This is Jo Carol Pierce.
November 24, 2022 1:10 AM   Subscribe

The greatest Texas songwriter you’ve never heard of is a 72-year-old grandmother from Lubbock. This is her story. What do you do when you find yourself in the midst of middle age, you can’t stay in a relationship to save your life, and your friends keep trying to get you to check into a mental hospital? If you’re Jo Carol Pierce, you go instead to a zen monastery in New Mexico and begin writing emotional, hilarious songs about sex, suicide, and the blessed Virgin Mary. From there, you move to Austin and craft the songs into a piece of musical theater called Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, recruiting other misfits to play with you. Then—again, if you’re Jo Carol Pierce—you watch as the play becomes a big hit and you, at age 51, transform into something of a rock star.

Like Joe Ely, Jo Carol Pierce grew up in the dusty vacuum of Lubbock, and though she was part of the town’s famed clique of talent, only in her late forties did she begin to take her writing seriously. She penned and performed Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, an off-kilter musical monologue about a girl’s wry (and often hilarious) quest for spiritual enlightenment through a series of boys, and songs like “Loose Diamonds” and “I Blame God” revealed a remarkably perceptive genius. Pierce is among the few artists to have a tribute album released (1992’s Across the Great Divide) before she had ever recorded a single note; in 1996 she finally made a CD of Bad Girls, and Dog of Love (self-released) is her only album since. Pierce’s drawl and off-key singing might be initially jarring, and her loud rock edge is sometimes surprising (“Rock in My Shoe” sounds like a Neil Young song), but her wit shines through. Standouts include the lascivious title track, “Sacrificial Island Tombstone,” and the unabashed love song “I’ve Got Your Eyes”: “Always thought we were/The same one/Or are we just missing the same part?”

As good a way as any to intro to Bad Girls Upset By The Truth:
This American Life
Episode 24: Teenaged Girls
Act One: Texas Girl

A couple youtube vids off "Bad Girls Upset By The Truth"
"You Bother Me"
"Secret Dan"
"I Blame God"
"Buttons Of Your Skin"

Jo Carol Pierce could only happen in Texas.
posted by dancestoblue (6 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I really really should pay more attention to her work. I’ve hovered around the periphery of the singer/songwriter network in this town for 40 years, and she is universally revered by her peers.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:34 AM on November 24

I’m thinking Jo Carol could beat Paula White’s ass.
posted by aiq at 10:24 AM on November 24

What do you do when you find yourself in the midst of middle age, you can’t stay in a relationship to save your life, and your friends keep trying to get you to check into a mental hospital? If you’re Jo Carol Pierce

And if you're not Jo Carol Pierce? Asking for a friend.
posted by axiom at 10:45 AM on November 24 [7 favorites]

One thing the boomers have been good at in music is maintaining artistic relevance into old age. I remember when the Rolling Stones toured in 1980? there were no end of articles about "can you be a rock star after 40? Mick and the boys are gonna try!" They did a European tour this year. Sure, they only played one or two shows per week, but by my standards, if I was in their position that would be just a nice extended vacation.

Anyway, go Jo! For outsiders and late-bloomers everywhere you stand as an inspiration, not to mention actual talent in the thing you're doing.
posted by rhizome at 1:46 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much. If Waldemar Januszczak ever took it upon himself to do a video about American art music, he would have had to kick it off with Ms. Pierceʻs honest, brutal and beautiful exposures into a quintessential white American womanʻs soul.
posted by Droll Lord at 4:22 PM on November 24

Holy crap. Thanks for this post. It sounds and feels like what you might get if Steve Earle and Patti Smith mated.

Secret Dan

Flying through these roadblocks like they ain't real
Is it you I want, or that chrome and steel?

posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:42 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]

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