Hey girl I think the last time I saw you
Was on me and Leroy's wedding day
What was the name of that love song you played?
I forgot how it goes
I don't recall how it goes
Seals on an ice floe, Anchorage (Thanks, Jenny Gerold)
The song “Anchorage” from Michelle Shocked's second album, Short Sharp Shocked
, takes the structure of a letter to a nearby friend in Dallas, Texas (Shocked herself resided most of her life in and around that same city). The narrator is surprised when she gets a response all the way from Anchorage, Alaska, far to the north. Between reminisces of old times in east Texas, and tangents on new family life, the refrain cuts to the heart of the matter with:Hey Chel, you know it's kind of funny
Texas always seemed so big
But you know you're in the largest state in the union
When you're anchored down in Anchorage
Anchorage itself is the largest city in that largest state, encompassing most of state's population, tucked into the forested slopes of the Chugach Mountains, nearly due south of Denali, also known as Mount McKinley. The city juts out into the Cook Inlet, along beaches of silty mudflats that every year mire the unaware. The ocean and the mountains are said to bar much by way of development and expansion for the ever growing city.
Ice cave in Anchorage (Thanks, Jenny Gerold)
In Shocked's song, she points out the contrasts in these places, and the kind of lives it has inspired its residents to pursue. In Anchorage, Shocked's friend has settled down, and begun to raise a family. As she rambles on about raising her kids she remarks, “I sound like a housewife/ Hey Chel, I think I'm a housewife.” Shocked herself has moved to New York City at this juncture and adopted a life as a “skateboard punk rocker.” Her friend simply asks for a picture before adding, “keep on rocking, girl.” Some have read the obvious differences in the two lives of the women in the song as pitting an oppressive life tied to a family in a remote locale against the freewheeling life of the artist in the cultural capital of the United States. This reading of the song seems to be supported by the fact that the woman in Anchorage is never named, but her husband (Leroy) is mentioned numerous times.
Yet, Anchorage is not a dismal place; with the abundance of wildlife, and the increasing opportunities to enjoy art and culture, the city continues to draw in more and more visitors and residents from the lower 48 states. While the subarctic climate intimidates many, opportunities for winter sports abound, and chances to warm up in cozy taverns, restaurants and lodges make the cold all the more bearable. However, when Shocked penned this song in 1987, Anchorage must have seemed very far from New York City. Despite the vast differences in geographic place and lifestyle choices of these two young women, they can, however, find common ground and acceptance in their shared history and memories of places (like Dallas), quite distant from where they currently reside, and the lives they have chosen for themselves, perhaps this is the most important theme that underlies the correspondence in “Anchorage.” ~ Maggie Grimason