When I think of songs that mention Wichita, I can’t help but try to find a common thread, some consensus from songwriters about what they think of us. Unfortunately, there’s a sadness that comes through, an image of Wichita as a distant locus of ordinariness.
Glen Campbell had a hit with Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” which uses the setting as a metaphor for loneliness. Shawn Colvin’s “Wichita Skyline” makes a joke about the flatness of our town. The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” references Wichita for its remoteness, an empty place to run away to where no one would think to look.
But there’s another, more positive unifier: all of these songs are achingly beautiful. Why is it that each one is for me among these songwriters’ best work? Flat plains, wide skies and long distances evidently inspire great music and poetry.
“True Dreams of Wichita” by Soul Coughing is maybe my favorite Wichita song. Singer Mike Doughty raps about long-distance electronic communication, discovering beauty in an unlikely and remote place. The music is perfect: a repetitious setting of jazz bass, drums, and found sounds, weirdly understated and open, which, like a Kansas sunset, couldn’t be added to without diluting the effect.