Archive for Maps

State Songs

State SongsLooking for a mix that has one song for each of the 50 U.S. states?  This isn’t it.  Nor are any of these official state songs. (Or, at least, I don’t think they are.)

Instead, this mix has 24 songs (one each for 23 states, plus one for DC), and some of them refer to multiple states. I’m well aware that many states are missing, and that I’ve skipped some obvious songs — Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” the B-52s’ “Private Idaho,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” to name but three.  Similarly, one could make several mixes worth of songs devoted to New York alone, but I’ve stuck to one song per state.  Finally, I’ve limited the length to only what would fit on a single CD.

So here’s one hour and nineteen minutes of music that references U.S. states. Some songs celebrate, others criticize, and still others merely allude to the state in question. Enjoy!

1)    Rhode Island Is Famous for You  Erin McKeown (2006)      2:46

Written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz for the musical Inside U.S.A. (1948), this song gained popular attention via Blossom Dearie’s 1960 recording. McKeown’s appears on her delightful album of covers, Sing You Sinners. Though I’ve included it for Rhode Island, it references 20 other states: Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, Louisiana, Montana, Idaho, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Dakota (it doesn’t specify whether North or South).

2)    I Like the Likes of You  Kate Baldwin (2009)      2:02

Composed by E. Y. Harburg and Vernon Duke for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1944, it only references Connecticut (and, more briefly, the Grand Canyon). I’ve always loved the way the song’s language evokes the giddiness of falling in love, and even finds the time to skewer love-song clichés (in the spoken section). And Kate Baldwin’s delivery is perfect.

3)    B.O.S.T.O.N.  Bleu (2010)      3:48

This is here for Massachusetts (my home state), but it also name checks Wisconsin (Green Bay), Virginia, and California (L.A.).  Catchy power-pop celebration of Boston. I also included it in my “For Boston” mix, back in April.

4)    Maine  John Linnell (1999)      2:07

I stole this mix’s title from John Linnell’s State Songs, the EP on which “Maine” appears.  If this sounds a bit like a They Might Be Giants song, that’s because Linnell is half of TMBGs.

5)   Manhattan  Ella Fitzgerald & Buddy Bregman Orchestra (1956)      2:49

Composed by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for Garrick Gaieties (1925), this song takes you on a tour through New York’s best-known borough. Because there are so many songs about New York, it was challenging to choose just one song for this state. “Harlem Shuffle,” “42nd Street,” “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” “Boy from New York City,” “Theme from New York, New York,” “Take the A Train” are but a few others that were in the running.

6)    I’m From New Jersey  John Gorka (1991)      3:08

On this mix, some songs celebrate and others criticize — except for this one, which does a little of both.  It appears on Gorka’s Jack’s Crows. Bonus: it also references Texas and Ohio.

7)    Pennsylvania 6-5000  Glenn Miller (1940)      3:14

I like that this song doesn’t really say anything at all about Pennsylvania. It’s just a telephone exchange. The absurdity appeals to me. Also in the running for this state were Standard Fare’s “Philadelphia” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”

8)   Delaware  Perry Como (1959)      2:19

Yes, the entire song is silly puns on state names. Believe it or not, this was a no. 22 pop hit in March of 1960.  In case you’re keeping track, the other states in this song are New Jersey, California, Hawaii, Mississippi, Minnesota, Oregon, Alaska, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, and Missouri.

9)    Washington, D.C.  The Magnetic Fields (1999)      1:54

The nation’s capitol — which has no representation at the federal level — here gets celebrated with a rousing cheer and a snare drum. From 69 Love Songs.

10) Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina  Anita O’Day with Gene Krupa (1941)      2:43

I don’t know anything about the songwriters on this one. They’re identified as S. Skylar, A. Shaftel, B. Cannon. What else have they written? The song appears on Let Me Off Uptown!: Anita O’Day with Gene Krupa.

11) My City Was Gone  Pretenders (1982)      5:25

“I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone,” sings Chrissie Hynde, the composer of this song. It appears on the Pretenders’ classic record, Learning to Crawl.  Below, the 1995 incarnation of the group performs the song … in Ohio.

