Once

I’m not a fan of Marilyn Manson’s music. At all. But I recently stumbled upon this appearance by Manson on the (shiver) O’Reilly Factor, and was impressed by the way he handled himself in the face of Billo’s one question rephrased umpteen times. It doesn’t surprise me that a man with skeletons enough in his own closet that he’d rather remain hidden would be terrified of someone who routinely parades them around on stage and on record, but it never ceases to amaze me when people fundamentally misunderstand the role and nature of (good or bad) art. Let’s face it, Bill’s never had Pearl Jam on the show to discuss the killing spree in “Once”, because the concern with music that’s about violence or whatever stirs controversy isn’t about the substance, it’s about the image. Image image image.

Murder songs have been around forever. A particular type of song, called a “murder ballad”, came over to the states from the British Isles and was adopted and evolved in Appalachia. Those songs tend to follow a particular formula and structure that isn’t used much today in original material. Then you’ve got Johnny Cash singing about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. Did TV and radio pundits ever accuse Cash of advocating murdering Nevadans? Nope. I remember hearing Eddie sing about his hand in his pocket, so determined, discreet, and of the 16 gauge buried under his clothes. Never made me want to pick one up; nor did it make me believe that the song was literal truth. The mistake a lot of reactionary folks make with controversial art, is that art is not advertising or propaganda. It doesn’t work the same way. Art does not (or at least, should not) ask something of its audience, to buy something or believe something. A devoted propagandist can never understand the true function of art enough to recreate it, because he/she can’t get over wanting control over how their statement is perceived.

Are killing sprees a reality? Unfortunately yes, so songs like “Once” explore their own reasons why (“Once” of course, with the help of the rest of the Mamasan trilogy). The song does not advocate murder. It’s chilling (“you think I got my eyes closed…”), full of realistic details and imagistic language (“Indian summer and I hate the heat”) that imagine a particularly extreme mindset. But it’s also subtle in comparison with Manson’s provocations, and as such, has never drawn any meaningful ire or handwringing from media watchdogs. Without explicit language, shock-value imagery, or offensive, heretical ideas, “Once” slips through as just another driving rock song for most, with lyrics to dig into or ignore, the first track on a classic album, the one fans alive at the time will always remember hearing first. A song that, like those by Pearl Jam’s peers, made a clean break from the shallow, style ‘n image over substance shtick of hair-metal, and looked toward something more honest, probing, real. Come to think of it, does that Smoking Gun document not remind you of a Poison song?

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~ by Michael on August 16, 2007.

9 Responses to “Once”

  1. the murder song made me do it…if you listen to “Once” backwards it says, “Ozzy Osborne loves brocolli…helter skelter…redrum natas…” Try it!! Remember Guns n’ Roses, “I used to love her but I had to kill her…”, the Police, “Murder by Number”…every gangster rap song?….ahhh, the murder song…I’m feeling a top five murder song list coming on…cast your votes, killers!

  2. Knoxville Girl by the Louvin Brothers
    Down in the Willow Garden (trad.)
    Delia’s Gone by Johnny Cash

  3. Don’t forget Down By The River, by Uncle Neil, or Hey Joe, what with the shooting of the ladies. In fact, more than inspiring me to murder people, those songs inspire me to pick up a guitar.

  4. Right on, Rhino.

  5. There’s also Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” which reverses the genders, and “Banks of the Ohio”, which I’ve heard sung from both perspectives.

  6. O.K. killers, the ballots have been carefully ignored, I mean counted…and after a long hot Spanish August evening and night of searching my conscious and subconscious memory for songs about murder, eyes open and glazed over as my wife sleeps next to me, not knowing the crazy shit going through my sick head…like a Stephen King book…but the dog knew…he’s been around long enough, and could smell it…he sat in the doorway all night, whimpering…fucking dog…I couldn’t think of any songs about killing dogs, though I tried, oh yeah, I tried…Anyway, here’s my list. Rhino, I don’t know who you are, or where you came from, but get out of my fucking head, man…
    5. Hollis Brown – Bob Dylan sad starving murder suicide.
    4. Murder was the Case – Snoop Dogg shizzle
    3. Down by the River – He sounds happy about it.
    2. Hey Joe – It’s just that simple.
    1. Where the Wild Roses Grow, and most everything else from Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads.

    And, of course, at super number 1, “Once”. Corduroy’s votes were disqualified because, if he hasn’t reminded you in the last fifteen minutes, he’s like, a professional or something. Ozzy, Slayer, Guns and Manson were all disqualified for being right wing puppets. And Sting was on the top five Dead Dad song list, which is enough already…so no “murder by numbers”. What kept me awake was knowing that there’s way more songs, probably better than the ones I can remember, probably by Springsteen, or Rage Against the Machine, or Nine Inch Nails…or Kiss, or Clapton. And the all time number one song that makes ME want to kill is the Spanish cover of “Achy Breaky Heart”…and the line dancing in the video…REDRUM!!!!!!!!!

  7. I also love Cocaine Blues, by Johnny Cash. “Early one morning while makin the rounds, took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down…” THAT’s a lyric right there.

  8. […] Once 2. Even Flow 3. Alive 4. Why Go 5. Black 6. Jeremy 7. Oceans 8. Porch 9. Garden 10. Deep 11. […]

  9. i think “mudride” by mudhoney would be my favorite song about murder, if thats even what its about. “once” definitely comes in close to it, the riffs are so great and truly psychotic-sounding, and its always great when eddie actually screams

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