Episode 53: All Beauty Must Die: Murder Ballads

Ballads are enduring relics of rich oral tradition. From literary epics like Beowulf, to the seedier broadside ballads sold at public executions; these story songs give us a glimpse at the practices and values of distant times and places. Just as we can see the heroes of the past in these narrative lyrics, so can we see the villains. Especially in the dark and twisted sub-genre of murder ballads, and perhaps even more so in the sub-sub-genre of sweetheart murder ballads. Join us this week as we explore the urban legend ‘Elisa Day’ and the history of songs of similar substance from Appalachia. We will consult experts from William Shakespeare to Allen Lomax as we try to understand the phenomena of murder and infatuation, and the (apparently) persistent need to sing about the combination. We’ll also talk about the real-world criminal case that inspired the play and novel, “An American Tragedy” and its adherence to the murder ballad tradition.

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Featuring a musical marvel made especially for this episode by Welcome Little Stranger hosts of The Most Wonderful Wonder.

Guest Storyteller:  Adriana Juarez

Grace Brown Trial Gallery

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Ophelia’s symbolism

“This Murder Done”: Misogyny, Femicide, and Modernity in 19th-Century Appalachian Murder Ballads – Christina Ruth Hastie – University of Tennessee, Knoxville

“Narcissuses, Medusas, Ophelias… Water Imagery And Femininity In The Texts By Two Decadent Women Writers – Viola Parente-Capkova”

Water and the Fallen Woman in Victorian Literature and Art – Richard Broad – Royal Holloway, University of London

The Allure Of The Murder Ballad: Ruth Gerson Does ‘Delia’s Gone’

Killer Songs: The 10 Creepiest Country Murder Ballads

The Traditional Ballad Index

The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America

Eight of the Most Overlooked Bluegrass Murder Ballads – Bluegrass Today

Alan Lomax: Selected Writings

Hamlet Analysis, Ophelia’s Death

10 Creepy Urban Legends From Around the World – Listverse

The Ventriloquism of Elisa Day: The female perspective and rape culture in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Where the Wild Roses Grow” 

Murder by Gaslight

‘All beauty must die’: the aesthetics of murder, from Thomas De Quincey to Nick Cave by David McInnis 

Beauty Violence, Representation By Lisa A Dickson and Maryna Romanets

Intro to Murder Ballads

‘Poor Boy, You’re Bound to Die’ – Murder Ballads

I Shot A Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide Fire Flood…  

Ballad of Big Moose Lake – Dan Duggan

“Rose Connoley”: An Irish Ballad by D. K. Wilgus

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