12) Michigan Militia  Moxy Früvous (1997)      3:18

The late, great Canadian quartet (active in the 1990s) satirizes a right-wing American paramilitary group which, according to Wikipedia, lasted from 1994 to 2000, and then was re-formed in 2009. I’m not sure what relationship the current Michigan Militia has to the one portrayed in this song. The song appears on Moxy Früvous’s Go to the Moon.  Below, a live performance from a 1998 telethon:

13) Down in Mississippi  Mavis Staples (2007)      4:58

Yes, that is Ladysmith Black Mambazo on backing vocals. A powerful song from one of the greatest albums ever recorded: We’ll Never Turn Back. It’s one of my desert island discs. Staples’ voice, Ry Cooder’s clean production, and many great musicians (including Cooder himself).  Below, a live performance from 2008:

14) Tennessee  Arrested Development (1992)      4:33

Written by Speech (who also is doing the main rap here), “Tennessee” was a top-10 single from the group’s successful debut album (which also featured “People Everyday” and “Mr. Wendal”). The song also references Georgia — in particular, Holly Springs, and Peachtree (a Street in Atlanta).  Below, the video:

15) Midnight Train to Georgia  Gladys Knight & The Pips (1973)      4:40

Another popular hit (number 1 on the pop charts), but from twenty years earlier. One of the few songs to be the subject of a Doonesbury strip:

G.B. Trudeau, Doonesbury, 28 July 1974

16) The Train from Kansas City  The Shangri-Las (1965)      3:21

Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, this song is on the mix to represent Missouri. There is also a smaller Kansas City in Kansas, but the larger, better-known city is in Missouri.

17) On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe  Judy Garland (1946)      3:10

Written by Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren for the musical film The Harvey Girls, this song is here for Kansas (Atchison, Topeka), though I suppose you could add in New Mexico (Santa Fe).

18) Iowa Stubborn  Ensemble (1962)      2:00

“See you at the picnic. You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself.” Meredith Willson’s salute to his home state of Iowa, as performed in the opening minutes of The Music Man — one of the truly great musicals.  In addition to many memorable tunes, it’s just saturated with language. The lead role (Professor Harold Hill) has to be one of the most challenging in all of musical theatre.  Here’s Robert Preston, giving his definitive rendition in the 1962 film:

19) Oklahoma (Finale)  Gordon MacRae, Charlotte Greenwood, James Whitmore, Shirley Jones & Jay Flippen (1955)      3:08

From the musical (stage, 1943; film, 1955) by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein.

20) That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas) Lyle Lovett (1996)      4:55

“But Texas wants you anyway.” From Lovett’s The Road to Ensenada.  Below, an early live version (from Austin City Limits, in the early 1990s):

21) Louisiana 1927  Randy Newman (1974)      2:58

From Newman’s Good Old Boys.

22) Sal Tlay Ka Siti  Nikki M. James (2011)      3:42

A (sort-of) tribute to Utah, from Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon.

23) Viva Las Vegas  The Grascals with Dolly Parton (2009)      3:15

Originally performed by Elvis Presley in the 1964 film of the same name, this song (written by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus) here gets a lively country treatment. Indeed, I like this version better than Elvis’s original.

24) California  Rufus Wainwright (2001)      3:24

“You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed.”  From Wainwright’s Poses.  Another state for which there are many songs we might use.  I like this one because it’s interested in the idea of California, but it’s also somewhat bemused by it.

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Crockett Johnson in New York: A Walking Tour, in Honor of his 106th Birthday

David Johnson Leisk (Crockett Johnson) in an undated photo (c. 1916?)David Johnson Leisk was born 106 years ago in an apartment at 444 East 58th Street, New York City.  If you’re in New York today, you might give yourself a walking tour (aided by the subway) of where the creator of Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) and Barnaby (1942-1952) grew up.  Dave Leisk — better known by his pen name (and childhood nickname) of Crockett Johnson — enjoyed the outdoors, and it’s a nice day in New York today. Sunny, predicted high of 70ºF (21º C).  So, why not?


