Patsy Cline-Sweet Dreams: Her Complete Decca Masters(1960-1963)

This was something I had originally purchased for my mom as a birthday present. I had previously had some interest in Patsy Cline, based on the meager 29-minute run length of a greatest hits collection lying around the house, and thought this would be an excellent way for me to jump in head first and see what was so enchanting.

I was expecting songs about drinking, cheating, breakups, etc., and I got all that. What I was not expecting was a typhoon of agony and woe that would make Morrisey himself look up from his trapper-keeper and marvel at the level of emotional self-flagellation that one can pack into two hours of music.

Listening to this two-CD set, one would think that Patsy had never in her life been in a relationship that amounted to anything less than total misery. One doesn't expect good vibes from the Nashville Sound, and certainly not from an artist that kicks off her collection with a single called "I Fall to Pieces", but the heartache here is relentless in a way that defies the surliest of early emo and would make the most ardent Fall-Out Boy fan shuffle uncomfortably and cast their gaze to the floor. Fifty one songs, and Patsy only seems happy in maybe four or five of them, and even then it's a happiness radiating from a ruthless desperation, not one that comes from any center of self-worth or achievement.

Hers is a bleak existence, and Patsy Cline sells it with such pathos as to make you think that her torments were your own. There's no filter here, nothing to separate audience from artist. "She's Got You" has got to be the greatest example of this phenomena. A song about being left with the physical remnants of a long and powerful love now broken to pieces, Patsy puts you in the room with her. She tilts your head to look at that signed portrait, she lets you run your fingers over that record she used to play with her boyfriend, and when she squeezes out "I've got your memory, or has it got me?", what reads like the pithy drivel of a lovelorn schoolgirl feels like a gun barrel in the mouth. Her voice has a similar effect as Matt Berringer's, in that sense: Her rich tone makes it seem like she's putting on a cloak of knowing sophistication in order to stave off an anxiety attack that's only going to hit that much harder once it arrives.

The absolute saddest track on the collection, though, has to be "When You Need a Laugh", a song about how Patsy's love for a man who cannot reciprocate it is so powerful that she will allow him to mock her foolishness in loving him just to see him smile. I have wracked my brain for days and for the life of me cannot think of a more emotionally crippling sentiment I've heard in a song than "At least I'm on your mind when you're laughing".

That is not paraphrasing. That is a lyric from the song.

I cannot think of another music artist who has been so brutalized by love, so debased by the human heart and so abused by their own emotions. There is no hope in the music of Patsy Cline. Not for happiness, certainly not for fulfillment of any kind. It's just forlorn memory after intolerable disgrace after unendurable emotional strife and it doesn't stop, ever. Not for Patsy.

And it stays with you, oh my does it stay with you, but not in the way you would think. All of this suffering and agony is delivered by a voice that, luscious and melancholy as it is, might just as easily be singing about the bounties of true love for all she seems troubled, supported by backup singers who wouldn't be out of place in a Max Fleischer cartoon from the '30s. The music itself doesn't seem to understand what it is, and that makes every song easier to digest, easier to absorb, until you're hearing Patsy's lamentations as Gospel truth. It slips in as banal vocal pop and then unsheathes its talons the minute you let it roost. It's dangerous for the sunny disposition, but right after a breakup or dead in the middle of another lonely night you'll have found your new best friend.

The music of Patsy Cline, for me, draws easier comparison to a band like Alice in Chains or Black Flag than the Johnny Cashes and Willie Nelsons of the world. It's music to crawl under the covers and flip off the world to, songs of loss and rage and frustration and incurable despair. It's theatrical in a way that is not to be mocked(well, for the most part: It's hard to stifle a guffaw during the vaguely ridiculous "Tra Le La Le La Triangle", as though you couldn't tell by the title) and in the way it plumbs the depths of the broken, beaten parts of the human spirit, raises them out of the body and in their absurd extremity makes them devastatingly understandable. This is music that you will relate to immediately, much to your own dismay. Anything less wouldn't be strong enough to break through.



  1. very well written piece you have here CJ. I'll have to get my mitts on this. I feel the same way about Billie Holiday, though she's obvious about being bummed out as opposed to faking that smile.

  2. Thanks! I was honestly surprised by how much I had to say about it.