15 Nov

I’m listening to what I’m sure is an Australian country band trying their darndest to sound like they’re from Talahasee f-l-a; Butte, Montana; Tupelo, Miss. The familiar heart-felt, simple-minded cliches: whiskey, men, women, longing and Biblical reference. The woman wonders when she’ll get time to be a woman, the man laments what women do to him. White people like to whinge and whine when they sing.

The black folks sing of much darker stuff with an simpler-minded joyful cheer.

Country music is what happened when a bunch of trogladyte Celts: Scots, Irish (all protestant!) went to America, pinched shitloads of arable soil from the locals and shitloads of arable people from Africa. They played the same 300 hundred tunes they always have, but the words and the accents morphed with the time and the landscape. Things stayed the same, things changed: some got rich, some stayed poor. And the poorer they were the more they hated the negras. From the end of the Civil War (1861-1865) to the 1960s when African-America finally won actual political equality: one hundred years, so many American generations living this parallel hostility.

What made the black folks suffer worse was the white folks had suffered also – long time. There’s an oft-told Irish tale wherein a young man lies dying of love for this lass Barbara Ellen who doesn’t really know he exists. She’s persuaded to visit him and only remarks that he appears to be dying. He dies. And on the way back to her village she encounters the burial procession. They stop and she gazes upon the boy’s corpse and falls into this socially safe yet self-dooming love; she goes home to die.

They bury them both in the church yard and, so the song goes: from his grave grew a red, red rose and from her grave grew a briar. They grow up the walls of the church spire making a ‘true love’s knot’ at the apex. The kind of love that Celtic Catholicism approved of – no sex, no choice. And leave good-looking corpses that make the Church look pretty. It’s the best love precisely because it’s impossible and serves only as a cautionary tale for the rest of us who aren’t quite as insanely passionate. The second-best love is the one where the pleasures of sex are void, yet many more children that can’t possibly be afforded are born. Poor people are good, they need God.

Again the original European settlers of the South were protestant. Catholics didn’t figure much ’til after slavery was abolished. But yet the mythology of such a song as “Barbara Ellen” resonates. What Catholicism polluted, Protestantism damn near killed off. Monty Python have a good joke about Protestant and Catholic sexuality. The Catholics are disgusting to the Protestant man because they have so many children. He’s proud of being Protestant and thereby entitled to buy condoms etc whenever he wants. He just doesn’t want to.

But enough of this polluted altar-boy antichurchdisestablishmentarianism;

“Barbara Ellen” is probably older than Jesus. What lyrics obtained in those bestial days I shouldn’t wonder. But the melody would make any words sad. Let’s have a listen to these Jewish lads sing it –


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