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Reclaiming Lyrical Mythologies: Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright by Bob Dylan

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

I remember my first two thoughts when I heard this song for the first time as a very little girl.

  1. “Man, he doesn’t like her very much. Does he?”
  2. “He’s kinda mean.”

There’s a reason why Dylan is Dylan. I’ve found myself in countless discussions with disciples and defectors about his music, his writing, and his uniquely inherent mystique. In fact, “What are your thoughts on Bob Dylan?” is sometimes a question I throw out there just to get to know a person. (Pro tip: Anyone who answers that question with an “Eh, I can take him or leave him” is telling me that they are not a familiar. Dylan is either polarizing or you are not paying attention.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep reiterating that lyrics have always been my focus for any song I am listening to or writing. They literally tell the story. Music certainly paints a picture and sets a mood, but there is nothing quite like an expertly crafted lyrical narrative. There is a special pull and bend when lyrics are married with a melody and meter. It’s like gravity.

I can be sucked into the orbit any well-written song faster than a satellite and linger there longer than a moon. I think that’s why I’ve tasked myself with this project. In a way, I’m sitting down with that little girl as we study these stories together so that we can step back from them and enjoy them objectively. They are no longer a part of the internalized network of narratives that shaped us the way they did when we first heard them.

Which is why those two thoughts I had when I first heard Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright stuck with me for so many years.

It is so recognized and revered in our cultural canon of songs that people sing along, it’s still covered and performed by countless artists of various generations, it connects with something in people on a visceral level and evokes a nostalgia that one can only hope is borne from anything they create. Plus, surly and straightforward is Bob Dylan’s brand. It’s what makes his storytelling so recognizable. And all of those things are powerful.

Why, then does this song in particular still sour me?

Let’s break it down

Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe Why not? Great discussions sometimes start with GREAT questions.
Ifin’ you don’t know by now Are you mad cause she couldn’t read your mind?
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe You said that already
It’ll never do some how Lazy


When your rooster crows at the break a dawn That’s early AF
Look out your window and I’ll be gone Ghosting is a coward’s move
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on YOU are the traveler. YOU are the reason.
Don’t think twice, it’s all right You’re forgiving her for your cowardly move. Good job bruh, she doesn’t need your forgiveness.

And it ain’t no use in a-turnin’ on your light, babe Are you accusing her of trying to charm?…I don’t know what this means.
The light I never knowed I doubt this. You fell in love for a reason. It just sounds like you’re getting bored but you don’t want to do any work to fix it.
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road You know, you can change that by walking across the street.


But I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say Why don’t YOU say it?!
To try and make me change my mind and stay What can she possibly say or do to change things if you won’t tell her why you’re upset?!
We never did too much talkin’ anyway …What DID you do?
But don’t think twice, it’s all right Again, what is she supposed to apologize for?

No it ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal Did you want her to?
Like you never done before Maybe that’s not her thing?
And it ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal Maybe if you didn’t disappear, she wouldn’t have to.
I can’t hear ya any more Sounds to me like you were never really paying attention to begin with.


I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ wallkin’ way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told How charmingly condescending of you. OR pedophilic. You know, your choice.
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul UGH. FIRST of all, these are lazy-ass metaphors. If she wanted more and you couldn’t provide, that says more about your inadequacies than it does about her desires. Women want things. Get over it.
But don’t think twice, it’s all right Whatever, dude.

So long honey babe Gross.
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell Good. Get lost.
Goodbye is too good a word, babe You mad bro?
So I just say fare thee well So. Unnecessary.


I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind Great, so we agree she did nothing wrong. She just couldn’t hold your holy attention.
You could have done better but I don’t mind YOU could have done better at communicating. But it’s aight.
You just kinda wasted my precious time What. Did. You. Want. Motherfucker?
But don’t think twice, it’s all right Bye Felicia.

I think what severely irks me about these lyrics is that he’s SO. Bloody. Passive AND he blames her for the heartbreak he’s about to cause her. And for WHAT? He never once, during the entire song, mentions what the actual fuck is the matter. He even says something tantamount to “you didn’t really do anything wrong but you could have done better”, which is about as helpful as a fork in a bowl of broth.

