I was researching a post about murder ballads -- a fascinating musical genre all its own -- when I happened to discover an even more rareified subgenre of murder ballad: the serial killer song. A lot of people find serial killers fascinating, and it seems musicians are no exception; from Jack the Ripper to the BTK killer, almost every serial killer of even minor notoriety of the past hundred years has had a song written about them. (Feel free to debate the merits of honoring the most brutal members of our society with these kinds of tributes in the comments.) There are a lot of these songs out there, and I wanted to cover a wide range of them, so this'll be the first of a two-part blog.
Jeffrey Dahmer: Pearl Jam's "Dirty Frank"
I heard this song plenty of times growing up, but because Eddie Vedder's singing is incoherent on this track, I could never figure out what he was singing about. Until I looked it up:
Dirty Frank Dahmer he's a gourmet cook, yeah.
I got a recipe for anglo-saxin soup, yeah.
Wanted a pass. So she relaxed. Now the little groupie's getting chopped up in the back.
I got a cupboard full of fleshy fresh ingredients
Apparently it was inspired by a creepy bus driver named Frank, who Vedder jookingly theorized might actually be a Dahmer-style serial killer. They were touring with the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they wrote this, and the stylistic influence is undeniable.
Ed Gein: Blind Melon's "Skinned"
Ed Gein was a mother-loving weirdo who made ladies into lampshades in a creepy old Wisconsin farmhouse in the 50s, inspiring characters as disparate as Norman Bates, Leatherface and "Buffalo" Bill -- as well as a number of songs. Check out this country-fried classic from Blind Melon:
Son of Sam: Elliott Smith, "Son of Sam"
Elliott plays it on Conan O'Brien:
John Wayne Gacy: Sufjan Stevens' "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."
Absolutely haunting. (Also, one of the best "spec" music videos I've seen on YouTube. Kudos, Clairesquare!)
Ian Brady: The Smiths, "Suffer Little Children"
Ian Brady was a Scottish serial killer who raped and murdered five children in the 1960s (sometimes with the help of his lover, Myra Hindley, dumping their bodies in a remote moor.
The Green River Killer: Neko Case, "Deep Red Bells"
Gary Ridgway killed some 48 women in the Pacific Northwest, mostly dumping their bodies along the Green River in Washington during the early 80s. He was finally caught in 2001.
A few of Neko's lyrics:
It always has to come this
Red bells ring this tragic gun
Lost sight of the overpass
The daylight won't remember her
When speckled fronds raise round your bones
Who took the time to fold your clothes
Who shook the Valley of the Shadow