Posts Tagged ‘Clyde Arnold’

Murder songs Vol. 3

September 14th, 2010 4 comments

When we read about a vicious crime, our sympathy extends to the victim”s family and we grieve the loss of another fragment of our innocence as humanity”s capacity for cruelty relentlessly chips away at the “heile Welt” of our childhood. But rarely do our thoughts concern those who love the criminal, whose loss of a loved one to the wheels of justice may be compounded by their own incomprehension at the act, the social stigma and indignity of their association with the criminal (the family”s final visit to the condemned man in Dead Man Walking drives that home powerfully), and possibly economic hardship. And with that out of the way, let”s meet some killers.


Clyde Arnold – Black Smoke And Blue Tears (1961).mp3
In Clyde Arnold”s superb 1961 rockabilly song, the narrator recalls boarding a train to commence his sentence for murdering a man in a gambling dispute (“I didn”t mean to kill him. Why did he have to die?”). On the platform he gives his darling a last kiss goodbye “” “I tried to hide my handcuffs, she tried to hide her tears” “” before he boarded the train of the black smoke which with the blue tears in his yes obscure his last vision of the girl.

It”s been a while since then, and she has evidently moved on. “Seems like a hundred years have passed since that sad, sad day. I guess by now she”s forgotten me, since I’ve been away.” But he has not forgotten. “Lookin” through the bars tonight, dark clouds in the sky,remind me of that coal black smoke and blue tears in my eyes.”


Johnny Cash – 25 Minutes To Go (live, 1969).mp3
We don”t know the crime of Cash”s narrator, but we know that “they”re building a gallows outside my cell; I’ve got 25 minutes to go”. Other than high treason, you presumably get executed only for murder in the US. The narrator counts down the final 25 minutes before his execution. We learn that his last meal was beans, that his appeals are unsuccessful, that he spits a mocking sheriff in the eye (to the delight of the audience at Folsom Prison), that the trap and rope are being checked, that he does not want to die but eventually he must go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o… I”m not sure whether the song is necessarily an anti-capital punishment statement, but the black humour barely masks the inhumanity of a man counting down the minutes till his carefully appointed death.


Alice Cooper ““ Killer (1971).mp3
Alice Cooper”s narrator is feeling rather sorry for himself. “What did I do to deserve such a fate?” See, somebody handed him a gun. It”s always somebody else”s fault (except in Johnny Cash”s songs. He always takes the rap). The narrator says he “didn’t really want to get involved in this thing”. But he did, and now he is facing the consequences for his crime, no matter his complaining that nothing ever came easy. Poverty and hardship may explain crime, perhaps even justify petty crimes, but not everybody who is poor becomes a violent criminal. We all have a choice. So much for the lyrics. The sound of the song hints at an alternative reality: it sounds to me as though the narrator is descending into madness. Was he mentally ill when he committed the crime? Is he now committing suicide (“Now I need to escape. Someone near me, calling my name.”).

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