“Only Idaho, Forever” by Harrison Lemke reflects on the mundanity of daily life. He sings about the boring, circling routines that are all somehow grounded and made comforting by their sense of place.
“Last night everything froze over;/It’s back to work today/The cars warming up out in the weekday street:/the sound of someone else’s money being made.”
The song begins with Lemke’s crisp imagery of another cold, icy winter morning as everyone on a suburban street heads to work. While the “freezing over” signifies the ice and snow on the ground in Idaho, it could also represent the feeling of being frozen in life and not being sure how to melt into change. That sense of being frozen in place continues outward from Lemke into the rest of his community as they all barrel down the highway together. While it may seem like there’s movement, to Lemke, no one is leaving their life in Idaho.
“And the highways curve,/and the trucks barrel down them like pain down a nerve,/but there’s only one place they ever go:/forever only Idaho.”
Early in the song this seems slightly negative, but in the lyrics that follow, that sense of place changes into something calming and peaceful. As Lemke drives, he hears a song that helped him through times that were more difficult.
“And a song comes on,/one that made you feel better in days that are gone,/but there’s only one place the echoes go:/forever only Idaho.”
While we’re not completely sure who the “you” Lemke is speaking to is, it seems like he may be referring to himself, or trying to put the listener in his shoes. If so, then the song on the radio doesn’t serve the same purpose it used to Lemke anymore, showing that maybe he is more content where he is than he used to be.
“Fools with dollar signs for eyes/have been selling you your life/one weekend at a time, saying you’ll go far,/but you’re still nowhere, so far.”
While once people looked for and supported Lemke to go far and possibly leave Idaho, the lyrics indicate that nothing much has changed for him yet. While this may be true to the lyrics in this specific song, it’s meta-meaning embedded in this catchy song off a 14 track CD creates complexity. This song and new album are available for download on Bandcamp, proving movement and success in Lemke’s life.
The most intriguing and lyrically captivating part of the song to me is about the ponderosa pine trees, which tie all of Lemke’s thoughts together metaphorically:
“And the ponderosa pines leave their branches behind/like they’re trying to leave the ground,/and sometimes they drop a load of snow into the snow/and it disappears without a sign or a sound.”
The ponderosa pines represent that when something does change or stand out in life like the dropping of snow, it falls right back into itself, becoming one with the snow on the ground again. This could describe a very universal feeling of being human or in making it in an industry: that once you stand out, you end up back in a greater mix of something similar. Maybe we’re all living somewhat of the same lives, no matter how different they may seem.
“And they stand so tall,/like they’re made for more than power lines and dirty strip malls,/but there’s only one place they’ll ever grow:/forever only Idaho/Forever, only Idaho.”