Some are carpenters’ wives

[This is the third post on Child ballad 243, “The Demon Lover” or “House Carpenter.”  Read the first one here, and the second one here.] “James Harris,” the demon figure in Child 243, does not represent just any potential lover leading the carpenter’s wife away, but a lover from her … → read more

The price, my dear, is you.

  In the last post on Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole,” we looked at how a centuries-old English tale about a fair maiden who loses a golden ball evolved into two different stories – one with a fairy tale ending in which the maiden is rescued by a prince and one with … → read more

Two Soldiers

The Veteran in a New Field – Winslow Homer, 1865 I mentioned in my last week of posts that I’m preparing to take my 8th grade students to Gettysburg, and that all things Civil War occupy my mind this time of year.  The trip is quite an undertaking and I’m … → read more

I started making plans to kill my own kind…

As I mentioned in my first post, “Ballad of Hollis Brown” was presented and received as a sad story about something that happened to a man, not about what that man did to six other people. The song brings us into the man’s head as things are happening to him, … → read more

The limits of empathy

The Times They Are a’Changin’ included numerous songs that addressed current events and real crimes. “Only a Pawn in their Game” deals with the assassination of civil rights worker Medgar Evers by Byron De La Beckwith; “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” deals with the murder of a young black … → read more

Nobody Sings Dylan like Dylan

At the end of this week, I’ll return to the key issues that Dylan addresses in “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” As part of that, I’ll look at one of if not the worst versions of the song ever sung — by Dylan himself of course — and how that … → read more

The Ballad of Hollis Brown

“Ex-Farm Family, now on WPA.” Photo credit: Dorothea Lange. Farm Security Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library Archives. In regard to “Fair Ellender” – the subject of this blog’s first post – I suggested that the Brown Girl’s murderous act might be motivated not by jealousy but by a sense … → read more

This story has no moral

  Despite the fact that I think there was some “hourglass moment” where this song slipped through a narrow channel to flow back out again, there is still so much diversity to the lyrics of this song that a “close reading” is impossible, at least in this venue.  Nevertheless, I … → read more