Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loretta Lynn via Jean Stafford

September, 2011:  I was browsing the classifieds in the Cowra Guardian when I saw a small ad in the 'FOR SALE' column: "1000s LPs EPs singles $5-$1 Country R&B and more".  I thought, "I bet Mr. Colemane of Colemane's Country Music Museum has decided to sell off his records!"
My hunch was right.  I walked down the road that goes by the river and the overgrown, grassy railway until I got to Colemane's Country Corner, with the wishing well in the garden, and the hand-painted sign, "Don't be shy!  Come inside!  Surprise yourself!"  Athol Colemane sat me down with his ledger, in which his entire collection (circa twenty-thousand) of country records is catalogued in his elegant hand-writing.  I wrote a sub-list of records I'd like to look at - Kitty Wells, Tex Morton, Steve Earle (of course), Steve Young, Johnny Darrell, Jean Stafford, I mean, Jean Shepard, oh, what the hell, how about both of them?  A large proportion of Athol's collection is Australian country music - singers I've never heard of, let alone heard.  It's a bit daunting, and some of my stabs in the dark have been unrewarding - I don't think I'll listen twice to Mary Schneider's yodelling record (I love yodelling, but this was yodelling to be played as background music in a shopping mall; oh, maybe I am being unkind, maybe I should give it a second go), nor Arthur Blanch, with his tight jeans and generic American-style songs.
I ended up liking Jean Stafford, who is innocent and Australian (the record I bought is named Flowers For Mama), distinct from Jean Shepard, who is American and more worldly.  I was happily listening to Stafford when a line caught my ear: "What kind of a girl do you think I am?"  Then: "What kind of a girl would do those things you're asking me to without wedding rings?"  I couldn't tell if the tone of the song was suggestively smutty or virtuously outraged; it really could have been either.  I went into the living-room and moved the needle back so I could listen again.  "Is that what you have to do to prove you're a man?"  and "What kind of a girl do you want for a wife?  Do you want a girl who knows that much about life?"  Jean Stafford was definitely singing it virtuously; but I couldn't help but suspect that the songwriter had managed to slip in some smut right under the noses of her puritanical audience.  I went to the record-player again to check the songwriter credit.  It all became clear.  It was Lynn/Wilburn.  That is, it was written by Loretta Lynn, with a chunk of its royalties unjustly snatched away from her by Teddy Wilburn.  The equivocal tone was now accounted for - there's no one who can tangle up smut and humour and virtue the way Loretta Lynn does (Dolly Parton comes close - such as her song 'If I Lose My Mind' where the young wife runs back to Mama, crying that her swinger husband "...made me watch him love another woman, and he tried to make me love another man").  I even looked the song up on You Tube (I don't, very often), and saw Loretta sitting on a haybale (oh, I might have made up that detail - aren't they all sitting on haybales in those black-and-white tv clips?) singing 'WHAT KIND OF A GIRL DO YOU THINK I AM' with a fierce and virtuously-outraged frown.  But she wasn't fooling me!  

On looking up the clip a few months later, I see she is not sitting on a haybale, but in front of a fake tree in a fake garden: