The bass guitar riff that opens “My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders sticks in my head like goat weed seeds all day long sometimes. I’ve been wondering why this bass melody has that kind of power over me and I think I know: it says plod on, Dan, just keep on trucking, not in a stubborn way, but determined to fulfill your purpose on the planet.
Now, I don’t think the lyrics of “My City Was Gone” have much to do with that conclusion. It is a song about an adult going back to Akron, Ohio, her childhood home, and seeing that the whole town was very different. The train station was gone, businesses had been torn down and replaced by parking lots and, in general, it was an ugly place, nothing like the romanticized nostalgic view most of us have about our hometowns. It is a dismal realization.
I certainly experienced a similar disappointment when I returned to my hometown after four years in the military. In the name of progress, many of the old establishments were gone and new factories had sprung up, leaving a blacker air. American Oil’s refinery had become a place that burned toxic waste and the park where I used to play had become a Third World flop yard. The theme song for that disappointment might be one by a punk rock tune like Talking Heads.
But, what is attractive about the bass riff in “My City Was Gone” is the regular rhythm, the dogged repetition, the intermittent variations and the feeling of progress by small increments. It is as if the guitar is crying out, “Small moves; be patient; don’t be discouraged; you are getting there; believe in yourself,” and other encouraging words.
I am not sure why Rush Limbaugh uses that riff to open his radio show. I have read that he pays a steep royalty to The Pretenders for its use. Of course, he can afford it. But I think the reason must be that same sense of optimism in the midst of despair that the song is about. The riff is not gloomy at all, just persistent. So, when the vocalist comes on lamenting the demise of an American city, there is a certain incongruity involved. Naturally, Mr. Limbaugh cuts the riff off before the vocal starts. I think what he must be after is the “plod on” aspect of the music. Limbaugh seems very certain of his purpose and calling on the planet and he reiterates it frequently on the show, so he plods on, determined daily to fulfill his perceived purpose.
As a Christian, I know my purpose is to stay in love with God, try to love others, helping them to see their own purposes and to tell others about the Truth as I have discerned it through study and spiritual experience. So, I’ll be plodding on for God, not in a stubborn or obnoxious way, but with great determination to fulfill my purpose on the planet. When I get home, I know my City will not be gone!
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.