Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone

by

7 Amede Ardoin Chris King

from “DRAGGED THROUGH THE FOREST: The Long-Gone Sound of Amédé Ardoin,” by Amanda Petrusich:

It’s possible most of Ardoin’s songs are about one person: the girl to whom he was betrothed, or about to be betrothed—the most profound romantic fascination of his young life. As far as I can tell, theirs was a shotgun-to-the-temple, unbearable, drive-it-like-it’s-stolen love, uncompromising and insane. Something went wrong. They never married.

According to “Valse Des Opelousas,” she left, crying. “Oh, tite fille, si tu m’aimerais comme t’as voulu me dire / Tu te sentirais pas déçue pour ça ils sont après te dire,” Ardoin sings after her. Oh, little girl, if you loved me as much as you said, you wouldn’t feel so disappointed by what they’re telling you.

“In my understanding of that culture, in that particular time period, because it was so intensely Catholic and superstitious, you got married, and you didn’t get a new wife or husband until the other one died,” compiler Christopher King explained. “The same stigma was attached to betrothal.” Ardoin’s romantic outlook, from then on, was grim.

Because he couldn’t have her, Ardoin sang to her, over and over again. She appears often as “Jouline,” which King suspects was a pet name, a variation of “jolie,” or “pretty young thing,” though her actual name was Maisé Broussard. I imagine her as the kind of beautiful that makes your stomach hurt: sweet-faced and long-legged and a little mischievous around the eyes, too smart for her own good.

King likes to think that Ardoin sang to her with the hope that she’d eventually hear his prayers and adjurations—that he believed he could, in effect, sing her back to his side. He was clearly ready to die trying. “Oh, tite fille, moi, j’ai dit je m’aurais jamais marié / Oh, c’est rapport de voir ça t’as fait avec moi,” he sighs at the end of “Valse Des Opelousas,” his body gutted, his voice tired. Oh, little girl, I said I would never marry. Oh, it’s because of seeing what you’ve done to me.

The story of Amédé Ardoin’s death is apocryphal, something he shares with the Delta blues singers Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Sometimes mythology supersedes fact for so long that it becomes its own kind of truth by virtue of our belief in it; or, as with Ardoin, the details vary but the arc stays the same, stays true.

Here’s what we think we know, based on firsthand accounts collected decades later: Ardoin was playing a party, when the white daughter of the house either lent him her handkerchief to wipe his face, or went so far as to mop the sweat from his nose herself. A group of men who King believes were from out of town—Virginia, or maybe north Louisiana—were so deeply appalled by the gesture that they surrounded and attacked Ardoin when he tried to leave, or they ran him over repeatedly with a Model A Ford before kicking his limp body into a ditch, or both.

Whatever happened, Ardoin didn’t die, not right then—not in the medical sense. Friends and witnesses described him as “damaged.” His vocal cords were minced, and he began, as King writes, “a slow descent into solipsism and silence, a sudden loss of comprehension, and an inability to play and sing.” Not long after, on September 26, 1942, he was institutionalized, sent off to an asylum in Pineville, Louisiana, where he died less than six weeks later and was buried in a common grave. In one story, which King cites in his notes, Ardoin was spotted briefly outside of the asylum, hoofing it back to Acadiana, still looking, I like to think, for Maisé Broussard.

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