Sunday, December 06, 2015

"In Spite of Ourselves" -- wedding song leaves big old hearts dancing in aging hippie's eyes

Normally weddings are something I endure -- rather than anything I'd cross the street to watch if I didn't know the people involved. But over Thanksgiving our niece Nichole, her husband Justin and their children, Jonny, Jackie and Jonah, celebrated their marriage in the lodge at Hudson Gardens, a snow-covered park ablaze with Christmas lights just off the main drag in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado.

Highlight of the wedding -- for me, at least -- was when Nichole and Justin chose "In Spite of Ourselves" by Iris Dement and John Prine for their first dance. Here's the official video:

I'd never heard it before, but I want to learn that song.

And there's amateur footage of the first wedding dance here. It may lack some of the crisp professionalism of the official video, but some moments just cry out to be recorded.

After the bridal couple danced, it was the kids' turn. Lots of kids. Too many kids to keep up with. Moving way too fast to shoot. A couple of pix are posted below, tho' ... note the Christmas lights in the background through the windows. Moments like this cry out to be recorded, however inexpertly.

Iris DeMent has been around for at least 25 years, but I know her mostly for her 2004 CD Lifeline, a gospel album that featured old-fashioned Southern gospel songs she knew from growing up in a Pentecostalist family. Her performance of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" brought her briefly into the national limelight, when it was picked up in the Coen Brothers' movie O Brother Where Art Thou" in 2000, but mostly she's had a low-key -- but solid -- career in the market niche where, gospel, folk and Americana intersect.

Singer-songwriter John Prine has also been around forever. His 1971 song "Paradise," about the Peabody Energy Corp. strip mines servicing the TVA's Paradise Steam Plant in western Kentucky was kind of an anthem for environmentalists in East Tennessee. (Yes, there were a few of us.)

"Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County? ...
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking,
Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away."
But I lost track of him when I moved up north more than 30 years ago. Turned out he's had an equally solid career in the same niche market as Iris DeMent.

And their duet in "In Spite of Ourselves" is pure magic.

Written by Prine and performed with DeMent as the title track in his 1999 CD In Spite of Ourselves, alternative music critic David Cantwell of No Depression said it was the best song in "a solid collection of country duets, and if nothing else, it proves that Prine has great taste in old country songs ... not to mention great taste in what used to be called 'girl singers'."

Lyrics and chords in C available online at Looks like they'd transpose up to D in a heartbeat.

And the lyrics are sheer magic, too. A quick sampler (toned down a little):

She looks down her nose at money / She gets it on like the Easter Bunny ...

* * *

He ain't too sharp but he gets things done / Drinks his beer like it's oxygen ...

And so on. Describing what's got to be an ideal couple, well, ideal in that market niche.

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize

Each verse ending with a chorus, repeated at the end. "There won't be nothin' but big old hearts / Dancin' in our eyes." Yep. It left big old hearts dancing in my eyes.

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