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Monday, May 28, 2012

More about the Harper Valley PTA

My page views plummeted today. Bad title to the post or people don't care about Jeanne C. Riley.

But, I’ve been thinking about the Harper Valley P.T.A song this afternoon. It kept my mind off the real issues of planting corn into wet ground.
I got started on quite the rant but now have lost interest since the album ended and I had to get up and lift the tone arm. I've got to go back to a semi-automatic turntable. This old Rek-O-Kut has some snob appeal as a esoteric collector piece but the tonearm does not return on it's own. Plus, I get a real kick out of playing low brow County-Western Music on Muddy Valley's father's old turntable, which I'm sure never played anything but classical and that very odd album of sea chanties with the dead naked girl wrapped in a fishing net as the album cover photo. 
But, I digress...
The Harper Valley PTA song wan incredibly popular song which ended up changing the interpretation of cultural values. The idea that all the authority figures are tragically flawed really appeals to our modern world view. As I look back on people I know I am starting to realize that it doesn't really matter if they do have feet of clay, you must do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. It is an advanced concept that they don't teach you anymore.
So my first observation was kind of an off the cuff reaction. I’ve heard a couple rants which used this song as an example of the double standards of what was once considered respectable society.
My problem is that there is so redemption in the song. Instead of inspiring some sort of revival of social norms and responsibility and honesty, bad behavior just became the norm. No one had the depth to see that all the characters in the song were flawed. It is like the philosophical view of Absurdism where we are condemned by our humanity to search for meaning in the universe, but there is no meaning. It is just a random series of events thrown together that we try to make sense out of.
In somewhat the same way, or perhaps because of this idea, we just assign meanings to events in a way that justifies our behavior even though the actual lesson that should be learned is so much different.
If you behave badly and lie about it, that behavior provides no justification for my bad behavior.
I’ve always thought it was kind of bizarre that Mrs. Johnson justified her own possible “bad” behavior by the double standards of others. You do the right thing for sake of doing the right thing. I’ve observed that most authority figures are not worthy of their position.
But, at the same time I do hate smarmy people telling me what to do and judging my life when they are morons.
The obvious message is exposing the double standard of those who are judging her and that struck a chord with the song’s audience. It apparently gave a whole generation of people an excuse to justify self destructive behavior just because other people were doing it and lying about it.
 But, there is more to the song and to the cultural reasons for the PTA’s disapproval of Mrs. Jones wearing short skirts and drinking in bars.
She is a single female with a child. She is showing some skin and hanging out in bars-why? Because she likes the taste of bourbon and she likes the cool breeze on her legs? Well, I suspect she is using her sex to find someone to support her and help care for her child. Although we suspend reality to officially believe that yes indeed, she does just like the taste of bourbon.
I find it interesting that hypocritical people are using behavior that violates the stated norms of society mostly for recreational purposes. That somehow is not viewed as the level of threat that a single female on the prowl poses to society.
Then there is the interesting feminist angle. This is a portrait of woman who has taken charge of her life. She is not a victim but rather is an aggressor.  Is this why they hate her? Some would say yes.
We are also looking at her from an empathic position. We don’t see her as a truly predatory woman but instead we see her as the plucky underdog who is standing up to the establishment. A woman who challenges the “old boy” network and stands up for herself.
But is she a strong female who has upset the status quo or is she using her looks and femininity to simply land herself another man to take care of her and her child? Is that feminism? Or is that just a variation on the old con game that brings men and women together into unhappy relationships? Is it feminism that if you are female, have decent looks, nice boobs, and the willingness to dispense special treats, that you can have a shining career as a real estate agent?
Is that why is she in trouble? Is it because she is “sinning,” or because she is a threat to the females in the neighborhood? Or does she just violate the established order, the way things are done. Or did she just look like an easy victim to make an example out of?
Of course if you take the song in context of the whole album it makes a little more sense. The album is full of pretty dark songs.
The song “No Brass Band,” is about a girl and her father that leave town to find their fortune and the father gets involved in a robbery, gets shot, and comes back home in a pine box in a baggage car. Thus, “No Brass Band at the Station.”
“Widow Jones” is a song about a woman who pushed her husband in the river and now seduces young boys.
“Mr. Harper,” is a bizarre song about a man who is spending his time drinking in a ban. The singer is addressing him and he answers in a strange electronic voice like he was talking over the telephone. 
But now the album is finished and I have lost interest and I'm going to be. A music critic I am not...


  1. Hmm...sounds a bit like Winesburg, Ohio!

    1. Yeah,people are pretty much the same everywhere! Oh the local stories I could tell. Of course people just live their lives and sometimes it is a public train wreck and sometimes they just keep plodding along. Not sure you can really make sense out of it all.

  2. Actually, this is not a new technique. Here is what Adam had to say in the garden,

    Genesis 3:12 KJV) "And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."

    Blaming others for our sins is SOP.

    Grace and peace.

  3. Number 6 on google for Harper Valley PTA.
    Hope your views increase.
    Thanks for the video.

  4. I think we can see why "Mr. Harper" wasn't released as a single! Thanks for adding the clip, though. Pretty wierd song for a country album in '68!

    1. It's so bad its almost good! I listened to it about 5 times just so I could figure out what the guitar was "saying" at the end.

      "Hey Kelly, bring me a beer"?

    2. It is kind of an amazing song. What were they smokin? Ms. Riley is singing out of the left speaker and Mr. Harper's voice comes from right and center but further back. So it actually does sound like he is hunched over the bar in the background.
      Some of other songs are really disturbing.
      There are some pretty bizarre country songs. Leon Payne's "Psycho," see this link

      Well Eddie Novak is kind of bizarre on his own. Some of the Johnny Cash stuff like the 25 Minutes to go. I just heard John Doe and the Sadies cover, The Cold Hard Facts of Life, which is another crazy one.

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  6. I guess I can only add to a comment by deleting it?
    I'm sure my father was suitably shocked when he found out my first single 45 purchase was J. Cash I walk The Line, and even more so when I came home with the 5 string banjo and asked to borrow money to pay for it.
    Boy, you sure can read a lot from what is basically a pretty bad song. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar as they say. (with the exception of a certain president) I'm thinking you've found your new profession. You are pretty good at this. Your logic holds up very well! With the exception of your taste in music though, my father would probably have approved.
    It's a pity that stuff like Harper Valley PTA, Conway Twitty's Tight Fittin Jeans, Mel McDaniel's Baby's Got Her BlueJeans On, and Kiss my country ass by Rhett Akins get all the air time and a really good song and one of my favorites such as "I'm A Man Of Constant Sorrow" has to be searched for to be heard.

  7. Very interesting analysis and deep thinking. I got kind of side tracked thinking about the Absurdism theory though. I've long ago given up searching for the meaning of the universe.


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