Saturday, May 28, 2005

Begging Willie Please


The hub and I were watching a special on CWT about Johnny Cash's struggle with Nashville a few months ago, and we got on the subject of murder ballads. I had never heard the term 'murder ballad' before, to be honest, but as soon as he threw it out there, I realized, "Oh yeah, those songs that creep me the fuck out." He went into his office and brought back a CD, popped it in. "This is the Louvin Brothers, right?" I said and he nodded. I was familiar with the Western gospel of the Louvin Brothers, where they praise the Lord in rustic Tennessean two-part harmony. But soon I realized that this song weren't no praise-to-the-Lord 'tall. It was a narrative of a man who beats his fiancee to death, throws her into the river, then goes home and tells his mother all the gore on his clothes is from a bloody nose, all in that same irresistable, earnest working man harmony.

It blew me right the fuck away. The Hub switched to an album and played 'Miss Otis Regrets' by Ella Fitzgerald. Now, granted, she could sing the alphabet and I'd still swoon, but this was amazing. It's not hard to get Jerry to plunge into his music collection, so before long, we'd popped another bottle of Spanish Garnacha and littered the floor with jewel cases and album covers, looking for more murder ballads.

I hopped on ITunes and began to remember other murder ballads I had heard before I was aware of the genre. My ideas betrayed my Gen X tastes: I thought of 'Country Death Song' by the Violent Femmes and the 'Murder Ballads' album that Nick Cave had done.

I thought I should go deeper, so I googled and came up with this site, a collection of the lyrics of old, original ballads (and how their stories turn out, for good measure). I decided to put together a compilation of as many versions of these original ballads I could find, plus a few recent takes on the genre, and maybe a couple songs that, while they don't count as true ballads, creep me out all the same.

Much like the name 'Wayne' seems to show up attached to criminals in real life, the name 'Willie' seems to be the prefered moniker for the murderous boyfriend in these ballads. I still wonder why that is. Who is Willie Lee? He appears so often, I was convinced this bastard was a serial killer sometime in the 20's, and is maybe still going today, through generations of screwed up hillbillies. Maybe it works like the story of The Shining, only you don't have to go to some freaky hotel to get the curse, it's passed on by name.

Anyway, here's the playlist:

Knoxville Girl---The Louvin Bros.
Cocaine Blues---Hank Thompson
Banks of the Ohio---Johnny Cash
Pretty Polly---Angela Correa
Country Death Song---Violent Femmes
Lawson Family Murder---Doc and Merle Watson
32-20 Blues---Robert Johnson
L.A. County---Lyle Lovett
Hey Joe---The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Cold Hard Facts of Life---Porter Wagoner
Little Sadie---Bob Dylan
Miss Otis Regrets---Ella Fitzgerald
Miss Otis Regrets---Marlene Dietrich (sung in German)
Goodbye Earl---Dixie Chicks
Possum Kingdom---Toadies
Down in a Willow Garden---(off a 'various artists' bluegrass album, iTunes gave no credit, and I couldn't find it elsewhere)
Pretty Polly---Queen Adreena
Legs---PJ Harvey
Henry Lee---Ralph Stanley
Where the Wild Roses Grow---Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue (yeah, that Kylie Minogue!)
Delia's Gone---Johnny Cash

I'm still processing my and other's fascination with these songs. Somehow, the tales of jealousy and subsequent murder resonate in a dark chunk somewhere in our psyche. They let us live the whole story of being betrayed, exacting revenge, and paying the dues in a three minute time span. There's something satisfying about it because we can visit our evil sides for a moment, sing along with the perp about taking a shot of cocaine and shooting our woman down, then return to the business of picking up dinner. For some reason, I just love that.

Much thanks to the Hub for all the artwork, to Miss Gini Goddamn, Musicologist Extraordinare, for the sugs, and to God, for giving us Johnny Cash to let us know He loves us.

1 Comments:

Blogger Mascorrolandia said...

I'm honored, Dollink - thank YOU!

10:56 AM  

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