18 March 2006

Owing it all to Pamela Brown

The happy guy in Tom T. Hall’s 1972 song Pamela Brown is a ramblin’ man, just roamin’ around the world and having good times.

He had a close shave all those years ago: if he’d married Pamela Brown, he’d probably be back home driving kids to school. He’s "the guy who didn’t marry pretty Pamela Brown", and he’s glad to be shot of all that.

You get a different slant, though, if you listen to Leo Kottke’s 1974 version of Pamela Brown on 1974's Ice Water.

The way Kottke tells it, the guy sounds kinda glum thinking about Pamela Brown. He might be trying to crack hearty, but it's clear that he regrets not marrying Pamela Brown: maybe he wouldn’t have minded driving kids to school after all. When he sings “I guess the guy she married was the best part of my luck” he doesn’t sound convinced.

There's a change of emphasis here between the two versions:

Tom T. Hall:
I guess I owe it all to Pamela Brown
All of my good times and all my roamin' around
One of these days I might come ramblin' through your town
And I guess I owe it all to Pamela Brown

Leo Kottke:
I guess I owe it all to Pamela Brown
All of my good times - all my roamin' around
One of these days I might be in your town
And I guess I owe it all to Pamela Brown

Tom T. Hall’s guy really sounds like a ramblin’ man, and the whole arrangement is more upbeat, introduced with a jaunty guitar bit that’s missing from Leo Kottke’s version.

Even TomT. Hall's guy might be protesting too much, because there’s irony enough in the song just as it was written. From the first line it’s clear that this is an anti-love song, about the guy who didn’t marry Pamela Brown. He's grateful to Pamela Brown’s husband for stealing the girl of his dreams, and he’s glad she dumped him because she saved him from the small town domestic round.

The trouble is, you can’t help catching a picture of what might be domestic bliss: driving pretty Pamela Brown’s kids to school mightn’t be all bad.

What's more, although the last verse has a final throwaway line, it shows the guy could still ache a bit at the thought of Pamela Brown:

I don't have to tell you just how beautiful she was
Everything it takes to get a country boy in love*
Lord, I hope she's happy 'cause she sure deserves to be
Especially for what she did for me

(*Kottke distances himself from the country genre here, changing the line to:
Everything it takes to get a guy like me in love.)

Leo Kottke has picked up on the wistfulness, dropped the carefree air, and made his guy sound sad about not marrying Pamela Brown, even jaded by his ramblin' lifestyle.

Because the original guy sounds so happy and carefree, though, you could think the irony is Leo Kottke's idea, but I'm thinking now that Tom T. Hall planted the ambiguity there from the start, and Leo Kottke ran with it


Anonymous said...

I love this song. Almost 40 years ago, I re-wrote that last verse to:

"Or why I fell when you can tell
It was just because"

Whaddjad think?

Anonymous said...

Actually knew and dated a pretty Pamela Brown. That was actually her name!

When I think of her, this song does plant the seeds of what might have been. But aren't the "what might have been's" always delicious and tempting in our minds?

I think this song speaks to that reality (isn't it really a fantasy) that we chose not to live.

I love to sing this song to this day.

Unknown said...

My name is actually Pamela Brown. I'm wondering if Mr. Hall actually knew someone with that name, and how he came to write this song.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Good question, thanks for asking it (and I once knew a Pamela Brown too). I can't find an answer, but I did read that Tom T. Hall has written songs about real people, but he doesn't feel comfortable using their real names. He gives the example of "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died", which is about a real person he knew, but he made up the name Clayton Delaney. So perhaps that helps us to guess the answer! He has written a memoir, "The Storyteller's Nashville", which might have more answers, but I don't have a copy.

Lyn Nuttall said...

Anonymous/Pamela: I found Tom T. Hall's memoir "The Storyteller's Nashville" in my local library. He mentions a lot of his songs, but he doesn't mention "Pamela Brown"! Even so, I recommend the book. He's funny and insightful about himself and the music business.