Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More sad song love: Mountain Angel

(written early in the year while still at sea...)

I've already established that I like sad songs. This is just a short moment to comment on the latest which is breaking my heart into little pieces. It is nothing new that I'm listening to Dolly Parton. Love, love, love her. Anyway, I've lately been giving her another listen to and "Mountain Angel" snuck up on me and punched me in the tear ducts. (incongruously, my shuffle just followed it with "9 to 5" which is not a transition I'm ready to make.)

Such a pretty little song, but just horrible and so damn sad. It would almost be a hokey tale, but Ms. Parton knows how to write if nothing else. She obviously also knows how to sing, and in this song her two talents combine to terrible effect. The melody is so sweet and gentle, and the story starts out the same but it doesn't stop until the title character is a naked crazy lady scaring children and screaming through the night after her death upon on her dead baby's grave. Don't hold back, Dolly.

I'm sure I've listened to this before and just sat around soaking up its sad, because in college Kearney and Willis got this cd and became obsessed with it. I didn't like her cover of "Shine" (because I dislike the song itself, not her rendition) and was already a fan, so I didn't quite replay it quite like they did, but I am sure I was sat down and told to listen to the song and have my heart stomped on for a little while. I don't remember this specifically happening, but I know this happened because I do remember them (aaaakkkk!!! "9 to 5" again! Too happy, too soon... ahhh, "Dagger Through the Heart", much better) sitting me down and forcing me to listened with focus to songs from this album as they had done with other albums and songs, including most notably "The Coward of the County" by Kenny Rodgers. If you don't know the song, go listen to it; if you aren't crying at the end of the song, you need to see the Wizard and ask him for a heart. Maybe I should blame my obsession with sad songs on them (it totally predated them, they might have made me more willing to talk about it and coached me to cry out loud over songs).

I've said before that even if you have to cry listening to it to be human, ultimately "The Coward of the County" has a cathartic resolution at the end which tempers the brutality of the sadness in the song. In a way this makes it all the more potent and it is usually this little glimmer of hope that is the point at which you crack and breakdown listening to it. The tragedy isn't always as bald as in "Coward" ("...the torn dress, the shattered look..."), but these hokey emotional destroyers are the secret ninjas of country music. They sound so friendly and sweet and you don't even realize you've started listening to the words, you didn't mean to leave it on this station and all of a sudden you are stuck at a red light trying to wipe away the tears before the light changes (or the other drivers notice). Why didn't someone warn you that something named "Teddybear's Last Ride" or "Giddyup Go" or "Christmas Carol" could blow up your heart like that? Hell, if you aren't careful and no one is around to keep face in front of, even "Roll On" can do it, but all these songs leave you feeling exhausted but still somehow a little vindicated. It all works out in the end. "Coat of Many Colors" is this kind of song, actually one of the most potent and dangerous of the genre, only made safe by its ubiquity.

"Mountain Angel" does not do this, does not take you down and bring you up. You probably won't actually cry listening to it; it doesn't do tricks to give the heart a big yank other than start off happy and sound so sweet. But if you are sad and you are open to feeling the cracks in humanity's shiny veneer, this one just keeps dropping, down and down. Sunshine turns to clouds, man leaves girl pregnant, baby dies, she has mental breakdown... it is just getting going.

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