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Zoo Story: Bob Dylan vs. The Mountain Goats

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    How have Bob Dylan and John Darnielle, a.k.a. The Mountain Goats, traveled the world?

    Darnielle often sings in the present tense, moving with caution from place to place, detailing the ghosts that live in unexplored pockets of the world. He zooms in on Portmore in Jamaica, or Galesburg in Illinois to set a new backdrop for trials domestic and romantic, personal, and imagined. His geography is only surreal in the sense that it’s unfamiliar, whether he’s Going to Georgia or Going to Ghana. He is always there, living in that moment, experiencing the jungle or the desert with his heart in his hands.

    Dylan uses his geography more broadly. He sings in the past tense, a storyteller for men and women, outlaws and gamblers who ventured to the four corners of the world trying to just pick up and move on. He focuses on the south and the west, Wyoming and Texas. With Dylan, it’s more about the people he’s met than the person he is. Though he’s mapped many dusty roads and highways, cities are often just a setting, not the focal point for Dylan.

    Essentially, the sun is rising over Darnielle’s towns, and the sun is setting behind Dylan’s.

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    Recently, Thomas Bollier, Chris Kirk, and Richard Kreitner over at Slate put in massive legwork to map out almost every location Bob Dylan sang about, and in 2009 a man named Alex put in massive legwork to map out every Mountain Goats song. Using these two maps, we compared the 50 states in the U.S. plus the rest of the continents (alas, neither wrote songs about Antarctica).

    According to this research, some notes: Darnielle’s “favorite” state (ha ha) is California (33 songs) while Dylan’s is New York (26 songs). Both Darnielle and Dylan have “cop outs”, with Darnielle writing about 44 “Going To…” songs, and Dylan naming about 12 “exotic” locations in “Union Sundown”. And not that folk music is a contest, but if it were, Darnielle’s songbook includes approximately 254 songs that mention a specific place in the world, while Dylan’s songbook includes approximately 177.

    Here’s a breakdown of all 50 states and the rest of the globe, plus which American songwriter can subjectively claim that part of the world as their own.

    How many songs did Darnielle and Dylan write about…

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    Alabama

    Darnielle: 3
    Dylan: 2
    Decision: Dylan, by way of of iconic location in iconic song title (“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”).


    Alaska

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, on a simple “Going to Alaska”, where “the jacaranda are wet with color.”


    Arizona

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Darnielle, as his Arizona hat tip is not included in just a laundry list of southern states like Dylan.


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    Arkansas

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan, as Darnielle can only just “see” Arkansas, no proof whether he was actually there. No proof at all.


    California:

    Darnielle: 38
    Dylan: 9
    Decision: Darnielle, clearly. No one can’t compete with the songs of the Sunshine state that haunts Darnielle perpetually.


    Colorado

    Darnielle: 4
    Dylan: 3
    Decision: Dylan, for his decidedly more rustic and romantic imagery of Colorado (and because I love “Rambling Gambling Willie”).


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    Connecticut

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle. Connecticut doesn’t really have a lot of great songs about them (Superchunk, excepted), but Connecticuters take comfort that Darnielle shouts out Norwalk, where a local tells me they have “a nice aquarium.”


    Delaware

    Darnielle: 0
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Dewey, DE for the one time I was there and saw a bunch of lifeguards practicing semaphore down the beach.


    District of Columbia

    Darnielle: 0
    Dylan: 2
    Decision: Dylan, Another notch in the belt of “Rambling, Gambling Willie”!


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    Florida

    Darnielle: 12
    Dylan: 4
    Decision: Oh my god, Darnielle. There’s “Going to Dade County”, a song about the small Gulf town of Inglis, the album Tallahassee being one of his greatest achievements, and also it being a former place of residence.


    Georgia

    Darnielle: 4
    Dylan: 3
    Decision: Close, but Darnielle, for the person who always shouts “Going to Georgia” at the shows.


    Hawaii

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan, for the “old Honolulu” mention in the unimpeachable “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go”.


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    Idaho

    Darnielle: 0
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan by default. I asked an Idahoan what Idaho city should have a song written about it, they replied “Sandpoint deserves a protest epic to rewrite its place in history.”


