Way Down, Hadestown!

How adorable is Eurydice though?

How gorgeous is Persephone?

And the man in black, Hades!

I’ve been pretty obsessed with this concept album.  I found this quite randomly and became immediately outraged that a folk rock opera on Orpheus and Eurydice existed and I had no flipping idea.

Hadestown started out as a folk rock opera written by Anais Mitchell.  You all know how Hamilton started out as a mixtape idea by Lin Manuel?  Similar thing.  Anais Mitchell had the idea for a folk rock opera stage show–but it started out as a concept album, put out in 2010, with her doing the vocals of Eurydice, Bon Iver doing the vocals of Orpheus, Greg Brown as Hades, and Ani DiFranco as Persephone.  Oh, and Ben Knox Miller as Hermes and the Haden Triplets as the Fates.  It is a “postapocalyptic 30′s depression hillfolk” kind of setting.  Orpheus is a traveling musician with a guitar strapped to his back, Persephone runs a speakeasy in Hadestown, Hades is a hardened capitalist brainwashing his minions to build a wall…

In 2016, it has been adapted as an off-Broadway show and I want to see it sooo badly, and from what I’ve seen, is flipping fantastic.  The EP of the cast album is out, but not the full album, and I am dying to hear the rest of it…  

And now I’m going to talk about all the songs in excruciating detail which hopefully will convince you to purchase this album, because it really is the greatest and I have to express this somewhere, because my roommate is getting sick of me talking about it.

“Wedding Song” A love duet between Orpheus and Eurydice.  Eurydice pointing out that they are both broke as hell–”Lover, tell me if you can, who’s gonna buy the wedding bands, times being what they are?”  With Orpheus being slick as hell, “Lover, when I sing my song, all the rivers sing along, and they’re gonna break their banks for me, to lay their gold around my feet…”  OH THAT PUN AND WORDPLAY I MEAN COME ON.  This song sets the whole tone of the album, with great throwbacks to classic folk music.  And I mentioned Bon Iver provides the voice for Orpheus?  How fitting is that, to have Bon Iver’s haunting harmonies be Orpheus’ voice?

“Epic (Part 1)”  Orpheus explaining who Hades is and what kind of town Hadestown is.  “King of diamonds, king of spades! Hades was king of the kingdom of dirt, Miners of mines, diggers of graves, they bowed down to Hades who gave them work and they bowed down to Hades who made them sweat…”  He also talks about Hades brainwashing his workers.

“Way Down Hadestown”  Now Hermes takes a spin talking about Hadestown, with Eurydice joining in about all the good things she’s heard about Hadestown.  “Everybody dresses in clothes so fine, Everybody’s pockets are weighted down, Everybody sipping ambrosia wine, In a goldmine in Hadestown!”  Because, well, it’s the postapocalyptic Depression and the idea of having a job, even in Hell, is appealing.  This is also our first introduction to Persephone, who sings grumpily, “Winter’s nigh, summer’s o’er, I hear that high lonesome sound, of my husband coming down, to bring me home, to Hadestown!”  In the off-Broadway cast version, we hear Persephone groan at the beginning of the song and complain, “That was NOT been six months!” and her snap at Hades at the end, “You’re early.”, with him kind of sexily saying back, “I missed ya.”  (Hades’ voice is like this deep gravelly bass on both the concept album and the off-Broadway EP and is just perfect.)

“Hey, Little Songbird”  Hades seducing Eurydice–well, not literally (I think?), but basically him trying to convince her to come to Hadestown.  See, Hadestown has an interesting take on the Eurydice legend–rather than her being bitten by a snake and ripped from this world unfairly, she chooses to go to Hadestown, because she’s starving to death and workers are fed in Hadestown.  “Hey, little songbird, you got something fine, You’d shine like a diamond down in the mine, And the choice is yours if you’re willing to choose,Seeing as you’ve got nothing to lose…”  I love that idea, how this album plays with temptation and choice.

