Junebug versus Hurricane

The Hagscape

Taylor Black

March 24, 2010

I know this dress I’m wearing doesn’t hide the secret I have tried concealing

Imagine the look on my face when I heard the first lines of one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs fall from Marianne Faithfull’s wilting, gilded lips.  The picture given at the beginning of this wonderful, horrible, hopeless romance is of a woman standing alone, waiting for the image of her lover to appear somewhere on the horizon…

When he left he promised me that he’d be back by the time it was revealing

Pregnant with love for him, dumb with hope and carrying his child, our poor narrator’s story only gets worse from here; it’s a dead loss

The sun behind a cloud just casts the crawling shadow o’er the fields of clover

One the one hand, I like \”Down From Dover\” because it’s so horrible.  There are already in existence more than one incantation of this song by Dolly that I have loved for years, especially after hearing that she was asked by the management of a casino/nightclub where she was performing in Las Vegas not to do it because of the risk it ran of depressing the guests, of mellowing them out.  But, this version from Faithfull’s latest record “Easy Come Easy Go” does more than simply appease my questionable affection for melodrama, abjection and battered femininity that guides my taste in music (and worse), it creates a world that I feel used to, where I think I ought to belong: the space that us hags habitate.

And time is running out for me I wish that he would hurry down from Dover

I have an image of myself thirty or forty years from now, seated at the end of a bar: I’m alone, mindlessly applying lipstick on top of lipstick that’s been caked on for years, not noticing anyone or hearing what’s on the jukebox, humming some sweet sad song no one even remembers anymore, waiting—for the praise and adoration of passing strangers, for a great dark man to take me home, for my time to come, to get asked to leave. . .I’m not really sure.

He’s been gone so long when he left the snow was deep upon the ground

Faithfull’s performance of the song somehow manages to distill this image in my mind—I think chiefly because the song itself produces more than a narrative, it also paints the image of the haggard, threadbare protagonist that I suspect I might someday become.

And I have seen a spring and summer pass and now the leaves are turning brown

Unlike a landscape, which paints a picture in order to convey an image or a world within its frames, Faithfull’s performance casts out a soundscape.   In this world,  every syllable, every note, every line in the story, and even the shaky sound of the song passing through Faithfull’s busted throat has its place: not in order to paint a picture, but as a picture. . .the picture of someone whose time has long since passed them by.

And any time a tiny face will show itself ’cause waiting’s almost over

But what about this baby?  As the story goes, it’s there to deliver a message; to conceal as well as be concealed until that fateful moment of clarity comes.

But I won’t have a name to give it if he doesn’t hurry down from Dover

My folks weren’t understanding when they found out they sent me from the home place

My daddy said if folks found out he’d be ashamed to ever show his face

My mamma said I was a fool and she did not believe it when I told her

The performance and the song too are ephemeral, but they’re eternal too.  The sadness of failure and the loss of hope conveyed in each line of the song pass by as soon as they’re sung.  However, unlike the image of the nymphet—of a beautiful youthfulness and purity that is always already captured and decaying at the time—that Nabokov created in Lolita, the one that “Down From Dover” romances and that Faithfull performs is of a woman whose own downfall and decomposition were always there from the start—before, during and through her pitiful youth.  The world created here, the soundscape if you will, is one suffering with prematurity, of Protegra.

That everything would be all right ’cause soon he would be coming down from Dover

When you’re in the debutante stages of your life, your future is full of hope; when caught up in your twilight years, however, your entire present becomes the story of your death, of your soon to be past.

I loved him more than anything and I could not refuse him when he needed me

The song of the hag creates a world of already-lost hope, of foreclosed possibilities, of false concealments.

He was the only one I’d loved and I just can’t believe that he was using me

He couldn’t leave me here like this I know it can’t be so it can’t be over

He wouldn’t make me go through this so long, oh he’ll be coming down from Dover

Faithfull’s performance is playful: she manages to turn Dolly’s stern benediction song into an experiment, adding horns and rocking the song back and forth in a way that carries an uncanny, fun(ny) rhythm along with it.

My body aches the time is here it’s lonely in this place where I’m lyin’
Our baby has been born but something’s wrong it’s much too still I hear no cryin’

As the story ends, and as the baby brings the news of stillborn sadness that was impending right from the start, the joke the protagonist seems to be on her-self.

I guess in some strange way she knew she’d never have a father’s arms to hold her

And dying was her way of telling me he wasn’t coming down from Dover

Like her, the joke will be on me someday soon.  You see, the irony is, when you suffer from Progeria, unkindly known as “Nature’s Cruelest Joke,” you don’t even know it.  Like the woman featured in the song, I won’t mind sitting at the end of that bar all alone, because I’ll be certain that someone’s coming to get me, that some-thing’s finally going to repay me in this world—and like our Miss Faithfull,

I’ll still, somehow, be fantastic.


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