Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Incarceration Inspiration!

Some of us never stole a thing in our lives and never had a run-in with the law or officers in any way. Some of us may have admitted to our priest or other spiritual advisor to some indiscretion that the Lord above wouldn't approve of, but may or may not land a person in jail. Some of us, like those 1% douchebags on Wall St., are simply too wealthy to be prosecuted and go free despite being evil and a terrible menace to society and continually committing crime after crime after crime.
 But every once in a while law enforcement nails someone who deserves it, and that's usually when some good music can be made:

In the late 1960s and early seventies, with Funk, Disco, Heavy Metal and even psychedelic rock bands playing in the other bars and clubs around him, Stompin' Tom Connors went into the Horseshoe Tavern in downtown Toronto and packed the place everytime he played, with his own brand of country music and a library of his own material. Stompin' Tom himself was never known to be any kind of renegade, but there were times in his life he was so broke that more than once he got himself arrested for vagrancy just to get a warm bed in the coldest part of winter. Kicking his boot against a plywood board to keep time in a noisy bar isn't illegal, but one of Tom Connor's most famous songs told the story of a real SOB serving time named Ben, and the song was titled simply: "Ben in the Pen" It isn't known if the story is based on a real person.

Johnny Cash never served what's referred to as 'hard time'. The truth is that, despite the singer/songwriter's black clothes, badass reputation and romantic cowboy-outlaw image, his numerous arrests were mostly misdemeanors that landed him in local jails for one night at a time. In fact,  the one time that Cash was crossing the border into Texas and caught with drugs on him, it wasn't heroin or cocaine but Dexedrine and other dubiously prescribed medications. Instead of prison time, he received a suspended sentence.
   But Johnny Cash is famous for writing the song Folsom Prison Blues, and when he managed to kick his drug habit, he actually did go to Folsom Prison, taking his band with him and some recording equipment, resulting in one of the very best live-performance albums of all time.


   British punk-rockers the Clash were well known for many altercations with the police, usually of the mischeivous kind, damages to hotels and such, but also including fights with unruly audience members. Lead singer Joe Strummer later came to regret the fights; after being arrested in Hamburg Germany, he said: 'you can't face violence with violence. It doesn't work.'
  Although the song was originally made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four and revived by The Clash in the late 1970s, I Fought the Law has since been covered and re-covered by a whole host of other artists and bands, not all of whom have had such a difficulty with authority as the Clash. In truth, it seems like there's always someone coming up with yet another version of I Fought the Law every once in a while. Either there are more criminals than there seems in the musical commmunity, or the guitar riffs in this song are just too cool to resist
   This iconic jailouse tune was actually written by a guy named Sonny Curtis. Sonny Curtis was the guitarist/singer that had the unfortunate job of replacing Buddy Holly in the band The Crickets way back in 1959. But if a musician had to pick only one song to be known for, you couldn't pick a better one than the one about the armed-robber who was now breaking rocks in  the hot sun. (Sonny Curtis also wrote the theme for the Mary Tyler Moore Show on 70s TV as well as several other songs.)

As suggested in the previous examples, 
It usually doesn't end well for the main character in the song that tells the story of someone that has an altercation with legal authorities.

 We all know that prison is a terrible place. Losing your freedom for any amount of time is horrible and it's supposed to be that way as punishment for people who commit terrible crimes. And civil society has to be protected, after all, we can't have criminals running around attacking people whenever and however they feel like; then we'd all be investment bankers and we know that can't happen.
  But AC/DC wrote a song called Jailbreak about a prisoner that simply wouldn't accept his sentence. 
 In this song, a convicted prisoner, determined not to spend the rest of his life in the slammer, plans an ill-conceived escape and despite guns, spotlights and sirens he makes it out.... sort of.

  Snow has always claimed that he was telling his own true story in the song Informer. In fact, the song was already being played on radio and on video-television while he was still serving out his sentence for assault.
   How much of the story is true is unclear. Did the police really break down his door and catch him escaping through his window? Was he really charged with murder because he wouldn't turn informer? Is there really such a prison as East-Detention?
   Actually the answer to the last two questions is definitely yes. However, the specific reason he was charged with attempted-murder is not known. The charge was reduced to aggravated-assault and the sentence was for eight-months.
   Despite being parodied by Jim Carrey and criticized for being another white-guy cashing in on music with black cultural roots, the song Informer is still highly recognizable and remains a favourite song among many from the early nineties. The song has millions of hits on YouTube and it's catchy sound and rather dubious message has also inspired numerous follow-up crimes: namely the many near-fatal attempts at Karaoke suicide by singing 'Informer' by those all-too confident amateur rappers and people too drunk to realize that it isn't so easy to rap jamaican-style at the drop of a needle.