Monday, July 22, 2013

JD McPherson "North Side Gal"

In high school we took a class trip to Washington DC as part of a program called “Close Up.”  It was there I discovered the terrible truth about myself.

I had an accent.  A New England accent.  A strong New England accent.

One of the very smart, interesting things about the “Close Up” program, beyond showing you the sites of Washington, DC, was that they made pairs of kids share rooms with other pairs of kids who were from a decidedly different place.  The week we were there, we New Englanders were paired up with kids from California and Colorado.

Our accent became a point of discussion for the kids from elsewhere.  It was funny sounding.  Stupid sounding even.

I watched in our group discussions, as classmates who were making bright and salient points, could be dismissed for the “dumb” way they sounded, due to their accent.

I realized then and there that if I wanted a life beyond New England, if I wanted to be taken seriously, I had to tone down my thick, thick accent.

And in the ensuing years, I became hyper-conscious of the way I pronounced everything.  By the time I had graduated college, my local accent was mostly gone.

Little things did persist.  I could never get the hang of “drawer” so it didn’t sound like “draw.”  And “figures” remained “figgers” for a long time time.

But most vexing became the words that inadvertantly just made it sound like I had an accent.

A college friend pointed out that she would call it a “door handle,” because saying “knob” just sounded like a New Englander mispronouncing the word “Norb.”

Years later, I became a DJ, and much like being on TV adds 10 pounds, being on the radio has a way of amplifying your accent.

For instance, on my first day on the air, the station owner at WABN pulled me aside to help me straighten out the way I said the call letters.

“What is the first letter of our call letters?” she asked.

“W?” I answered, unsure if this were a trick question.

“Say it again.”

“Dubya,” is how I was pronouncing it.

She wrote the letter in cursive on the piece of paper.

“The letter is actually two ‘U’s put together.  It is a double-U.  Say it like that.”

To this day, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard when I hear a professional broadcaster pronounce the letter “dubya.”  Or just really fumble any pronunciation.

And in my years in Virginia, I really had to guard against picking up that accent, as it was all around me every day.

It was easy to let words like "fire" rhyme with "car," and "pen" sound like "pin," unless you were vigilant, careful and conscious.

It's a practice I have to continue today.

Which is why I have so much trouble when I talk on the air about JD McPherson.

Initially, I just assumed you pronounced his last name “mick-FEAR-son.”  That’s a pretty common pronouncation.

But then I watched a Youtube video where he introduced himself.

He pronounces it “mick-FUR-son.”

So now when I say it on the air, I try to pronounce it, respecting his way.

But me saying “mick-FUR-son” for some reason sounds, to my ears, like it’s just me mispronouncing the guys name with a Virginia accent.

Listen to me on the air sometime.  You’ll actually hear me stumble, as the professional in me who's trying to say it right, is brawling with the kid in me, trying not to sound stupid.

JD McPherson performs this weekend at the Newport Folk Festival.  For artist previews and mvyradio's Newport Folk Channel, visit the mvyradio Bloggers page.  And hear full coverage of the Festival, with live sets from the stage, on

Hear the song on Youtube.

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