Someone who is NOT a narcissist would feel badly that they have to do this thing where they leave someone and they know it will cause them pain. That is not happening here. He is enjoying his nebulous cruelty.

Here is what is dangerous about this: I grew up with an innate understanding that men leave and that it’s always a woman’s fault. She won’t know why and she may never see or feel it coming, but that’s just the nature of it. Before you ask me if my parents are still married, my parents are still married.

This song isn’t the ONLY reason I believed this. It was reinforced ad nauseam in the media, in movies, magazines, in personal exchanges with friends over heartbreak. Even in my Facebook feed, I see “suggested articles” with headlines that read “The 5 things that are driving him away,” “What NOT to do if you want him to pop the question,” “How to tell you’re his ‘Ms. Right Now and NOT his Ms. Right.” It’s like having an encryption manual to a computer saying “A problem of type 19321 occurred and here are the top 5009876 ways to diagnose.” “Yes! But WHAT PAGE?!”

I had SO many tearful talks with girlfriends wherein we were forensically figuring out the WHY of the thing when their partners left. It almost always came down to something she had or had not done. “I had gained too much weight.” “I had taken him for granted.” “I wasn’t smart enough, tall enough, funny enough, I was too loud or I was depressed or I said this one thing that one time that must have scared him off.”

This song OWNs that attitude from the male perspective with a particularly sinister cool that just makes me want to chase him down and shove that goddamn rooster down is stupid throat so that every time he opens his mouth he sounds like the obnoxious cock that he is.

The only redemption for this song, in my opinion, is for women to sing it. I want women to embody that same aloofness about ending a relationship that isn’t working for her, without needing to explain herself. I want women to be able to sing this song with the same unencumbered freedom that a man can. Without fear of retaliation, without wondering if he will snap. Because, if a WOMAN owns this kind of attitude, she can be in very real danger.

Until then, at least I have liberated that little girl from another lifetime of believing that every failed relationship was ever her fault. So, there’s that.

Have a song you’d like me to de-mythstify? Let me know in the comments below!

Reclaiming Lyrical Mythologies: Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Monday, June 24th, 2019
  • Special thanks to my friend Bob Duskis for the idea.

Sigh………..Where were we?

Oh. Right. 1973.

So, Alabama’s governor Kay Ivey recently signed a bill that essentially makes it a felony to provide abortion services to anyone UNLESS the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. Rape/Incest not being one of these things, it don’t matter. 99 years in prison for you! Thanks white woman. You’re so omnipotent, supreme, and wise. Except for that last word with the W. I believe I meant wicked. As in evil. AND stupid, as in wicked stupid. (I call secret angler fish!)

Since then, Georgia proposed House Bill 481 or the “Heartbeat” law, THANKFULLY Kentucky’s abortion law was struck down by the federal court, BUT Ohio signed its OWN “Heartbeat” abortion ban, and the Tennessee General Assembly approved a measure that could trigger an abortion ban in the state provided the Supreme Court awards states the authority to regulate abortion services. Florida’s state rep claims that God told him to introduce an abortion ban…..and the lunatics attempt to take over the asylum.

While these measures on their own don’t completely prevent abortion access to women who want one [I say “want” because I believe it should be as accessible as a Magnum Ice Cream popsicle as far as I’m fucking concerned. (droooool)], the point is to bring the issue all the way up to the Supreme Court so that we allllll have to follow Gramps back to 1973 when state regulated abortion restrictions were voted unconstitutional by the US Government at the subject was put to rest. I mean… justice was duly served, right? Women have a constitutional right to privacy and bodily autonomy, right? RIGHT?!?!?!

WHYYYYYY are we back here again? This makes me so upset for SO many reasons. ONE of the less important reasons is because I can’t peaceably ignore Sweet Home Alabama anymore. I know it was from another era (the racist one. Ok, OK, I realize we’re still IN a racist era but, for the sake of my poor boiling blood, one civil rights travesty at a time please?), but people drunkenly scream-sing it in bars NOW.

I mean….I can fix that. I can try to bring this song back in a way that freshens it up and makes it applicable to the current state of affairs. Maybe it can enjoy a resurgence in popularity? Not that I’m anywhere NEAR the level of recognition and viral possibility of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but….HEY! It could happen!

That racist-ass song is in desperate need of a reboot anyway.

