Tag Archive: murder


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.

Discernment

John Lennon had a way of seeing into the truth of things. All the masks people use to hide their true selves were just smoke screens to John. Not only did he not really have any of his own, but he could see past other peoples’ and get a glimpse of who they really were. It’s one of the reasons I admire him so much, for I share that quality. I see what a person projects sub-consciously as well as what they want me to see. Sometimes I’m pretty myopic about certain things, and I often have no idea what to do with my knowledge, but I can usually look at a situation and tell what’s really going on.

The technical term for that is “discernment.” John’s own discernment is no clearer than on the track “Crippled Inside.” Humans have all sorts of masks that they hide behind, and to someone like John (and me), they’re frustrating because they’re so pointless. It’s like an elephant holding up a little twig and saying “You can’t see me!” On “Crippled Inside,” John cuts right to the quick and leaves you with nowhere to hide. Its bouncy and music-hall melody make it easier to swallow, but it’s always gone down pretty easily for me; just like John, I don’t have any masks, either.

John’s frustration with the facetiousness and contrivance of scared little men comes from a simmer to a boil in “Gimme Some Truth.” The sentiment in this song is yet again something I completely understand. Seeing the truth of a matter makes it even more frustrating when people purposely try to conceal it. Politicians are the easiest to blame, and John has some pretty unkind words to say about them. When a politician says something, I know that what they don’t say is even more important than what they do. There’s often a hidden agenda behind their smooth words and breezy attitude, and a si9ngle statement probably doesn’t mean exactly what it says.

Politicians have the gift of spinning something until it revolves around what they want it to revolve around, but it usually doesn’t work on me. I know there’s some hidden side that they’re not discussing nearly every time they open their mouths. The direction they want it to go is usually along the lines of what their constituents and their political party wants to hear. Republicans and Democrats have packages of things they say, and you can almost predict what they’re going to say as if from a script. It just takes a little discernment to unravel their manipulation.

Taking a different than both “Crippled Inside” and “Gimme Some Truth,” the smoky, bluesy hypnosis of “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, Mama, I Don’t Want to Die” uses heart and soul instead of the blunt approach of the other two. Instead of talking plainly about lies and deceptions, John reveals on “Soldier” his existential longings, his desire to find his place and finally be comfortable in his own skin. He lists all the things he doesn’t want to be, but what does he want to be?

John and I may share a discerning nature, but John had a big advantage I don’t have, and that’s boldness. My interest in harmony and not starting fights is quite often bigger than my desire for complete honesty. John, on the other hand, saw harmony as something that had to be fought for. It wouldn’t just generate on its own, so we need to work to create it, and then work some more to maintain it. This is great wisdom, and all too often people let their own needs and desires trump the principles of peace, love and coexistence.

“all we are saying is give Jesus a chance!”

What’s ironic is that in fighting for peace and harmony, John Lennon was one of the most controversial figures of his day, generating a lot of discord. Isn’t that term strange? “Fighting for peace.” All in all, John Lennon may have been in the papers as out in front for the struggle for peace, but he didn’t actually create any harmony until his tragic and senseless death. While it’s not true that real artists aren’t appreciated in their own time, it is true that words aren’t usually enough to change people’s hearts. Sometimes things need to get a lot worse before they can get better, and it often takes something as horrible as a murder to put things on a different and more positive path. Just look at Jesus.

Yes, I really did just draw a parallel between John Lennon and Jesus Christ. Deal with it.

Next: it wouldn’t be a John Lennon album without a personal attack or two.

Joe

While the origins and authorship of “Hey Joe” are in dispute and probably lost to the sands of time, Jimi Hendrix’s version is the most well-known, if not the first. The Leaves have what is considered the first recording of it, done in November of 1965. As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s a Jimi song.

There was this guy I was friendly with in college whose name was Joe. One day I saw him in the cafeteria and I said, “Hey Joe. Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?” He didn’t say hello back, but just looked at me with utter confusion, slightly disturbed. “Huh?” he said. I hung my head and sighed. “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady; I caught her messin’ around with another man.’” More confusion, and his voice rose about an octave and a half. “HUH??” But I saw him a few more times in the coming weeks, and said the same thing to him each time. Eventually he got it. Around the 4th time, he responded, “Oh wait, I know this! Umm… I’m goin’ to shoot my woman, ‘cause…” He took a few seconds with a look of deep concentration on his face. “’Cause she was cheatin’ on me!” He looked like a 7th grader that just won the spelling bee. “Close enough,” I said with a smile.

The casual violence of the lyrics is indicative of the blues, a low-class, grimy and common type of music from its origins onward. And Jimi’s version is blues all the way, with an electric twist. His voice lends itself to the material creating a unique synergy. The criminal story told is made vaguely more disturbing by Jimi’s at once lazy and intense tone. His improvisational “and that ain’t too cool…” gives me a little shiver even to this day.

As flip as Jimi is about murder in “Hey Joe,” that attitude is turned on its head on “Foxey Lady.” This is probably the heaviest and most powerful track on the entire record; how appropriate that it’s saved for the guttural, visceral sensations of physical and sexual attraction. In “Foxey Lady,” Jimi’s a roaring tiger, stalking his prey with absolute certainty that it will be his. This song is all id; the entire inflection, both lyrically and musically, is “I want you, and I will HAVE you.” Even for the blues, this is pretty startling.

“Love or Confusion” is a fairly straight-forward song about the bewilderment that overtakes a person when they embark on a romantic relationship. The real prize here is that Jimi creates a “drone” that would make Lou Reed proud. The tonic played on an electric guitar just once is sustained by the loop of feedback created by the distortion; it goes on so long that there is no end in sight. It’s commonly said that one note played for 35 minutes with feeling is better than the fastest and most technically excellent notes played in a dead and mechanical way. If you can’t understand that concept, just listen to “Love or Confusion” and you’ll get it.

Jimi’s approach, while most commonly like that of a wild animal, is not one-dimensional. There are a few moments of tenderness, made even more poignant by the sharp edges of the rest of the album. “May This Be Love” is nothing more than a love song, unabashed in its message, yet poetic enough to avoid seeming maudlin. I’m constantly taken by surprise by this song, especially wedged between “Love or Confusion” and “I Don’t Live Today,” the latter of which ends with a swirling sonic chaos over which Jimi intones “there ain’t no life nowhere…”

Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding

Right after “I Don’t Live Today,” a moment of aggressive hopelessness, we’re treated to another softer song, on which Jimi proves his mastery of this type of material as well as the hard stuff. Not many artists since him were able to shift so effortlessly between these two extremes. “The Wind Cries Mary,” apparently inspired by a Curtis Mayfield riff, reveals a poet’s heart. Something as mundane as an argument with his girlfriend about her cooking can produce this type of response; for a poet, anything can be a source of inspiration, from a sunrise to a fingernail clipping.