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Living the lyrics

Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2011, at 1:42 PM

♪♫♪♫ Sometimes we don't say a thing, just listen to the crickets sing ♪♫♪♫

With a red iPod in hand and a giant purse of notebooks slung over my shoulder, I sang my way into my college dorm room one October afternoon in 2007. Taylor Swift's latest had quickly climbed to the most played song on my iTunes. I knew every word, and much to my roommate's dismay--she now knew every word too.

"Maggie, do you even know what crickets sound like?"

I launched into a rapid explanation about how my mother said I should never kill crickets. When my grandfather served in WWII, their songs warned the sailors about approaching enemies.

"But do you know what they sound like?"

Well, no. I didn't.

I developed a country music obsession midway through my high school career. I blared the pop-like, fiddle-filled music each morning during a 50-minute traffic-packed drive to school. I pushed the speed limit on eight-lane highways while singing about crickets, pickups and wide-open spaces. I drove past identical suburban houses, urban street corners and shopping malls reciting lyrics about fishing, ticks and star-scattered skies.

Really though, the clearest midnight sky I had seen was at the St. Louis Science Center's Planetarium.

My roommate Dana's hometown of Fair Grove mimicked much of the music I devoured. She claimed a pink cowgirl hat and a Rascal Flatts ticket stub didn't mean I understood the songs I forced her to listen to everyday.

I argued I learned to drive in my dad's pickup.

She insisted I'd never taken it off the road.

And of course, she was right.

Shortly after moving to Saline County, a handful of new friends showed me "the real purpose of a jeep." Up the hills, through the ditches and tearing through the trees, I learned just what Rodney Atkins meant when he sang about taking a back road, as I nervously clung to the jeep's door handle.

Carrie Underwood sings about a single-stoplight town at the intersection of highways 69 and 40. Until moving here, I belted those lyrics in harmony while stalling at traffic signals every two minutes. My first day at The Marshall Democrat-News, Eric handed me a camera and sent me to shoot pictures of the Little Rock Express at Malta Bend. As we drove up the first two-lane highway I'd ever seen, we came to a single-stoplight town remarkably similar to Carrie's Checotah.

One summer afternoon, Tim McGraw grabbed a coke and some gasoline and drove out to the county fair. Silly me, I thought driving out to a county fair meant weaving through interstates and spreading a blanket out on the Arch grounds. The FFA and 4-H events at the county fair baffled me almost as much as the carnival lights and rides at the Missouri State Fair.

Jason Aldean's "Amarillo Sky" might have played every time my cell phone rang the summer before my senior year of high school, yet I'd never taken a tractor another round. Nor could I fathom the size of the fields those machines tend. The only fields I knew were the soccer ones behind my grade school, and the only tractor I'd ever seen was the riding lawnmower that kept the grass groomed.

While Miranda Lambert earned small town fame before selling records, in suburbia everyone blends in with the white picket fences. Even when I downsized from St. Louis to Columbia, MU students could still hide behind laptop screens in lecture halls. The J-school offered more recognition, yet, on graduation day I stared at the 600 black robes and red tassels surrounding me and realized why not all of my professors knew my name. I was mildly recognizable but far from famous. After less than a week in Marshall, I earned the attention I'd craved at the J-school. I quickly became "Maggie the new newspaper girl," "Maggie with the unpronounceable last name" and "Maggie from St. Louis." While I haven't gained the notoriety Miranda sings about in her "Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town," I've gathered more status here than I've accumulated anywhere else.

Well Dana, I've ridden tractors, gone off-roading and paused in the middle of a highway at a single-stoplight town.

I've listened to the crickets sing.

You were right, I didn't understand.

In my defense though, few artists write about suburbia. What was I supposed to listen to?

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

We're glad you've found your way "home" to the country, Maggie. Oh, and by the way, check out the song "Another Pleasant Valley Sunday" on Itunes: they DO sing about the suburbs, too!

-- Posted by Pastor Randy on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 4:37 PM

Maybe the suburbs need *you* to write some songs about them!

(And to Randy's suggestion, I would add "The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire.)

-- Posted by Eric Crump on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 4:55 PM

No one's ever written about suburbia? Oh, I beg to differ: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La21jYGIQ...

-- Posted by Miss Marple on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 8:47 PM

I stand corrected on multiple levels. A friend of mine from home suggested Green Day to solve my suburban music woes too.

Eric, in addition to writing suburban songs, maybe I could start a suburban radio station too? 107.7 The Clone--all suburban all the time.

-- Posted by Maggie Menderski on Mon, Nov 21, 2011, at 9:15 PM

is a "county" music obsession anything like a country music obsession? :)

-- Posted by hunterfisher on Tue, Nov 22, 2011, at 12:07 PM

Maggie, I remember a much younger version of myself that used to get aggravated at the little towns on the highway with one light in the entire town and that being the flashing red light that made me stop. I was in way too much of a hurry to slow down much less stop for such a meaningless little town.... Years later, and with the experience of having lived in large cities after growing up in a small town and eventually returning to that small town I find the pause much easier to deal with. The towns with the single stop-light are becoming fewer and fewer and I think that is a shame.

-- Posted by the view from the square on Tue, Nov 22, 2011, at 3:12 PM

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Maggie Menderski graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in May 2011. The St. Louis native began working as a staff writer for the Democrat-News shortly after. In her Out of Ink blog, she (typically) muses about the differences between rural and suburban life.
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