Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Red Hair, Black Leather

I first knew Kent Gowran's name when his story High Noon Boogie appeared in Plots With Guns alongside one of mine. Since then his blog Blood, Sweat & Murder where he holds forth on film, music and literature has been a regular stop for me. His tastes run off the crime reservation and on into horror and the dark beyond and he knows his shit. Go ahead, wander onto his blog with some half assed opinion you wanna vent and see what happens. Aside from PWG, his fiction has been published in Horror Garage magazine and A Twist of Noir. Kent is the contributor for this edition of the Narrative Music series.

1952 Vincent Black Lightning

Richard Thompson wasn’t the first name that came to mind when I thought about writing this. Truth is, Richard Thompson is one of those musicians I always seem to forget about. It’s just one of those things, I suppose.

A boy. A girl. A motorcycle. Those are the players in the doomed from the start love story in Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

We come in on the action as Red Molly speaks to James about his motorcycle and he admires her appreciation of the exquisite machine, and shows his own appreciation for Red Molly herself:

“Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.”

Right from the start we know this affair is doomed as James tells her he’s been running against the law since he was 17, and he’s 21 now, but 22 is a bit of a shaky prospect. He’s direct with Red Molly, no pretense of a long, happy life together, riding the Vincent Black Lightning in the country on weekends and filling a little cottage with kids. He can’t see the future, but even though barely more than a kid, his eyes are open and knows the road he’s put himself on can’t be beat, not even on a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

“And if fate should break my stride then I'll give you my Vincent to ride.”


And it isn’t long before James hits a dead end when attempts to pull off an armed robbery, and the police call for Red Molly.

“Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside. Oh, come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside.”


James is just about dead when Red Molly arrives, and here Thompson delivers one of my favorite lines of the song:

“But he smiled to see her cry.”

There’s something perfect about that line, it tells you what you need to know about the doomed love between these two characters:

Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.”


It’s a short song, but a complete story. Spare and economical, yet full of pitch perfect detail.

As he’s dying there in the hospital bed, young James is true to his word and slips Red Molly the keys to the motorcycle. Thompson closes the song with angles swooping down from Heaven with leather and chrome, and James gives her one last kiss and dies.

I’ve always wondered what happens to Red Molly and the Vincent Black Lightning after the end of the song, just like I’ve always wondered what becomes of Jamalee Merridew after the end of Daniel Woodrell’s
Tomato Red, or of the kid Gary at the end of Joe by Larry Brown. But I don’t think on it too hard, because those stories are done, and there’s something special and true in the not knowing, if you know what I mean.

7 comments:

KentAllard said...

Great song, and a great essay on it. You picked out my favorite line from it "But he smiled to see her cry."

Jim Mcleod said...

Good one Kent

Iren said...

great song, I have always wanted to hear what Neko Case could do with it. I discovered it via The Del McCory band version on an Oxford American magazine comp years ago.

jedidiah ayres said...

Those Oxford American comps rule

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul D. Brazill said...

Great post. Don't know the song so ...I'm off to find it.

Kent said...

Thanks for checking it out, folks.

Iren - That Del version is excellent.