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Rosalie Sorrels, RIP

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The great, wonderful, amazing songwriter Rosalie Sorrels has died at the age of 83. I have been a huge fan for a long time. She was almost totally unknown except by other songwriters. She never made any money at all. But this was a remarkable woman living an really self-directed life. She grew up in the Mormon culture of Idaho, had an abortion as a teenager, was raped and gave up the child that led to for adoption. She married and then started learning to be a folk singer. She married and had 5 kids, left her husband and traveled the nation with kids in tow. She wrote great songs and produced excellent albums. Many of those albums are out of print. That’s especially true of her excellent work from the 70s. I would start by pointing you to her 1976 album Always a Lady. The first two songs alone, “Mehitabel’s Theme” which is this weird song about insects and then her spoken word introduction to the old folk song “Baby Rocking Medley,” which is about telling the baby you want to kill it while slowly rocking it to sleep. These are amazing songs and if anyone knows about the perils of motherhood, it was Rosalie Sorrels. She helped revive the career of Utah Phillips and she wrote a heartbreaking song about her son that committed suicide: “Hitchhiker in the Rain.” That was on her outstanding 1995 album Borderline Heart, which at least was released on CD, which Always a Lady never has been. Here’s a few of her tunes.

I saw Rosalie in about 2002 in Albuquerque. We were the youngest people there by about 20 years. It was great. She sang great songs, swore a lot which was awesome coming from a woman in her late 60s (or so it seemed at that time), told great stories. It was a special night from a special woman. I knew her health was in serious decline for at least a decade so I always felt glad that I managed to see her.

Not many of those old folkies left, which is the natural course of life, but sad nonetheless.

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  • Starfleet Dude

    This is a great story that she tells again, and very well.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kscfpOq60Ws

    • egg

      Beautiful. Poignant. Angry. Brave.

      Thanks for the link SD

  • N__B

    “Mehitabel’s Theme” which is this weird song about insects

    Insects? Insects?! Archy is the most famous free-verse-poet/cockroach in the world! Archy, who wrote the line “Prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and then denies you the beer to cry into” may be an insect, but he’s a goddamned philosopher!

    • There may be some back story here I don’t know.

      • N__B

        Archy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archy_and_Mehitabel

        Don Marquis, seriously, created an incredible pair of characters. I did not know that Sorrels had put some of it to music, but that was an inspired idea.

        • keta

          Very cool. Thanks the intro to what looks to be some very entertaining writing. The things you learn hanging around this joint…

          • N__B
            • keta

              That is…beautiful.

              Preparing to sail offshore in the south Pacific we made enquiries from professionals about how to best keep cockroaches from infesting our vessel. We were told cockroaches will be the only survivors post-nuclear annihilation, and to come to terms sharing our quarters. Back home two years later a very cold Victoria, BC winter drove the last out of its hidey-hole, and the massive “747” was duly splattered all over the chart table.

              (I’ll also note that geko stowaways help enormously, but after about two weeks at sea they chirp no more.)

      • rm

        You are in for a treat.

        If we had more cockroaches like archy writing for newspapers, we wouldn’t have had these problems over all of these years.

      • rm

        Oh, and something I forgot about during our Ancient Blogs discussion thread.

        Archy & Mehitabel are absolutely literary ancestors of Fafnir & Giblets. Along with Ignatz & Krazy.

      • Nick never Nick

        I once found a first edition of archie and mehitable in the foresters camp in a Thai national park. I asked the ranger if I could have it, and he told me that even though no one could read it, it belonged to the government and he couldn’t give it away.

  • rickstersherpa

    I would expect SEK would have been able to clue you in. My Mom, who grew up in Depression era Oklahoma reading the New Yorker in the public library introduce me to archy & mehitibel (Ol’ Man Cat’s ancestor). My dad shared the passion. note that Don Marquis was obviously ribbing e.b cummings.

    • John Revolta

      I don’t think that’s so. It’s just that archy couldn’t work the shift key.

      • Nick never Nick

        I think you’re both right . . .

  • Ethel2Tilly

    Eric that line about insects was just trolling, right? RIGHT???

    《buries head in hands》

  • PhoenixRising

    Nanci Griffith wrote a fabulous story song about Rosalie Sorrels, ‘Ford Econoline’. There’s a performance with the Chieftains online somewhere.

    I was the other 20something at that show at the Outpost. I’d never heard her sing before but knew of her because of Archy and Mehitabel, plus Nanci’s song. She was a classic.

  • I ordered the CD version of Always A Lady (I’d owned the LP for decades) online some years back, and was surprised to receive it apparently from Ms. Sorrels herself, with a brief note apologizing for the interval between payment and delivery. Clearly there was a dance in the old dame yet.

  • were-witch

    wow, quite a lot of Archy fans comin’ out of the woodwork

    • John Revolta

      so to speak

      • rea

        well, rea leaves his computer on for us to type on late at night. he has problems with the shift key too, sometimes.

  • ThresherK

    I hadn’t heard of her, but I’ll ask Spousal ThresherK, onetime-hippie-chick. And I’ll give some of her material a deep dive.

  • Lot_49

    Thanks for this recommendation. I’ve heard a few of Sorrel’s songs but wasn’t paying attention. Anybody who helped bring Bruce “Utah” Phillips to light is wonderful just for that reason.

    Be patient:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp3Yp8g4YDU

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