Music Teaching, Or…Sympathy for Prostitutes

Looking back, I can see how much music influenced my ideas and my emotions. My favorite songs were moral, but with a twist. Songs like Poison’s “Give Me Something To Believe In,” Skid Rows’ “Slave to the Grind” – even Bon Jovi’s “Living in Sin” – made me think critically and question the belief system that surrounded me. They made me sensitive to hypocrisy, distrustful of consumerism, and gave me a touch of anti-authority fervor. Grunge and punk pushed me even further on that journey of exploration.

But country….. Ah, country. It’s the first music I remember (because I count Southern Gospel as a type of country and my grandmother took me to choir practices every Thursday night to hear her TEAR UP the piano – she rocked my childhood). And the songs I heard the most weren’t just any country – they were Outlaw Country.

Independence. Boot in your ass. Hard living. Hard loving. Play hard. Work harder. Damn the man. Handle your shit. Don’t cry. Life is hard. Appreciate the good things, ‘cause there ain’t that many of them. Don’t half-ass it. Say what you mean. Make your own way….I learned all of these things from country music before I ever knew what hard rock was.

And then there came Reba. She was never just a singer – she was a storyteller. Ballads aren’t my favorite – the verses drone on and on and on and there isn’t much variance in the melody – but Reba worked it. Riveted you. Took you with her on a journey into someone else’s life. I learned a lot of sympathy from Reba. Sympathy for prostitutes, for example.

“It sounded like someone else that was talking

Asking ‘Mama, what do I do?’

She said, ‘Just be nice to the gentlemen, Fancy,

And they’ll be nice to you.”


Why would her mother say that? Because “your Pa’s run off, I’m real sick, and the baby’s gonna starve to death.”

Did her mother not realize what a horrible thing she was doing to her own child?

“Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down.

Forgive me for what I do,

But if you want out it’s up to you.

Now don’t let me down, hon, your mama’s gonna move you up town.”

 Fancy left, “the welfare people came and took the baby,” mama died. And Fancy made a vow to be a lady someday.

“But I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life

With my head bowed down in shame.

You know, I might have been born just poor white trash

But Fancy was my name.”

 That’s the point where Reba really powers it up. You can hear the fight and the pride in Fancy’s voice. You pull for her, not like a polite hand clap at a golf course, but like a drunken frenzy at a Nascar race.

And Fancy wins. She gets her mansion. Her new life. No hunger. No worries. But….

“Now in this world there’s a lot of self-righteous hypocrites

That call me bad.

And they criticize mama for turning me out,

No matter how little we had.”

She knows how people judge her for her past. Does she resent her mother? No, because after 15 years, “I can still hear the desperation in my poor mama’s voice ringing in my ear.”

That song tore me up. I would sing it, eyes closed and voice warbling, like I had a clue what it felt like to be that desperate. I didn’t, but that song took me close. I knew that, as Granny said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

 In the same circumstances, could I say with certainty that I would not do the same as either of them? It is easy to think you won’t do something right up until your life hangs in the balance. Or your child’s. I have never had to face those choices, thank God, but I won’t tempt fate with the hubris to say I never will.

Music taught me that.

 Dedicated to the memory of the murdered women of Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

See: The Lost Girls of Rocky Mount (GQ)


~ by gypsyjonga on September 11, 2010.

3 Responses to “Music Teaching, Or…Sympathy for Prostitutes”

  1. Reba really is a great storyteller through her songs. Going through my divorce last year, when I felt like I had no clue how to even manage, her song “Is There Life Out There” came on, and it reminded me why I was doing what I had to do. Even now, it can still affect me some days. Music itself can be a great and powerful tool every day. It’s a major influence in this house.

    I really like this posting, Jenny. Very well written.

  2. I’m not commenting blogs to often, but this article forced me to do as nothing else!Thanks, really job.

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