Let’s break it down

Same ol wheels keep on turning. It’s made a home under my skin. Making laws straight out of the old land. They’re trying to control us once again and I think it’s a sin.

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her. Well I heard ol’ Neil take her to town. Well, I know Neil Young remembers, the weight on your shoulders that’s breaking your back is bringing you down.

Fuck You Alabama! Where the lies are so true. Fuck You Alabama. Lord, I’m so damn done with you!

In Birmingham they love the Gov’nor, Boo-Hoo-Hoo! We’re gonna do all we can do. Kay Ivey, what the fuck you doing, girl!? Does your conscience bother you? Now tell the truth!

Fuck You Alabama! Where the lies are so true. Fuck You Alabama. Lord, I’m so damn done with you!

The Supreme Court has Roe V Wade now. And they’ve been known to pick the side of truth (yes they do). Lord, I hope they get this right now. Let history do what history do!

Fuck You Alabama! Where the lies are so true. Fuck You Alabama. Lord, I’m so damn done with you!

Fuck You Alabama! Where the lies are so true, (and the Gov’nor’s through!) Fuck You Alabama. Lord, I’m so damn done with you!

THERE!!! I FIXED IT!*Fuck!*

Have a song you’d like me to de-mythstify? Let me know in the comments below!

New Music Video!

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

How To Leave California is less of an escapist anthem and more of a lyrical acknowledgement of the fact that my home isn’t what it once was, nor is it what it claims to be. The wealth disparity is real and evident in a region of California which claims to be progressive while, at the same time, making little to no policy changes that address the issues on a humane level. It’s up to us as individuals to care for and support one another as a community. Please watch to the end and consider volunteering your time at any of the organizations mentioned. Links provided at the end of the video.

Please share with anyone you think would enjoy or is looking for a way to contribute.

Download the audio track for road-trips HERE!

Thank you for watching!

Click Here!

Vocals and Acoustic Guitar: Emily Zisman

Vocals: Tia Carroll and Barbara Murphy

Violin: Ryan Avery

Bass: Joe Shaughnessy

Electric Guitar: Andrew Balmat

Drums: Mike Bond

Recorded at Tiny Telephone in Oakland Ca

Mixed by Aaron Ballard at ReSynth Audio

Mastered at Neato Mastering

Video Edited by Christian E. Ovando (www.christianeovando.com)

CANCELED! HOUSE CONCERT with Bobby Jo Valentine and Inside Lands!

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Sorry folks! It’s true. Due to unforeseen circumstances we will have to look for another date for this show.

Stay tuned for the new date! Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.

Deconstructing Lyrical Mythologies: Kiss, by Prince

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Prince was and continues to be sonic sex. Confidence, bottomless talent, attitude, bad-boy charisma balanced with a charming poise that almost teeters on humility.

…almost. Dat side-eyed smirk…. (ugh).

He teased gender norms to a place where this straight-as-an-arrow lady would have gone down on him even if he had the same bits. (Kudos to all you that do, cunnilingus-lovers. You are gems, all of you. GEMS!)

STILL! I don’t know how to digest his directorial disposition in this song… I get there’s a bit of BDSM in there, so the dom-sub dynamic is evident and understood. I KIND of find it sexy, but I also KIND of find it imposing and, quite frankly.. a bit presumptuous.

I think I’m picking up on this because he seems to be addressing a potential lover as opposed to initiating some sexytime in an already established relationship. It feels as if he is making assumptions about her sexuality that maybe she hasn’t expressed yet? Or, maybe she’s totally into it because she’s a virgin, completely inexperienced and/or passive THAT’s what HE’s into. In which case, gross….

As much as I wiggle my booty to and push up the fade on this tune whenever I hear it, there is always that residual feeling of…..dissatisfaction? Something being left unsaid or undone? Eh……

Let’s break it down

Uh! HOTTTTT. Just LISTEN to the way he sings this one. word.

You don’t have to be beautiful WHAT!? But….. I need to FEEL beautiful to fuck YOU.


To turn me on You’d still fuck me? Ain’t that JUST like a dude?


I just need your body baby
From dusk till dawn Just a body? Cool, I’ve got one in the basement. It’s still technically MINE because it’s in MY basement.


