Sunday, July 16, 2006

before Shania Twain

There was Bobbie Gentry....and her navel

"You know it don’t seem right..".

The Smothers Bros!? ... out comes Bobbie Gentry in this scandalous lil’ number, great sensual control over her hips and hey–um, wow–she’s really hot. But, wait! The next tune, her glory, "Ode to Billy Joe" evokes the dark and dirty deep South–-suicide, teenage pregnancy and killing the baby. This is one of those songs that most people know the words to (those who lived during the "controversy" of it or at least those of my generation who listened to KOOL 108 when they were 10 years old.) For me, it was one of the very first times lyrics to a song affected me. I knew she was touching on some really dark shit when I heard that ominous guitar lick and her lazy, sexy drawl of a voice slide over the story of "me and Billy Joe." ..."dropped it into the muddy water,"still gives me chills...

This is a song I have had multiple different obsessions with over the years. The way I first started to hear the song over and over again, however, was not on the radio. It was on the Staple of My Nascent Music World: Time Life Classic Rock cassettes. I remember reading a quote from Bobbie Gentry, who I knew nothing else about, in the liner notes. It was something like: "I don’t sing white or colored" I just sing the South, or the truth, or something righteous like that. And the beauty part was, at ten years old, I had no idea if she was white or black. I figured she was probably black. The voice on the recording was so goddamn soulful and "black eyed peas" and "picking cotton"was self-explanatory I thought (not fully realizing, at that age, that there was a whole world of *both* white and black people from the South who were poor).

So, here’s Gentry, in all her glory: smart, literate, musically gifted, sexy, beautiful, white and a woman who wrote and performed her own songs in a world that hadn’t seen anyone like her, really...ever.

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