Gone, I’m Gone”  Eurydice giving up and succumbing–”Orpheus, my heart is yours, always was and will be…it’s my gut I can’t ignore…Orpheus, I’m hungry…oh, my heart it aches to stay, but the flesh will have its way…”  And then we hear the Fates chide us, warning us not to judge her.  “Wouldn’t you have done the same? In her shoes, in her skin, You can have your principles, When you’ve got a bellyful, But hunger has a way with you, There’s no telling what you’re gonna do, When the chips are down…”

“When the Chips Are Down”  And then those fickle Fates taunt Eurydice for her decision to leave Orpheus for Hadestown!  “What you gonna do when the chips are down, Now that the chips are down, Help yourself, to hell with the rest, Even the one who loves you best!”  The Fates serve as narrators in the off-Broadway cast version, but they also appear and harmonize with the leads at various points.  I love how unpredictable they are, it’s just so fitting.

Wait for Me” Hermes explains to Orpheus the second way to Hadestown, aside from the train.  (He ain’t got no ticket)  “How to get to Hadestown, You’ll have to take the long way down, Through the underground, under cover of night, Laying low, staying out of sight, Ain’t no compass, brother, there ain’t no map, Just a telephone wire and the railroad track, Keep on walking and you don’t look back, Til you get to the bottomland…”  With Orpheus singing, “Wait for me, I’m coming too, wait I’m coming with you…”  Another interesting choice!  Instead of Orpheus vowing to rescue Eurydice, he only vows to be with her.  The harmonies on the off-Broadway cast EP are so beautiful.  There’s also a really interesting little exchange between Orpheus and Hermes on that version as well.  But the Bon Iver version is haunting and almost creepy, particularly Hermes’ verse.

“Why We Build the Wall”  THIS SONG.  This powerful song was written in 2010, but it  predicted 2016 in a Cassandra-esque manner.  This is the song Hades sings to his workers, who sing back while they are fruitlessly building a wall around the River Styx.  Listen to these lyrics: “(Hades) What do we have that they should want? My children, my children
What do we have that they should want? (Chorus) What do we have that they should want? We have a wall to work upon! We have work and they have none
And our work is never done, My children, my children, And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty, And the wall keeps out the enemy, And we build the wall to keep us free, That’s why we build the wall, We build the wall to keep us free…”
 Also the cast has no chill and posted this little anti-Trump video on their website including the song.

“Our Lady of the Underworld”  PERSEPHONE’S SONG.  PERSEPHONE RUNS A SPEAKEASY IN THE UNDERWORLD AND SNEAKS SUNSHINE AND RAIN TO THE DEAD WHO MISS IT.  “I can give you what it is you crave, A little something from the good old days, I got the wind right here in a jar, I got the rain on tap at the bar, I got the sunshine up on the shelf…a little moonshine ain’t no sin!”  I love the idea of Persephone sneaking things from earth to please the dead.  And that moonshine pun is just too clever!

Flowers (Eurydice’s Song”  Eurydice expressing regret for choosing to leave Orpheus.  This song is haunting because it’s an incredible metaphor for depression.  “What I wanted was to fall asleep, Close my eyes and disappear, Like a petal on a stream, a feather on the air, Lily white and poppy red, I trembled when he laid me out, You won’t feel a thing, he said, when you go down, Nothing gonna wake you now, Dreams are sweet until they’re not, Men are kind until they aren’t, Flowers bloom until they rot and fall apart, Is anybody listening?”  This is my favorite song to sing.  Also has an interesting little allusion to Eurydice considering her choice as an infidelity to Orpheus–like, by choosing to go down to Hadestown, she was unfaithful to him.  “Hey, Little Songbird” also uses this metaphor.

“Nothing Changes”  The Fates try and convince Orpheus that it’s pointless to reunite with Eurydice.  “Why the struggle, why the strain? Why make trouble? Why make scenes? Why go against the grain? Why swim upstream? It ain’t, It ain’t, It ain’t no use, You’re bound, You’re bound, You’re bound to lose, What’s done, what’s done, what’s done is done…”  The three-part harmony is to die for.  I know I keep bringing up the harmonies in every song, but they really are that good!