You don’t need experience
To turn me out Wait…..Who’s turning WHO out, in this scenario?


You just leave it all up to me
I’m gonna show you what it’s all about The LAST time (Ok ALL times) I just “left it all up to” a man, I did NOT have an orgasm. Just sayin’

You don’t have to be rich
To be my girl Sweet, because
78% to 82% of your salary. So, glad you’re savvy!


You don’t have to be cool
To rule my world GREAT, I’ve NEVER been cool, so this works for me. Plus, I hear derpy is the new Kate Moss.


Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with
I just want your extra time and your

[Muah muah muah muah muah]

Kiss Quality time and physical touch are my top two love languages! According to Hinge, we may have a match!

You got to not talk dirty, baby
If you wanna impress me But…… I LIKE talking dirty. It turns ME on.


You can’t be too flirty, mama Sooo, I’ll just sit here….


I know how to undress me (Yeah) But I WAAANNNA 🙁


I want to be your fantasy Great! just let me do all the things you told me not to and that’s a total possibility


Maybe you could be mine Playing dead is NOT my hottest role-play fantasy.


You just leave it all up to me
We could have a good time Again with the…. no orgasm…thing..

You don’t have to be rich
To be my girl Gender pay-gap, bitches!!!


You don’t have to be cool
To rule my world I’m starting to get the impression that I’M not the subject of this encounter (Should I just leave a mirror here and go get a sammich?)


Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with
I just want your extra time and your

[Muah muah muah muah]

Kiss Uhm…..K.

Yes
I think I wanna dance
Gotta, Gotta
Little girl Wendy’s parade :-/
Gotta, gotta, gotta

Women not girls rule my world
I said they rule my world But “women” know what they want and how to voice it.


Act your age, mama (Not your shoe size)
Not your shoe size Clever. And DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO


Maybe we could do the twirl wh…what the fuck is the Twirl?


You don’t have to watch Dynasty
To have an attitude Bitch, I’ve HAD this attitude since 1980.


You just leave it all up to me
My love will be your food
Yeah So, about that sammich?

You don’t have to be rich
To be my girl
You don’t have to be cool
To rule my world
Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with
I just want your extra time and your

Kiss *SMOOCH*

To all of my fellow Prince lovers, I’m open to any and all rotten eggs, veggies, pish-poshes, and spankings. I just thought I’d air this one out a bit.

Too soon?

Have a song you’d like me to de-mythstify? Let me know in the comments below!




Tia Carroll and Emily Z cover Tennessee Whiskey

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Please enjoy this stripped down cover of Tennessee Whiskey performed by my good friend Tia Carroll and I at Tiny Telephone Recording Studio in Oakland. Andrew Balmat is in there on vocal harmonies as well.

There are a bunch of other songs on the way, but this one needed to be shared right away.

I am fortunate to have so many talented and generous musician friends in my life. I couldn’t be happier with how this one turned out. Hope you like it! Please share it far an wide if you do! Check out Tia Carroll and all that she does at www.tiacarroll.net

Recorded at Tiny Telephone in Oakland. Mixed and Mastered by Aaron Ballard at ReSynth Audio. Curtesy of Bobby Fay at Donnie’s Records.

Deconstructing Lyrical Mythologies: Songs About Whiskey

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Ahhhhh drinking songs. I LOVE me a good drinking song.

I got curious about drinking songs after falling madly in love with Chris Stapleton and his version of Tennessee Whiskey. THEN I discovered his song Whiskey and You and just about rolled over in defeat. Not only can the man sing his bearded, be-cowboy-hatted head off, he writes some of the most nuanced and insightful lyrics I’ve heard in country music in a long time. It’s the kind of sensitivity I was referring to in my previous entry about Jim Croce.

After tumbling ass-over-tits down the rabbit hole of songs about whiskey, I noticed something curious: The majority of whiskey songs are written or performed by men.

Seriously! I found a list of 68 songs about whiskey and of those 68, FIVE and a HALF, including three half songs, were written or performed by women.

EVEN CURIOUSER, the lyrical content when it comes to men drinking songs verses women drinking songs is striking. According to the songs that women have written or performed about whiskey, they write whiskey songs for a wider range of reasons.

