Showing posts with label Songs About Murder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Songs About Murder. Show all posts

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gun Club

On this day in 1982, David Crosby fell into a drug-induced slumber while taking a spin on the San Diego Freeway. Although he crashed into the center partition dividing the freeway, he emerged from the accident physically unharmed. He was arrested on drug charges, however, after the police discovered cocaine in his vehicle. The police also discovered a gun in his car, a gun that Crosby claimed he had purchased over a year earlier, in the aftermath of John Lennon’s murder in December 1980. He may have been telling the truth about why he had the gun in his car. After all, John Lennon was murdered in America, where the gun is ubiquitous.

The gun is a central feature of American culture, as essential as money (and sex, of course). John Lennon’s murder was a terrible tragedy, but he wasn’t the first figure associated with rock culture in America whose life and destiny became bound up with the gun. It is now widely accepted that Dylan’s putative motorcycle crash in July 1966, while it actually happened, was subsequently exaggerated in terms of its physical injury in order to allow Dylan to remove himself from public life (for safety reasons). In Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary, No Direction Home, Al Kooper says as much, averring that he was afraid to tour with Dylan after 1965 because he didn’t want to play John Connelly to Dylan’s JFK. The fear of being shot and killed was very real, long before John Lennon’s slaying.

The lives of many figures associated with rock culture have ended by the gun. On 11 December 1964, at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, Sam Cooke was shot and killed by Bertha Franklin, the motel’s manager. Some years before that, in 1954, Johnny Ace, who had a hit with “Pledging My Love,” accidentally killed himself while playing Russian Roulette. And there are other examples: Arlester “Dyke” Christian, leader of Dyke and the Blazers, was shot to death on 30 March 1971. On 23 January 1978, Terry Kath, guitarist with the band Chicago, apparently accidentally shot and killed himself while cleaning his gun. In April 1983, Felix Pappalardi, Cream producer and Mountain bassist, was shot and killed by his wife Gail Collins. A year later almost to the day, Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father. The gun has also been used, of course, to achieve self-murder: Danny Rapp, of Danny and The Juniors, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1983. Country singer Faron Young also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound (1996), and Wendy O. Williams, vocalist for the short-lived Plasmatics, killed herself with a gun in 1998. And famously, on 8 April 1994, Kurt Cobain was discovered having murdered a rock star with a gun, the closest one he could find: himself. As the gun is to the culture, so the gun is to the music.

An A-Z Of Blue Steel Poetics:
Aerosmith – “Janie’s Got A Gun,” Pump
The Beatles – “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” The Beatles
Johnny Cash – “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town,” The Fabulous Johnny Cash
Depeche Mode – “Barrel of a Gun,” Ultra
Elvis Presley – “In the Ghetto,” From Elvis in Memphis
Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town
Grand Funk Railroad – “Don’t Let ‘Em Take Your Gun,” Good Singin’ Good Playin’
Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Hey Joe,” Are You Experienced
Ice-T – “Big Gun,” Tank Girl: Original Soundtrack
Jethro Tull – “I Am Your Gun,” The Broadsword And The Beast
Kiss – “Love Gun,” Love Gun
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Saturday Night Special,” Nuthin’ Fancy
Ethel Merman – “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” Annie Get Your Gun
Nine Inch Nails – “Big Man With a Gun,” The Downward Spiral
Phil Ochs – “The Men Behind the Guns,” I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore
Gene Pitney – “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,” 25 All-Time Greatest Hits
Queen – “Another One Bites the Dust,” The Game
Rollins Band – “Gun In Mouth Blues,” Do It
Steely Dan – “Don’t Take Me Alive,” The Royal Scam
George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “Cocaine Blues,” Move It On Over
Ultravox – “Cut And Run,” Quartet
Violent Femmes – “Add It Up,” Violent Femmes
Hank Williams, Jr., “I’ve Got Rights,” Family Tradition
XTC – “Melt the Guns,” English Settlement
Neil Young – “Powderfinger,” Rust Never Sleeps
Warren Zevon – “Lawyers, Guns And Money,” Excitable Boy

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”