As today marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 War (aka The Six-Day War), I thought it would be fitting to post about a country song that touches on the Middle East.
This post is about a 1995 song from Tracy Byrd titled, “Walking to Jerusalem.” As far as I know, it’s the only country song that references the Arabic language and it was for this reason alone that this song caught my ear. I don’t actually remember this song when it first came out in the mid-90s, instead, I heard this song for the first time just two years ago when I was listening to Pandora radio. When I first heard the lines, “readin’ signs in Arabic, ravin’ like a lunatic” I did a doubletake. Was Tracy Byrd really singing about the Arabic language in a country song? Turns out he was!
The Religion major and Middle Eastern Studies student in me couldn’t forget what I had just heard. I had so many questions: Why was Tracy Byrd walking to Jerusalem? Why were the signs in Arabic (with no mention of signs in Hebrew)? Does Tracy Byrd (and his songwriters) think that everyone in Jerusalem speaks Arabic? I realize that not everyone is an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict (hell, I’m certainly not) but it was still puzzling to me that there were no signs in Hebrew (or English) alongside the Arabic signs in this song. Though I’m sure this was not done intentionally as a way to downplay the Jewishness of Jerusalem seeing as how this is just a silly country song with no political agenda.
I’m happy to see that the Arab community was given recognition in this song through their language, especially since according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in 2015, there were 300,200 Palestinians residents in Jerusalem, making up 36.8% of the city’s population. However, I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say that the writers of this song (Sam Hogin and Mark D. Sanders), and even Tracy Byrd himself, did not put this much thought into writing this song. I’m sure Arabic was only mentioned for the simple fact that it rhymes well with lunatic. Had the signs been in Hebrew, the lyrics might’ve been something like “Readin’ signs in Hebrew, Ravin’ like a damn fool!”, which actually has a nice ring to it.
The video for this song (featured at the end of this post) is also worth discussing, primarily because of the sign featured at minute 1:40. At the top of this sign, we see that Jerusalem, Texas is located 503 miles away and Jerusalem (in Arabic) is 6000 miles away. However, it’s not these distances that stood out to me on this sign. What stood out is the fact that “Jerusalem” is written in Arabic, or rather, is transliterated to be pronounced as we would say it in English using the Arabic alphabet as opposed to using the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which is al-Quds (القدس). The sign also fails to include the Hebrew (ירושלים or Yerushalayim), which if Tracy really were walking to Jerusalem in present day (or at least in 1995), this would surely be listed and the signs would look similar to the one featured below. Directions to Turkey are also featured on this sign despite the country not being mentioned in the song. The video also features camels, because it wouldn’t be about the Middle East without camels, right?
As both of the signs above show, one from the music video and one from present-day Israel/Palestine, English is always listed alongside the Arabic and Hebrew. So why is Tracy reading the Arabic? Maybe this is why he’s also ravin’ like a lunatic? Bless his heart!
A quick Google Maps search also shows that there are no good paths for walking from Texas to Jerusalem. If Tracy has a map that he is planning on using, could he please share it?
A question that has yet to be answered is why Tracy Byrd is walking to Jerusalem. In this song, a woman is clearly playing hard to get with Tracy. With lines like, “till you came walkin’ in with your high falutin’ friends, so busy lookin’ down your noses, now here you are ignorin’ me” it’s plain to see that she’s stringing him along. Tracy also mentions studying the book of Job (“I can see me in a long robe, Studyin’ the book of Job”), a sure sign that this woman is testing his patience much like God tested Job’s in the Hebrew Bible. Now that we understand what is happening in the song, Tracy’s line “by the time you tell me I’m the one, I’ll be stickin’ out my thumb, and walkin’ to Jerusalem” begins to make a little more sense. Looking at Christian eschatology, we see that in the Christian apocalyptic narrative, the city of Jerusalem plays an important role. (Please note that I am only focusing on End Times beliefs in Christianity here since this is in reference to country music and this seemed the most appropriate. I won’t even begin to get into Evangelical beliefs, dispensationalism, Christian Zionism, etc. on this topic.) Jerusalem is the location where Jesus’ second coming will take place, which will usher in the Day of Judgment. Turning our attention back to the song, it’s plain to see that this woman has made poor Tracy wait so long for some attention that he is now walking to Jerusalem as the end of the world has finally come. (This might be a bit of a stretch but I’m going with it!)
Please find the video for this song below. If after watching you have different theories on what is going on in this song, please feel free to share them with me!
All this talk about Arabic and Jerusalem has got me wondering- is Tracy Byrd for a one-state or two-state solution? (Tracy Byrd was not contacted for an answer).
Note: Please note that the purpose of this post was to have fun, not to be political or religious in any way. When I heard a country song talking about Arabic and Jerusalem, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore this further. I’m also a big fan of Tracy Byrd, so I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to check out some of his other music (might I suggest “The Keeper of the Stars” for starters). Also, if you guys do know of any other country songs that mention Arabic, please send them my way!
Currently listening to: Arabic Music (while simultaneously ravin’ like a lunatic)