Deep in the Country, Not Far from the Groves of Academe

There are many delights to be found in Edmund Crispin’s mystery novel The Moving Toyshop. Following poet Richard Cadogan and Oxford don Gervase Fen as they stumble from one perilous situation to another is almost as much fun as noting the allusions and persiflage along the way. In chapter 4 a yellow flag temporarily got me off the track when Fen inquires of a lady’s man named Hoskins what made women practically fall in his lap. Hoskins boldly replies, “It’s really very simple. I quieten their fears and give them sweet things to eat.”

Those words were truly music to my ears because right then in my head I heard a twangy guitar and the voice of Porter Wagoner clearly singing “Tell her lies and feed her candy.”

I put the book down temporarily and asked myself (and the spirit of Ambrose Bierce), “Can such things be?” Could it be that the roots of country music were to be found in literature? Were songwriters and singers with their hearts rooted in bluegrass consciously or subconsciously drawing inspiration for their lyrics from novels, poems, and plays they had read before they made it to Nashville?

Just as Cadogan and Fen could not be diverted from their quest to discover the identity of the murderer, so I was determined to follow the trail of country hits back to their origins. Unlike mysteries that start with the crime and save the solution for the final chapter, I begin at the end.

I have determined that it was T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” that served as the source of “The End of the World,” the 1963 hit recorded by Skeeter Davis. Notice how the song ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Bill Anderson is widely known as “Whispering” Bill. Surely the listener favorite “Still” came about after reading Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.

Anderson the songwriter should get credit for giving Jean Shepard a career boost with “Slippin’ Away,” but so should Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Clearly the reason Patsy Cline admitted “I Fall to Pieces” was her reaction to finishing Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin obviously prompted the release of the Marty Robbins chart topper “The Story of My Life.”

Jeannie C. Riley took out her wrath on “The Harper Valley P.T.A.” after attending Sheridan’s School for Scandal.

“You Decorated My Life” was the sentiment Kenny Rogers expressed after seeing what E.M. Forster did with A Room with a View.

Floyd Cramer had been bouncing through A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court before he reached out to grab “On the Rebound.”

Walter Brennan hitched up with Robert Louis Stevenson for some Travels with a Donkey before plowing ahead with “Old Rivers.”

The twist Don Williams put on A.E. Housman’s “When I Was One-and-Twenty” emerged melodically as “Back in My Younger Days.”

Stonewall Jackson battled through 734 pages of Tolstoy’s War and Peace before he met his “Waterloo.”

Hank Locklin, who called out “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” found a way out of his predicament by getting a firm grip on The Magic Mountain.

Before tasting “White Lightning,” George Jones must have sampled Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed.”

After making the rounds with Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, Earl Thomas Conley doubled down with “Your Love’s on the Line” and “Chance of Loving You.”

Before using his fingers to pluck out the strains of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Hank Williams could easily have dipped them into the pages of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

It probably only took songwriter John Schweers one evening immersed in The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe to start Ronnie Milsap having “Daydreams about Night Things.”

After looking through The Enormous Room E.E. Cummings created, Jim Reeves became fixated with his own “Four Walls.”

Johnny Cash stood right in the “Ring of Fire” after being convinced The Lady’s Not for Burning.

D.H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent taught Tom T. Hall to regard any such creature as a “Sneaky Snake.”

After discovering that only Ismael survived the fateful voyage of the Pequod in Moby Dick, Don Gibson’s convictions about nautical life emerged in “Sea of Heartbreak.”

Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent led Merle Haggard to speculate what might happen “If We Make It Through December.”

In 1957 Ferlin Husky realized that Samuel Butler knew the score, five decades after the Butler had “Gone” The Way of All Flesh.

It was the comforting words found in Robert Frost’s ”The Death of the Hired Man,” assuring him that he would have to be taken in at the place he called home, that kept Dave Dudley going throughout his “Six Days on the Road.”

To the naysayers who I sense are surrounding me, I close by echoing Hank Snow’s words after finishing Joyce Cary’s To Be a Pilgrim: “I’m moving on.”

 

    

    

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