Editor’s note: Dan, wife & kids have repaired to Ocean City, Md., where they are crabbing, riding the waves, sunbathing and hanging out with The world-famous Nighthawks this week. Herewith are some “greatest hits” columns until Casey returns. This column originally appeared July 8, 2010. Since then, Keith Richards has published his autobiography, “Life.” But Virginia still has no state song.
It’s time to put an end to one of this commonwealth’s glaring lapses, one that has existed for more than a decade, and one that’s been debated back and forth without effective resolution.
That would be the Virginia state song.
We have been without one since 1998, when “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was fittingly shelved because of references to “darkies” longing for the good old pre-Civil War plantation days.
In the wake of that action, our lawmakers spent years debating a replacement.
The state narrowed more than 300 nominations down to eight. Among the finalists were “Sweet Virginia Breeze” by Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett and “Virginia” by the recently departed Jimmy Dean and his wife, Donna.
Our lawmakers had various and good reasons for ditching those pop ditties and the other contenders. And then the movement to find a song ran out of steam, said its leader, state Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County.
“We got busy with other things and just kind of dropped it,” he said Wednesday.
But there is an earthy, meat-and-potatoes tune out there, without a racist syllable, that already has been tickling our ears for 38 years.
It’s “Sweet Virginia” by The Rolling Stones, from the 1972 album “Exile on Main Street.”
That album’s rerelease in May (with 10 additional tracks) is already one of the summer’s hottest sellers.
“Sweet Virginia” would be the best Virginia state song possible.
First, it’s simple, like any good state song should be. The tune sticks in the head and so does its lyrical refrain:
“Come on, come on down, Sweet Virginia. Come on, honey child, I beg of you.”
Then there’s the matter of the rest of the lyrics, which at first blush might sound controversial. It’s time to put that to rest.
You may question the lines “Tryin’ to stop the waves, behind your eyeballs, ah ha” and “Drop those reds, drop those greens and blues,” and “And I hid the speed inside my shoe.”
They sound like drug references. But in our modern age it’s possible to divine new meanings in them.
The waves are those of Virginia Beach, the state’s most populous city, and they lap the ocean sands of Virginia’s most popular tourist attraction.
The reds and greens and blues are not pills but politicians. In that respect, the line is an appeal to the kind of nonpartisanship Thomas Jefferson himself espoused.
“The speed inside my shoe” is a deft metaphor for the first (and hence, highest priority) legislation the 2010 General Assembly proudly enacted, raising the speed limit on rural interstates. Or, perhaps, NASCAR.
In other words, the lyrics to “Sweet Virginia” stand the test of time.
The song also pays tribute to Virginia’s maturing vineyard and wine-making industry while giving credit where it’s due: “Thank you, for your wine, California. Thank you, for your sweet and bitter fruit.”
Yes, there is a reference to the S-word in the refrain.
Consider that a folksy paean to Virginia’s agricultural heritage. Ask any farmer, and you’ll find out he’s had to scrape it off his shoe.
Change it to “dung” if absolutely necessary.
There are many other reasons to make “Sweet Virginia” the state song.
For one, it could be the backbone of a wildly effective tourism marketing campaign. It would become synonymous with the commonwealth and all it has to offer.
“Virginia is for Lovers” has been worn out for at least 20 years.
Second, Virginia would become the first state (or nation) to pay a well-past-due compliment to the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. That would be international news.
Finally, imagine the melee in Richmond at the bill-signing. That would be fun.
Earlier this year, our state lawmakers fell all over themselves to get their pictures taken with actor Erik Estrada, a third-rate Hollywood has-been who showed up to support a crimes-against-children bill.
Consider the potential mob scene as the Glimmer Twins, two international musical heroes in the twilight of their careers, made an appearance.
Can’t you see our karaoke-crooning Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, on one end, and fair-haired, straightlaced Gov. Bob McDonnell on the other, flanking Mick Jagger and Keith Richards?
Virginia political history has few sweet moments like that one would be.
Wednesday, Sen. Hanger promised to give “Sweet Virginia” a listen.
Who’s going to put in the bill to make it happen?