Patsy Cline: The Serial Monogamist Who Changed The Face Of Country Music
In 1988 I wrote a novel called “The Positive Touch” and one of the main characters was obsessed with Patsy. The character wasn’t based upon myself (he was based upon one of my best friends at the time) but the obsession with Patsy Cline was all mine.
I mention this to prove my bona fides when it comes to the countrypolitan game changing superstar, who died in a plane crash in 1963 at the age of 30, since I am not writing about her music, or her career, I am writing about her presentation of female sexuality in the 1950s. Real sexuality, not the baby let’s play house of even Presley (who had the singing group, the Jordanaires, in common with Cline). Presley was a teen icon and who played a certain form of puppy fuck, but of an adult romance, with just about everything that implies. Cline was the real deal. She presented herself in song after song, as a serial monogamist (and occasional polygamist): with the exception of spirituals (her “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” stuff) , romance, even when performing Western story songs like “South Of The Border (Down Mexico Way)” was where it was at.
Even at Presley’s most brutally sexual in the 1950s, say “Baby, Let’s Play House,” that “I wanna play houski,” he didn’t sing “to be true to one another doesn’t matter anymore, they say you are out of style unless you’ve had three or four” Cline was a sexual diplomat as romantic. That last quote was from “I’ve Loved And Lost Again”. On “Tra Le La Le La Triangle,” she sang “I saw you at the movie show just the other day, but I was with my other love so I turned the other way”. There is a joyous clip to that one, but on “Why Can’t He Be You” she is sexually damage, it is the realm of absolute devastation and vocally Patsy does something very cool, she takes in her breath after she has sung a line instead of before: “I should love him so because he loves me I know, but his kisses leave me cold”.
The presentation of sexuality in the 1950s was fraught with metaphor, trains whistling into tunnels, waves rolling onto the beach… hell, Lucy and Ricky as a married couple HAD SEPARATE BEDS. Forget same sex, it didn’t exist even with Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” it was all open to interpretation. Which is why Patsy’s mix of the suburban with the urbane was all the more shocking. Listen to “He Called Me Baby”: “He called me baby, baby all night long, used to hold and kiss me till the dawn, then one day I awoke and he was gone: there’s no more baby, baby all night long”. Intercourse lead to a ghosting.
While obviously nothing the Stones were singing about in 1967 was not happening in 1957 but the veneer of middle class morality kept it shrink wrapped, Patsy opened it to the light a little, because her voice was so tender and yet tough, when she was being the predator her hush became pure desire. In her more constant performance, the woman who loved and lost, her voice was pure feeling, “if it’s easy to say that it’s better this way, darling you’re stronger than me”. She claims her weakness, with the most obvious antecedent not Kitty Wells but Hank Williams, her “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You” is biting at Williams heels, she doesn’t get the “she looks so satisfied” (a glorious line by the way, the sexual satisfaction glares at Hank’s impotence) but she doesn’t twang or yodel it and she opens it from country to pop.
Owen Bradley and Patsy Cline set the template for modern country of course, but less clearly, also modern romance: Patsy might not have been embracing promiscuity (on a personal level, her first marriage ended in divorce because she put her career first, her second marriage stuck and she had two children, she was still married at the time of her death) but she was copping to it and much the way homosexual love always ended in death, promiscuity always ended in heartbreak. But they were the building blocks from which Loretta Lynn built “The Pill” five years later, and also, the way in which Patsy was never Loretta’s “One On The Way”. There was nothing really hillbilly about Patsy (she was from Winchester, Virginia, not a Cotton State, and they conditionally supported the Union in the civil war), she was all bouffant hairdo and capris, and orchestration and Carnegie Hall: she brought country out of the backwaters and into the charts and her attitude was always very modern. The roots of the sexual revolution can be found here as it pertains to music, it was more cosmopolitan than jazz in theme (not in music, of course) and set the stage for the portion of pop not taken by rock and jazz -it was up to date, and if Patsy seemed to be hurt by promiscuity, she had the voice to portray it well. It gave the conservative country world both sides of the coin, both god and marriage and singledom and sex, one brought happiness, the other not so much, and so it could be sung about. The future was very close but it was not a future Cline would be a part in in person, in spirit she haunts country music as certainly as Hank Williams, and she changed the face of country as completely as Elvis Presley changed the face of country and blues and both Elvis and Patsy lead to the sexual revolution. .