  1. Not happy that her man drinks so much whiskey
  2. She needs a night off to fuckin’ PARTY!
  3. She has a sad.
  4. In the case of Wine After Whiskey by Carrie Underwood, comparing a REALLY good lover to a REALLY, uhm….stiff…drink. *cough. (By the way, this is pretty much the same damn song (eye-roll).

MEN, on the other hand, stick to a decidedly shorter list of motives.

  1. Women and whiskey as interchangeable metaphors for each other (Case in point)
  2. PAIIIIIN AND CONFUSION!!!!

For such a large volume of content, why the limited range of subject matter?

My best guess as to why this is, is that, as a society, we do not bring up all of our beautiful young boys to display the wide variety of emotions that human beings are born with to help them navigate this bizzaro existence. Instead, we socialize them to hide their feels in all manner of ways. So…it stands to reason that a number of these men grow up to hide inside of a bottle of something numbing. Whiskey is one VERY potent (and yummy) option and has been around since before people were pulling bullets out of and cracking limbs off of each other without anesthesia.

Again, this is only a best guess scenario as I’m not, nor have I in recent history, been a man. I’ve only loved a LOT of them and have butted my head up against that beast of an emotional cock block numerous times.

SO! In an attempt to start tipping the exorbitantly uneven scales of songs about whiskey written by women, I’ve written one of my own.

Well…Technically, it’s 3/4 woman song because my friend Andrew Balmat helped me write the bridge, but it’s a start!

Damnit.

ALSO! It’s a sing along, so feel free to sing along on the bold sections.

First live, sing-along performance with Gary Erickson (Trumpet) and Joe Shaughnessy (bass)

Whiskey Works Better Than You

There’s a reason there are so many songs about whiskey.

Cause whiskey won’t tell you “no.”

He’ll show up, he’ll go up, your spine without promise

and leave your mind quiet without being cold.

They say “love is work” and the work, it takes two

but all that I’ve seen of this job,

is that he’s always on call, there’s no order too tall.

Baby whiskey works better than you.

Whiskey works better than you, babe.

Whiskey works better than you.

He’s always on call, there’s no order too tall.

Baby whiskey works better than you.

There’s a tireless expression,”follow your passion”

That’s rattled around in my mind.

But I don’t need a lesson. All that I’m asking,

is for something to lead me when passion goes blind.

AND whiskey works better than you, babe.

whiskey works better than you.

He’s always on call, there’s no order too tall.

Baby whiskey works better than you.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a timeless tradition

sung by men about women and by women about fools

He works overtime, and he’s worth every dime, baby

whiskey works better than you.

Whiskey works better than you, babe

Whiskey works better than you.

He’s always on call, there’s no order too tall.

Baby whiskey works better than you.

*repeat ad nauseam

Have a song you’d like me to de-mythstify? Let me know in the comments below!

Deconstructing Lyrical Mythologies: Operator by Jim Croce

Friday, February 1st, 2019

One of the artists I list as an influence when asked is Jim Croce. Not that I’m anywhere NEAR his level of picking, but his keen sense of storytelling and pacing had me rapt from the time I could comprehend language.

Time In A Bottle, Rapid Roy, Carwash Blues, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, I Got A Name, Roller Derby Queen, New York’s Not My Home… There are more, but those are the songs I could list from memory.

Operator is THE unrequited love story of… my whole life. You know that feeling when you know how the story SHOULD go, because that’s how Hollywood would have written it? I mean, life ISN’T a Hollywood plot MOST of the time, but a good story is a good fucking story, and Operator is a GREAT story told in a VERY ingenious manner. AND he made it sound. SO. easy. I wanted to write stories like THAT.

In fact, Operator was so iconic that when the Martin guitar company released 73 custom guitars in honor of Jim, a 1973 dime was set into the fretboard at the third fret of each instrument as an homage to the final line in the song, “You can keep the dime.” The quantity 73 was not at all random, either. It was to commemorate the year in which he died as was the year of the coin.

Have I told you I’m a ridiculously, irrevocably, infuriatingly stubborn romantic? No?

Weird.

Here’s the thing about this song that makes it age well: It’s VERY specifically set in time. It’s SO specific that, much like the solid wood of a well cared for guitar, it can only grow more warm, deep, and nuanced with age. It’s the kind of song that, if it were an epic poem, it would have translations and Cliff’s Notes and it would be studied in AP English classes.

