‘You Put Me Here . . .’

Sometimes I come across stuff lurking in the lower levels of Billboard charts from over the years that startles me to the point where I have to ponder how to react. That’s the case this morning with the record “Kate” by Johnny Cash, which peaked at No. 75 on the pop chart this week in 1972; it went to No. 2 on the country chart.

Well, I saw you with another. It made me lose my mind.
Shot you with my .38, and now I’m doin’ time.
And you put me here. You put me here.
Well, there’s no way to doubt it. There ain’t no two ways about it.
As sure as your name’s Kate, you put me here.

I’ve been tryin’ to tell ’em that I didn’t do no wrong,
Only gave you what you been deservin’ all along.
And you put me here. You put me here.
There ain’t no use denyin’ you done it with your lyin’.
As sure as your name’s Kate, you put me here.

Well, the jury found me guilty. They wouldn’t hear my plea.
I listened as that judge said, “Murder in the first degree.”
And you put me here. You put me here.
Well there ain’t no need to doubt it. There ain’t no two ways about it.
As sure as your name’s Kate, you put me here.

Now the warden and the preacher, they’re lettin’ me go slow.
It won’t be long until I’m gone, just thirteen steps to go.
And you put me here. You put me here.
There’s just one way to figure: Your cheatin’ pulled the trigger.
As sure as your name’s Kate, you put me here.

Well there ain’t no need to doubt it. There ain’t no two ways about it:
As sure as your name’s Kate, you put me here.

Kate, you just plain bad, you know that . . .

These days, we call that blaming the victim. Now, it could be that the tale told in “Kate” was just offered tongue-in-cheek by both Cash and writer Marty Robbins. I don’t think so, but even if it were so, it wasn’t funny in 1972, and it’s not funny now. It’s just disturbing.

Why?

Because the kind of casual misogyny offered in “Kate” still exists in American culture. To verify that, we need look no further than the tales told on Twitter in recent weeks with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Those tales – harrowing in small portions and deeply depressing en masse – were shared in response both to the mass shooting in California June 1 by a young man bent on taking revenge on women because he couldn’t get a date and to the hashtag #NotAllMen, started by men to point out that there are good guys out there, too.

I think it’s unlikely that mainstream culture would give any time or attention or any kind of winking approval to the record “Kate” these days. I doubt whether “Kate” would get more than twenty seconds of attention from anyone programming a country station today. Nevertheless, I think it’s pretty likely that songs like Robbins’ are still written, recorded and heard with pleased nods and grins in one or two or more of the various social and/or ethnic subcultures present in American society. Why do I think that? Because someone – a lot of someones online, from what I’ve read – validated the California shooter’s disdain for women, and that disdain, combined with easy access to guns and the lack of effective treatment for his mental illness, made him deadly.

There’s a whole stew of American problems in that last sentence, and our society seems to have no answers yet to any of them. And maybe I’m straining as I see a connection between a 1972 single by Johnny Cash and our culture’s disturbing fringes. As I noted above, “Kate” would likely come nowhere near country radio today, much less go to No. 2 on the country chart, and that is progress. But considering the frequency with which men who feel spurned and/or marginalized take up their guns for vengeance, and considering as well the tales told at #YesAllWomen, I’m guessing that those disturbing fringes are longer than we’d like to think. And that’s a scary thought.

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One Response to “‘You Put Me Here . . .’”

  1. Tim McMullen says:

    Excellent analysis of both the reprehensible song and its justification for violence toward women and the broader aspects of this issue. It is, of course, not merely a national disgrace but an international problem. Here is a piece that I wrote in ’83, touching on the perpetuation of misogynistic attitudes in literature, if not directly on the violence, although the “death” or “loss” of the women was a high point in several pieces:

    Irving’s Herstory

    History, we are told, is a record of the past. In grade school we learn of the fine figures and the great events which made and shaped our world. Unfortunately for the eager, young minds, minds pure and free of skepticism and cynicism, history is taught as truth. Seldom, if ever, is the student apprised of the fact that history is by no means truth; it is, instead, merely a version of the events as transcribed by the victors. This fact can be seen in a comparison of the textbook summaries of the Mexican War, the American Indian wars, and the Spanish-American War with the evidence as it stands. Each of these wars is used to strengthen American pride, since each is depicted as a gallant and righteous struggle to avenge the patriotic martyrs of the Alamo, the Little Bighorn, and the Maine. The very obvious conclusion that each of these wars were, in fact, consciously orchestrated land grabs which appropriated Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and the rest of the Western U.S., along with Cuba and the Philippines, is highly documented. The evidence of this more accurate version abounds, yet the self-righteous myth prevails in both the textbooks and the public consciousness.

