Donovan’s “Lalena”: A unofficial slideshow about prostitutes

Donovan’s “Lalena”: A unofficial slideshow about prostitutes

[Cross-posted on my Donovan–Slideshows by passage2trth page] Donovan’s “Lalena” was a song I always admired without ever really thinking about it very much.  Certainly, the song’s most striking feature was Donovan’s rather lovely vibrato and its melancholy mood, a mood I realize I have always found attractive.  While of course I knew that it was about a girl with an unusual name who seemed rather sad, I never really thought about the implications of the lyrics until quite recently, when I was looking for a followup to “Universal Soldier.” Once I did pause to think about who the lyrics were describing, it seemed rather obvious she was a prostitute, getting up “when the sun goes to bed,” one whose “lot in life” makes the song’s narrator sad even as he refuses to blame her for her situation, presumably because it is beyond her control. While by no means the only song ever written about what is frequently characterized as the world’s oldest profession (cf. “Love for Sale, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Roxanne,” among many others), it is sort of surprising that “Lalena” was an AM hit in the sixties reaching number #33 on the Hot 100 in Billboard.  Of course, so was The Animals version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” In fact, Donovan was apparently inspired to write the song by Lotte Lenya‘s character of Jenny (a streetwalker) in the 1931 film version of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weil’s The Threepenny Opera. Donovan seems to have added an extra syllable to her surname in order to make the haunting chorus work musically, while the “lot in life” line is quite probably a gentle play the actress’s first name.

Having decided to make the slideshow into a mini-history of prostitution, and wanting to be true to the song in both being not too graphic and rather melancholy, I chose to use Final Cut Pro (only the second time I’ve done so, and I’m still learning how) to do a series of overlays, often drawn from impressionist, post-impressionist, and modernist art (with a few photographs) in order to convey the song’s–and the woman’s–sadness at her situation. It may be a bit too busy, but I think it generally works in the way it gets across a deep underlying melancholy that is central to the song’s appeal. The audio, by the way is not the single version, but a version Donovan performed for Italian public television in 1968.

Tecumseh Valley: A Slideshow about a Woman who called herself Caroline

Tecumseh Valley: A Slideshow about a Woman who called herself Caroline

Cross-posted (in slightly different form) at The Daily Kos and the Facebook group, “Townes Van Zandt–Best Songwriter Ever.”

I got so much positive response, to my “Pancho and Lefty” slideshow that I though I would put up this one, which I finished last week. This is another sequence of images inspired and accompanied by a Townes Van Zandt song, “Tecumseh Valley,” which–by the way–is a real place in Oklahoma (as is Spencer, also mentioned in the song). It’s kind of an alt-country narrative ballad, a little ragged around the edges, and I think I chose this live version of the song because of that very raggedness.  I was immediately drawn to it when I first heard the studio version on Townes’ Drama Falls Like Teardrops compilation. There is a beautiful music that Townes’ finds in the name (“Te-cum-seh”), and the simple poetry of the seasons, the dignity of labor, and in human passion that just sort of stunned me (a fairly normal reaction for me listening to his songs). It seems to mean even more to me now than when I first heard it, in that I realize that it is a song about someone we would essentially look at as a “disposable” person (and we’d call her much worse than that), beneath our notice except as someone to use and discard like a crumpled paper cup. The song (also recorded by Nanci Griffith and Steve Earle, among others) gives expression, dignity, and beauty to her hopes, harsh circumstances, struggles, and desires in a way that that I feel is too rarely seen, although doubtless some people will disagree. I hope you like the song at least, whatever you think of the slideshow I compiled (I basically set it in the depression and the dust bowl, although some of the photos are much more modern).