Looking at mountains from a distance is like looking at a movie poster outside a cinema. The size, shape and colors are evident, but the substance of mountains and foothills will not reveal itself without direct interaction — without going inside.
Humans have lived in the mountains since the beginning. If you need any proof, take a look at those prehistoric cave drawings in France that Werner Herzog was so keen on documenting.
Even to humans thousands of years ago, mountains were solidified in human culture as isolating but also comforting from the dangers of the primordial wilderness. As time passed, living in the mountains away from coastal civilization demanded greater risk with the prospect of sustenance lingering over every decision.
If you’ve ever stared out into the Ohio hills — or any other rolling topography — it’s easy to see the endless rows of evergreens and the faint mist hanging above them, but the strange animals and (possibly) people lurking out there remain hidden from sight. Only those who have lived off the mountains can understand their true substance and form.
But for the rest of us hikers and nature lovers, the significance of mountains can best be expressed through painting, writing and music. In fact, many songwriters have penned lyrics about their mountainous origin or alpine appreciation, whether the Rockies, the Blue Ridge Mountains, general Appalachian grandeur or some stray terrain too rugged to pinpoint.
Those specifically American mountain ranges provide a natural identity for songwriters such as John Denver, Robin Pecknold (of Fleet Foxes) and Townes Van Zandt. The latter two have written moving odes named “Blue Ridge Mountains.” Denver also did his share for mountain songs writing West Virginia’s official state song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and the western equivalent “Rocky Mountain High.” He sure did love mountains.
In American music, artists tend to prefer focusing on the Rocky Mountain Chain over the Appalachian Range. I’m sure height has something to do with it.
Sure, Kurt Vile mentions running into the “rolling hills along some Midwestern highway on 'That’s Life, tho'” and then there’s “Appalachian Grind” by Athens, Ohio, band Hellnaw, but that’s basically all I can name, aside from those two Blue Ridge Mountain songs. The Rocky Mountains, on the other hand, have “Blue Canadian Rockies” by The Byrds, “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh, “Rocky Mountain High” and many more folksy tributes.
To capture a more universal impression, other musicians entirely disregard referencing real places and either conjure up the image of a mountain or a fictional mountain. Ozzy had “Over the Mountain,” Jane’s Addiction had the very literal “Mountain Song,” Sleep played to the “Holy Mountain” and Townes Van Zandt professed his love for nature on “Our Mother the Mountain.” Likewise, the band Mount Eerie, although alluding to the real-life Mount Erie in Washington, followed this obscurantist practice by changing the name of the mountain’s spelling to create a new significance.
Switching from symbolic mountains to the fictional mountains, Led Zeppelin called upon Tolkien’s The Hobbit when it released “Misty Mountain Hop” in 1971 (they also wrote another mountain song called “Black Mountain Side”).
And I’m not sure where the “Big Rock Candy Mountain” looms east of the Mississippi but I know Harry McClintock wrote a song about it from some Coen Brothers film.
Mountains can differ in size, location and flora but amount in the same artistic image. The mountain and human are so intrinsically connected that of all earthly wonders, mountains inspire the greatest sense of awe and perspective, even if they are blue and green without altitudinal snowcaps.
Although the meaning of mountains to civilization still remains abstract and instinctual, songwriters that attempt to capture mountainous lands provide a lens to understand them like native dwellers, whether that is a natural isolationist paradise or, adversely, rough traveling.
Luke Furman is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What do you think? Let Luke know by tweeting him @LukeFurmanLog or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.