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Monday, June 25, 2012

Songs About Food: Hungry for Home

Those of you who know me well know that there are a few things in life that I'm rather obsessed with. Food certainly is one. Music is another. I write and play songs, I spent four years hosting Music of Note on WCFM (and am scheming to resurrect it as a podcast), and there are few things on earth I find more pleasant than lying back and letting a great song envelop me.

I've written before about the similarities between music and food (and if I can find that particular essay I will absolutely post it here), but for now I'd like to dwell on one particular property they have in common: the ability to transport you. Visual art of all kinds can captivate us and move us every bit as profoundly as either music of food can, but I think that the sheer sensory experience of these two art forms are unique in in their ability to hurl us through time and space to emotional points in our past. Take a bite, hear a note, and for a tiny moment you can violate every law that keeps us stampeding on into the future.

The song that triggered this post, Hungry for Home by bluegrass musician Rodney Crowell, is about the ability of food to perform this special kind of time travel. The verses are a seemingly light-hearted pean to the deliciousness and comforting properties of southern food: "A pot of hot collards make a monkey out of full grown men,"  and glowing descriptions of the power of popcorn shrimp, catfish stew, and grits drizzled with molasses. The chorus, however, underscores just what all this means to the battered and struggling narrator:

"I'm hungry for home
Been gone too long
Been beat up and bit

Feelin' pretty much spent
Try to make my mark
Everywhere I roam
But I'm losing my spark
I'm hungry for home"

I wrote recently about comfort food, but what I didn't say was why comfort food has such an effect on us when we're feeling down. Part of it is certainly that it's warm and savory and filling, but a lot of the effect is one rooted fundamentally in longing and nostalgia. When we eat such things, we are reminded of being served them by loving family, often as children, at times when the world seemed warm and safe and full of hope. Over the rough patches of the last two years, my thoughts drifted quite a lot to going to home, and when they did, thoughts of old favorite restaurants and my parent's dishes that I grew up with invariably were a major part. I think we've all felt like the narrator of this song at times, and whether our hearts are calling out for grilled cheese, fried chicken, or malai kofta, the important thing is what those culinary memories represent to us.  As he sings late into the song, "Aint' nothing like sitting down eatin' keep your hopes up high...A deviled leg and a chicken leg says you're never gonna ever say die."

I'm back home now, and in a month I will be moving on. I'm going by choice to an opportunity I'm very excited about, and to Boston, a city that I love and that has always been a home away from home for me. Nonetheless, I'm going to miss Tucson, and while I'm here I plan to enjoy all the dishes that I miss when I'm away, and all the pleasant memories that go with them.

Hungry for Home

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