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Saturday, April 18, 2009


Somehow managing to ignore the redoubtable Miss Parton's most in-your-face assets for the moment, I'd like to bring up a bit of classic Dolly excellence that exemplifies one of my two favorite aspects of real Country/Western music (as opposed to much of what comes out today, namely soulless crap performed by people whose most awful experiences amounted to a bad day behind the counter at Kinko's). Country/Western always struck me as white people's version of the blues, marked by that genre's amazing ability to range between two extremes of the human experience, namely the humorous and the incredibly depressing. At times country goes so overboard with its descents into clich├ęd misery that it can come off like unintentional self-parody, and when those tropes are addressed in earnest they can become quite hilarious, as is the case with David Allan Coe's totally straight-faced "You Never Even Called Me By My Name" — humorously intended to be the perfect country song thanks to its inclusion of damned near every country song subject imaginable, including getting drunk, failed romance, "momma," standing in the rain, Jesus and Judgment Day, prison, trains, and death — but when the genre gets dark it could teach death metal a thing or two about being disturbing. Case in point: Dolly Parton's 1969 "Evening Shade," a song whose title I had forgotten for years but just remembered about a half hour before sitting down to write this.

1969's "My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy" album: here lurks some surprisingly dark stuff, and I think it's telling that it's not available on CD.

Hailing from her third solo album, 1969's "My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy" (the title track of which is from the point of view of a bored girl who leaves her sleepy hometown for the excitement of New Orleans, only to end up as a prostitute), "Evening Shade" kicked my ass when I first heard it right around the time the innocuous and annoying "9 To 5" movie theme song was a monster hit, and I simply could not believe such a pitch-black dark number could have been created by the same merry Top 40 songstress. Parton's delivery of the tune's words is as matter-of-fact as a police blotter report or a statement given to investigating police officers after the event took place, and I buy every word of what the character has to say. Once I heard it I checked out a lot of Parton's early works, and from that exploration was born my undying respect for the woman and her work. Anyway, here are the lyrics to "Evening Shade," and I say you'd be hard-pressed to find a more disturbing song in its entire musical genre. It certainly isn't anywhere near the same galaxy as "9 To 5," but then again if a tune like Kenny Rogers' "Coward of the County" can be an immense crossover hit and be perhaps the only hugely-popular Top 40 song to feature a gang-rape, I guess anything is possible.

"Evening Shade" (1969) by Dolly Parton
My train of thought was broken by a sudden burst of laughter
Something badly needed to brighten up the chores
Seemed old Mrs. Bailey had accidentally fell
In the water being used to scrub the floors
Now Mrs. Bailey was the meanest matron at the home
She believed in lots of work with little play
And we laughed till we bent double
Though we knew we’d get in trouble
But trouble’s all we had at evening shade
Now Evening Shade was where they claim to teach you understanding
To teach you love and keep you off the streets
And all the kids that live here are said to be a problem
Juvenile delinquents so to speak

But understanding isn’t learned from punishment and anger
An iron has no gentle touch and love ain’t learned from hate
The reason we were here is ’cause we had no one who cared
But they cared even less at Evening Shade

Little Susan Bradley one night had wet her bed
Mrs. Bailey took the razor strap and beat her half to death
And I knew that something must be done to put an end to this
And so I started talking plans with the older kids

Plans were that Joe Johnson would steal the kerosene
And I would get some matches when nobody seen
Beckie Adams would make sure the kids were all outside
Billy Watson would look out for the evil eye

Now Mrs. Bailey took a nap at three o’clock each day
We knew that she’d be a’sleeping as the plans got underway
Now that it’s all over and the sun is going down
There’s no Evening Shade ’cause we burned it to the ground


Dana said...

Like to see THIS covered in American Idol.

Firefly said...

I agree - there's a lot more depth to Dolly Parton than shnow in songs like "9 to 5". She's a savvy business woman, so the mainstream stuff pays the bills... Brains, talent, and that brassy sexiness. Pretty cool for a white chick.