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Steelhammer: Almost heaven or hell?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With West Virginia being ranked the most miserable state in the nation for the fifth consecutive year -- even before the Elk River MCHM leak took place -- maybe our fourth official state song should be Hank Williams' "There's a Tear in my Beer" instead of  "Take Me Home Country Roads."

Happily, our Legislature passed a resolution on Friday elevating John Denver's unofficial state song to official status in a vote that was not apparently influenced by lobbyists. Otherwise, the state's schoolchildren might have to start memorizing the lyrics to "Big Pharma in the Dell."

I can't think of another song that has done more to enhance a state's image than "Country Roads." Yet the song has an appeal that extends far beyond the state's borders.

I remember riding in a tourist train traveling between Williams, Ariz., and the Grand Canyon's South Rim sometime back in the '90s. A guitar-strumming singer decked out in Wild West garb walked through the train's passenger cars singing old-time cowboy songs. People nodded politely and tried to avoid eye contact -- until he scrapped his goat-roper playlist and sang "Country Roads." Although I'm pretty sure I was the only West Virginian on board, passengers soon began clapping, smiling and singing along.

Top that, "My Old Kentucky Home!"

So, what's with the most miserable state business?

The Gallup/Healthways Poll for 2013, the results of which were released last month, once again rated West Virginia last in the nation in terms of happiness and health.

 "No Americans had as negative an attitude about their future as West Virginians, according to a synopsis of the poll. West Virginians also had the worst emotional health in the nation, the lowest confidence in the nation's economic future, and the worst physical health. West Virginia ranked highest in the nation in at least two categories, but unfortunately they were high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Oh, and we tied with Kentucky for highest per capita use of prescription drugs.

At the other end of the misery spectrum is North Dakota, now in the midst of an oil and gas boom, making possible far above average income levels, plus the nation's lowest unemployment and highest job satisfaction rates.

On the other hand, the official song for the most contented state in nation is the 'thy' and 'thee' heavy "North Dakota Hymn," which starts out like this:

North Dakota, North Dakota

With thy prairies wide and free

North Dakota, North Dakota

All thy sons and daughters love thee

Fairest State From Sea to Sea...

If our new official state song gets played a little more next year, look out, North Dakota!

Barring another chemical leak, we could move up to 49th place.


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