp through the woods looking for illegal alcohol production, maybe none of us should really be all that surprised when they don't come back.
Corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top,
Dirt's too rocky by far.
That's why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar.
Here's an admission that the agricultural limitations of the area won't allow for advanced agricultural production, although I suspect in the dark forests of Rocky Top people have tried alternate methods of farming techniques. (Pot. I'm talking about pot.)
Now I've had years of cramped up city life,
Trapped like a duck in a pen.
Now all I know is it's a pity life
Can't be simple again.
I very much doubt that people living "city life" feel like they are trapped like a duck in a pen, unless that duck comes with an orange glaze and broccoli. And while I get the sentiment that city life is messy, complicated, and often overwhelming, it seems vastly superior to a place where people routinely don't come back from the woods and you can't grow shit to sustain yourself without first distilling it down and drinking it with buckwheat pancakes and is overrun by genetic hybrid female monsters that you fantasize about in your sleep. You'll wish you had that phone bill when you're blind from unpurified grain alcohol and running from a cat-mink on the rag.
Rocky Top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me.
Good ole Rocky Top,
Rocky Top Tennessee

I'm come to the conclusion that maybe we should all sort of stay the hell away from Rocky Top. A lot of weird shit goes on there.

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