Showing posts with label Cain and Abel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cain and Abel. Show all posts

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Reassurance of Fratricide

The title of my entry is taken from Benedict Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities (Revised Edition, Verso, 1991), and his discussion of memory and forgetting, that is, the way the writing of history constitutes an act that consists both of remembering (anamnesis) and its opposite, amnesia. Since history is written by the victors, the Civil War, for example, is consequently the enactment of the hostility of “brother against brother,” that is, the story of Cain and Abel (hence the inspiration for his homiletic parody, "the reassurance of patricide"). Had the Confederacy won, however, it might well have been about something, speculates Anderson, "quite unbrotherly" (201).

Fratricide: the story of brother against brother, the mythic archetype of Cain and Abel. Elvis Costello wrote “Blame it on Cain,” but I choose to blame it on Elvis, primarily for the act of fratricide that drives the plot of his first movie, Love Me Tender (1956). In his first film role, Elvis played Clint Reno, who during the Civil War remained home while his older brother, Vance (Richard Egan), fought on the side of the Confederacy. At war’s end, Vance returns home to discover that during his absence his former beloved, Cathy (Debra Paget), has married his brother Clint. But...there is an alibi, or excuse, for this state of affairs, because Clint and Cathy had been told that Vance had been killed in battle. Predictably, as one might expect, the story moves inexorably toward its tragic conclusion, foregrounded as it is by brotherly strife.

Since Elvis, or perhaps because of Elvis, there have been many songs reenacting, in various guises, the story of Cain and Abel. Here are a few representative recordings:

The Boomtown Rats, "I Don't Like Mondays"
The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”
Johnny Cash, “Frankie and Johnny” & “Folsom Prison Blues”
The Doors, “The End” (parricide) & “Riders on the Storm”
The Eagles, “Doolin-Dalton”
Lefty Frizzell, “Long Black Veil”
Lorne Greene, "Ringo"
Jimi Hendrix, “Hey Joe”
Robert Johnson, "32-20 Blues"
The Kingston Trio, “Tom Dooley”
Vicki Lawrence, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”
The Louvin Brothers, “Knoxville Girl”
Bob Marley, “I Shot the Sheriff”
Crispian St. Peters, “The Pied Piper”
Pink Floyd, "Careful With That Axe, Eugene"
Gene Pitney, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
Stan Ridgway, “Peg and Pete and Me” & "Down the Coast Highway"
Marty Robbins, “El Paso" & "Big Iron"
Jimmy Lee Robinson, “I Shot a Man”
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”
The Rolling Stones, “Midnight Rambler”
Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska”
Hank Snow, “Miller’s Cave”
Suicidal Tendencies, “I Shot the Devil”
Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”
Hank Williams, Jr., “I’ve Got Rights”
Neil Young, “Down by the River” & “Southern Man”