    Illinois

    Darnielle: 5
    Dylan: 4
    Decision: So close but Dylan’s “The Death of Emmett Till” trumps all, even Darnielle’s mention of Galesburg, even though a local tells me, “There’s a cool old Arby’s sign there and that’s it.”

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    Indiana

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, born in Bloomington, IN, only refers to his origin of birth with “Indiana sawgrass” in “Pale Green Things”.


    Iowa

    Darnielle: 6
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Another one of Darnielle’s home states, and put Scotch Grove (pop. Unincorporated) on the map.


    Kansas

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 3
    Decision: Dylan, a banner state for the man’s lyrics, and the home state of John Wesely Hardin, whose name Dylan accidentally misspelled for his album John Wesley Harding.


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    Kentucky

    Darnielle: 0
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan gets Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee in one fell swoop with “Floater (Too Much To Ask)” about travelling down the Ohio river. River’s are kind of cheating.


    Louisiana

    Darnielle: 2
    Dylan: 10
    Decision: Dylan, what with taking Highway 61 all the way down to New Orleans from Minnesota.


    Maine

    Darnielle: 3
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, with a song named after one of the easternmost points in the U.S., Cobscook Bay.


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    Maryland

    Darnielle: 2
    Dylan: 2
    Decision: Dylan, once again trumping with a song about the wrongful murder of an African-American barmaid Hattie Carrol at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore.


    Massachusetts

    Darnielle: 0
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan, as he sings from a Boston restaurant with a lone waitress, though his heart is really in the Scottish Highlands.


    Michigan

    Darnielle: 2
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Darnielle, for including Pontiac, MI in a song about the a heavyweight boxer in the ‘80s Pinklon Thomas.


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    Minnesota

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 3
    Decision: Dylan, even though one of the few songs about his home state is perhaps tellingly about a prison.


    Mississippi

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 5
    Decision: Dylan, again championing civil rights with “Oxford Town”.


    Missouri

    Darnielle: 3
    Dylan: 2
    Decision: Dylan, though both kind of see Missouri as an afterthought or a stop-over. Surprised neither Dylan or Darnielle have written a song mentioning Shoeless Joe Jackson but there’s always their next album.


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    Montana

    Darnielle: 1 (not listed on the Google Map, but he mentions Montana in “Night Light” from Transcendental Youth).
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan, I just think he knows more people from the Rocky Mountains, including “the wildest cat from Montana.”


    Nebraska

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Dylan has the better lyric about Omaha (“And I’m gonna ride into Omaha on a horse/ Out to the country club and the golf course.”)


    Nevada

    Darnielle: 2
    Dylan: 2
    Decision: Darnielle, as the tale of two sad lovers waking up after a year in Vegas in “Star Dusting” reigns supreme.


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    New Hampshire

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, as he talks about the snow coming down on New Hampshire in “Song for John Davis”.


    New Jersey

    Darnielle: 4
    Dylan: 4
    Decision: Darnielle, but one of the tougher calls. “Your laughter tore through the New Jersey night” on “Raja Vocative” edges out the competition.


    New Mexico

    Darnielle: 3
    Dylan: 6
    Decision: Dylan,”Santa Fe” is one of the top three songs about Santa Fe called “Santa Fe”.


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    New York

    Darnielle: 6
    Dylan: 26
    Decision: Dylan, of course.


    North Carolina

    Darnielle: 3
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, where he currently resides, and certainly helped to put the Greensboro High School football team on the map.


    North Dakota

    Darnielle: 1
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, as North Dakota is just happy to be here, you guys.


    Ohio

    Darnielle: 3
    Dylan: 2
    Decision: Darnielle, who’s never going back to Cincinnati, hiding out in Central Ohio, and going to Cleveland.


    Oklahoma

    Darnielle: 2
    Dylan: 1
    Decision: Darnielle, as “Tulsa Imperative” has one of the best opening lines: “Your mama’s failed wheat field was a good place to lie down together.”


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    Oregon

    Darnielle: 4  (The map only lists three but, “Hood River gin” from “Game Shows Touch Our Lives” could be included.)
    Dylan: 0
    Decision: Darnielle, Dylan never really got too far beyond the Rockies.

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