I’m NOT biased. YOU’RE BIASED!!!

The title Operator (for those of you born after 1980), refers to a particular job called a Switchboard Operator wherein a human person was required to physically connect incoming phone calls from a switchboard within a particular facility.

According to Wikipedia (because my research is lazy AF), “Emily Nutt became the first female telephone operator on 1 September 1878 when she started working for the Boston Telephone Dispatch company, because the attitude and behavior of the teenage boys previously employed as operators was unacceptable.”

SHOCKER

“Reclaiming my time” seems like an appropriate mantra at this juncture….

According to this New York Times article, on October 11, 1983, “Scores of residents crowded around a switchboard (…) and cheered today as the last hand-cranked telephone system in the country was disconnected.”

So, somewhere between the mid 1800s and early 1980s, this was a job people could do. Well….a job women could do.

So. Specific!

NOW, picture this: In order to contact a person via telephone, one would have to dial into a general switchboard, typically by dialing zero, and request that the operator connect you to the desired party. You know, back when humans interacted and shit….

Another thing that makes this song SO sweet is the vulnerability of the protagonist. This dude is in pain. And rightly so! His lover leaves him for his best friend? That’s cold. But it’s how he chooses to process these feelings that gives the song it’s arc. I mean, he COULD have gone all Don’t Mess Around with Jim or Bad Bad Leroy Brown on this motherfucker. But he doesn’t. He talks out his feels. Like an adult.

Let’s break it down. (Usually I’d annotate, but I won’t this time because the story is so good, I don’t need to.)

Operator, well could you help me place this call?
See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s living in L.A. with my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn’t that the way they say it goes? Well, let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell ’em I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real, but that’s not the way it feels

Operator, well could you help me place this call?
Well, I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eyes, you know it happens every time
I think about a love that I thought would save me

Isn’t that the way they say it goes? Well, let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell ’em I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real, but that’s not the way it feels
No, no, no, no – that’s not the way it feels

Operator, well let’s forget about this call
There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to
Thank you for your time, ah, you’ve been so much more than kind
you can keep the dime (Squeeeeeeee!!!!!!)

Isn’t that the way they say it goes? Well, let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell ’em I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real, but that’s not the way it feels

Have a song you’d like me to de-mythstify? Let me know in the comments below!

Deconstructing Lyrical Mythologies: The Boxer by Paul Simon

Friday, December 7th, 2018

The Boxer by Paul Simon peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.   Rolling Stone ranked the song No. 106 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[1]

From the last album Paul Simon recorded with Art Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon had this to say to Playboy Magazine about the song in 1984:

Playboy: “What inspired it?”

Simon: “I think I was reading the Bible around that time. That’s where I think phrases such as ‘workman’s wages’ came from, and ‘seeking out the poorer quarters’. That was biblical. I think the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop. By that time we had encountered our first criticism. For the first few years, it was just pure praise. It took two or three years for people to realize that we weren’t strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock’n’roll. And maybe we weren’t real folkies at all! Maybe we weren’t even hippies!”

To me, this song is a classic example of the hero’s journey:  Young Boy leaves small town for big city, Boy gets kinda beat up by shitty people and adverse circumstances,  Boy emerges from experiences as the “fighter” that “still remains.”  The adventure of self-discovery, revelation, and acceptance relayed in one of the most widely accesible formats.

Based on the snippet from the Playboy interview above, I believe that this is true whether or not that is what Paul Simon was aiming for.  It’s tucked away into the subtext that I’ve emboldened for your convenience.  Go ahead, re-read it.  I’ll wait…..

There is NO THING blatantly misogynist about this song (Ok…the use of the word “whore” is arguable).  BUT!  It joins a multitude of hero’s journey tales that are classically reserved for the masculine or male experience.   The Iliad, Odessy, Aneid, Paradise Lost…and on and on….

They (dudes) get to hear the “call to adventure.”  They get to “depart” into the greater world, find mentors, test allies and enemies, and they get to ultimately return home a hero.

Sign me the FUCK, UP! 

