Beyond Mat Kearny: Musical references to Eugene show more than just Oregon pride

From Sufjan Stevens to Dolly Parton, Eugene has had an impact on a variety of artists. (Mercedes Gibson/Emerald)

This lively, green city often lies near the back end of the public zeitgeist’s list of favorite American towns Eugene is rarely discussed on a larger scale outside of University of Oregon relations. But though the town is generally absent from pop culture, the name “Eugene” (in reference to the city) occasionally lands a mention in the world of music.

Eugene’s presence in the music world is diverse. Sometimes, Eugene is mentioned to add to a musician’s reputation or notoriety, and other times, it’s used as a calming vehicle for nostalgia.

Here are a few of the best musical references to Eugene:

Take prolific underground rapper Sage Francis for example. The end of his song, “You Can’t Win” from his 2013 mixtape “Sick To D(EAT)H,” features a sample that repeats the phrase “I’ve been there!” over and over again. During these repetitions, Francis interjects with different places he’s presumably been to, and in-between “Red State School” and “Beverly Laurel,” Francis boasts about having visited Eugene. Sage Francis is from Rhode Island, which makes his reference to Eugene geographically perplexing.

G-Eazy, another Eugene name-dropper, is from the much more proximate Northern California. In “Sherry” off his 2011 mixtape, “The Endless Summer,” G-Eazy braggadociously raps about how “he’s got a buzz from New Orleans to Maui/From Eugene to Phoenix, the Bay to the Valley.”

Perhaps the most entertaining Eugene reference found in rap is made by Ab-Soul on Childish Gambino’s 2012 track “Unnecessary.” While Ab-Soul’s verse is nothing more than ordinary hip-hop braggery, in it he suggests that he enjoys “White with white girls in Eugene.” It’s not surprising that Ab-Soul occasionally does cocaine with groupies at his shows, but it’s funny imagining that a few young Eugene women could have had a night to remember with Ab Soul.

But no one references Eugene and Oregon more than Eugene-born recording artist Mat Kearney. Even on his latest album, “Just Kids,” he mentions Oregon on three tracks: “Heartbreak Dreamer,” “One Black Sheep” and “Coming Home (Oregon).” Those who don’t recognize that last title must have missed every UO-hosted event since 2015. Thanks to “Coming Home (Oregon),” Mat Kearney has become a local legend.

Sufjan Stevens’ 2015 album, “Carrie & Lowell,” also holds its fair share of Eugene memories. The album is about Stevens’ mother and stepfather who lived in Eugene and the summers Stevens spent here as a child. On the track “All of Me Wants All of You,” Spencer’s Butte makes an appearance. In his song aptly titled “Eugene,” Stevens wonders “What if I’d never seen hysterical light from Eugene?” and contemplates how at “Emerald Park, wonders never cease.”

Even legendary country performer Dolly Parton holds Eugene close to her heart. While on tour in 1972, Parton spent an unforgettable night here that ended with the writing of a loving ode dedicated to the city. “Eugene, Oregon” is likely the most loving musical gift Eugene has ever been granted.

Eugene is also mentioned in regards to the anarchy following the Rodney King riots in the early 1990s. On Sublime’s track “April 29th, 1992,” lead singer Bradley Nowell mentions cities affected by these events, with Eugene among them.

Despite little recognition in mainstream media, Eugene is not completely overlooked. Eugene is beautiful and is even embedded deep within some of the most successful performers in American history — forever cemented in their words.

Follow Jordan on Twitter @montero_jor.

Arts Editor

Jordan Montero is the Arts Editor at the Daily Emerald. A few of his favorite things are Steely Dan, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Please consider donating to the Emerald. We are an independent non-profit dedicated to supporting and educating this generation's best journalists. Your donation helps pay equipment costs, travel, payroll, and more!