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[livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija gave me a four-day crash course in ballads, traditional folk, alternative folk, and folk-influenced music, especially in murder ballads, while we were driving to and fro around LA. My education has largely consisted of Lyle Lovett, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave being demented, Andy Stewart, Nick Cave being murderous, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave being psychotic, Steeleye Span, Nick Cave being murderous and psychotic, Steve Earle, and finally, Nick Cave being demented, murderous, and psychotic. Then there was the bonus Johnny Cash covering Nick Cave being demented, murderous, and psychotic ("The Mercy Seat").

These songs (I am not typing out "ballads, traditional folk, alternative folk, and folk-influenced music" every time, so please just assume that that's what I'm talking about) seem to have several subgenres:

First, there is the very popular "I killed my girlfriend," which is further subdivided into "I killed my girlfriend, and now I'm really sorry," "I killed my girlfriend, and damn did she deserve it," "I killed my girlfriend and now I'm going to fry for it," and "I killed my girlfriend, now I'm going to fry for it, and I'm only sorry that I didn't kill off the entire town while I was at it."

Alas, the "I killed my boyfriend" subgenre is much smaller, although I particularly enjoyed "Henry Lee" ("Marry me, even though you have a girlfriend. Oh no? I guess I'll just kill you"), "The Elf Knight" ("I killed a psychotic elf serial killer with my needle" (really, the needle would have made it that much more awesome)), and "The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane" ("I hid under the table and watched all my lovers shoot each other, then ran off with their wallets").

Then there is the larger "I am a psychotic killer, and I kill people" section, which largely features.... wait for it.... psychotic killers killing people. My favorites of these included "Stagger Lee" (Rachel introduced it saying, "All you need to know is that Stagger Lee is a big, bad motherfucker."), in which Stagger Lee is a big, bad motherfucker (I know this because he said so several times). He shoots a bartender several times in the head, which prompts a woman to ask, "Oh god, he can't be dead!" to which Stagger Lee replies, "Well just count the holes in the motherfucker's head."

For some reason, this makes the woman decide to invite Stagger Lee up into her bed ("It won't cost you a dime, Mr. Stagger Lee"). Stagger Lee's reply is the romantic "I'll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole." Alas, she is Billy Dilly's woman, and when he discovers them together, Stagger Lee makes Billy Dilly give him a blowjob and then blows his head off.

"Did I hear that right?" I asked Rachel (the first time of many. I would later discover that every time I asked that because I could not possibly have heard what I heard, I had actually heard what I heard).

"Yes. Yes, you did."

"So. Um. He made the other guy give him a blowjob and then blew off his head?"

"Yup!" Rachel replied cheerfully.

My other favorite was "The Curse of Millhaven," in which a young girl named Loretta (Nick Cave growls it out as "Loretter") cheerfully strikes terror into the hearts of her fellow townspeople by crucifying pet dogs, setting people on fire, killing orphans ("Even twenty little children, they all had to diiiiiiie"), and generally wreaking havoc. Rachel noted that she must be related to the Yellow-Eyed Demon of Supernatural, seeing as how "My eyes ain't green and my hair ain't yeller, it's more like the other way around." I think this explains a lot.

She's also rather annoyed when someone finally rats her out and the police have the gall to come and arrest her without even phoning first. She attempts to plead her case in my favorite line, saying, "I know I'm a wicked young lady, but I've been trying hard lately -- Oh fuck it, I'm a monster, I admit it!" Also: "I gotta pretty little mouth underneath all of the foaming." And when asked if she regrets any of it, she replies, "Why yes, of course! There is so much more I could have done if they'd let me!"

Possibly Loretta is the progeny of Sweeney Todd and his chair.

After going through murder, psychosis, more murder, and some more murder, we went on to the subgenre of "I went to Mexico and got shot." Further subcategories include "I went to Mexico and died," "I am on my way to Mexico because my girlfriend dumped me," "I went to Mexico and got into a bar fight," "I went to Mexico and lost all my money at cards," and "I never made it to Mexico because I'm just that big of a loser." I feel that the ultimate expression of this subgenre would be a song in which the narrator is dumped by his girlfriend, attempts to go to Mexico, loses all his money at cards, gets into a bar fight, and then dies. And never makes it to Mexico, of course.

My other favorite songs were drinking songs. We went to Amoeba Records and found the Celtic folk section, which had one section that consisted solely of drinking songs (handily labeled "Drinking Songs"). The best of these was Andy Stewart's "Tak' it, mon, tak' it," in which a miller goes around stealing grain from other millers to distill into alcohol because his mill tells him to.

No, really.

"It's like the talking Gundams!" Rachel commented.

"At least the Gundams don't tell their pilots to drink more!" I said.

Aside from talking mills and murder, there is the very large subgenre of "I got shot in a bar," which frequently encompasses all the prior subgenres. For example: "I killed my girlfriend and got shot in a bar," "I killed my girlfriend at the bar," "I killed the bartender and the man who I made give me a blow job," "I am a raving psychotic mass murderer and ended up in a bar so I could get shot," and, of course, the classic "I am a raving psychotic mass murderer who got dumped by my girlfriend, killed her, ran to Mexico, and got shot in a bar."

Sadly, this entry is getting huge, so I haven't even really covered alt country and Lyle Lovett (summed up by "I suck, no one loves me, and I'm in Mexico with no money"), Nick Cave's take on alt country (summed up by Nick Cave attempting to imitate a wolf howling), and how Nick Cave's songs frequently include credits for wailing and moaning. Oh! I also had the genius idea that Nick Cave should play Sweeney Todd some day. Because you just know that would be awesome.

This rounded out a weekend full of gothic horror in the flavors of American (Johnny Cash), Victorian (Sweeney Todd), Japanese (Onmyouji), and insane (Yuki Kaori, Nick Cave, and After School Nightmare).
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October 2017


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