It is so strange. It refutes the nobility of poverty that is so
canonical in country. Though it features grinding poverty, welfare
taking the children away, and dying babies, it also has a mother selling
her child into white slavery. But the oddest thing about this song is
its refusal to make any moral judgements at a desire to crawl up the
class ladder by any means possible. This leads the daughter, evocatively
called Fancy (i.e. “I might have been born plain white trash/but Fancy
is my name”), to be a high class whore to “a king, a congressman, an
occasional artistocrat” and for her troubles to be rewarded with a
“Georgia mansion and an elegant New York town-house flat”. The last few
lines–“I didn’t have to worry about nothing, for nigh on fifteen
years–and the calculation of the mother, the idea that “mama was gonna
move (Fancy) up town” and her advice to the child-be nice to the
gentlemen, and the gentlemen will be nice to you- makes it jaw-dropping
in its ambition. There is something amazing in the lack of a hypocrite’s
polite social graces that is so contrary to what is expected in
country–namely a poverty that is difficult but whose noble suffering is
expected to reward through grace. The best thing is that Fancy never
goes back down home and would never even consider it. Down home is the
equivelent of selling out but here never coming back, selling pussy for
fame and fortune, fits perfectly into Brecht’s moral axiom First Bread,
Then Ethics. Fancy is an all-American Pirate Jenny, without Jenny dying.