“I Killed a Lion” Origin Story and Lyric

In late September, Artistic Director Michael Hollinger sent a text to Bakkhai Variations Supervising Director James Ijames:

  I woke up in the middle of the night last night with an idea for a song that could be played over whatever closing credits the composite BV film may require. Would you be open to this? Got up and started sketching it out, but would want to check in with John [Stovicek, Sound Designer] as well to see if he already has musical themes or other material I should draw upon for a greater sense of unity.

Ijames replied with enthusiasm, so Hollinger (who teaches a songwriting class at Villanova) completed the song, the lyric for which can be found below.  Stovicek recorded it on October 16, with graduate Theatre student Angela Rose Longo providing the vocals, professor Peter Hilliard playing piano, and Hollinger adding violin and viola parts.  (Hilliard’s son Nick later contributed a cello track remotely from Indiana University, where he currently studies music.)

Listen to “I Killed a Lion”

According to Hollinger, the title for “I Killed a Lion” was inspired by a line from Bakkhai, which both Jessica Bedford and Mark Costello quoted in writing their Bakkhai Variations plays: “It’s a crushing moment when the character of Agave exults, holding up the head of the creature she and her fellow celebrants have slaughtered in their Dionysian frenzy.  Only later does she realize that she’s murdered her own son and king Pentheus, whom they caught observing their revels.”

Using Carson’s play as source material, Hollinger sought to contrast the domestic confinement of the women’s lives with the freedom they find in the hills with a charismatic newcomer — actually Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele, Agave’s sister — who leads them in ecstatic rites.  Seeking sensual imagery for his lyric, Hollinger consulted Production Dramaturg Zach Apony, who proposed a variety of scents – including balsam, musk and aromatic wine – as well as the iconic crown of ivy worn by Dionysos and his followers. 

“The song aims to echo what I take to be the heart of Euripides’ cautionary tale,” says Hollinger.  “It’s an indictment of the constraints of patriarchy, but also an acknowledgment that, after ecstasy, ‘You gotta come down’ and figure out how to function within societal structures.  The enemy isn’t either side of this perceived binary, but rather the excessive devotion to one or the other.”


“I Killed a Lion”

(words and music by Michael Hollinger)

They say “Stay

Within the walls of these four rooms.”

We go anyway —

Drop our aprons, stop our looms.

            To the hills, to the heights,

            The dominion of the pine – not men.

            To the drums and the dance

            With the fire and the wine.

                        We get so high

                        In the woods, with the trees, burning balsam on the breeze

                        We get so high

                        With our god and his ivy crown

                                    But they say

                                    “You gotta come down.”

Then one day

Our king resolved it all should end.

Came our way

Though he could never comprehend.

            In deceit, in disguise,

            He ascended in a pine – my son.

            To survey as we swayed

            With the fire and the wine.

                        We got so high

                        In the musk and the mud, with the body and the blood,

                        We got so high

                        With our god and his ivy crown

                                    But someday

                                    You gotta come down.

                                                I killed a lion,

                                                I killed a lion in the woods

                                                I killed a lion,

                                                I killed a lion in the woods