Friday, June 19, 2015

What Really Happened in "South Coast"?

I grew up listening to Kingston Trio records and have fond memories of many of the songs. Yesterday I was listening to the ones I have in iTunes while gardening, and heard one called "South Coast."

It struck me differently now, as an adult woman, than it had as child. Here are the lyrics as sung by the Kingston Trio (who frequently shortened songs):

South Coast, the wild coast, is lonely.
You may win at the game at Jolon
But the lion still rules the barranca,
and a man there is always alone

My name is Juan Hano de Castro.
My father was a Spanish grandee
But I won my wife in a card game,
to hell with the lords o’er the sea.

I picked up the ace. I had won her!
My heart, which was down at my feet
Jumped up to my throat in a hurry-
Like a warm summer's day, she was sweet.


Her arms had to tighten around me
as we rode up the hills from the South.
Not a word did I hear from her that day-
or a kiss from her pretty red mouth.

We came to my cabin at twilight.
The stars twinkled out on the coast.
She soon loved the valley- the orchard-
but I knew that she loved me the most


Then I got hurt in a landslide
with crushed hip and twice-broken bone
She saddled our pony like lightning-
rode off in the night, all alone

The lion screamed in, the barranca.
The pony fell back on the slide.
My young wife lay dead in the moonlight.
My heart died that night with my bride.
The key elements are:
  • A Spanish-descended man living in central California (in the Big Sur area, relatively near the town of Jolon) wins a young woman in a card game.
  • He takes her back to his house, located in a remote area of canyons where there are mountain lions.
  • He breaks his hip in a landslide.
  • She rides off on his pony and gets killed by a mountain lion.
Listening to it now, here's what I think about:
  • Women are property. How did she feel about being "won" in a card game?
  • The whole story is from his perspective. Was she actually happy as his "wife"?
  • When he's hurt and immobilized... why did the mountain lion go after her on the pony instead of him lying on the ground, defenseless?
  • How does he know she was attacked by a mountain lion if he's lying there with a broken hip? Was she nearby even though she "rode off in the night all alone"?
  • Was she really going for help, or was she escaping her captor?
  • If it's such a remote area and she died going to get help, how did he survive, lying there with a broken hip in the middle of a landslide with mountain lions in the area?
I now wonder if perhaps he's the one who got killed by the mountain lion, and she escaped. Makes me want to write an alternate version from her point of view.


The full lyrics are here; it appears the song is neither old nor originally Spanish, but was instead written in 1953 by three Anglos with the lyrics by a woman named Lillian Bos Ross. Nice show of solidarity, sister.

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