Sat Oct 26
Laurelthirst Public House
For six years now, every October, Portland has been treated to a spookariffic evening of diabolical music about death and killing. Organized by Jen Bernard, the Night of the Murder Ballads throws together some of P-town's finest--Nicole Campbell, Lara Michell, James Low, Marilee Hord, McKinley, to name a few--to perform the finest in homicidal songcraft. In anticipation of this year's celebration of slaughter, I interrogated Bernard to get to the center of her murderous mind.
State your name for the record:
Navin Johnson, no, wait! Jen Bernard.
What's a murder ballad?
Well, a ballad is any song that tells a story, and a murder is when someone kills someone else. Put the two together and you get a song wherein a usually premeditated killing is the central motif. Last year, Little Sue sang "Thriller" and just fucking brought down the house.
What's your favorite murder story, in song or otherwise?
There's this old song called "Polly Vaughn." A young man goes hunting by the lake and spies a white swan. Overtaken by his zealous need to dominate nature, he shoots the beautiful swan from afar, later to find out that it was his own true love dressed in white, doing the wash. That story is a public service announcement for the orange vest.
Experts say female serial killers are way more successful than males. Any theories?
Maybe because the violence men wield throughout the world on a daily basis is so blatant and overt that women's darker tendencies are simply eclipsed. We're like the vicious cats that prowl around behind the scenes hunting while the big rottweilers are out front creating a raucous distraction.
Do women get their proper due in murder ballads?
Seems to me they do I can name ten songs off the top of my head in which the woman just croaks from grief when her man gets killed, or else takes the dagger to her own chest. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Have you ever considered writing your own song of death?
Sure. I love writing within a "form." I hereby make you a solemn promise that, by next year, I will have produced the ultimate grisly Murder Ballad.