“Carolina in My Mind”

by Julia Kempton

In the late 1960s, James Taylor was traveling around the world, making stops in various Mediterranean islands and London. Still, his home back in North Carolina was stuck in his head. This feeling of homesickness inspired him to write “Carolina in My Mind”, a song in which he reflects on his upbringing in the Southern state. 

There is a strong sense of place among many Southerners. The South is seen as very distinct, with characteristics that make it feel like home to many who live in the region. In media representations, this sense of place is often seen in country songs, but Taylor portrays it in a different genre. The lyrics of “Carolina in My Mind” immediately bring listeners into Taylor’s world, describing many aspects of his life growing up near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In the chorus, he questions “Can’t you see the sunshine? Now can’t you just feel the moonshine?” Taylor depicts the region as being hot and sunny, as is the case with many representations of the South. Moonshine is also a stereotypical symbol of the rural South, and it clearly stands out in his memories of North Carolina.

As we talked about in class, a connection to nature is also seen in many discussions of Southern culture, and “Carolina in My Mind” is no different. Taylor reminisces about “geese in flight and dogs that bite”, conjuring images of rural farm life and the natural world. Indeed, Taylor would later say that “Chapel Hill, the Piedmont, the outlying hills, were tranquil, rural, beautiful, but quiet”, owing to “the red soil, the seasons, [and] the way things smelled down there.” That feeling of calmness and nostalgia is portrayed throughout this song. With “Carolina in My Mind”, James Taylor translates his sense of homesickness into a universally understandable representation of the Southern home that he remembers.

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