Monday, December 17, 2012

The murder ballad that shook me

I contentedly listened to the classic country harmonizing of Bill and Earl Bolick -- the BLUE SKY BOYS -- in the car today when a lyric so disturbed me that my head jerked back.
"I took her by her lily white hand and dragged her down that bank of sand. There I throwed her in to drown. I watched her as she floated down."
The Blue Sky Boys performed for more than 40 years, and the brother act adhered to both traditional sounds (Earl on guitar and Bill on mandolin) and and songs, including the MURDER BALLAD.
Originating in European folk song, murder ballads are narratives providing the often grim details of killings.
In "Cultural Criminology," authors Dr. Jeff Ferrell and Clinton R. Sanders analyzed murder ballads and found three distinct patterns:

"First, in almost every case, the murder occurs between acquaintances and nearly always involves a man killing a woman. Second, the woman's death is nearly always a violent one, with her body cruelly disposed of. Third, the murders depicted in song are characterized by either a lack of explanation for the violent acts or an explanation based on the man's jealousy and desire to possess the woman."
The song that jerked back my head was the traditional murder ballad "THE BANKS OF THE OHIO," which gained later fame with its inclusion on the soundtrack to the 1973 film "PAPER MOON."
The murder ballad once served as a form of escapism entertainment akin to today's televised crime drama. To my contemporary ears, however, the song sounded like the confession that sealed the fate of the perpetrator of a particularly heinous domestic-violence crime.
"Was walking home 'tween 12 and one, thinkin' of what I had done. I killed a girl, my love you see, because she would not marry me."
The stark violence of the song's lyrics wrenched me away from whatever beauty was apparent from the Bolick brothers' pure singing.
This song could never be commercially released now, I thought, before recalling the misogynistic lyrics paired with of so many of today's most popular tunes.


Blogger Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

Inspired me to look for the song. The original isn't on YouTube but a great version from Johnny Cash is there:

So that's two murder ballads I know now. This and the Nick Cave/Kylie Minogue one.

5:22 PM  

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