First of all, who is Leroy, and why is he peppering Michelle with so many questions??? Well, maybe it’s Michelle’s fault. After all, she wrote the letter.
We have all found ourselves on the precipice, on the edge of trying to decide whether we should, or whether we shouldn’t. We pick up the phone and our finger hovers over the buttons. We look up the email address, and we hesitatingly click on a link. We prepare to write a letter, and the pen gently trembles above the page.
And then, maybe, we continue.
We ask ourselves…do we really want to engage in conversation? Do we want to have to apologize for not being in touch for so long? What if the person we are writing is angry? What if there is bad news? Maybe it would be easier to not reach out at all. Maybe all that time and distance is for the best.
In the brilliant song “Anchorage,” from Michelle Shocked’s wonderful 1998 Short, Sharp, Shocked album, Michelle crosses the precipice. Michelle writes. And her friend writes back.
“I took time out to write to my old friend
I walked across that burning bridge
Mailed my letter off to Dallas
But her reply came from Anchorage, Alaska”
Michelle walks across the “burning bridge” of doubt, apology and time, and sends a letter to her friend. Her pen hovered above the paper, on the precipice, and she writes. The letter is sent to the most recent address Michelle has for her friend. Time goes by, and a reply is finally received, but surprisingly, from a different address. A different state. From almost a different person.
“Hey girl, it’s about time you wrote
It’s been over two years you know, my old friend
Take me back to the days of the foreign telegrams
And the all-night rock and rollin’… hey Shel
We was wild then.”
“…my old friend…” Between good friends, the years don’t matter. It is good to reconnect. It is good to hear from someone with common memories and shared experiences. We can imagine Michelle settling in to read this letter from her good friend. Through the letter, we learn about these two people who, since they last saw each other, seem to be living two very different lives.
“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 your anchored down in Anchorage.”
Although we don’t know Michelle’s friends name, we do know she feels trapped. She feels stuck. She may be in beautiful Alaska, but she is feeling anchored down. Why?
“Leroy got a better job so we moved
Kevin lost a tooth now he’s started school
I got a brand new eight month old baby girl
I sound like a housewife.
Hey ‘Shel, I think I’m a housewife.”
We can’t help but to reflect. Are we where we want to be in our lives? Are we even living the life we hope to be living? Are our lives as good as our friends’ lives? Are we anchored down?
“Hey Girl, what’s it like to be in New York?
New York City – imagine that!
Tell me, what’s it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?”
The jealousy and the regret jump off the page. While her friend spends her day at home raising two little kids, Michelle continues living an exciting life in New York. Punk rock. Skateboarding. No kids. No school. No house. Imagine that. Just imagine. But then, the story gets a little more complex.
“Leroy says “Send a picture”
Leroy says “Hello”
Leroy says “Oh, keep on rocking, girl”
“yeah, keep on rocking””
Leroy, Michelle’s friends’ husband, seems very interested in Michelle, and he wants to be sure Michelle knows he is thinking about her. Say hello. Send a picture. Might this be why her friend moved? Is this why she moved so far away?
We are left to wonder, as the song ends with Michelle in New York, her friend still anchored in Anchorage as the gentle, rolling country chords with Hammond B-3 organ pulsing underneath. Is there a love story between Leroy and Michelle? Do Michelle and her friend continue to keep in touch? Who is happier? The housewife, or the skateboard punk rocker?
The song “Anchorage” is now almost 30 years old, and today we find ourselves with a whole story left untold. Life goes on, even though the story is over. Does Michelle stay in New York? Does her friend find a way to leave Alaska so she does not feel so “anchored” down?
If the story of “Anchorage” represents today, we don’t know what happens tomorrow. A friend stuck in Anchorage (or in a strange place, or in an unhappy situation) today, may be in a completely different place tomorrow. A friend feeling dragged down by circumstances today, may be enjoying completely new adventures tomorrow. “You know you’re in the largest state in the union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage.”
Written and Performed by Michelle Shocked
Released August 15, 1988