Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition -- "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" (1969)

She's leaving now 'cause I just heard 
The slamming of the door
The way I know I heard it slam 
One hundred times before

The last 2 or 3 lines told the sad tale of the famous 12th-century French lovers, Abélard and Héloïse.

I learned about the unhappy couple from Marilyn Yalom's scholarly history of amour, which is titled How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance.

After telling the story of Abélard and Héloïse, Marilyn Yalom spins a more contemporary tale of French romance, which also didn't end well but at least didn't involve any males getting neutered:

My French friend Marianne married Pierre in 1977, soon after a divorce . . . . She was 29 at the time, and Pierre was 49.  Pierre's sister, Jeanne, warned him that with such an age difference, he was likely to become a cuckold.  Pierre responded that if that time were to come, he would survey the field of available men and choose a lover for his wife.  

Big talker, this Pierre guy.

Marianne's favorite American wine?
Pierre should have listened to his sister.  But he was a 49-year-old guy who was about get some 29-year-old buns, and the little head was telling the big head what to do.  So he married her despite Jeanne's warning, and you can guess what happened next.

Marianne did not wait for Pierre to find her a lover.  Some 15 years into their marriage, she fell in love with Stéphane, a Frenchman of her own age.  Stéphane and Marianne did their best to keep their affair secret, but she was seen once too often exiting his apartment, and word got back to Pierre, who was at first incredulous and then enraged.  

Jules et Jim
Pierre must have been tempted to find some henchmen to do an Abélard on Stéphane, but that sort of thing is frowned upon in these more civilized times.  Instead, he confronted his wife, demanding that she choose between him and her lover.  

According to Yalom, Marianne was "deeply attached to Pierre . . . but madly in love with Stéphane," and didn't want to give either one up.  So Marianne pleaded with her sister-in-law to help her negotiate a deal with her husband.  Eventually, they worked out an arrangement:

[Marianne] would stay in the marriage until death, if she were allowed to be out of the house with no questions asked, from four to seven o'clock, every day except Sunday. . . . Pierre swallowed his pride and accepted her terms.  They stayed married for another 12 years, until Pierre became terminally ill, whereupon Marianne nursed him faithfully until he died.  She grieved him sincerely and then moved in with Stéphane.

I'm guessing she "grieved him sincerely" for just as long as it took for her to drive to chez Stéphane and get out of her knickers.

Let's review the bidding here.  Pierre was 49 and Marianne 29 when they were wed.  That means he was 64 and she was 44 when she started bumping uglies with Stéphane.  So Pierre was 76 when he kicked the bucket, allowing the 56-year-old Marianne to play hide the salami morning, noon, and night if she wished (assuming Stéphane was able).

I can't believe that Pierre lasted 12 years knowing what was going on between quatre heures et sept heures every day of the week (except Sunday).  I'm surprised he didn't either have a fatal stroke or take out Marianne within a year or two.  

I love the "except Sunday" detail.  Maybe Marianne was religious enough to fear getting struck by lightning if she committed blatant adultery on Sundays as well as every other day of the week.  Or maybe her kit-and-kaboodle just needed a break from its daily labors.  ("And on the seventh day, Marianne rested," etc.)  

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The author concludes her account of Pierre, Marianne, and Stéphane with these words:

It is, I believe, a quintessentially French story.  Since I knew all the parties involved, I can say that they carried it off with great dignity. . . . Although most of the people in their circle knew that Marianne and Stéphane were lovers, no one mentioned it.  Everyone kept up appearances following the etiquette of their upper-bourgeois social class.

The story is certainly "quintessentially French," if by "quintessentially French" you mean "quintessentially disgusting" or "quintessentially sleazy" or "quintessentially dishonest."

Reality Bites
But it appears that it's perfectly OK to be disgusting and sleazy and dishonest in France if you do so "with great dignity" and follow proper bourgeois etiquette.

When I read this story, I immediately thought of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's 1969 hit, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town."

Of course, Ruby was no upper-bourgeois -- she sounds more like good old American trailer trash.  I doubt that our French friend, Marianne, "painted up" her lips and "rolled and curled" her dyed hair before heading over to her little love nest -- she wouldn't have wanted to look like a little slut (although she certainly behaved like one).

I also get the feeling that Ruby didn't have a steady beau like Stéphane.  The song leaves the impression that Ruby heads off to town each night ready to take pot luck when it comes to male companionship.

Star Wars
The song ends with the singer (a paralyzed Vietnam vet) expressing the sentiment that he would like to  could get out of his wheelchair, walk over to where his gun is, and fill little ol' Ruby with lead.  

As we learned from the Pierre-Marianne-Stéphane story, that's not a very French solution to the problem of adultery.  Emptying the contents of a high-capacity magazine into your cheating Mrs. is hardly an example of carrying anything off "with great dignity," is it?  It clearly violates upper-bourgeois etiquette.  And it is completely lacking in je ne sais quoi.  

In other words, it is pas du tout French.   

"Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" was written by country singer Mel Tillis.  Tillis, who stuttered when he spoke but not when he sang, had started out writing hit songs for other country-western singers but eventually became a star recording artist in his own right.  Tillis had a winning personality, and was a popular guest on the television talk-show circuit, as well as appearing in a number of movies.  

"Ruby" was originally a top ten country hit for Johnny Darnell in 1967.  It has been covered by a wide variety of performers, including not only country singers (Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Bobby  Bare and the Statler Brothers, just to name a few) but also Cake, the Killers, Greek songstress Nana Mouskori (who recorded it in French), Walter Brennan (who talked it more than sang it), and  -- last and probably least -- Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, who recorded five albums between 1967 and 1970.  (If you bought one, I'm sure you're still regretting your decision.)

Here's Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's version of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. This is one of several songs that are linked to my days with the Santa Fe Ry., working in the San Bernardino Radio Shop in 1969-70. I worked the 2nd trick (night shift) and had the shop to myself. Among the other songs are "Honky Tonk Women", "Some Day We'll Be Together Again", and "Different Drum" (my first encounter with the music of Linda Ronstadt). And the item about Leonard Nimoy--you can probably guess that nearly all of the airplay his records got were on the Dr. Demento Show.