Net Nuggets 31: The Boston Strangler

The Bugs: «Strangler in the Night» b/w «Albert, Albert» [.zip]

One might be forgiven for thinking, when downloading Charles Manson or Jim Jones recordings off this very blog, that Toilet Guppies is just another bratty website venerating cult killers as icons by way of smug irony. Or worse still, one might assume that Toilet Guppies is an exponent of the kind of self-proclaimed «Nihilism» invoked by Genesis P-Orridge, Whitehouse, Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, et al. in such artists' self-indulgent and pretentious flirtation with serial killers, paedos and genocidal Fascism.

Far from it. This «dancing with danger» by artists who never even hurt a fly themselves—or the Warholian celebration of killers, turning tragedy into some kind of kitsch joke for those struggling to come to terms with the unmerciful aspect of humanity (the Brian Jonestown Massacre, anyone? Black Lips' Elisabeth Fritzl-themed «Trapped in a Basement»?)—isn't all it's cracked up to be. Just ask Mick «Street Fightin' Man» Jagger how he felt at Altamont.

At best it's annoying—like the popular myth and marketing campaign of Johnny Cash being such a rebel, justified by his performing for «underdogs» in prisons and singing songs celebrating murders he was never ever close to committing, let alone truly understanding. (When he wasn't singing hymns, that is.) But then artists tend to find perpetrators more interesting than their victims—an empathic focus that would be far more emotionally taxing, of course. Focussing instead on «rebels»—rapists, murderers, gangsters, hooligan types, &c.—probably makes sensitive artistes feel morally couragous and possibly even badass, without actually having to summon the chutzpah be so—or without having to deal with the consequences. But really it's just empathy or subversion for dummies. (Thank god, then, for Diamanda Galás, giving righteous indignation and vengeful fury a voice amid the din of gratuitous glorification.)

Less pretentious than your standard renegade murder balladeers, perhaps, but all the more kitsch is '60s garage frat punks the Bugs' collaboration with rapist and disputed murderer Albert DeSalvo, a/k/a «the Boston Strangler». In 1965, the obscure, attention hungry Boston rockers ostensibly bought a poem off the by then imprisoned DeSalvo, had it recited by New York radio DJ Dick Leviathan and set it to a maudlin rock ballad melody. In actuality, the words were penned by ghost writer James Vaughn, with DeSalvo vouching for it by signing it «… These are my thoughts, feelings and emotions». What his motivations were in passing these corny sentiments off as his own we'll never know, but a desire for fame is the obvious guess. Truth probably wasn't his suit, anyway, what with him confessing to some crimes he probably didn't commit (along with the ones he did do).

As to how closely these thoughts, feelings and emotions correspond to DeSalvo's real ones, there's no way of telling. But the ghost writer does manage, wittingly or no, to convey an always self-pitying sociopath's inept attempt, even after being caught out, at fitting in by feigning the appropriate human emotion—in this case contrition. Unsuccessfully, one might add, the narrator's self-pity shining through. But as with Jim Jones' final rant before his «revolutionary suicide» (read: manipulative mass homicide), it's interesting to note how many people actually fall for psychopaths' posings as martyrs, buying the act entirely. Had not DeSalvo been murdered in the prison infirmary, he'd be receiving tons of love letters to this day.

And so these novelty Hallowe'en words seem oddly fitting in the end. Not bad for a song which very idea hinges on a perverse, if facile pun on «Strangers in the Night»…

The B-side, the Bugs' own «Albert, Albert» is even more offensive (bizarrely rebuking DeSalvo for treating the singer's sister poorly—I'm guessing he never really had a sister), but the performance is a rock'n'rollicking slice of garage beat, rough, danceable and effortlessly cool.

[This vinyl rip of the original Bugs 45 was taken from the superb blog Dan's Garage.]

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