A typical feminine or female experience is potrayed more prominently in smaller, more domestic sound bites of pithy, interpersonal dramas (see two previous entries) in which the protagonists ultimately get stuck in a circulatory hell of their own making.   *Snore…

I will offer Alice Walker as a counter to this norm.    However, due to the sheer fact that her characters are such underdog heros, the epicness of their plight, when compared to the Godlike or demi-godlike status of trojan warrior ex-patriots is lost on subtler ears.

Another writer who has written tomes of material to counter this trope is Ani DiFranco.   Sure, she’s got some of the classic feminine experiences in her writings, she’s a woman, after all.   But she doesn’t rely on the more generally accepted experiences of her gender alone to tell her stories.    She relies on her experiences as a person who has lived the hero’s journey and writes about it with zero fucks given about her acceptance into the mainstream gastrointestinal tract of pop storytelling.

Dar Williams is another.

Brandy Carlile’s album, By The Way, I Forgive You is chock full of epic anthems from all KINDA angles and perspectives.

But these examples are most sincerely the exception, not the norm AND I digress….

The boxer is such an exquisite example of a hero’s adventure, I wanted to make an example out of it.

Here’s a version of the original that will give you a glorious earful:

For this edition of Deconstructing Lyrical Mythologies, I’m not going to annotate the lyrics so much as I’m just going to appropriate them for the purposes of giving the feminine genders (let’s remember, tis’ a spectrum) a hero’s narrative of similar ilk.  Here’s what I mean by that:

Let’s break it down. 

In bold are the lyrics I’ve altered for the purposes of re-gendering the story.  Truly, I didn’t have to do much to alter it.   Enjoy!

I am just a poor girl, though my story’s seldom told.

I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles such are apologies.

All in defense, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.  Lie lie lie lie lie lie lie

When I left my home and my family I was no more than a girl

in the company of strangers, in the quiet of the free health clinic, sitting scared.

Laying low, seeking out the quiet quarters where the unassuming go,

looking for the places only they would know.

Lie Le Lie…..

Asking only equal wages I come looking for a job, but I get no offers.

Just a come-on from the suits along Fifth Avenue.

I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there.

Lie le lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie

Lie Le Lie…….

Well I’m growing out my winter coat and wishin’ I was gone, going home

where the windowed, corner offices aren’t teasin’ me

cheatin’ me, goin’ home.

Interlude

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by her trade

and she carries the reminder, of every bloke that laid her down

and fucked her till she cried out, in her anger and her shame

“I am bleeding, I am leaving”, but the fighter still remains.

Lie Le Lie…

Oh!  BTW, now it’s a punk-rock song.  Here! Have a listen!

Our stories are not cut and paste, but much of the collective narrative at large is categorized quite consistently into certain gendered experiences.

Hopefully the likes of the previous writers I mentioned, along with Lady Gaga and others may eventually change that.

I wanted an adventure and I didn’t see that kind of adventure being demonstrated for women like me.   So, I borrowed one and it feels truthful because, well….a lot of it IS true for me.

I’m willing to bet that if it rings true for me, then it probably rings true for others.

Do you have a song you’d like for me to de-mythstify?   Let me know in the comments below!

Deconstructing Lyrical Mythologies: Jolene by Dolly Parton

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Where were we…….?          Ah, yes.   Jolene.

Man, I love this fucking song.

Jolene: Written by Dolly Parton and released in 1973, nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and coming in at No. 217 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004.

Admit it, my ladies.   There is deep recognition in this song.

It is a rare woman who at some point in her life hasn’t been confronted with the realization that she WASN’T the fairest of them all in the eyes of HER fairest of them all.    And that shit SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKS.

Before we plunge our incisors into the meat of this gem, I want to set it up so you can see it properly.    There are a couple of reasons why these lyrics are so effective and why the song grabs you right in the lady-nuts.

  1. It leans heavily on the idea (Nay!  The completely internalized, digested, and assimilated understanding) that aesthetic beauty is currency, and that this currency is the only asset with which one can attain love and companionship.  This is especially weighty if you are a woman/girl/female-identified.  But honestly, our perfection-driven consumerism, much like the patriarchy, affects everybody, able or not.
  2. That the partner with which the protagonist is so enamored is utterly voiceless and, frankly not to be addressed.  Ever.  It’s not even a consideration.   “Don’t bother the man with your petty feelings, honey.   Let him follow his boners into every pretty face he pleases!  You can’t stop it!!  I know you can see his boner!!!  For GOD’S sake, DON’T TELL HIM YOU CAN SEE HIS BONER!!

