Blind Willie McTell uses cringe-worthy gallows humor to poke fun at marriage

By Stephen Pate – Part 2 of Married Man’s A Fool – When Blind Willie McTell recorded “Married Man’s a Fool” in September 1956, on the album Last Session, he was giving marriage fidelity a preposterous send-up.

Blind Willie McTell circa 1956

Blind Willie McTell circa 1956

The deacon of the church in “Married Man’s A Fool” delivers a perverted, cringe-worthy sermon based on the Good Book, chapter and verse.

Blues singer Blind Willie McTell sets up his tableaux in an absurdist church with the Devil’s deacon ridiculing the male fear of being a cuckold.

The scene is set slyly, with the singers friendly deacon in charge of the sermon,

Had a friend, Louie Brown, he was a deacon, Just as wise as he could be.

The next line hints that the deacon is not a man of God, like St Paul warned at 2 Corinthians 11:14 “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”

Now I realize he could read the Good Book, Back from Revelations down to Genessee.

“From Revelations down to Genesee” is a warning the deacon is well versed in the Bible but gets the message backwards.

The irony of a deacon using the Bible – the Good Book – to preach badness is just the blues man’s privilege.  Dylan used a form of this blues joke in “Highway 61 Revisited”, with the hip blasphemous line “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’/Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’.

The connotation of the word “blues” is melancholia, the “personal woes in a world of harsh reality: a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, [and] hard timesEwen, David (1957). Panorama Of American Popular Music.

The Blues singer, however, transcends the pathos of his/her life with humor, ironic and raunchy. The blues singer has a twinkle in their eye and double meanings in their words. It’s a compensation mechanism to deal with life, and singing the blues is a release.

Those for whom ‘‘blues’’ signifies a mood of ‘‘sadness’’ and ‘‘gloom’’ may be surprised to know that a large proportion of blues songs are humorous.” wrote Edward Komara in Encyclopedia of the Blues.

“Blues over the years has rendered humorous such themes as infidelity, poverty, and jail by the same means found in comic literature the world over.” (page 476)

Back in church, the scene is nothing more harmless than a normal Sunday morning when a sinner wants to “take a stand” for Jesus no doubt.

You know last Sunday morning we was over to the church,
My buddy wants to take him a stand,

Dylan used a similar setting for the “Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest. ”

Well, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, They were the best of friends
So when Frankie Lee needed money one day Judas quickly pulled out a roll of tens

Frankie Lee is the rube led astray innocently by his friend with the dubious name of “Judas” and “priest”.  Judas was of course the false apostle who betrayed Jesus and a “Judas Priest” is a profane expletive. Frankie Lee needed money and the blues singer’s friend needs salvation.

The deacon “casts his eye about“, scanning the congregation with his steady eye before giving the choir in the “Amen Corner” the signal to up the intensity.

And he looks out upon that whole congregation
The Good Book in his hand.
Now he cast his eye about, and then he looks over in the Amen Corner;  All the sisters commenced to shout. [What’d he say ?]

Blind Willie McTell is mocking the standard tableaux in a gospel church, the same one set up by the “our beloved brother” Reverend Cleophus James AKA James Brown in The Blues Brothers  movie, “Do You See The Light”.

Reverend Cleophus James Preaching to the Amen Corner in the Blues Brothers

Reverend Cleophus James Preaching to the Amen Corner in the Blues Brothers

Then the deacon begins his unholy sermon with the odious line,

He said a man’s a fool to think that his wife love nobody else but him.
She stick by you all your life, the chances is mighty slim.”

The deacon has the church in rapt attention as he delivers what to the women would be deliverance and to the men a curse, from Chapter Twenty-One to Twenty-Eight. Husbands can no longer just lord it over their women because the women are in control.

Now you read the Good Book, chapter twenty-one:  Every married woman got to have a little fun.
Read on over chapter twenty-two:  It’s a sin to let that woman make a fool outta you.

If Dylan believed “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell” he no doubt also recognized Blind Willie McTell knew the blues from being abandoned by your wife for another man.

The sermon goes on with hilarious, black humor.

“Now you read a little further, chapter twenty-three: She two-time you, brother, like she double-crossed me.”

“Read kinda careful, chapter twenty-six: Back door slamming, you got to run and get it fixed. Cause a married man’s a fool to think that his wife will love no body else but him.”

Read on back, over chapter ten: She shimmy one time, she like to wobble again.
Now you read on over twenty-fifth page: Married woman’s loyalty is hard to engage.
Read on out, chapter twenty-eight: Who’s that back slidin’ out through your back gate?
I believe I’ll close on chapter twenty-nine: Woman get tired of the same man all the time.

‘Cause a man’s a fool to think that his wife love nobody else but him.

And that is why no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.

Words and music copyright Blind Willie McTell. Featured image and video from The Blues Brothers, copyright Universal Pictures. Follow me on Twitter at @sdpate or on Facebook at NJN Network, OyeTimes and IMA News Buzz.