Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down, Sally”—a rollicking 1977 country-blues tune that plays at two crucial moments in the play—is a happy-sounding song whose lyrics suddenly become remarkably dark when looked at in the context against the events of August: Osage County. “There is nothing that is wrong in wanting you to stay here with me,” Clapton croons in the song’s opening lines; “I know you’ve got somewhere to go, but won’t you make yourself at home and stay with me? And don’t you ever leave.” In a play focused on familial entrapment, and the ways in which parents attempt to undermine, control, and assert power over their children—children who, in this case, are desperate for escape from an oppressive, abusive family situation—these lyrics take on a haunting new sheen.
“Lay Down, Sally” is played twice in the play. Both times, Violet is the one to put the record on, and both times, she is in a state of psychological distress or disconnection from reality. The first time Violet plays the song, Sheriff Gilbeau has just arrived at the Weston house in the middle of the night to tell the family that Beverly’s body has been found; Violet is high, and Gilbeau does not have a chance to tell her the news before she sidles over to the record player and starts up the song. She begins to dance, mumbling incoherently and occasionally attempting to sing along, as a horrified Gilbeau looks on. In the play’s final moments, Violet—having been abandoned by Barbara and Ivy after a series of horrific revelations about Little Charles’s true parentage and the fact that Violet could have saved Beverly from committing suicide—finds herself alone and disoriented, either from a relapse or from brain damage, in her own empty house. Violet stumbles to the record player and puts the song on again, but after just a few bars, attacks the record player and destroys the album.
In these two moments, the song becomes a kind of inner monologue for Violet. She is desperate for her family to stay with her, to rally around her, to keep her company despite her constant verbal abuse and emotional violence. The song’s flirty, fun lyrics become, through Violet, a desperate plea for attention, love, and concern—a plea that will ultimately go unanswered.
“Lay Down, Sally” Quotes in August: Osage County
VIOLET. Barbara? (Barbara grabs her purse, digs out rental car keys.) Barbara? (Barbara stands, listens to her mother.) Barbara, please. (Barbara exits the house.) Please, Barbara. Please. (Violet shuffles into the living room.) Barbara? You in here? (She crosses to the dining room.) Ivy? Ivy, you here? Barb? (She crosses to the kitchen.) Barb? Ivy? (She turns in a circle, disoriented, panicked. She crosses to the study.) Bev? (She reenters the living room, stumbles to the stereo, puts on Clapton ... stares at the turntable as the album spins ... attacks the record player, rakes the needle across the album. She looks around, terrified, disoriented.)