“Anchorage”
Written and Recorded by Michelle Shocked
Released August 15, 1988

Short_Sharp_Shocked_(Michelle_Shocked_album_-_cover_art)

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.”

5 Comments

  1. I love this song and have a totally different take on the meaning. Two girls/young women have wild and crazy adventures. One stays out on the road, following the music – and she is really good at it. the other falls in love, gets married, has kids and settles down. she thinks fondly of the old adventures and still likes the friend – but that’s not her anymore. anchored in this context is NOT A BAD THING – it means safely secured and centered – but still nostalgic for the wilder days of recent youth. the friend’s importance is lessened though – the woman has forgotten the love song our narrator wrote for her wedding – can’t quite remember how it goes.. And the Leroy references? The friend is showing how completely she is centered on the husband – who knows if Leroy ever said anything to message the narrator. point is Leroy is now the center of the friends life and she can’t shut up about him. the third time I heard the song I shouted “oh, f—-k Leroy back at it at the end..

    At points in my long life, I have been both of these women – different times of course.

    Still can’t listen to this without crying and remembering an old friend who died way too young and would have loved this sing.

    Lucy in Milwaukee

    Like

    1. Love this commentary Lucy, and isn’t this one of the things that makes this song so good? It tells a story, and yet that story is open to different interpretations. Your interpretation may be correct, mine may be correct…most likely, it is some combination of the two. Either way, thank you for reading, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, and so sorry about the loss of your friend.

      Like

  2. Hey, here i am. The truth is that i was making a tape on the stereo when the wife, who was 2-rooms away, told me that she was writing to Michelle. My response in a loud voice was “tell her to send a photo” . . . pause “and tell her hello” . . . pause, pause, pause “and tell her to keep on rockin’”. Just pals and she did play at our wedding in Dallas 5-years earlier. Most of the tunes on Short, Sharp, Shocked in heard then sitting together on the floor of my apartment in Grand Prairie

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