Good?   Great.

Onward!

Here is a rendition by Miley Cyrus because she (and her band) kills it, dayed.

Let’s break it down:

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene”  (Repeating the name of the woman who threatens to come between you and the love of your life opens the song with a mysterious sense of either desperation or romance.  Both?  We don’t know yet.   The song is just getting started.)

“I’m begging of you please don’t take my man” (THERE it is!)

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene” (I’m leaning towards desperation here.)

“Please don’t take him just because you can” (We don’t know Jolene yet, and I’m not sure the protagonist of our story does yet, either.  However, this line appears to hand Jolene the majority of the power in this dynamic.  Is Jolene the kind of woman who would seduce a man even though he is married to another woman?  Are ALL woman THAT kind of woman? In the next verse, we start to understand why the power is skewed toward Jolene and away from the protagonist.  (Fun Fact: Dolly Parton recalls that she wrote this song about a woman who flirted with her then-husband in a bank.  The description of her, however, is that of a young fan that requested an autograph at one of Dolly Parton’s shows.)

“Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you, Jolene.” (WhooooooooBoy.  My heart just floats away into pieces every time I hear this verse.  Recognizing the complete and unattainable game of your opponent is…..devastating.   No competition.   I mean, WE know that Dolly Parton is a stone cold fox, ever since she first appeared and now, in her 70s.  But, in this song, we are all NOT Jolene, and that’s the expertly crafted point.)

“He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene.” (Here Dolly takes us deeper down the depression hole of “he’s literally speaking Jolene’s name while he’s lying unconscious next to the protagonist.  Maybe this was after they had made love?  Maybe he wasn’t in the mood that evening because she wasn’t Jolene?  Neither scenario is fun, but there you have it and now you know what my mind does when I don’t have it tethered to something productive.)  

“And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene.” (Again, the power is ALL Jolene’s because 1)beauty and 2)unreasonably deaf-mute man.  But “PLEASE.  He means something to me!!!!   SOB!!” 

Here is where I take issue with the song:  How is a relationship with someone that you can’t talk to about your most vulnerable insecurities, meaningful?  Doesn’t he have a say in the matter?  What if he DOESN’T want to be with Jolene, he just mumbles about her in his sleep because the human mind and body are weird as FUCK?  I mean, I have weird sex dreams about people I know all the time, but I DEFINITELY don’t want to be with them romantically.”

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene”
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can.” (I know that the function of a repetitive chorus is to be the emotional metronome of a song, but this particular chorus does a genius job of maintaining a quickening sense of desperation.  When paired with the rhythmic and consistent picking of the acoustic guitar, UGH!!  IT HURTS SO GOOD!)

“You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again
He’s the only one for me, Jolene.” (Here’s where whatever is left of my heart crumbles and disappears into a puff of dust.  I know that feeling.  That feeling that you logically understand is false, but can’t help feeling it anyway when you first break up with someone.  It’s the feeling that there won’t ever be anyone as perfect for you, ever again.   It is not real, but it feels. so. real.)
“I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, Jolene.” (Again with giving Jolene all of the power.   I WISH the protagonist would go talk to her damn lover.   We aren’t given a reasonable explanation as to why she doesn’t.  Not even a little.  Is he violent?  Is he emotionally absent?  Is he an ACTUAL angler fish?  I wish this song wasn’t so complacent about this seemingly insignificant piece of the puzzle.    To me, this is the most insidious part.   It’s that it doesn’t seem to matter.  That we aren’t entitled to the man as a presence in our emotional plight, even though he’s a major source of it.)

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him even though you can
Jolene, Jolene” (Enough already.  I’m exhausted.)

I love this song.  I will never NOT love it.  I hope I haven’t ruined it too much for you.   Or….Rather….I hope I’ve ruined it just enough so that you don’t identify as strongly with the protagonist anymore.  Because you are beautiful and you are worthy of unconditional, supportive and nurturing companionship, regardless of who your Jolene may be.

Next up: The Boxer by Paul Simon

Do you have a song you’d like me to de-mythstify?   Let me know! Comment below!