Sunday, July 20, 2008

A grace note: What song has the best crime-fiction line?

Here's one more ornament to last week's Crime songs post. Your task there was to suggest songs that would make good crime stories. Someone (well, two people, including me) cited Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives" for this chilling line: "She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake." That line is a story in itself or at least the germ of one. What other lines from songs pack that kind of condensed narrative punch?

UPDATE: Here's another crime song: Bob Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," about simultaneous bank robbery and romantic exhaustion and betrayal:

"Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall
And cleaned out the bank safe, it's said that they got off with quite a haul.
In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more member who had business back in town.
But they couldn't go no further without the Jack of Hearts."

Wikipedia says the song has inspired two screenplays, so I'm not the only one who thinks the song makes a good story.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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19 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

Peter,

I've got a great song for you. It's called Tom and Annie by Deric Ruttan.

Not only does it qualify as a great crime fiction story but its written very well.

There aren't any lyrics anywhere online so I recently transcribed them.

Tom & Annie lyrics

Verse

Tom and Annie Becker
Had a farm outside of town
Growing cotton and tobacco
They were the poorest folks around
But anyone who knew the Beckers
Knew how much Tom loved his wife
But no one expected what happened that July

That day the sheriff
Pulled up in their drive
He took out his bullhorn
His men went around the side
He called, “Tom we know you’re in there
The county roads are blocked
Now do us all a favor Tom
We just want to talk.”

The town was just a buzzing
All about what Tom had done
On Main Street in Broad daylight
With an army issue gun.
Now the sheriffs boys were waiting
And if they had to they would fight
But they were scared to get no closer
So they could not here Tom cry.

Chorus

Oh Annie
Didn’t we raise three fine boys
Didn’t we share everything
Our sorrows and our joys

Oh Annie
Why did you keep this thing from me
How can I keep on living
Without your company

Oh Annie
Oh Annie

Verse

Mr. Charlie Watson ran the local hardware store
But thanks to Tom’s revolver
He didn’t run it any more
Tom didn’t try to hide it
He didn’t seem to care
He even told poor Charlie
Just why he was there

The folks knew Tom was hurting
Since Annie went away
She didn’t give a reason
She told him she’d explain some day
But what about poor Charlie Watson
Just lying on the floor.

Well back at Tom’s the sheriff
Sent a man out to the door.
Well you’d a thought by now
Tom would of taken out the back.
Run down by the water
Across the field to the railroad track.
But he was sitting in the kitchen
Empty pistol in a chair.
Talking to a picture of her
Just like she was standing there.

Chorus

Oh Annie
Didn’t we raise three fine boys
Didn’t we share everything
Our sorrows and our joys

Oh Annie

Why did you keep this thing from me
How can I keep on living
Without your company

Oh Annie
Oh Annie

Verse

Again Tom read the letter
Annie’s sister sent the word.
Seems Annie had a baby
But she died while giving birth.
It said ‘Tom your Annie loved you
She could not bear to bring you shame
But the baby there inside her
Did not share your name’.

The letter named the father
It was a man from Annie’s past.
But he wouldn’t be hurting no one else.
Tom had seen to that.
Now Tom cried out to Heaven
“Oh my God what have I done.”
With one hand he touched her picture
With the other he held the gun.
And that’s right where he was
When the sherrif’s man came through the door.
Saw Tom’s hand upon that pistol
And he blew him to the floor.
And as Tom Becker lay there dying
Annie’s picture on his chest.
Those lawmen gathered around him
Cause with his final breath
He cried

Annie
Didn’t we raise three fine boys
Didn’t we share everything
Our sorrows and our joys

Oh Annie
Why did you keep this thing from me
Did you think that I could keep on living
Without your company

Oh Annie
Oh Annie
Oh Annie
Oh Annie

July 20, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is more of a throwback to the other post -a full fledged crime song,but the verse starting with "Crosstown at the Waterton" adds a further punch (or kick in the gut).

Cowboy Junkies

"Murder, Tonight, in The Trailer Park"

Murder tonight in the trailer park
Mrs. Annabelle Evans found
With her throat cut after dark
Her pockets turned inside out
Her dresser drawers turned upside down
Anna's neighbour, Peg, identifies the body
Lets out a hollow kind of sound

Homicide is tying yellow ribbons
Around her silver airstream
Red cherries slashing up the night
Cutting through that cordoned crime scene
There's been a murder
In the trailer park tonight

Murder tonight in the trailer park
Pack your things Ann Marie,
We're heading west
We're going to make a fresh start
I've been saving pennies,
Been looking forward to this day
No time for questions are you coming
Or are you going to stay?