“If It’s True”  Basically Orpheus telling he doesn’t care if it’s pointless, he’s going after Eurydice.  “But the ones who tell the lies, Are the solemnest to swear, And the ones who load the dice, Always say the toss is fair, And the ones who deal the cards, Are the ones who take the tricks, With their hands over their hearts, While we play the game they fix…”  Aren’t those lines chilling?  Like I said, this entire album has an eerily prophetic tone.

How Long?”  This duet destroys me.  This is the song where Persephone sings to Hades, asking him to release Eurydice.  “Hades, my husband…Hades my light…Hades…my darkness.”  That introduction just says it all, just explains the beautifully dark and complex nuances of Hades and Persephone’s relationship.  (Some like a fluffy Hades/Persephone relationship, but I like my Hades/Persephone dark as chocolate).  And Hades demanding of her, “You and your pity don’t fit in my bed, You just burn like a fire in the pit of my bed, And I turn like a bird on a spit in my bed, How long, how long, how long?”  How long is she going to keep bothering him about this?  And Persephone retorts, “How long? Just as long as I am your wife, It’s true the earth must die, But then the earth comes back to life, And the sun just goes on rising…”  Her pointing out that death is a part of life but so is resurrection is the most brilliant point and of course would work on Hades.  Their final duet is just the saddest, most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.

“Epic (Part 2)”  Now that Persephone has finally convinced Hades to at least listen to Orpheus, Orpheus sings his song to Hades.  “The heart of the king loves everything, Like the hammer loves the nail, But the heart of a man is a simple one, Small and soft, flesh and blood, And all that it loves is a woman, A woman is all that it loves…”  Orpheus buttering up Hades, talking about how the “heart of a king” is different from a heart of a man…but then… “But even that hardest of hearts unhardened, Suddenly when he saw her there, Persephone in her mother’s garden, Sun on her shoulders, wind in her hair, The smell of the flowers she held in her hand, And the pollen that fell from her fingertips, And suddenly Hades was only a man…”  That verse destroys me, because you can suddenly imagine Hades the way he first saw Persephone and it makes you cry and I think it makes Hades cry and everything is tragic and wonderful.

“His Kiss, The Riot”  Hades’ gay panic song.  I’m kidding.  Kind of.  There is a kiss somewhere after Epic Part 2 and you sort of assume Orpheus kisses Eurydice and it incites a riot in Hadestown, but Hades sings…”The devil take this Orpheus, And his belladonna kiss, Beautiful and poisonous, Lovely! Deadly! Now it thickens on my tongue, Now it quickens in my lung, Now I’m stricken! Now I’m stung! It’s done already! Dangerous this jack of hearts, With his kiss the riot starts…”  Like that’s a pretty graphic description of that kiss…also I tweeted Anais Mitchell asking who Orpheus kissed, Eurydice or Hades and she just liked my tweet because she’s a troll.  Anyway, this is the song where Hades tells Orpheus he can bring Eurydice back if he does not turn back to look at her once.

“Doubt Comes In”  Orpheus singing, the creeping doubt following him…”Doubt comes in, And kills the lights, Doubt comes in, And chills the air, Doubt comes in and all falls silent, It’s as though you aren’t there, Where are you? Where are you now?”  With Eurydice trying to reassure him, “Orpheus…You’re shivering, Is it cold or fear? Just keep singing, The coldest night, Of the coldest year, Comes right before the spring…”  But of course…we know how the legend ends.

“I Raise My Cup” Persephone and Eurydice toast to Orpheus.  So sad.  So beautiful.  So perfect.  “Wherever he is wandering, Alone upon the earth, Let all our singing follow him, And bring him comfort, Some flowers bloom when the green grass grows, My praise is not for them, But the one who blooms in the bitter snow, I raise my cup to him…”  My baby brother expressed a wish that Hades contributed a verse to this song and I have to agree with him.  Who knows?  Maybe it happened on the cast album–we only have the four song EP as of yet.

Anyway, you really should check this album out, both the original concept album and the cast EP.

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One thought on “Way Down, Hadestown!

  1. Pingback: February Love | A Phoenix in Oxford

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