Ohio’s southerly neighbor boasts some of the best horse racing in the country, the best booze in America, and the home of bluegrass tunes. We have three heavy hitters lined up for this state with a Dylan song coming in on a technicality.
Kentucky Woman: To paraphrase the man himself: I’m gonna give Neil Diamond one song and we’re gonna do it real good.
Paradise: Has anyone ever balanced nostalgia and cultural critique as poetically as John Prine in this song about the disappearance of his childhood hometown? Progress is the coal train hauling away Paradise. It feels on the nose, but in Prine’s capable songwriting hands, you see how literal the song is and it drips with authenticity. Many have covered it, but few can deliver the lines the way the man who lived it can.
Floater: But, Ryan, you say, there is no mention of Kentucky, of any municipality in this lyrically-perfect Dylan tune!* But, yes, dear reader, he certainly does name a piece of Kentucky: “The Ohio and Cumberland and all the rest of them rebel rivers.” A listener with a love for geographical quirks (or someone who grew up in southern Ohio) will instantly recognize the oddity of calling the Ohio a “rebel river.” That’s because the Ohio River belongs to Kentucky (and, as it turns out, a small chunk of Indiana). It’s all part of the breakup of mega-Virginia in 1792. Whereas most border rivers evenly divide a river down the middle, Kentucky owns the entirety of the Ohio, right up to the majestic shores of Cincinnati. So, when Dylan croons about the Ohio River as a rebel river, he is historically accurate and I have managed once again to find a Dylan entry on my state-by-state list.
*And in much the same way that the Ohio River belongs to Kentucky, this song is thefted lovingly from the Japanese writer, Junichi Saga, who crafted some of the best lines of this song.