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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.

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…

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”).

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Alaska

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

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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.

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California:

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Georgia

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

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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.”

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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.”

bob dylan john darnielle

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”.

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Iowa

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

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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.

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Louisiana

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mississippi

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

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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.”

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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.”)

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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North Dakota

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

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Ohio

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

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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.


bob dylan john darnielle

Pennsylvania

Darnielle: 4
Dylan: 2
Decision: Dylan, for once his specificity rules over Darnielle’s, with a guy named Dupree coming pimpin’ in a Pittsburgh cafe and a song about the old Duquesne train line.

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Rhode Island

Darnielle: 1
Dylan: 0
Decision: Darnielle, but again, Rhode Island is just happy to be here.

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South Carolina

Darnielle: 0
Dylan: 0
Decision: Well, Young Jeezy shouts out Columbia on “The Recession” so there you are, South Carolinians.

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South Dakota

Darnielle: 0
Dylan: 2
Decision: Dylan, still staking claim to the wild west.

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Tennessee

Darnielle: 4
Dylan: 5
Decision: Dylan, even though, as Slate points out, Nashville Skyline doesn’t even mention Nashville or Tennessee.

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Texas

Darnielle: 13
Dylan: 12
Decision: Arguably the most difficult decision as to which singer owns Texas, but Darnielle’s saga “Jeff Davis County Blues” wins out over “If You Ever Go To Houston”.

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Utah

Darnielle: 1
Dylan: 1
Decision: Dylan, because when he goes to Utah, he’s going to get married and catch rainbow trout. Darnielle just went to Provo once and that place is a bummer.

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Vermont

Darnielle: 0
Dylan: 0
Decision: Darnielle mentions New England (three times) more than Dylan (once, “Wagon Wheel”) but everyone up there just rooting for The Patriots anyway.

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Virginia

Darnielle: 0
Dylan: 0
Decision: The good folks of the Commonwealth of Virginia are just going to have to stick with Clipse.

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Washington

Darnielle: 2
Dylan: 1
Decision: Dylan, as he sings about it in reference to Woody Guthrie and Alan Lomax, while Darnielle sings about it just in reference Kurt Cobain.

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West Virginia 

Darnielle: 0
Dylan: 0
Decision: The good folks of West Virginia are just going to have to stick with Hasil Adkins.

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Wisconsin

Darnielle: 1
Dylan: 0
Decision: Darnielle, even though “Going to Wisconsin” talks about baiting fish hooks with cheese, which, okay at least Wisconsinites got a shout out. Almost all of Appalachia is shut out at this point.

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Wyoming

Darnielle: 0
Dylan: 2
Decision: Dylam, for his two songs about Cheyenne, WY.

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Canada

Darnielle:  4
Dylan: 0
Decision: Darnielle, because Dylan never wrote a single song about Canada (though to Dylan’s credit he’s recorded “Canadee-I-O”, a Canadian folk song).

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Mexico

Darnielle: 4
Dylan: 9
Decision: Dylan, if only because of the song “Romance in Durango”.

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Latin America

Darnielle: 1
Dylan: 2
Decision: Dylan, if only because of “Where I can watch her waltz for free beneath her Panamanian moon” from “Stuck Inside of Mobile…”

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South America

Darnielle: 7
Dylan: 4
Decision: Darnielle, if only because Dylan mostly complains about the outsourcing of American labor while Darnielle sings about wildcats taking up residence in his hotel room in Bolivia.

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Europe

Darnielle: 44
Dylan: 16
Decision: Darnielle, if only because of the line “our love is like the border between Greece and Albania” from “International Small Arms Trafficker’s Blues”.

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Africa

Darnielle: 9
Dylan: 6
Decision: Darnielle, if only because he wrote about a beautiful song through the eyes of a child rebelling against Haile Selassie (“Gojam Province 1968”).

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Asia
Darnielle: 33
Dylan:  11
Decision: Darnielle, if only because singing about where your textiles are imported from on “Union Sundown” does not a worldly man make, Mr. Dylan.

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Australia

Darnielle: 2
Dylan: 1
Decision: Darnielle, because as his life came to an end outside the Sydney Opera House, “strings of Giuseppe Verdi suffused the evening air.”

~

Jeremy D. Larson is the managing editor of Consequence of Sound. His work has appeared in VICE, Time, The Classical, Paste, Pigeons & Planes, and Twitter.com.

Previously on Zoo Story: Y.N.RichKids Go Hard in the Finger Paint 

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