    History is, however, aptly named. It is His story, not Hers. Women, like truth, play a very minor role in history. Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Queen Elizabeth comprise a very small group. Furthermore, though Americans like Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt have achieved international stature, there are no American women who have received such historical renown, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe notwithstanding. This pronounced omission can be seen in American literature as well; in fact, the American literary milieu may be responsible, in great part, for the corresponding lack of feminine mention in historical accounts.

    The process began early. In most American literary surveys, Roger Williams, the co-founder of Rhode Island and seeker for religious freedom, is represented with at least a letter or a sermon. Anne Hutchinson, whose “nimble wit…and very voluble tongue,” which she used to confront the Puritan elders with their own hypocrisy, caused her to be banished from Massachusetts (like Williams) and to start a settlement in what became, through the efforts of both Williams and Hutchinson, Rhode Island. Despite the parallels, and despite her erudite and persuasive papers and sermons, Williams is anthologized, and she is not.
    American “literature,” of course, does not really begin for another 180 years; but, by that time, the trends had been set. In Washington Irving, the first great American literary artist, we see the first great stereotypes of American women. His three major short stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Rip Van Winkle,” and “The Devil and Tom Walker” set the model and the tone. Woman is a target of ridicule and scorn. In “Rip Van Winkle” she is described more than once as a “termagant wife.” Her husband, we are reminded on several occasions, is severely “hen-pecked.” Dame Van Winkle is “shrewish,” and we are informed that “her tongue was incessantly going.” In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” we find “Tom’s wife was a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm….” For both Tom and Rip, the demise of their wives is viewed as the only bright spot in an otherwise unhappy set of circumstances.

    In “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the image of woman is different, but it is just as insidious. The people at a dance receive this description: “Old farmers, a spare leathern-faced race, … their brisk withered little dames, … buxom lasses, … the sons, in short square-skirted coats with rows of stupendous brass buttons.” The men are depicted as either old farmers or sons resplendent in “magnificent pewter buckles” or “stupendous brass buttons.” The older women, however, are “withered” and “little.” Certainly “leathern-faced race” is much more complimentary than “withered.” Here we witness the age-old prejudice that men “age” better than women. Older men become “distinguished-looking”; older women become “old and wrinkled.” The discrepancy is also evident in the treatment of the younger folk. The boys are “the sons,” with no physical description except their clothing; whereas, the daughters are not called the daughters; they are “buxom lasses.”

    Here we have a clear example of woman as sex object. Irving’s description of Katrina Van Tassel corroborates this assumption. “She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe, and melting and rosy cheeked…” These attributes are not without their drawbacks, however; for Katrina is also “a little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her dress, which was a mixture of ancient and modern fashions, as most suited to set off her charms … and withal a provokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.” It is this brazen temptress who is directly responsible for the demise of the protagonist, Ichabod Crane.

    Despite the fact that the major male characters in Irving’s stories are lazy, shiftless and irresponsible (Rip), covetous, calculating and scheming (Ichabod), or miserly, corrupt and evil (Tom), they are always more sympathetic and less responsible for their downfall than are their shrewish or coquettish counterparts. To dismiss these harmful and vicious stereotypes of women as mere whimsy is to miss the point, but to accept and perpetuate the myth of feminine wile and evil as a viable picture of women is as absurd as the continued historical myth that America has never done and would never do wrong. And yet, the recent defeat of the ERA and, more recently, statements by President Reagan which portray the American-Russian conflict as the simple fight between Good and Evil show, sadly enough, that we have not yet escaped the grip of such harmful myths.

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