Gothicism in “Kate McCannon”

by Kaitlyn Marlin

“Kate McCanon” is a song written by folk-country artist Colter Wall, released in 2017. The song relates the tragic tale of Kate McCannon who is murdered at the hands of her lover after she is caught having an affair. The perspective of the song is told from the point of view of Kate’s lover. He begins by describing a raven outside his prison window, the raven tells the man

“it’s hell to where you go, for you did murder Kate McCannon.”

Thus, establishing early on to audiences what the reason for his imprisonment is and the events that the song is about. He then goes on to describe his relationship with Kate. He says that he knew of Kate from her father who worked with him, once he meets Kate he claims that she is the prettiest girl he had seen: 

“Prettiest girl in the whole damn holler” 

After meeting he courts her and saves up enough money to buy a diamond ring. It is at this point that the song begins to take a turn. He tells listeners that one day after buying the diamond ring, he came home to find that his “darling angel” Kate was not home. So, to go look for her, he returns to the creek where he first saw her and they met.

“I found her with some other lover”

The singer discovers that Kate is having an affair, catching her in the act with her other lover. At this point, the song begins to build, cutting to just instrumentals. The volume increases and listeners hear percussive bass and drumming. Delivering the last lines of the song, the singer yells that he “put three rounds into Kate McCannon.” The instrumental accompaniment is silent during this line, adding to the climax and intensity one feels while listening to this song. Immediately after we hear again the same guitar motif as earlier until the song fades out. 

I’ve been familiar with Colter Wall for a couple years now and while many of his songs could definitely be defined under gothic terms, I believe “Kate McCannon” is one of the most evidently gothic songs he has written. An easy comparison can be made between “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and the raven which speaks to the lover while he is in prison. Both ravens take a personification of being able to communicate with humans, particularly communicating and representing feelings of guilt and mourning towards a lost lover. The first two stanzas of lyrics describe the Raven as having “wings black as sin” and to be “mocking those within” the prison. The wings of the raven represent the sin that has been committed by the singer and the bird’s ability to fly mocks the prisoners for their lack of freedom. One could argue that the raven is a symbol for the devil himself, as he is described as a “wicked bird” and judges that the lover will go to hell for the sin of murder he committed.  

The song also displays a gothic motif of revenge and tragedy, as well as a representation of a gothic relationship. Obviously, Kate and the singer don’t work out. But it is the revenge, fueled by scorn, that the singer takes and the tragic murder of Kate that make their relationship gothic in nature; they did not get a happy ending despite the singer’s infatuation with her.

An additional layer to this song that makes it gothic is the sound of the music itself. Colter Wall has a very deep and raspy voice; perfect for communicating the emotions of this song. In addition to the already sorrowful voice of Wall, the instrumentals of the song could also be described as dark and mournful. While the guitar’s listeners hear in this song do create a very common western/country sound to the music, they also tend to communicate the emotion of the piece through dynamics and timbre. All while the singer is retelling his story of his relationship with Kate, the background music is calm with an undertone of saddeness found within the cords; a direct reflection of the singer’s internal state. However as the song goes on, as previously mentioned, the intensity builds; the volume of the guitars begins to increase and we begin to hear a percussive drumming both of which create intense feelings of suspense as listeners hang onto every word that the singer is telling. Then everything cuts out as we hear the last lines of the song, causing the only focus to be made on the singer’s words and the sin he committed. 

Overall, this song is perfect for examining gothic elements in music. In addition to the lyrical gothic aspects, which can be analyzed in a similar way as our literature and films were, it also is a great display of the gothic within music and how the gothic is communicated through music. It is a song that many students in our gothic class will be able to quickly grasp and understand in terms of the gothic. 

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2 Responses to Gothicism in “Kate McCannon”

  1. kayla says:

    Hi Kaitlyn!
    Your analysis of “Kate McCannon” and its gothic elements is very eye opening. It is fascinating to see how the song combines literary and musical devices to forge a tense and eerie atmosphere that vividly depicts the tragic tale of the singer’s love with Kate. After listening to the song, I noticed the heartbreaking narrative of love and loss that emphasizes retaliation and violence. In gothic literature and music, these are reoccurring themes that reflect an intense, obsessive, and tragic ending. Gothic works are known to explore the darker aspects of human nature, and violence is often extreme and used to elicit strong emotions as a result.
    Additionally, the song contains imagery, such as the raven who communicates to the lover and symbolizes regret and sadness over a lost love. The music’s tone, with its somber guitar chords and tight drumming contributes to the gothic themes. The parallel to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is particularly appropriate because both works utilize ravens to represent death, remorse, and the protagonist’s internal conflict. Both feature a sense of impending doom, as well as an atmosphere of tension and suspense that increases as the plot develops. In “The Raven” the narrator’s mental health declines as he deals with the reality of his loss, while in “Kate McCannon,” the suspense increases as the narrator learns of his lover’s infidelity and ultimately commits the murder.
    Colter Wall appears to perform a fantastic job of utilizing these methods to heighten the emotional effect of the song. Using music and sound to create atmosphere and tension is an essential aspect of the Gothic. Overall, your study offers a critical and perceptive take on the gothic components of this song and emphasizes how music may be utilized to portray gothic stories and concepts.

  2. kellymm says:

    Hi Kaitlyn! I think you’re absolutely right that this is a gothic text, especially given that the ending is, as you say, not a happy one. In fact, the ending is quite unsettling. Violence against or suppression of women is a common trope within the gothic genre, some of which we’ve seen in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, “Good Country People,” “Circumstance,” the Salem Witch Trials, Sanctuary, and Psycho. I think it’s really interesting how gothic consistently involves violence toward women without always providing a commentary on why that violence is immoral or wrong. For example, in Rosemary’s Baby, it was clear that we were supposed to favor the protagonist. Furthermore, as the story progressed, it was obvious that the story was making a commentary on the patriarchal society’s tendency to ignore and suppress women. This song, to me, seems to have a similar vibe to Poe’s “The Black Cat,” in which he commits atrocity after atrocity without verbally admitting guilt. However, this story still seems to silently suggest that the protagonist’s violence is uncalled for. I think “Kate McCannon” does this silently as well. It feels as if you can hear the sadness, anger, and regret in his voice, although it is still tinged with malice. The instrumentals also provide a gothic feeling of eeriness as they grow and ebb in volume along with the speaker’s anger and violence. In this respect, it reminds me much of the instrumentals used in Psycho. I think you did a great job connecting traditional gothic conventions with this “untraditional” gothic work.

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