Stereotypes & Assumptions
Samantha Crain, another of the state’s prominent singer-songwriters, has gradually changed her mind about the importance of Oklahoma identity in her work. At one point, she would have spoken of a longing for nothing in particular, “just whatever was outside the country backroads,” she says via email – but now, as a well-traveled adult, she is “very much aware that every place is the same,” she says.
“Of course there are differences in environments and culture and architecture and opinion, but the basic human condition is the same everywhere, and people develop the same ideas and wants and needs no matter where they are located,” she says. “So with that said, being an ‘Oklahoman’ doesn’t inform much in my music anymore; it has changed to broader categories; being a woman, or being a human. I love Oklahoma, but I think many of our social issues as a state would improve if people tried thinking more abstractly.”
Like McPherson, Crain has toured extensively in other parts of the world. But she does not particularly feel that she has been subject to any stereotypes pertaining to her geographical origin. This may be attributable to her eagerness to learn about “other people’s worlds.” She tries to blend in quietly wherever she goes, she says.
“I think I have a very quiet pride about Oklahoma,” she says. “My own beliefs, aesthetics and thoughts come through on the stage before any other assumptions can be decided upon.”
[pullquote]Part of me wants to believe that this is just kind of in me and this is
what I do.”[/pullquote]
Assumptions about the state may still come into play, but these are not necessarily negative.
“I think, fortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t have much of a picture of Oklahoma other than Woody Guthrie, the Dust Bowl and Indians,” says Crain, whose heritage is American Indian. “So they aren’t really privy to some of our current history, and that probably plays to my advantage, because, really, what romantic-minded music fan doesn’t love the idea of Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl and Indians?”
John Moreland, a rising star of the state’s singer-songwriter scene, echoes Crain’s belief that, wherever one may go, people are pretty much the same. At the same time, he acknowledges that living in Oklahoma has probably shaped his artistic identity in some way – or, put differently, that he is not quite the same musician that he would have been had he not moved here from Kentucky at age 10.
“Part of me wants to believe that this is just kind of in me and this is what I do,” says the soon-to-be-30-year-old. “But there’s lyrics on my new record like, ‘My baby’s a tornado in the endless Oklahoma sky.’ I definitely wouldn’t be writing about tornadoes if I didn’t live here.”
The songs on the album, High on Tulsa Heat, do indeed evoke a strong sense of place, and not just through titles like “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” and “Cleveland County Blues” – he has lived in both parts of the state – but in the music itself: plaintive acoustic folk, reminiscent of Tom Waits’ more tender moments, alternating with a full-band roots-rock sound, mostly mid-tempo and all very cleanly produced. One is tempted to conclude that a summer-evening Tulsa sky would be brought to mind by listening to the title track even in the absence of the lyrics.
But perhaps to focus too closely on Americana would be unnecessarily stereotypical in itself.