(rebroadcast from February, 2010, now with added calcium)
But, unlike my parents and their generation, I don’t make a point to watch a news broadcast each day, merely pausing on the news channels if something catches my attention.
The other night, as I was watching some basketball, there was a commercial for the local news. It was some perky chick yammering about a murder suspect possibly being loose – or, in the parlance of our legal system, on the lam – in the “mid-state area.”
Details, she assured me, would be provided at ten.
A killer? In our relatively calm, safe, usually unhomicidal neighborhood?
At ten, I actually went into a holding pattern with the remote. Perhaps this was news that I might need.
(of course, if it had been truly vital information, shouldn’t they have told me twenty minutes earlier?)
It ended up being a murder that seems to have resulted from a domestic disturbance. I’m not even sure if the town where the crime had taken place is even in the station’s broadcast area.
Hardly clear and present danger.
Dodgy attempts to attract viewers aside, this station lost any credibility with Paloma and me long ago. One evening, we happened to be watching and there was a report on a murder at a restaurant in the wee hours earlier that morning.
And the visual accompanying the words was of someone dropping a couple of slices of pizza onto a restaurant’s kitchen floor. The camera was focused on the prone pie pieces as the broadcast moved on to Rudy with sports.
We turned to each other and stared. To borrow from the late, great Bill Hicks – our expressions were like two dogs that had been shown a card trick.
Here is a quartet of songs inspired by real-life murderers…
The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays
from The Fine Art Of Surfacing (1979)
San Diego teenager Brenda Spencer shot two adults, killing them, and wounded eight children from her bedroom window in 1979. Her explanation for her deeds was “I don’t like Mondays.”
For The Boomtown Rats, the song was on its way to becoming their American breakthrough when the Spencer family threatened legal action and the label stopped promoting the song.
Thirty years later, the wickedly dark and totally catchy almost hit is rightfully regarded to be a classic from the period.
Die Toten Hosen – Gary Gilmore’s Eyes
from Learning English, Lesson One (1991)
The Dead Pants – that’s the English translation of German punk band Die Toten Hosen’s name.
That was enough to make me snag a promo copy of Learning English, Lesson One one day at work. I was glad I did as it was more fun than killin’ strangers.
Killin’ strangers is what led to Giilmore being executed in a well-publicized affair in the mid-’70s. He requested that his eyes be donated for transplant.
Gary Gilmore’s Eyes is a cover of The Adverts’ original from the late ’70s.
Concrete Blonde – Jonestown
from Mexican Moon (1992)
I was in junior high when the Jonestown massacre occured and over 900 people, at the urging of Jim Jones, drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid. I remember the vivid images in Newsweek magazine and the television mini-series that had me and my friends tripping the next day at school.
I think it was one of my first what-the-@#$%! (international division) moments in my life.
As for Concrete Blonde, I always mentally shortlist them as one of the acts of the late ’80s/early ’90s that deserved a bigger audience.
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
from Nebraska (1982)
In 1982, I mostly knew Bruce Springsteen for the user-friendly The River from two years earlier. I was bumfoozled when I heard the stark Nebraska.
I was in college when Springsteen released the mammoth Live/1975–85. If you weren’t there, I assure you that the hype surrounding the five-album set was considerable.
Hearing some of the songs live prompted me to really spend some time with Nebraska.
(I quickly understood the praise heaped on it over the years)
Nebraska‘s title song was inspired by the two-month killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the ’50s.
Those events also inspired the 1973 movie Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. I remember Badlands airing on prime-time television with those parental warnings that only served to make the movie a must-see event to a kid.