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Ruby (Donít Take Your Love to Town)
Songwriter: Mel Tillis
Artist: Kenny Rogers
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT
Phantom Tollbooth visitors: Listen to, and download Dr. BLTís cover of the Mel Tillis tune for free here:
Ruby (Donít Take Your Love to Town)
Youíve painted up your lips
Mel Tillis is not a disabled Viet Nam vet and he is no expert on the mind. But for those who understand the brainís complex role in contributing to paralysis, and for those who appreciate the complex manner in which the brain serves as the control center for all of the body's functions, Ruby (Donít Take Your Love to Town) is as much a story about the heartbreak that often accompanies a soldierís return from battle, as it is a case study examining brain physiology and the complex interactions between the mind, the emotions, and human experience.
The brain, and the condition of the brain, determines if, and how, a person will engage in conscious and unconscious activities. As the control center, the brain will tell you if and how you will walk. It will tell you if and how you will talk. It will determine, to some extent, how you will feel, and the emotions that you will convey.
...Itís hard to love a man
The male subject in this song can no longer walk, and he may not be able to function in a normal sexual way. This is likely due to either brain damage, and/or to direct injuring of the limbs as a result of engagement in battle. Since his brain controls his thoughts; how he comprehends, perceives and interprets the world; and his experience in the world; his speech and his emotion, he is, in some respects, a victim of his own brain. He is clearly angry over, not only his injury, and the obvious limits it imposes on his world. He is angry with Ruby, the female character developed in the song, who has apparently betrayed her commitment to be with him ďfor better or worseĒ and ďthrough sickness and health.Ē
He understands her obvious dilemma, and her frustration (sexual and otherwise) over his condition. He is keenly aware of the distinct and overwhelming challenges his compromised physical condition brings to their sex life. But he doesnít understand what she does with the whole matter. He feels profoundly abandoned and profoundly betrayed by Ruby. His hurt and rejection has turned to murderous rage. It is the type of drama that makes for great stories. In this case, that story is delivered in an extremely emotionally gripping, compelling, and creative manner.
The music is simple and straightforward, and the story embedded in the song makes the listener want to sympathize with both the betrayer and the betrayed, if more for the betrayed. The story makes vividly real the dilemma faced by many a returning vet. It is the quintessential story of insult added to injury. It is the quintessential crossroads between body and the mind.
Injury to the brain can disrupt some or all of these functions. We see through the story, how injury to the subject, (whether that injury involves a severe head trauma, a direct injury to the limbs), or both affects, affects not only his physical functioning, but his psychological and spiritual functioning. We see how the injury he returns home with impacts his home, and his relationship with his wife, or significant other. But we donít see what other emotional baggage he has returned home with, so we donít understand how other factors, associated with what has likely developed into case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are impacting him, both personally, and interpersonally. The sequelae of PTSD can be, and is, in most cases, especially without treatment, devastating.
The physical and emotional injury the subject in this song has sustained, and the consequences of it is shared by many a returning vet. It has a profoundly serious, and often lifelong, impact on physical the mental functioning of the injured party. And the emotional concomitant of the injury is often passed on to loved ones. As a result, loved ones also often become hated ones or despised ones.
It is not clear whether the subject of this song is suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), or from a direct hit to his limbs, which, in turn, impacts the brain and the way it communicates with the body. If it was his brain that took the direct hit, the shock was too great for the cerebrospinal fluid to do its job---to absorb the impact sufficiently to preserve basic limb functions.
If it were damage to the brain, we still donít know whether the paralysis took place at the time of impact, or whether it developed later, due to swelling (cerebral edema) and bleeding into the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage) or bleeding around the brain (epidural or subdural hemorrhage).
Whether his head was hit so hard that the cerebrospinal fluid could not absorb the shock to the brain sufficiently to protect him, or whether it was his legs that were directly hit and crushed, a faithful wife, and a rock-solid faith in God could have kept the spiritual and emotional walk of this man going. Faith in God, and the unwavering support of loved ones sustain us through the storms of life.
Even though the nature of the injury remains unspecified, what is manifestly clear is that the male subject in this song, whether fictional, factual, or a little of both, has taken a direct hit to the ďheart.Ē And the song deftly conveys that direct hit. The song is extremely well-crafted by Mel Tillis, and well delivered by Kenny Rogers, who took it to the top of the charts in the early seventies.
Much more than nerve pathways
have been interfered with in this man. He is profoundly afflicted
in multiple ways.
Sheís leaving now cause
A heart broken by the unfaithfulness of a spouse may take a little longer to heal than the body, and sometimes relationships like the one depicted in this song never recover. In situations such as the one depicted in this song, God, a psychologist, and the support of family and good friends should all be brought into the picture while the PTSD victim, and the relationship, is still salvageable. Like the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, they protect soul and the psyche from the blows of life. They sustain the spirit. But you better not hesitate to begin mobilizing these personal resources. Early intervention is the key.
Mel Tillis is no expert on brain injury, or paralysis. Heís no psychologist. But in Ruby (Donít Take Your Love to Town) he brilliantly depicts the relationship between the body and the min;, between mental processes and emotional ones; and between the injury and its impact on intimate relationships. At the same time, he holds up the cause of injured war veterans for all the world to see, serving as an artistic advocate.
The subject in this song exhibits severe depression, intense anxiety, unresolved feelings of rejection, rage, and a profound loss of self-esteem. He likely faces an altered personality, and this altered personality may also be driving Ruby away. Injury survivors need our support. Letís extend it to them and sustain them through prayer. And if youíre the spouse of an injured and/or paralyzed vet, one who likely also suffers from PTSD, remember this: If you take your love to town, you leave nothing but heartache and sorrow at home.
...Oh Ruby for Godís sake