Saturday, October 1, 2011

But I Won't

I heard this song on one of the community radio station's Saturday "roots music" programs today. I'm surprised I hadn't heard it before; it goes back a ways.

I don't think I've ever heard anything like this before. It's all the more surprising because it was also recorded by Iris DeMent, who's recorded whole albums of gospel songs, and this isn't typical gospel either. Compare it to this song, which has much less bite; or to Lyle Lovett's "God Will But I Won't." (Looking over Youtube's related videos, I can see that this theme has been done before; just not as well.)

Not just "God may forgive you, but I won't" but "Yes, Jesus loves you, but I don't / They don't have to live with you, neither do I." What makes it stronger is that the woman is addressing a husband who claims to be born again -- maybe even a preacher? -- but has neglected her and his children while pursuing other women. Country music has always relied on the suffering woman who endures piously, and I think this song goes way beyond the few famous women-talking-back songs I've heard. It's also better than most songs that satirize fundamentalist hypocrisy (such as "Jesus Loves Me But He Can't Stand You").  Much as I enjoy them, they're too easy. This one is as hard, as bitter, as life itself.