“Cleopatra, Queen Of Denial”

“Cleopatra, Queen Of Denial”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Pam Tillis
“Cleopatra, Queen Of Denial”

Written by Pam Tillis, Bob DiPiero, Jan Buckingham
Recorded by Pam Tillis

It was the early 90’s and the “12 step” vernacular was very much in the mainstream so the term “in denial” was a frequently referenced mantra. A friend of mine left a dumb joke on my phone machine about Cleopatra and Mark Antony that got me thinking and gave me the impetus to write this song. The song was written for fun, very tongue in cheek, but the lyrics have come to mean more to me as time goes by. Sometimes the truth can be so simple it can sneak right up on you. Writers write from experience, from their imagination or for therapy. This song was a little bit of all three.

Bob DiPiero and Jan Buckingham and I went to the Bluebird Café in Nashville one evening and were inspired by the great songs we heard there. We came back to my house and started writing. We finished one song right away. I actually recorded that one too. Usually you’re spent (in a good way) after finishing a song but I still felt energized and like there was something else I really needed to express. I threw out my ideas for “Cleopatra;” Bob and Jan got into the idea right away. From there, the song kind of wrote itself. It was almost like a conversation, we started jamming and laughing and the lines just came out.

There are three quotes that I thought of when writing this. I read an article somewhere that Cher said, “Women have a bad tendency to make a big deal over nothing — and then marrying him.” My best friend, who wrote Thelma and Louise, says, “You get what you settle for,” and The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book Of Love says of men, “Be particular. They make them things every day.” The woman in “Cleopatra” makes all kinds of excuses for her man’s bad behavior and in her heart she knows it. She’s just not able or ready yet to take off those rose colored glasses and face the two steppin’ music!

A few weeks later, I went down to Billy Bob’s in Texas to play. I had been toying around with the song some more because it had almost seemed too easy. I thought surely it can’t be finished. There was no resolution or happy ending for “Cleo,” although she’s heading in the right direction by admitting she’s in “de Nile!” I needed a new up tempo number in my show so I worked that song up with the band, regardless of my reservations, and premiered it that night at Billy Bob’s.

I went into the ladies’ room, the one closest to the autograph table, after I performed the set and a woman stopped me to say how much she loved the new song. As I was washing my hands, I asked if she was disappointed that the third verse didn’t have a happy ending. She replied, “Oh no, honey, that’s real life. Don’t change a thing!” If she reads this, I thank her for not letting me screw it up. I recorded it shortly thereafter and it went on to be a hit and is still one of my most requested songs.

Some people thought it was just something cute and campy, but it has endured because of the underlying truth of it. After all, the flip side of comedy is tragedy. You put that to a dance beat and you just might have something! Seriously though, by poking fun at the situation, you make it easier to look at. That’s the reason I can still sing it with a straight face. I know it might be just what somebody out there in the audience needs to help deal with their situation. Being honest in your relationships is a no brainer, but it can be a little too easy to be a little less than honest with yourself and to rationalize or accept situations we know we should change.

I guess I’ve been the Queen of Denial from time to time in my life, I confess. In fact, I was at my mom’s the other day talking to her and my sister and we started discussing old boyfriends. My mom has a habit of making up words; she’s like the Norm Crosby of moms. She called one of my old boyfriends “cavey.” I knew she meant Neanderthal. We all had a good laugh, but I couldn’t argue with her. That guy was a little less than evolved! I went through one abusive relationship and several others that were dead ends for one reason or another. I’m just glad I can sing “Cleopatra” these days knowing that I’ve been there, done that, and have the proverbial T-shirt and that I’ve sworn off what I call “fixer-uppers”… Girls save yourself a lot of heartache and reserve those emotional power tools for fixing up that person in the mirror!

“Cleopatra, Queen Of Denial”

Well, I said he had a lot of potential,

He was only misunderstood.

You know he {really didn’t mean} to treat me so bad

He wanted to be good.

And I swore one day I would tame him

Even though he loved to run hog wild.

Just call me Cleopatra everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.

I knew he didn’t have any money

Yeah that’s why he couldn’t buy me a ring.

Oh and just because he bought himself a brand new pickup truck

Really didn’t prove anything.

And he never had to say he loved me,

I could see it every time he smiled.

Just call me Cleopatra everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.

Oh Queen of Denial, buyin’ all his alibis,

Queen of Denial, floatin’ down a river of lies.

{Yeah}

{Now} I’m not gonna jump to conclusions

Or throw away this perfect romance

Even though I {saw} him dancin’ last night

With a girl in a leopard skin pants.

Yeah, he’s probably stuck in traffic

And he’ll be here in a little while.

Just call me Cleopatra everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.

Oh Queen of Denial, buyin’ all his alibis

Queen of Denial, just floatin’ down a river of lies.

Written by Pam Tillis, Bob DiPiero, Jan Buckingham. © BEN’S FUTURE MUSIC; DUCK HOUSE MUSIC; SONY/ATV SONGS D/B/A TREE PUBG CO.

More stories from our partners