Crosstown at the Waterton
George Evans is sitting tall and tight,
Buying drinks for all the regulars
Bragging about how them bones
Danced for him tonight
There's been a murder
In the trailer park tonight

Murder tonight in the trailer park
Faceless man counting crumpled bills,
Hotel neon fights the dark
Tv set in the corner, they're talking murder
On the late-night news
He turns down the sound,
Waits for the sports,
He only wants to know,
'did I win or did I lose'

There's been a murder
In the trailer park tonight
Murder tonight in the trailer park

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Since Brian beat me to referencing TOM AND ANNIE, I'll add a link to listen to part of the song: http://www.dericruttan.net/audio128/TomandAnnie_s.MP3

Deric has another song on his firs CD called ANGELINA that's about a robbery that goes bad, and ANGELINA is killed. You can listen here: http://www.dericruttan.net/audio128/Angelina_s.MP3

I just have to mention two of my other favourite crime songs - Criminal Mind by Gowan, and L'affaire DuMoutier (Say To Me) by The Box - videos for both are on YouTube.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIjddye2JSA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwAWHOnrKjo

Interesting I've come up with all Canadian references too. I'd probably be tempted to add Tom Cochrane's THE LOADING and a bunch of songs by Bruce Cockburn...

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

Shawn Colvin's Sunny Came Home has a chilling little phrase:

Sunny came home with a list of names
She didn't believe in transcendence
It's time for a few small repairs she said
Sunny came home with a vengeance

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, Brian, that's a chilling little collection of verses, of which this one is chillingly amusing:

"Mr. Charlie Watson ran the local hardware store
But thanks to Tom’s revolver
He didn’t run it any more"

Crime writing must run in that Ruttan family. Thanks.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In re the Cowboy Junkies, I like these lines:

"Pack your things Ann Marie,
We're heading west"

The way Margo Timmons sings, I imagine the song being sung by a half-asleep neighbor to the killing.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sandra, I've seen the video of "L'affaire DuMoutier." There's a bit of clumsy literalism to it, but those guys knew how to build suspense and how to deliver a bang-up ending.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Bill Crider said...

I've loved that Dylan song since I first heard it, too many years ago to count.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, I bet she makes the crime sound so sweet, too. I've been watching a video of her singing "You Ain't Going Nowhere" with Roseanne Cash and Mary Chapin Carpenter at a Bob Dylan tribute concert. The video made me want to think about exploring country music, which I'd probably have to do in disguise and under an assumed name.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, I've loved "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" since I bought Blood on the Tracks on vinyl. And the song is much better in its intended medium than it is on the page.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, I just took another look at your selection. "`It's time for a few small repairs,' she said." Wow, that's right up there in the chilling department.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Bill Peschel said...

Eminem's "Bonnie and Clyde" snuck into my computer on night via Tori Amos' version, and it's absolutely chilling. It's about a guy who takes his little daughter along while he takes "mama for a wittle walk along the pier.

"Baby, don't cry honey, don't get the wrong idea
Mama's too sweepy to hear you screamin in her ear (ma-maa!)
That's why you can't get her to wake, but don't worry
Da-da made a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake."

Hearing this late at night, in the quiet of my office, in Tori's voice, chilled me. It was like listening to a Poe story set to music.

My respect for Eminem went up quite a bit on the basis of this song.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Some of these songs have sent a chill through me. This is one of them. Someone suggested Eminem's "Stan" in a comment on a previous post, so maybe there is something more to the guy than the strutting, obnoxious publicity-seeking.

July 20, 2008  
Anonymous justcorbly said...

Warren Zevon had a knack. From "Excitable Boy":

"He took little Susie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he's just an excitable boy

After ten long years they let him out of the home
Excitable boy, they all said
And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he's just an excitable boy"


Then, there's his "Lawyers, Guns and Money":

"I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too"

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Lawyers, Guns and Money" is an interesting choice because of its thriller storyline, as opposed to the noir tinge of most of these crime songs. I think I suggested "Excitable Boy" in a comment to an earlier post for the line about smearing the pot roast all over his chest, which sounds like a psycho killer waiting to happen. And, while we're on the subject, how about "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads?

July 20, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hello Peter, Yes, Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts is one of Dylan's best. How about, "Down by the River" by Neil Young. "Down by the river, I shot my lady."

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And then there's "Hey, Joe":

"Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand
Hey Joe, I said where you goin' with that gun in your hand?
I'm going down to shoot my old lady
You know, I've caught her messin' around with another man."


I wonder if it and "Down by the River" have a common folk-song ancestor.

July 20, 2008  
Anonymous LauraRoot said...

From Hazard by Richard Marx

"No one understood what I felt for mary
No one cared until the night she went out walking alone
And never came home
Man with a badge came knocking next morning
Here was I surrounded by a thousand fingers suddenly
Pointed right at me"

July 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. That's a name I didn't expect to turn up, but I can't argue with the song's sentiment. It sounds like a musical version of Hitchcock's movie The Wrong Man.

July 24, 2008  

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