I really did not intend to wake up this morning and write an essay comparing Dolly Parton’s “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” to Whiskey Myers’ “Broken Window Serenade,” but here we are.
I could pretty much tie any Whiskey Myers song to anything at the moment, as I’ve been in full-on album release preparation lately for next week when they drop Tornillo, so bare with me here.
I’ve always loved Dolly’s aforementioned song, probably in part because I’m from a similar part of the country as her, and I think any girl like us (I know, it’s a sin to compare myself to Dolly) has probably fantasized the idea of a simple life in the mountains with a blue collar guy who’s genuinely kind and works hard…
Although, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure they really even exist, but that’s a story for another post. I digress…
It hit me earlier as I listened to the song that Dolly’s “Blue Ridge” is basically a similar story to “Broken Window Serenade,” if that song was told from the female perspective.
Though it’s unclear if the girl in Dolly’s song ultimately dies from a drug addiction like in “Broken Window,” the overall sentiment is very similar as she leaves her small hometown in the country to try to make something of herself, ultimately failing because as Cody Cannon sings in his heartbreaking track,
“You cant catch no breaks, baby, and Hollywood is hard…”
The girl in Dolly’s song finds herself in New Orleans trying to get by as a prostitute as opposed to going back home and becoming a stripper, but she can’t help but think about the guy she left back home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of east Tennessee often, wishing that somehow they could’ve worked out and built a life together.
“My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” was the title track to Dolly’s 1969 fourth solo studio album, and was a solo write by the Queen of Country as she detailed the inspiration behind it in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics:
“‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy’ is about a girl whose dream was to get out of the country. She didn’t leave to become a prostitute, but that’s what she wound up doing in order to make a living.
She thinks she’s going to go out and do so much better with her life, but it doesn’t work out. She keeps missing the boy she left behind and it is too late to go back home.”
Some of the lyrics in the two songs almost go hand-in-hand, as Dolly writes that the girl never imagined she’d wind up being a prostitute to get by, but life is cruel and she ultimately felt that she had no other options:
“New Orleans held things in store Things I’d never bargained for And every night a different man knocks on my door But late at night when all is still I can hear a whiporwill, as I cry, for my Blue Ridge mountain boy”
In Cody’s solo write from the band’s 2011 masterpiece Firewater record, he notes that the girl moved back home to become a stripper because she ran out of options after a career in show business didn’t work out, either:
“Now you work down at the Time Out Off 155 And you’re dancing for your dollar Just tryin’ to stay alive It hurts me so I thought you should know”
Though the subject matter of both songs is very heavy, Dolly acknowledged the fact that, back in the late-60’s, she really came out swinging with such a searing and sad song about broken dreams and failure:
“This was during my early years in show business, and my goodness, I was writing about a girl becoming a prostitute.
But I never shied away from any topic, whether it was suicide or prostitution or women’s rights or whatever. I was always like that and still am. Whatever it is, I can say it in a song, in my own way.”
And that’s why this song has stood the the of time even decades later, because it’s so real and honest.
Though we’ve all had failures and broken dreams and haven’t all become a prostitute or stripper as a result, I think the deeper sentiment of how crushing the human experience can be that both songs illustrate so masterfully is universal.
And I’ll try to end it on a bit of a lighter note, as Dolly also mentioned in the book that her husband Carl Dean, who has intentionally stayed totally out of the spotlight through their 56 years of marriage, appears on the cover art for the Blue Ridge Mountain Boy album:
“A lot of people don’t realize that I put my husband on the cover of hte album. They say, ‘We’ve never seen your husband.’ I say, ‘Well, yes you have, if you’ve looked at the album ‘My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy.'”
While you’re here, make sure you check out this rare footage from That Nashville Sound documentary of a young Dolly singing the title track live at the Grand Ole Opry in 1969:
And how about having your heart ripped out on a regular old Tuesday afternoon courtesy of this stunning acoustic performance by Whiskey Myers frontman Cody Cannon?