Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Yet Another Look: Stagger Lee

I know you're all probably getting tired of old Stagger Lee but . . . this blew me away:

The Collins Kids. Larry and Lorrie.  Larry is probably around twelve or thirteen here. All the little teenyboppers of today ain't got nothing on this kid.  Lorrie is pretty stellar as well.

This has nothing to do with murder but here's another one of their songs:

Larry went on to write such songs as  Delta Dawn and You're The Reason God Made Oklahoma (1).  Not bad.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day of Rest: I Want Jesus to Talk With Me

As I type this, Sunday is about ten minutes away from being over. I hope that everyone had a good one.  I also hope you enjoy Homer Quincy Smith's 1926 recording of I Want Jesus to Talk With Me.  

If you're interested in this song, it can be found here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Lonely Grave of Virginia Rappe

While I was in LA this summer, I made a point to visit Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  One of the graves I wanted to check out was the grave of Virginia Rappe.

Who was Virginia Rappe?:

She was a actress in silent films in the late 1910's in early 1920's.  If you haven't heard of her, don't worry she never "made it".  Most of her films roles were bit parts, and many of those films no longer exist.

The details of her life are pretty sketchy.  Biographies of her are a mixture of sordid facts and sordid rumors.  Multiple abortions, venereal disease, children given up for adoption, spiked with lots of nudity and alcoholism.

On September 5th, 1921 she attended a party at the St. Francis Hotel suite of legendary actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  At some point during the party, she became ill.

Four days later she was dead.

An acquaintance of Rappe's  accused Fatty of sexually assaulting the actress and causing the injuries that let to her death.   After three separate trials, Arbuckle was eventually acquitted, but the scandal ruined his career.

Here's her grave:

That some jackass stuck stickers all over

It's almost being over taken by a tree.  Her fiance Henry Lehrman is buried one grave over:

That's it.

Douglas Fairbanks' grave is also close by:

If you wish to read more about the "Fatty Arbuckle Scandal", you can check out these links:

"Fatty Arbuckle and Hollywood's First Scandal"

Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

El Paso

Songwriter and singer Marty Robbins, a native of Arizona and one of ten children, grew up listening to his maternal grandfather tell stories of the west. (1)  This obviously had a profound impact, which can be heard on the, 1959 album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, and the track El Paso. 

In what writer James Miller calls "the last great cowboy ballad" (2), Marty Robbins sings of love, a wicked woman, obsession, vengeance and western justice.  Released in 1959, El Paso is a mini-movie set to music, an "essentially aural version of cowboy b-movies that were so popular at the time." (3) It's a tribute to an American west, not of fact, but of Hollywood dreams.

 The west presented to us in El Paso is "a dangerous place of large passions and empty violence, where death and eros an intertwined." (4)  Moral ambiguity does not exist here.  Laws of conduct are set in stone, and those that break those laws are punished.

Light! Camera! Action!

The narrator "[falls] in love with a Mexican girl" (5) by the name of Felina (or Feleena), and spends the night in the local cantina watching this beautiful girl with "eyes blacker than night"(6) dance.  We've seen her before, the wicked woman "casting [her] spell"(7), and rendering men powerless.  In other songs, such as She's Making Whoopie in Hellher "spell" is so powerful that the decision is made to kill her in order to break it.  But in El Paso, she prompts a man to murder for the love of her.

The "hero" of our story, discovers his love, his obsession, drinking with a "wild young cowboy" (8).  Overcome with anger and jealousy he challenges the man to a showdown:

My challenge was answered in less than a heartbeat
the handsome young stranger lay dead on the floor (9)

Unlike so many songs, the killer is no nihilistic psychopath, for right after the killing he's shocked by his "foul evil deed" (10) .  Remorse doesn't stop him from stealing a horse and galloping off into the desert.  No judge's gavel need fall for him to know his fate if he stays: his sentence is death.

Yet his love for Felina overwhelms him.  The desert, for all it's dangers is nothing compared to missing her.  Seeing her again is worth dying for, and he knows that he will die.  Women are dangerous creatures, men will not only kill for them, but against all reason, they will die for them. So still in the grips of her spell, the killer rides back to El Paso

When he gets there, he finds a posse of cowboys waiting for him, dashing any hopes the listener may have had for earthly redemption.  It was a foolish hope: a crime of passion or not,  El Paso is still "the staunch tale of a man who kills another and must return to the scene of the crime to take his punishment" (11).  This is the west, and justice must prevail:

I see the white puff of smoke from the rifle 
I feel the bullet go deep in my chest (12) 

Yet death is worth it, because, before he leaves this world, he winds up in sweet Felina's arms.

One little kiss and Felina
Goodbye (13)

A man's dying wish is granted, and the law of the gun still stands.  Everything fades to black and the credits roll.

