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.