Tears In My Eyes, Dirt In My Face

louvin1You’ve already put big ol’ tears in my eyes, must you throw dirt in my face?” begins Ira and Charlie Louvin.  The record kicks off with a shimmering electric chord rather than Ira’s trademark mandolin tremolo. He had virtually given up his mandolin in 1958 to spite producer Ken Nelson. Nelson had said during the ’58 recording sessions for My Baby’s Gone that he believed the mandolin was hurting sales in the wake of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. Ira never took another mandolin break on record after that: “let the piano or steel do it, I don’t want to hurt our sales.” It was 1962 and their best years were behind them. You wouldn’t know it to hear this one, though. Their harmonies were high and tight and Nelson’s production was crisp and snaps. The song would be Ira and Charlie’s last charting single as a duo, and it limped up to 21 on the billboard charts and slipped quietly away six weeks later.

Bill Anderson wrote it for the brothers, but in a testament to the melody and lyrics for years I assumed it was one of Ira’s songs. It just sounds like one, feels like one. Whisperin’ Bill wrote some of the great country songs: Po’ Folks, Once A Day, I’ve Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand, City Lights, Face To The Wall. They’ve been covered again and again, but this one has hardly been touched. The Crowe Brothers bluegrass duo did it, Waylon did it, and Roy Clark charted it in 1978. Harley Allen, son of bluegrass legend, Red Allen, covered it, and Elvis Costello did it on one of his fits of covering country classics. Merle Haggard and Carl Jackson also sing it, but on a Louvin Brothers tribute album, so that hardly counts and well, that’s pretty much it.

It’s a great tune with a great melody and especially lends itself to bluegrass, so why haven’t there been more covers? It’s Ira and Charlie. No one can do it better. Charlie plays the straight man, sings the lead and Ira the heartbreaking harmony. It’s such a sad sack song when you really listen to it. Not only has the singer’s lover who spurned him shown back up, but she’s done so to boast of her new love’s warm embrace. Seriously, she shows him a pictures of the new guy and tells the singer how lonely he looks without her. This is completely over the top, and I can’t help but think of the poor guy lying dead of a broken heart, in a fresh grave, while she stands with shovel in hand and her new beau close by in case she needs a hand.

The song is familiar territory for all involved. It’s cynical and anguished, with the harmonies echoing the cry of a man who can’t take it anymore. It’s a world Ira lived in, anger boiling under the surface in the guise of a lonelyheart. It’s a world Anderson lived in equally with songs like Once A Day, where the singer is down to hurting over lost love only once a day, every day, all day long or I’ve Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand, which is essentially the same song: old love visits to make sure the singer knows how happy she is without him.

The brother’s sang to each other as much as to us, and here at the end of their time together there’s a bit of personal truth here too. Their relationship was fracturing; soon they would split for less successful solo careers and then, all too soon, Ira would be dead. A drunk driver. A head-on collision.

I’ve met Charlie, talked to him, shook his hand, looked into his eyes. I don’t think his tears have ever dried.

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About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Bluegrass, Country, Honky Tonk. Bookmark the permalink.

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