Richard Ramirez

Richard Ramirez

In the mid-‘80s, Los Angeles was in the grip of a full-scale panic, and it was caused by a man the press and police dubbed “The Walk-In Killer” but later renamed “The Night Stalker.” His killing spree was remarkable just by itself, but it’s accompanied by numerous atrocities done to the victims. What was done to them, both when they were living and dead, is impossible to explain or understand. Some were shot in the head, some were stabbed multiple times, some were raped… it gets worse. One woman had a T-shape carved into her left breast, one woman had her eyes gouged out by hand, and another had a pentagram drawn on her thigh with lipstick.

This was all done by Richard Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from Texas with a long rap sheet of drugs and traffic violations. After his capture, he was convicted of 13 counts of first degree murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault, and 14 counts of burglary. His general pattern towards the end of his spree was he would enter the home of a victim, shoot and kill the man (if there was one), and rape or otherwise sexually violate the woman, sometimes killing her afterward and sometimes letting her live, forever bearing the mental scars of what happened to her.

While we as logical and sane citizens find it impossible to truly penetrate just why he would do what he did, several explanations have been posited. The first and easiest is that he’s just completely bat-shit crazy – no mystery to it, he’s merely nuts. The second is that he’s a Satanist. Any Los Angelino could tell you that he stood up in the middle of his trial and shouted “Hail Satan!” and showed off the pentagram he had carved into his palm. Those who don’t know very much about the Church of Satan find Satanism to be an easy scapegoat for any number of atrocious behaviors. The third, and most difficult to defend, is that he’s an AC/DC fan.

There aren’t very many people who sincerely believe anymore that rock and roll is the language of the devil, but in 1985, folks were more apt to point the finger that way. All it took was for Ramirez to leave an AC/DC hat at a crime scene, and then for him to admit his intense fandom of the band, especially the song “Night Prowler.” That naturally lead into accusations of AC/DC making godless, murderous music (and being Satanists), and of rock and roll in general causing people to go on killing sprees. It seems far-fetched, but some people really think that.

There’s a company called Beka Books that makes textbooks for Christian homeschool education. I went to a small private Christian high school, and we used Beka books almost exclusively. The curriculum for my Biology class, besides teaching creation science from a Protestant perspective and discrediting evolution up and down, had in its teaching that people who listened to rock and roll were put into a zombie-like trance called “zoning,” and their behavior could be completely unpredictable, not being influenced by any sort of morality. Short version: don’t listen to rock and roll, ‘cause you will probably kill people. “Zoning,” by the way, wasn’t presented as a theory or opinion, but as fully confirmed scientific fact.

my high school Biology book, published by Beka

my high school Biology book, published by Beka

I swear I’m not making this up.

If I had to make a wager, I’d say what was going on with Richard Ramirez had much more to do with the inside rather than the outside. The guy quite obviously had major issues with both his brain and his soul. Those issues might have been intrinsic and always there, or they might have been caused by some series of traumatic events that happened to him. My guess is both. But you can rest assured (and the members of AC/DC can, too) that it was NOT AC/DC’s music that caused him to butcher and ravage so many people. His citing of “Night Prowler” is very akin to Charles Manson saying The White Album gave him cues for his own murders.

To be fair, “Night Prowler” is a pretty nasty song. The basic idea Bon had when he wrote it was teenage sex, but sex between two underage people was very high taboo at the time. So rather than use a straight-up storytelling mode (Bon’s usual method), he used a killer stalking a girl at her house and killing her as an allegory for sex. ‘Cause, y’know, that’s so much better…

At its most innocent, it’s about a horny teenage boy sneaking into his girlfriend’s room at night. One level up on the sleaziness scale, it’s about a criminal who stalks from house to house at night, raping anonymous women. Going further, it could be about a vampire who does that. Further still, it could be about some Satanic ritual in which young girls are stolen from their homes, raped, and then sacrificed to some evil god.

I won’t speak to how disturbing that is (it should be self-evident), but I will say that to get a meaning out of “Night Prowler” other than the first level (or the second if you miss the allegory), you’d really have to let your imagination run away with you. Knowing Bon Scott as a songwriter and singer, he probably didn’t have the darkness in him to write a song about rape in any form, even a negative one. Ultimately, he was just a guy who loved to party, and he didn’t care enough about the consequences (short- or long-term) to let them get in the way of that. He loved fun, and rape ain’t fun; end of story.

“Night Prowler” closes the album, and Bon closes the song with “Shazbot! Nanu nanu!” as a sort of sign-off. “Nanu nanu” is a phrase said by goofy alien Mork on the ‘70s sitcom Mork and Mindy as a sign-off for his transmissions home. In an ironic twist, this sign-off would be Bon’s last recorded message to the world, as he died a mere 6 months after Highway to Hell’s release.

Next: the brothers Young.

Advertisements