The Lady Of The House

Album: Burnt Toast And Offerings (2007)

Songfacts®:

  • You know the scene. You've seen it a hundred times in the movies or on TV, or at the very least you've heard of it: the traveling salesman knocking on the door of a lonely woman. The cliché would dictate that the woman is a housewife, and she comes to the door in a filmy negligee and beckons to the salesman with her perfectly manicured index finger and an equally manicured smile. She's done this before. But what if the woman is just an average every-day person who is caught in a nightmare of loneliness? What if she's a dreamer who seizes possibility where she can?

    Gretchen Peters created just such a character with her friend, David Mead, who also helped out with vocals on this song. "David had the opening line, 'Open up your suitcase and show me what you've got.' And we didn't even know what that meant at first. And I can't remember who it was that came up with the idea of the traveling salesman, but I loved it immediately. And I thought of the title 'The Lady Of The House,' which I thought was what your typical salesman would say, 'Is the lady of the house in?' and then show you something.

    "But it also had this connotation to me of this woman that was sort of more a part of her house than she was a part of her marriage. There was just a connotation there somehow that intrigued me, and that I felt like I really identified with. And as David and I sort of developed the song, we talked about the song a lot, we talked about it like it was a screenplay or something, in terms of, 'what do you think her character's like?' and 'What is she wanting from this guy?' And we thought a lot about character motivation and stuff, really, as if we were writing a screenplay. Because I was really interested in getting her personality in there, getting her dilemma in there. She's a very lonely woman who has come to the point where she feels like love could come from anywhere, or it could come from nowhere. And at the same time she's opened up to the possibility that even this salesman could be where she finds love.

    "There's also other layers there. There's a line where she talks about his cheap suit, and she's slightly contemptuous of him, which is, I think, very real. It's how it really would be. I just felt like she was a character not unlike the waitress in 'Summer People.' She was a character that I could identify with, and I could imbue with the visual content that I was feeling, and yet she's a fiction. "It's not an autobiographical song in terms of the situation. But in terms of her emotional state, I felt very close to that character."
  • The line "I'm available, I think you understand," is a come-on. The character, says Peters, "is trying to open up on some level to somebody, because she's completely shut off, and she's just dropping a hint, essentially. It's lonely, and it's kind of desperate. And kind of sad. But, I think, real."

    Peters says this song is a twist on the notion of a one-night stand between two people who will probably never meet again. "That's kind of what we were playing on. What we wanted to do was pry underneath those layers of cliché and look at what the emotional state of somebody like that was really like. Again, it was about, she's drawing this character, and then, like as in 'Jezebel,' giving you some insight into her so that you felt compassion for her rather than, wow, what a desperate, sad woman. Some of kind of compassion is there."
  • "You can't avoid putting yourself - a lot of yourself - into characters," says Peters. "Sometimes they say things for you that you can't say yourself. Sometimes they're tougher than you are. I mean sometimes they're different from you in ways that you wish you were." She finds writing for characters to be an exhilarating and freeing experience, because you can step outside yourself and become someone else. "It's an absolute thrill." And very much like acting. Peters conducts songwriting seminars, and tells her students to watch Inside The Actor's Studio, because she feels there is so much to learn about writing by listening to actors talk about what they do to inhabit a role. "You have to let that character speak to you. You create this character, but at some point the character lives and breathes and tells you, 'This is what I would say in this song.' This is how I would put it. This is what I would do.' That's when it's really exciting, when you feel like you're onto a real-life person. And lots of your own self comes out in that."

    "What I was dying to say," she continues, "came out in this song, which was, 'This is what it feels like to be intensely lonely.'" (Check out our interview with Gretchen Peters. Her website is gretchenpeters.com.)
  • Inside The Actors Studio is an hour-long weekly TV show where host James Lipton talks with actors. It originally began as a televised seminar for students at the Actors Studio Drama School, and was so popular it was picked up by the Bravo cable channel. Lipton has interviewed hundreds of actors, directors, screenwriters, and musicians. Among them are Academy Award winners.

    Lipton's list of questions his submits to his guest is:
    What is your favorite word?
    What is your least favorite word?
    What turns you on?
    What turns you off?
    What sound or noise do you love?
    What sound or noise do you hate?
    What is your favorite curse word?
    What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
    What profession would you not like to do?
    If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
    This is followed by a Q&A session with the students in the audience.

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