Year: 2004
Original Format: CD

In this episode: Burroughs calls the law. Our hero does some time, is released, discovers that his woman has been sleeping with his best friend, and takes revenge; takes some time to reevaluate his priorities; and re-emerges with a new mission: to teach all the fakers and perpetrators a lesson they won’t soon forget.

Playlist:

Burroughs Called the Law William S. Burroughs
This was recorded in Tangier sometime in the Sixties, then included in the 1986 WSB album Break Through in Grey Room. In 2014, producers Dub Spencer and Trance Hill used it on their album William S. Burroughs in Dub, where it sounded like this:

In the Jailhouse Now The Soggy Bottom Boys
This song’s history stretches all the way back to 1928, when it was recorded by Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. The O Brother Where Art Thou version, recorded 70 years later, doesn’t sound all that different to my ear.

I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow Hank Williams
“I have such vivid memories of him considering i was so young. My dad was a heavy drinker-he drowned in a river when I was 3 years old in 1949. He loved Hanks music, Jimmie Rogers too. He had those old 78s. My mom played them after he died and left her with 7 kids and no income. I was about 6 or 7 when it came over the radio that he had died. My mom was ironing and I recall she had to sit down in a chair to recover.” —YouTube commenter “bacsi19461”

Folsom Prison Blues (Studio Version) Johnny Cash
The live version of this song is so ubiquitous that it’s a bit disorienting to hear the studio recording, which is comparatively staid and airless but seemed to fit better in this context. According to the Wikipedia, “‘Folsom Prison Blues’ was recorded at the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee on July 30, 1955. The producer was Sam Phillips, and the musicians were Cash (vocals, guitar), Luther Perkins (guitar), and Marshall Grant (bass). Like other songs recorded during his early Sun Records sessions, Cash had no drummer in the studio, but replicated the snare drum sound by inserting a piece of paper (like a dollar bill) under the guitar strings and strumming the snare rhythm on his guitar.”

Weighted Down (The Prison Song) Skip Spence
This is the emotional center of Spence’s legendary Oar album, which (says Wikipedia) “was recorded over seven days in December 1968 in Nashville, and features Spence on all of the instruments. Described as ‘one of the most harrowing documents of pain and confusion ever made,’ the album was recorded after Spence had spent six months in Bellevue Hospital… following a delusion-driven attempt to attack Moby Grape bandmates Don Stevenson and Jerry Miller with a fire axe. At the time of Spence’s release from hospital, he had written a number of songs that he wanted to record. Producer David Rubinson suggested that Spence record at the Columbia studios in Nashville, where there was a particularly patient recording engineer, Mike Figlio. Rubinson instructed Figlio to keep the tapes running at all times, to record everything that Spence did.” Addressed both to an unfaithful lover and the “friend” she betrayed the singer with, “Weighted Down” seems like an allegory for Spence’s feelings of alienation and dislocation at the time, and is all the more “harrowing” for sounding mostly cold and controlled. Is he waiting for the woman, the friend, or both? In any case, it’s not going to end well.

Rocky Raccoon The Beatles
I don’t know if this is a perfect segue, exactly, but I do like the way the transition from the last song to this one is musically very smooth, but with a neck-snapping, 180-degree change in tone.

Justify My Thug Jay-Z/Danger Mouse
I used to have a friend named Mike Woods who was a barber in Oakland, and from time to time I would call on him to explain to me the complex web of meanings and references in a rap song. We never got around to this one though, and Mike sadly died very young a few years back, so there are a lot of things here I’ll never understand.

Killer M.C. Wyclef Jean
The instrumental bed Wyclef used for this interlude turns out to be by “The Dudaim (Hebrew: הדודאים‎)… an Israeli folk duo which was active between the years 1957–1993, consisting of vocalist Benny Amdursky and guitarist Israel Gurion… the name of the band Dudaim comes from the Hebrew word for the mandrake plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region.” (Wikipedia) I have no idea what it means, but it’s quite lovely:


Don’t Believe the Hype (excerpt) Public Enemy
“Public Enemy’s warning — which is essentially about being a critical, independent thinker and forming your own opinions — is just as potent today as it was more than two decades ago. The music industry has always been a pioneer in hype. And today, with the rapid advancement of social media, hype is hitting new levels. It’s so widespread that, the other day, I met a hype man who told me his hype man has a hype man.” —M.K. Asanta, The New York Times

Little Girls Kool Keith
“There’s not too many lyrical artists out there no more, every one has a catch to their music. I feel like people are like repeating the same three words like 50 times in a record. And make fours bars and rhyme it. And then they repeat: ‘I THROW THE ROCK AT THE TREE, I THROW THE ROCK AT THE TREE, I THROW THE ROCK AT THE TREE.’ I think music is less creative on the mental right now, there’s not too many people to listen to. I listen to different types of sci-fi music. I used to listen to rock, but rock ain’t even rock anymore. People say rock is rock, but I hear rock music without any guitars or anything. I like rappers who are writing more. And most of the rappers talk about the same things. Everyone is rapping about how good their livin’, Champagne, ‘I’m shooting everybody.’ We have so many killer rappers. everybody’s coming in like ‘I’m killin’ your house, I’m crushin’ your family, I’m pulling the 9 out.’ We’ve had 20 years of that rap and I’m kinda tired of it. We have too many crime bosses in the studio.” —Kool Keith, 2009

Fed Up (remix) House of Pain w/Guru
Writing these things gives me an excuse to spend time solving mysteries that have bugged me for ages. For instance, I remember once hearing the song that was clearly the source for the main sample here, but that was back before Shazam so I’ve never known what it was. Whosampled.com tells me that it was an 1970 track called “E.V.A.” by the French electronic composer Jean-Jacques Perrey, cowritten by Angelo Badalamenti, of all people.

This same sample figures prominently in Gang Starr’s “Just to Get a Rep,” which in turn was sampled in their “The Rep Grows Bigga,” and serves as source material for the very remix we are discussing here, which features Guru of Gang Starr. Oy. Now I have a headache, but I’ve learned some things.

Hard Man Fe Dead Prince Buster
For a long time I thought this song was about the death of a gangster of some kind — i.e. a “hard man.” Turns out it’s about a corpse that refuses to stay dead and keeps springing back to life; the title translates roughly as “Hard Man to Kill.” A full exegesis can be found here; it’s rather lengthy but full of fascinating tidbits such as this: “Nine Night is a death ritual that stems from the revivalist religions and revivalists believed certain rituals had to be followed out of respect for the deceased otherwise they would return through obeah to torment the living. The first night featured the wake, the second and third days were the funeral and the remaining days brought visitors, but the ninth night highlighted the entire ceremony with singing and feasting until morning.”

One comment on “Gangsters & Pranksters II, Part 3

  • Dr.+Von+Funk+Nyugen

    I thought about Mike Woods 2 days ago, long live Mike.

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