Thursday, January 14, 2010

What a difference a word makes

I was boosting my spirits with some rock and roll two days ago, and I came across this, which I then compared with this. The first is the Clash doing "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)." The second is the same song by Bobby Fuller Four, who first made the song a hit.

"I Fought the Law" occasionally comes up in discussions of crime fiction and music, but I'd never considered it a noir song until last night. That's when I listened again to the Clash's version, and I heard the one-word alteration that plunges into noir hoplessness. See if you can find that word.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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19 Comments:

Blogger Bernadette in Australia said...

Huh - good pickup - I would never have noticed if I wasn't specifically listening for it (and then I had to play them both twice). It certainly does generate images of noir-ish despondency (whereas that Bobby Fuller video is just a little surreal). I think the Clash originally did it for the strange movie they made - Rude Boy - killing is certainly rude :)

January 15, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Listening to the Clash now, Peter? There's hope for you yet.

In the studio version The Clash use the tradtional lyrics. I think in music you have to get permission from the copyright holder before you can change the lyrics

January 15, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Although, having said that I see the Dead Kennedys did a version called I fought the law and I won about the killing of Harvey Milk

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bernadette, I had heard the Clash doing the song many times but had not noticed the word in question. I don't know whether I missed or whether they included the word in question on just this version.

In any case, it certainly casts the remainder of the song in a new light -- "Breaking rocks in the hot sun" takes on a noirish resignation.

The Bobby Fuller Four clip I wanted to post is even odder. If I recall right, it has mini-skirted go-go girls in police or prison-guard uniforms dancing on stage. Now, that's surreal.

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, Solo. You make me regret my lost youth, when I could have seen the Clash live but did not. Always liked "Safe European Home" and their version of "Pressure Drop," but I was too grounded in my middle-class life (and happily so) to crave the liberating rebellion of the Clash and the Sex Pistols. I did and do regard "Anarchy in the UK" as one of the great rock and roll songs ever, though.

Now, having said that I was too comfortable to crave rebellion, had I been in my teens or twenties when the Who released "My Generation," would I really have hoped to die before I got old?

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I would imagine that oopyright law has to make allowances for slight changes in lyrics. Some statute probably specifies that permission must ne sought for "substantial" changes.

Is the Dead Kennedys' version the same song with new lyrics? I was never much attracted to the DKs, but I think Jello Biafra would have been savvy enough to keep himself up to date on copyright law.

My previous discussions of songs (scroll down) tended to include old ballads, folk music and country music more than rock and roll, but I'm happy to open a place for the Clash.

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Donna said...

Ah, Peter, lucky me - I saw The Clash several times :o) As Solo says, the recorded version is as per the original. But it does put a whole new slant on it, doesn't it :o)

January 15, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

"England's Dreaming" is certainly an atmospheric thing to say and I've always liked that line.

OT per usual but did you ever finish Blood's A Rover? Several of the major characters go to Haiti to die and there are dense atmospheric scenes of Port au Prince. I'm pretty sure Ellroy must have gone at some point. The Haitian scenes live in a way the Cuban ones dont in The Cold Six Thousand. I think Ellroy might have initially become interested in Haiti through Graham Greene.

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To any confused readers: As felicitously goofy as the mistake may seem, my second reply to Solo should read: "Solo, I would imagine that copyright law ... " though "oopyright law" has a certain charm, not to mention comic narrative possibilities.

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Donna, the angst I never went through, the drugs I never took ... it's enough to break your heart.

The Clash's alteration makes the song's narrator into a Jim Thompsonish protagonist, though he is still alive to be relating his tale, I suppose.

January 15, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, the DK version is on YouTube but here's a link to the lyrics which are quite good

http://www.plyrics.com/lyrics/deadkennedys/ifoughtthelawandiwon.html

Twinkies refers to the Twinkie defense which was a term a reporter used in connection with the trial of Dan White for the Milk/Moscone killings

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I've never read, said or, as far as I can recall, heard "England's Dreaming" until now. I agree with your assessment of the line.

I haven't read "Blood's a Rover." But John Lawton does throw a prop or two Graham Greene's way in "A Little White Death."

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's how this country's run /

Twinkies are the best friend I've ever had


That's good stuff, and I remember the Twinkies defense. That was not a proud moment in American public life or legal discourse.

January 15, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

actually it was from God Save The Queen later in the album (just after Anarchy in the UK)

God save the queen
We mean it man
And there is no future
In England's dreaming

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future,
No future for me

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future
For you

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In that case, I have heard the line many times. The Sex Pistols were titans of rock and roll despite being proclaimed titans of rock and roll.

January 15, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Hope I die before I get old" -- Keith Moon was the only member of The Who who was able to fulfill that destiny. He went looking for it.

Maybe I was reading too much into those simple-minded lyrics, but as a teenager at the time I thought they were a warning not to give up my youthful ideals even should I manage to get old. Along with a desire to see (and maybe more) as many British Invasion groups as possible before I got old.

Gawd, saw The Clash at the Santa Monica Civic in early '79. Oh-oh, I'm having a flashback; this is really time traveling down memory lane!

"...angst I never went through, the drugs I never took..." Peter, c'mon, you're breakin' my heart! OK, maybe not the drugs part, but, what, no angst?! Are you sure you can really say you've been a teenager without some kind of angst??

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Surprisingly little music-related angst. I'd say your understanding of "My Generation" was a good deal more nuanced than most people's. Folks seemed to think it was all live fast, die young, take dope -- mindless stuff, in other words.

But even the Sex Pistols admitted they loved the Who. The best rock and roll may have been about momentary escape, but it wasn't about dying.

January 19, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

The more things change, etc.

The Scottish band Mogwai's album, "Come On Die Young," has a recurring presence in Ian Rankin's "A Question of Blood."

From "hope I die" to "go ahead and do it" in one generation. From anthem to dirge...

January 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That lacks the Who's bracing optimism, I'd say.

January 19, 2010  

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