Sunday, June 14, 2015

Blood of the Wolf

When the idea for the Narrative Music series occurred to me, there were a couple of songs that immediately leapt to mind as perfect examples that I believed somebody'd jump on quick (still waiting for a piece on The Steve Miller Band's Take the Money and Run, everybody or hey, man, any ol' Leadbelly tune or fir-shits-ache Mack the Knife), but maybe the single best example of what I was looking for was Hammell On Trial's Blood of the Wolf.

The third track on Ed Hammell's 1996 album, Big As Life, it's two tales in one song.

First is the tale of an awkward 15 year old kid, named Frank, who conspires with his girlfriend to knock off the Kentucky Fried Chicken where she works. The kid is described as a lanky ball of nervous, twitchy energy already going bald and with no better defined motive than his teenaged acne, piss and vinegar. He and the girl hatch a plan for him to bust in in a ski mask while she's at the counter and demand the cash, only she poultrys out without warning him, calls in sick and when he makes his dramatic entrance she's left him to twist.

Realizing he's been betrayed, he pauses a moment and then improvises the heist by grabbing a fork and slamming it down on the counter, cutting his hand in the process, and demanding the cash. His ridiculousness is first laughed at, but his refusal to be ridiculous, the ferocity of his conviction and commitment to the act win the day and he gets away with a couple hundred dollars. No further information on the fate of the love affair.

The second story in the song is a survival tale of two buddies who drive a U-Haul truck, caught in a snowstorm near the Canadian border, wrapping themselves in grungy flannels found discarded from earlier warmer days in the cab and trying not to freeze to death. The pair are Ed and his buddy Frank who tells him the story of his teenage desperado act. The telling of the story, and Frank's Bon Scott impressions don't just pass the time, it gets the pair into stitches and maybe even saves their lives (I like to think it does anyhow). The pair are dug out of the blizzard alive and delirious after hours forever bonded by the experience and confession.

The first story features petty crime and desperation and insecurity turned to swagger. The second is almost a reversal - overconfidence turned to an accurate self-assessment - and the song ends with Ed hearing the sound of the truck, the wild cry of a wolf child and the vision of a ski-mask wearing teenager, armed with a fork forever running through the night. It's romantic and pathetic in equal measure and one of the best crime short stories I've ever heard.

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