2. Miller, James. "El Paso", The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in The American Ballad. ed Marcus, Griel. Wilentz, Sean. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company 2006)
3. Thomson, Graeme.  I Shot a Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease and General Misadventure as Related in Popular Song.  (New York: Continuum, 2008)
4. Miller, James. "El Paso" The Rose and the Briar 
5. Marty Robbins, "El Paso", Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, 1959.
6. Ibid
7. Ibid
8. Ibid
9.  Ibid
10. Ibid
11. Thomson, Graeme.  I Shot a Man in Reno
12. Marty Robbins, "El Paso".
13. Ibid   

Monday, November 5, 2012

Quote of the Week

“He can neither read nor write and in him already there broods a taste for mindless violence.”
— Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Day of Rest: Rise Up Lazarus

 An excellent track from Patty Loveless' "Mountain Soul" album. I'm a sucker for great bluegrass harmonies.

 Enjoy the day of rest. Back to mayhem and murder next week.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another Stagger Lee roundup.

(Other Stagger Lee posts can be found here, and here)

Taj Mahal

Wilson Pickett

Jerry Reed's odd, heavily sanitized version. Billy and Stack have a quarrel over a broad, then make-up. No one gets murdered, no one even gets shot.  Sorry Jerry, but if you're going to cover Stagger Lee, someone needs to end up dead.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Quote of the Week - 10/31/12

I say murder is abstract.  You pull the trigger and after that you do not understand anything that happens

- Jean Paul Sartre

Happy Halloween from Sing a Song of Murder.


A THIN moon faints in the sky o'erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

Fear not that sound like wind in the trees:
It is only their call that comes on the breeze;
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass;
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop:
It is only the touch of their hands that grope--
For the year's on the turn and it's All Souls' night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.

And where should a man bring his sweet to woo
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too?
Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss,
The empty hands that their fellows miss,
Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green,
Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between?
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

And now they rise and walk in the cold,
Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old.
Let them see us and hear us, and say: "Ah, thus
In the prime of the year it went with us!"
Till their lips drawn close, and so long unkist,
Forget they are mist that mingles with mist!
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the dead can burn and the dead can smite.

Till they say, as they hear us--poor dead, poor dead!--
"Just an hour of this, and our age-long bed--
Just a thrill of the old remembered pains
To kindle a flame in our frozen veins,
A touch, and a sight, and a floating apart,
As the chill of dawn strikes each phantom heart--
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight."

And where should the living feel alive
But here in this wan white humming hive,
As the moon wastes down, and the dawn turns cold,
And one by one they creep back to the fold?
And where should a man hold his mate and say:
"One more, one more, ere we go their way"?
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the living can learn by the churchyard light.

And how should we break faith who have seen
Those dead lips plight with the mist between,
And how forget, who have seen how soon
They lie thus chambered and cold to the moon?
How scorn, how hate, how strive, wee too,
Who must do so soon as those others do?
For it's All Souls' night, and break of the day,
And behold, with the light the dead are away. . .

Edith Wharton, All Souls


Have a lovely day. Stay away from strange houses and old graveyards. Or don't.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Off Topic: Mutiny in Heaven - Nick Cave and the Cavemen

In between The Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds, there was "Nick Cave - Man or Myth?" and "Nick Cave and the Cavemen" (link).  The latter is pretty clever, huh?  I wouldn't really call them separate bands, more like attempts to try out different names.

But there's this . . .

Can someone please tell me what hell he's saying at the beginning of this video?  Is there anyone out there that can translate drunk-heroin-taking-Australian to English?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Papa Loved Mama

Papa Loved Mama, penned by Garth Brooks and Kim Williams, adds another tale to the the pantheon of tunes about killing your spouse/wife/partner/lover/obsession.  Seems a trucker has discovered that his wife likes to fool around while he's on the road.  Naturally he reacts to this in a calm, rational, manner:

Well the picture in the paper showed the scene real well
Papa's rig was buried in the local motel

Yep, he drives his semi into the motel room where she's holed up with her one night stand. You have to admit, "Papa" was creative.  Significant others in other tunes have been stabbed, shot (a popular optioncut with a razor, and beaten with sticks.  They've also been tied to chairs, then shot.  I'm pretty sure that "Papa Loved Mama" was the first song that involved death by truck.

Ever wanted to hear David Allan Coe cover this song?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sing a Song of . . . Steamrollers?: The Big Tragedy AKA Slide Her Under The Door

"The Big Tragedy" contains no murders.  Yet the fate of "little Rosemarie" and the reaction of her beloved upon hearing the news of her demise makes it worthy of inclusion here.

When I first became aware of this song, it was titled "Slide Her Under the Door" sung by one Moses Longpiece. Turns out that when DJ Pete "Mad Daddy"Myers (of WHUS in Cleveland)  received the single, the record bore no mention of the title of the song or the name of the singer.  So the "Big Tragedy" became "Slide Her Under the Door" and Johnny Lance became Moses Longpiece.

I almost hate to call this a novelty song.  I love the guitar sound, and Moses' . . . er, Johnny's smooth, deep vocals.  The punchline and the "CLANG" of the instruments brings it together perfectly. A lovely, near forgotten cut from a time when rock n' roll was truly strange.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hello Darling . . .It's been a long time.

Yeah, I've been gone awhile.

At the end of last year I decided to stop hemming and hawing and devote my free time to writing a novel.  It's been a long process, and has left me with little time for other writing activities, including this blog.

So am I back? Not entirely.  But fear not!  I've enlisted the help of other writers with similar interests (murder, madness, Nick Cave) to help me keep my little blog alive.  So stay tuned.