Leesburg, OH. I’ve been there in my mind only. The Buckeye State claims a host of landlocked towns which would have been home to plenty of young, overtired pioneering farmers in the 1830’s. And with the mighty Lake Erie along its northern edge, it serves as a plausible backdrop for the narrative of this song.
Aside from being very close to the historically significant Gist Settlement, Leesburg offers little to history. A young farmer there in an 1830’s spring would have been engrossed in the unending demands of working the land. That was the endless toil of life, handmade and homegrown.
Lee’s Creek is the nearest body of water. It’s small–a forgettable, winding trickle that quietly joins up with Rattlesnake creek and after a full 50 miles gives up in the nearest river, the Scioto, a rambling tributary of the Mississippi.
What might it have been like to encounter the sea for the first time if this was all the world you knew? That was the seed for “Landlocked.”
For the speaker in this song, the “rare lady” from the “great northern lake” brings with her the allure of a bigger world. A world of freedom and happiness, like the mythical holy grail.
Though we never hear her speak in this song, the lady from the north captures our speaker’s mind and heart. The power and promise of the sea calls to him in, and through, her.
It’s a call that cannot ultimately be silenced, and in time it compels him to give it everything.
What is your sea? I think, what is worth the sacrifice?
Landlocked She walked down through Leesburg on an east wind in spring. I had mud on my shoes, I had mud on my knees, As I stood in the low field and watched her aghast. I thought, what kind of lady in April would pass all alone? All nature needs tending and there’s no time to roam With a garden for mending and children at home. Yet I soon found she’d come from the great northern lake. She was a rare kind lady who had sailed many days on her own. Now, I’d heard of the Erie, and I’d heard of the sea, But I’d never seen more than Lee’s lonely creek. I’d been landlocked since birth—all my days: A young buckeye tree rooted in place. Love grows like a violet, creeping and frail. Its blooms appear early, when summer is pale— Like a leaf under leaves that’s starved for the light— Like I was when I heard the tale of her life on the sea. I followed her north before the grain reached my knees. My land and my home were just an anchor to me While she drew me on like the wind to my sail. Forward the world shone just like the grail on the waves. Now, I’d heard of the Erie, and I’d heard of the sea, But, I’d never seen more than Lee’s lonely creek. I’d been landlocked since birth—all my days: A young buckeye tree rooted in place. --INSTRUMENTAL INTERLUDE— I still hear her voice in the foam and the spray. I still see her face like I saw it that day— Just under the water, while the storm in my head Rages on with no mercy Drowning out all the words she had said. And I can’t explain why the waves left me here, But I’ve given my all to their service and fear. If one day they take me like the woman I loved, I’ll sail with her there on the wide-open ocean above.
Musically I tried to emphasize something of the nautical theme of the lyrics without writing a sea-shanty. I had originally envisioned strings–as in a quartet–for the instrumental “bridge” section. As I imagine it, this is the moment in the narrative where we encounter the sea for the first time.
We decided to go a different direction in the studio. Zach Sprowls, Clyde Rosencrance, and I overdubbed a bunch of vocal parts. Clyde broke out his Leslie speaker and sponge-bass, and before we knew it we were in Beach Boys territory. Zach on the Magnus Chord Organ completed the sound…
I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening!