It’s old news by now, but for once the internet isn’t on top of all the latest: Battenkill Ramblers are dead.
Thanks to everyone who has ever come to a show or bought a shirt or album or made us dinner or given us a bed or shared our music with a friend. (We still have a lot of those shirts and albums left by the way, so get ’em while we’re desperate to unload them…just email me at nicolettekyle AT yahoo DOT com.) We’ve had a lot of fun, and now we’re all going to go have different fun. Maybe even similar fun. Only time will tell.
Expect to see the digital release of our most recently recorded (and still not mastered) album Small Time here in the next few months (I fucking hope). But don’t expect any more Battenkillers, for we are dead and gone.
In an attempt to get our damn album mixed already and spend time practicing and writing new songs instead of racing from one show to the next, we’ve cut down on live appearances and are busy trying to force our very busy and conflicting schedules into something like regular practice. There are four new songs in the pot, simmering away, and hey, maybe by the time the new album is finally all mixed, we’ll have enough material to go back into the studio. HA. Or something.
In the meantime, I’ve been writing a lot about music over on Book Punks, mostly in the form of SF Mix Tapes, or collections of songs about science fictional topics. Check ’em out:
Battenkill Ramblers at Rock of Dunmasse in Ireland.
What a trip. My brain is still processing all of the things we did and saw, the shows we played.
The journey started with a 3 am wake up and a really, really long drive across France to get on a boat that, after sixteen hours, would bring us to “Erin’s Green Shores.” I loved that boat. Anybody want to hire us to be a boat band?
We did some camping and looked at piles of old stones. We brought postcard-perfect weather along with us and against all expectations, it only rained once, for like ten minutes, on our first morning. The rest of the time it was all leprechauns and shamrocks and blue skies and beaches. We drove across the country down windy, narrow roads (holy fuck, driving on the left!) and camped and drank Guinness and whiskey and I think it’s pretty safe to say a good time was had by all.
Our first Ireland show was in the pretty little town of Westport, where we had the most decadent, lovely band accommodations any of us have ever experienced. Thanks so much to Uri, who put it all together and took such good care of us all. We played in McGing’s that night and the next day had the luxury of exploring the town and drifting between sessions and shows and sights. On Sunday we drove over to a little town called Castlebar where we played on 102.9 CRC Time After Time with Werner Lewon. I love doing radio. Brings me back to my college radio days. That evening we played at Mannion’s Pub in Balla, which was a small but wonderful crowd, with more gobstoppingly wonderful band accommodations and hospitality. Thanks and thanks and thanks to all the folks who made it happen!!!!
Next week we’ll be starting the next leg our of tour, with shows in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. If it’s even half as good as the Ireland trip was, we’re in for a fucking good time.
On Wednesday we’ll drive to the boat that will carry us across to Ireland, homeland of my two favorite alcoholic drinks and a hell of a lot of wonderful people and beautiful landscapes. You’ll be able to find us at the following places:
On Sunday (the 15th) we’ll also likely be doing some sort of radio gig/interview, more on that when we know ourselves. Hope to see you there. The rest of the time, we’ll be roaming the country side, busking, and looking at pretty things.
You might wonder how it is that I came to be so obsessed with post-apocalyptic fiction and imagery (a topic that pops up again and again in the lyrics I write for our songs). The answer is simple. I used to dream of revolution, but after a couple years I became very, very disillusioned. I just can’t believe we’re going to make it. I can’t believe that a revolution that could save us from this shit storm (environmentally, politically, etc) is possible, that we could pull it off without being slaughtered, every one, by the government strong arms. And if we did pull it off (whoever “we” are), would we be able to do so in such as way that we wouldn’t end up repeating all the same mistakes?
Forgive me for my lack of optimism.
The first time I heard the term “collapse” was in the work of Derrick Jensen. He spoke of an environmental collapse as the inevitable result of said shit storm. His logic made sense. Not only did it make sense, it gave me hope that there was a force in the world that could put a stop to a lot of the environmental devastation, among other things, that it didn’t rely on reaching a consensus at the coalition meeting. The world around us is not static. Every change inflicted results in further changes, like dominoes falling in line. The way it looks from here, those changes aren’t going to be too friendly for the like of humans or the like of our way of living up to now. But still, in the prospect of destruction, I saw hope, gruesome though that hope may be. See.
Then again, maybe I’m just a coward. (Probably.) Maybe the focus on collapse is a complete cop out. (Totally.)
My love of post-apocalyptic imagery writhes in ambivalence. I want the apocalypse to come (by that I generally am thinking of the end of industrial civilization) because it breaks my heart into tiny little pieces thinking about all the creatures getting killed by human carelessness and stupidity on a daily basis. The idea that we could actually start fresh, without a painfully slow political process for change, is incredibly appealing. Yet I also don’t want it to come because, duh, I’ll be dead. As much as I like to daydream that I survive, the odds are against it. I live in a big city! I’m 31! I don’t know how to use any weapons! The odds really, really aren’t in my favor. That and I would probably never see all my America lovelies ever again. A lot of the stuff that has come out of this mess of a civilization is pretty fucking neat. And yet, the imagery remains appealing, beautiful to me in a sorrowful way that is hard to put into words.
Dead Flag Blues by Godspeed You Black Emporer is the queen, the king—no fuck gendered words—the monarch of post-apocalyptic songs. It is devastatingly sad, yet beautiful in spite of itself. It is a song full of wringing hands and failure, corpses and flames. And love. It was also one of several post-apocalyptic songs that inspired our own Dead Flag Blues, which you can listen to here.
I’ve typed out the lyrics, for anyone who would rather read than listen:
The car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel, and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt, and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death. The sun has fallen down, and the billboards are all leering, and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles.
It went like this:
The buildings tumbled in on themselves, mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble and pulled out their hair. The skyline was beautiful on fire all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze.
I said, “Kiss me, you’re beautiful. These are truly the last days.” You grabbed my hand and we fell into it, like a daydream or a fever.
We woke up one morning and fell a little further down for sure it’s the valley of death. I open up my wallet and it’s full of blood.
On the second night of our last recording weekend, I shut banjo man’s hand in a car door. (Thankfully, nothing broke. Close one.) Here’s to nothing like that happening this time around. We’ve got ten or so new songs, and we hope to have the new album finished and ready for you before we head off to Ireland this summer. Wish us luck! I, for one, am extremely excited.
This post was originally published on our old website, before the cursed hacker take down of 2014. As we’re about to record the song that came out of these thoughts (Beanth the Willows) and put out a new record whose liner notes all these words probably won’t fit in, I wanted to make sure the thoughts behind it were still available in full-length form. So here you go:
When someone asks what I find so attractive about old time country and folk music (besides the sound)—as someone inevitably does any time they interview us—my answer usually starts with community. Old time country is music you play on your porch with your friends. Traditionals became traditionals because back in the day you had to learn them to hear them. With a common stock of traditionals, you could form an impromptu band with just about anyone, which was really important before recorded music made it something you could have anytime anywhere. DIY or silence mother fucker! Not only does old time country music invoke a strong tradition of DIY, but it is a genre that often celebrates nature and spending time outside—the pretty place you live, the blossom of a particular plant, the joys of fishing—and songs about sticking it to the man and, yes, whiskey. These are things that I like.
But the dark side of country music is dark indeed. There is racism and there is sexism and there are far too many songs about women being killed by men, usually their lovers. I can appreciate the darkness of a good murder ballad, but why are most murder ballads about men killing their lady lovers? The majority of murder ballads come down to two main stock stories. One: lady loves dude, dude kills lady, dude regrets it because he is in jail. Two: dude loves lady, lady doesn’t want to marry dude, dude kills lady, dude regrets it because he is in jail. Take a look at a few examples. You don’t even have to listen to any of the songs I’ve listed below to get the idea. I’ve summed up the story of each in a few sentences.
Girl says she wants to marry boy. Boy and girl go on a walk. Boy stabs girl to death. Possibly because of some dubious past reputation—aka “slut shaming” in the extreme.
banks of the ohio
Girl won’t marry boy. Boy goes on walk with girl. Boy drowns girl and throws her body in the river.
down in the willow garden
Boy and girl go on walk. Boy stabs girl and throws her in the river. Boy cries. Poor poor boy. He really loved that girl. Obviously.
Boy goes to visit girl. Boy ties girl up and shoots her. Boy sure wishes he had married her instead.
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl go for a walk. Boy beats girl. Boy throws girl in the river. Boy angry! Boy loved girl! Girl wouldn’t marry boy! *Beats chest and swings off into the jungle.*
Girl marries boy. Girl cheats on boy. Boy kills girl and her lover boy.
darlin corey / dig a hole in a meadow
Girl plays banjo and brews whiskey. Girl corrupts men with her whiskey, makes them do things they would never ever ever have done otherwise. Girl is killed by the police for illegally brewing whiseky.
I also found an entire play list of songs about men killing women here, which was quite disturbing to see on a screen. There are also other old time country standards about men killing women that I didn’t find good (or any) examples of on youtube, such as Tom Dooley and Little Sadie. And don’t forget Johnny Cash’s other killing-lady ballads: Cocaine Blues and Transfusion Blues, which are basically the same song.
is this misogyny?
Misogyny means a “hatred of women,” something that you can find manifesting in gender-based discrimination, violence, and objectification. And yet, perhaps, the word is inaccurate in this context. Let’s take it apart. When you look at the stories told in many man-kills-women murder ballads, you’ll find that these dudes just love women so much that they need to off them in order to prevent anyone else from getting them. Tough love! Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth.
As author David Wong explains in this articulate article on how modern men are conditioned to hate women, our culture teaches men to think of themselves as being owed a pretty lady. Because of this message, which is incredibly prevalent once you become aware of it, many men—men who have perhaps internalized this message without even realizing it—become very angry when they don’t get what they feel they have been promised. “It’s why every Nice Guy is shocked to find that buying gifts for a girl and doing her favors won’t win him sex. It’s why we go to ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ as our default insults—we’re not mad that women enjoy sex. We’re mad that women are distributing to other people the sex that they owed us,” explains Wong.
The message in many of these songs is similar to what Wong describes: When men can’t have the toys that they want, and which they are pretty sure they are owed god damn it, they have to break those toys so that nobody else can play with them (Knoxville Girl, Matty Groves, Banks of the Ohio). In others, we just see men killing women for the hell of it (Delia’s Gone, Little Sadie), or because they have a “shady” reputation (Pretty Polly). Or because they dared to cross over into the male domain of whiskey brewing and banjo picking (Darlin Corey). Soooo, yeah, I would say the word misogyny applies without a doubt.
Though the majority of the men in these songs end up in jail, many remorseful, the fact that so many songs talk about men killing women is telling. They reflect the culture we live in, and in reflecting it, perpetuate it. These are catchy, fun songs. People sing along, internalizing them, and playing a role in our acceptance of this sort of thing as status quo. Were there fewer women killing men when these songs were being written? Or were there just too few women in the genre at the time to write about their murderous tendencies? What about the ladies who kill dudes? Do they exist? And if they do, why do they kill men? The answers to these questions are pretty telling. Take a look at two examples:
Girl marries boy. Boy beats girl. Girl poisons boys peas. Girl throws boy’s body in the lake and lives happily ever after with her best friend on a farm. Nobody misses boy because he was an abusive alcoholic asshole.
Boy visits girl. Boy tries to rape girl. Girl kills boy with a broken bottle.
Both of these examples of lady-on-man murder ballads are incredibly disturbing, and as both are songs about women killing men we can certainly say that the murderous violence goes both ways. Gunpowder and Lead by Miranda Lambert and Independence Day by Martina McBride also deal with similar story lines (though they cross firmly into pop country).
But take a closer look at the differences in motivation in the man-kills-lady versus the lady-kills-man songs. The male murderers are killing women because the women won’t sleep with them or marry them or because they feel like it. The lady murderers are killing men because the men are beating them, raping them, and trying to kill them. There are exceptions (in Frankie and Johnny, for example, the lady kills her lover because he is cheating on her, a female version of Matty Groves), but by and large, you’ve got dudes killing women for the hell of it and ladies killing dudes in self defense.
Another difference in the songs about women killing men: all of the examples I was able to find were recorded in the last 25 years (Frankie and Johnny being the one exception again)—a correlation I can only assume corresponds to increasing gender equality and women’s rights. Goodbye Earl was written by Dennis Linde in the 1990s before being recorded by the Dixie Chicks in 1999. Gillian Welch recorded Caleb Meyer in 1998. Miranda Lambert’s Gunpowder and Lead came out in 2007 and Independence Day in 1993. None of them truly even fit into the old time country genre—neither in sound nor in time period. Though the number of country songs about men killing women is depressing, the fact that recent years have brought more female voices telling women’s stories is slightly heartening. And we are going to add one to their numbers.