A Widow's Prayer

July 29, 2008 8:46 PM

A new song. A ballad of a rowdy man and a bad end.

Another murder ballad. I wrote it tonight after fooling around on my ukulele until I came up with a riff that sounded old-timey and mournful, and then I started pasting lyrics across it. Pretty quickly, I realized it was going to be about someone's death. I've been thinking a lot about those folks that you meet every now and then for whom violence seems to be a sort of first language for them: You look at them at the wrong moment and they push you up against a wall, and you can just tell they're hoping you'll take a swing at them. I don't meet people like this often, and, when I do, I stay as far away from them as I can. I suppose I'm a drinker rather than a fighter. It's been quite a long time since I got into any sort of fight at all.

In fact, the last one I remember was in about 1996. I was walking around behind St. Anthony Main late one night, just minding my own business, when I saw a car stopped in the middle of the street, headlights still on. Behind them were two figures, one slumped on the ground, the other standing. As I got closer, I realized that the figure on the ground was a woman, and the figure above her was a man holding a hammer. The woman did not seem conscious, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to leave until I was sure that woman was safe.

I began shouting at the man, hoping to frighten him away, cursing and telling him to get back into his car. He stared at me, shrugged, and then walked toward me, grinning and holding the hammer up. As he got close to me, I reached out and grabbed both his wrists and pulled him close to me. He had wild eyes and a small beard, and we struggled. "This is what I want," he said.

I decided I needed to knock him out. Somehow I got one hand free, and so I punched him in the forehead. His head snapped back, and then rolled back up. He was still grinning. He struck him again, and then again, each time with the same result. Later, reading about bare-knuckle boxing, I found out that gloveless matches could go on for sixty rounds or more. The head can absorb an astounding amount of impact, encased, as it is, in thick bone. I was about as likely to punch him into unconsciousness by hitting his forehead as I was to crack a walnut by blowing on it. And, each time I struck him, he said "This is what I want."

Eventually, I just pulled him as close as I could, hugging him, and I whispered in his ear. "This isn't what I want," I said. "This isn't what I want at all. All I want is for you to get in your car and drive away and leave me alone."

With that, his shoulders slumped. He stepped away from me, and I let go of his arms. With a defeated look, he turned, walked to his car, threw the hammer in the back seat, and drove away. I later found out that he had just been released from prison. He had picked up his girlfriend, filled suitcases with her possessions, accused her of cheating on him, and drove around the city, flinging her belongings out of the car window. Then he had stopped the car and proceeded to beat her, until I had intervened.

When I got home that evening, I looked at my arms. I had not noticed when it was happening, but the claw end of the hammer had made hideous scratches along my forearms.

I suppose this song is what I think happens to men like that.


She wore a long black dress then
She said a widow's prayer
She brought a bouquet to him
It's been three years since she buried him there

He was a fighting man once
With rough and rowdy ways
He had a pistol with him
He would have been thirty in just seventeen days

He had a knife put in him
When he shot Billy Mae
He did not die till morning
Billy he then died the next day

And now she mourns him Monday
Oh with a small bouquet
And there's more flowers Tuesday
Which she leaves on the grave of Billy Mae

posted by Astro Zombie (3 comments total)

Great song, I love the moodiness of it. I didn't notice the turn of storyline at the end until I read the lyrics, then I had to go back and listen again. I could totally hear this worked up as a kind of traditional Irish ballad.

And that story, God damn, now *that* should be a song!

Eventually, I just pulled him as close as I could, hugging him, and I whispered in his ear. "This isn't what I want," I said. "This isn't what I want at all. All I want is for you to get in your car and drive away and leave me alone."

That's one hell of a powerful image.
posted by platinum at 1:39 AM on July 30, 2008

great murder ballad -- I like the way you hum at around 00:41. The scatchy, lo-fi recording really suits the material/treatment.
posted by February28 at 6:34 AM on July 31, 2008

The humming in general sounds really cool with the lo-fi recording. You've gotten good at finding sounds that work well with the aesthetic you've chosen.

I liked the song, but as with I'm Gonna Miss You When I'm Gone the story overpowered the music for me. Would that I led such a colorful life. :-)
posted by danb at 2:15 PM on July 31, 2008

« Older you've got a ring of radiation   |   Kick is a Brick Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments