Woman to Woman

Esmé Patterson

Did you ever listen to a song and wonder what the other side of the story was? That is exactly what Esmé Patterson thought about as she was learning the lyrics to “Loretta.”

Love songs tend to offer only one side of the story, or one emotional response.

Patterson went on to observe this trend among many love songs. They tended to offer only one side of the story, or one emotional response. It then becomes too easy to engage only with those emotions. Patterson imagined what it would be like to be the women portrayed in these songs, and wrote response songs. This is also a reminder to us listeners that we should really pay attention to the lyrics that we hear over and over.

When the Beatles spin a yarn, “Eleanor Rigby,” about a lonely woman, Eleanor, via Patterson, answers back. I like to imagine the musicians singing it one part at a time to each other.

The Beatles:

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

But what if she isn’t lonely, but enjoys her life? What if she knows she will die and has accepted it? (Patterson’s “Bluebird”)

Good morning, bluebird, Good morning, cottonwood.
Out the window I see all that I’ll ever need.
Young men come in from town, laughing, fighting, in a crowd.
If you fear loneliness, that fear will burn you down.

The Beatles:

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.


I am not afraid to lie down in my grave,
Be any day now any day.
We are always alone until death bring us home, so . . .

The final cut from Patterson is a response to Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” The original is about a man ready to commit suicide, so he can wait in heaven for a lover he is separated from. Patterson’s response, “A Dream,” may at first seem to not take him seriously, but maybe her answer is better.

Lead Belly:

I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish to the Lord I’d never seen your face
or heard your lying tongue
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene
I’ll see you in my dreams


Heaven’s not a dream, so wake up darling,
Heaven’s not where I will be, so wakeup darling.

Lead Belly:

Sometimes I have a great notion
to jump into the river and drown
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene


I’ve done things I regret, but
I ain’t done loving you yet,
When you see that river, walk on by.
Heaven’s not a dream, so wake up darling.

Lead Belly:

I love Irene, God knows I do
love her till the sea run dry
And if Irene turns her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die
Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight


If you leave me now and look for me in the sky,
Well honey, you’ll be looking for some time cause
Heaven’s not a dream, so wake up, darling.

I love her comeback to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” with “Never Chase a Man.”

Your man don’t mean a thing to me, he keeps leanin’ in
Men, they should be chasing you, never chase a man . . .

You sit around and cry over him and you tell me you’re here to beg, well
Excuse me for sayin’, but that man ain’t worth the time you take ’cause
Your man don’t mean a thing to me, he keeps leanin’ in.

Listening to the reality in “Tumbleweed” exposes the one-sided nature of Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta.”

You say you’ll be back in spring but I need a man not a tumbleweed.
I’ll keep my dancing shoes on long after you’re gone.

Loretta’s harsh life is opened up and we see her real desires, amid the reality of the way men treat her.

I invite you to sit back and listen to the other side of the story. You may want to have the lyrics for the other three responses ready as well.

Elvis Costello’s “Alison” appears in “Valentine.”

The Band’s “Evangeline” watches the boat go under in “Louder than Sound.”

And when the Beach Boys’ wonder where Caroline went in “Caroline, No,” Patterson responds in “The Glow.”

But we’re as good as dead if we don’t move . . .
I cut off my long hair, I turned the glow
Inside, all that lives must die.

You have already gathered that the concept of this musical adventure is different, than most you encounter. The musical skills and Patterson’s voice is up to task. More than most albums, this one left me visualizing the two stories in ways that entertain and offer insight. We should probably try this with the imaginary songs that play in our brains. Or, even consider your favorite movie and imagine if it had been written from a different perspective.

Do you have a song to suggest to Patterson for her next album? Or maybe you want to submit your own lyrics that respond to a one-sided love song. I’m thinking “Burning Ring of Fire.”