Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Up until this day, this time, there's been nothing to prompt me to consider the marriage and infidelities of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais. The Indiana band Rodeo Ruby Love, and lead singer Zach Melton, have done so, with the song titled "Josephine," a number that enacts a number of lines lifted from the actual love letters sent between the two people in the late 1700s and early 1800s, before boredom and wandering private parts got the better part of their volatile union and they split for good, without any children to show for it. It turns out that Napoleon was quite the esquire, a bard of romance, writing to his lady frequently, emoting and getting down with his innermost feelings as they arose to him on those days. He was over-the-top with his infatuations and yet, could, with the swipe of a quill and ink, make a girl feel as if there was no one else even half as good. He wrote passionate odes that, through the magic of time passage, we see turn the other way, into dark shards of vitriol and sensed betrayal, with the man of power suddenly believing himself - rightfully so - to be a cuckold. His loves turns into detestation and he's off to the races, just as any other people, now or then would feel and behave, like someone who's just been thrown into boiling waters. And yet, even at the end of a piece of correspondence that has been, throughout its entirety, questioning his wife's silence and her faithfulness, he ends it with a truly love-strewn line, "I hope before long to crush you in my arms and cover you with a million kisses as though beneath the equator." He goes full circle and the man's twice as fascinating as he's ever been. Melton is good at this: making pop songs pertain to things other than silly, petty dramas that really only matter to one person, unless they're just so far classic that they become timeless. While still trying on the clothing of Napoleon and Josephine, wearing their many flaws and their burning love - or what used to be recognized as a burning love - Rodeo Ruby Love makes it seem like a situation that should or could be classified as animalistic. (We're assuming that the next words would have been directed at the big, bad man himself, from the mouth or pen of the Lady Josephine, but we can't be sure.) She states, "Please don't shower/I want your stench covering my every inch," and that's about as pornographic as it gets without just spelling it out. And further along in the song, there's a message about being smart and a sense that there's no reason to believe that this relationship is as dumb as it looks, with Melton singing, There's a means for survival that you wrote down in your Bible that says keep your heart out of sight." And at that point, it's a Rodeo Ruby Love pop song, something that they excel at and Melton, in particular, finds ways to squeeze enticing nuggets from things like history lessons, the wedding day of a sister, a throw-away - albeit egotistical comment from former, longtime Oakland Athletic centerfielder Rickey Henderson and a sick need to force a "friend" to become a serial Bob Saget/"America's Funniest Home Videos" watcher.