  • 444 East 58th Street, Manhattan.  Start a block south of the 59th Street Bridge (under construction when Johnson was born), and a block west of the East River.  His earliest childhood experiences took place here.  At this point, you’ll want to get on the no. 7 train to Queens.
    • Note: I intended to provide a GoogleMap of this whole tour, complete with walking directions.  But the street address (on Google) didn’t match each building, and I couldn’t get my markers to match up.  So… this walking tour is imperfect.  But I have marked each residence on a GoogleMap, and you can use that to plan your journey.  I’m also providing photos of some of the houses (as I say, GoogleMaps’ addresses don’t always correspond with the image of the correct building).  View Crockett Johnson’s New York: A Walking Tour in a larger map.
  • 104-11 39th Avenue, Corona, Queens.  This was 2 Ferguson Street, when the Leisk family lived there.104-11 39th Avenue, Corona, Queens.  By the time Johnson was 6, he and his family had moved to the second floor of a two-story wood frame house at 2 Ferguson Street in what was then a new suburb — Queens. Today, 2 Ferguson Street is 104-11 39th Avenue, and right next to the Corona Branch of the Queens Public Library.  While you’re there, you might consider that, when the Leisk family moved in, the streets were unpaved, there were no sewers, and Queens had more chicken owners than any other borough.  The Corona Elevated Railway (which today carries the no. 7 train) wasn’t there yet either: construction began October 1915, and the station for the Corona El (a block south of the Leisks’ home) opened in April 1917.  This was a different world than what you see today.  But much is still there.
    • Public School 16, where young Dave went to school, is at 41-15 104th Street, in between 41st and 42nd Avenues, and right across the street from…
    • Linden Park (a.k.a. Park of the Americas), where, when he was a boy, there was skating in the winter and swimming in the summers.  That was in Linden Lake, which is no longer there.  But there is a baseball diamond, trees, and greenery.
    • Newtown High School (53-01 90th Street, Elmhurst, Queens) is where Johnson published his first cartoons.  They appeared in the Newtown High School Lantern as early as that publication’s second issue — March 1921, when Johnson (then publishing under his given name, David Johnson Leisk) was only a 14-year-old freshman.  Incidentally, that March 1921 magazine is the second issue of the Lantern.  I’ve been unable to locate a first issue: it’s possible that an earlier cartoon is in there.  For more on Newtown, you might enjoy the Newtown High School Handbook of 1921 (Johnson attended from 1920 to 1924) or the school’s current website.
  • 33-43 Prince Street, Flushing, Queens.  This building (which then had the address of 53 No. Prince Street) no longer exists.  By 1925, the Leisks had moved here — the beginning of a period of sadness and instability. The death of Dave’s father required him to leave college (to support his family) after less than a year, and prompted the move into this 10-foot-wide house.  Sharing this small space were Dave, his sister Else, their mother Mary, cousin Bert Leisk (from Scotland), and Bert’s friend Jim McKinney.  Bert and Jim had been living with the Leisks since 1923. Hyacinth Court, at 146-26 Hawthorne, Flushing. Of course, for part of each weekday, Else was at school, and the other four were at work — Dave in Macy’s advertising department, a job he thoroughly disliked.  After quitting that, he worked in an icehouse and played semi-professional football.  In 1927, he became first art editor of Aviation magazine, and this change in his professional fortunes enabled the family to move into…
  • Hyacinth Court, a brand-new building, at 146-26 Hawthorne, Flushing.  (Then, it was Hyacinth Place.)  The stock market crash of 1929 resulted in a reduced salary for Johnson, as Aviation (recently acquired by McGraw-Hill) struggled to weather the Depression.  But Dave remained employed, working as Art Editor for a half dozen McGraw-Hill publications.
  • Rose Court, 83-24 Dongan Ave., Elmhurst, QueensRose Court, 83-24 Dongan Ave., Elmhurst, Queens. The Leisks moved here in 1930.  Dave and his first wife Charlotte Rosswaag married during the first half of the 1930s, and likely lived here early in their marriage.
  • Bank Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan. I couldn’t find an exact address for Dave and Charlotte, but I did learn (from a friend who knew them then) that they lived in a garden apartment on Bank Street, in Greenwich Village.  So, after spending most of his youth in Queens, Dave returns to Manhattan.  During this period, two items of significance: (1) Dave begins contributing cartoons to the Communist weekly, New Masses.  (2) His pseudonym, Crockett Johnson, makes its debut — also in New Masses.
  • 423 West 21st St, Manhattan.  By 1936-1937, Dave and Charlotte are living here.  Dave — as Crockett Johnson — becomes Art Editor for New Masses.  Marxist Internet Archive has a few of his New Masses cartoons.  You can also see some in “Before Barnaby: Crockett Johnson Grows Up and Turns Left,” an extract of my biography published in The Comics Journal last month.
  • 36 Grove St., Manhattan.  This is Crockett Johnson’s final New York residence.  He moved here by 1940, at which point he was drawing a popular cartoon for Collier’s. He had left New Masses and divorced Charlotte.  He’d also fallen in love with a Columbia Anthropology student 5 years his senior: Ruth Krauss, who moved in with him later that year. In 1942, they moved to Connecticut.

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)
Free public lecture on Crockett Johnson & Ruth Krauss, 27 Oct. 2012, 2 pm
One week from today — Saturday, October 27th — I will be speaking on Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss at the New York Public Library’s Stephen Schwarzman Building’s South Court Auditorium, 2 pm.  Free admission.  Book-signing afterwards.  If you’ll be in the area, stop on by!

Special thanks to the Queens Public Library’s John Hyslop, who took me on a walking tour of Johnson’s childhood homes in Queens.  Indeed, he did this twice!  During my first tour, I failed to load the film in my camera correctly and so all photos failed.  By the second time, I was (fortunately) using a digital camera, and that worked a-OK.  So.  Thank you, John!

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