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Friday, July 27, 2018

Rock "n" Roll and Criminal Law?


Rock ‘n’ Roll and Criminal Law?
By Scott Saul
Most readers of this blog are immersed in the world of criminal law. It may have come across the mind that, perhaps, there are greener pastures or an easier path than our daily regimen yet, you can’t deny that criminal law enters the world of pop culture a lot more than other fields of law. How often do you see tales about probate, real estate or contract lawyers?
Throughout the history of music and song, the law, particularly criminal law, has always been placed into a lyrical context. These songs can act as a portal for news events, be metaphorical, convey an attitude or, most importantly, actually promote change.
Here is a list of songs that are vital in chronicling what we do, what we do onto others or how others view what we do …into song.
These songs, my very subjective selection, represent but a small fraction of what is actually out there. Since I’m a middle-aged “rock ‘n’ roll” guy, I have omitted highly applicable songs coming from other genres such as hip hop, country, etc. I welcome any suggestions since this can hardly be an exclusive list.

1.    Billy Austin -Steve Earle
Steven Earle is an amazing wordsmith that straddles the genres of roots, rock and country. In that he has had real significant demons in his life (addiction, arrests, prison sentences, 9 marriages), he has his finger on the pulse for human suffering. 
‘Billy Austin” is a harrowing, first-person account of an unsophisticated young man that commits an armed robbery, kills his victim and is put to death.  With lyrics like;

but my trial was over quickly,
and the long hard wait began,
court-appointed lawyer couldn’t look me in the eye
He just stood up and closed his briefcase
when they sentenced me to die.

Steve Earle, quite accurately, captured the grim aspect of a death penalty case.

2.  Long Black Veil-The Band
This country standard, brought into the mainstream by rock and roll hall of famers “The Band”, takes on the scenario of “falling on the sword”. It’s told from the point of view of an executed man falsely accused of murder. He refuses to provide a saving alibi since, on the night of the murder, he was having an affair with his best friend’s wife and he would rather die and take the secret to the grave than admit to such a damning truth;

Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
There was someone killed’ neath the town hall light
There was few at the scene and they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me
The judge said “Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die
I spoke not a word although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

3.  Crime in the City (Sixty to Zero) -Neil Young 
Rock icon Neil Young focused a stanza of this song (this is from the unabridged, live addition, not the recorded one off of his remarkable “Freedom” album) on the vulnerability of being a judge;

There’s a judge in the city,
He goes to work every day,
Spends his life in the court house,
keeps his perspective that way,
but I respect his decision,
He’s got a lot on his mind,
He’s pretty good with the gavel,
A little heavy on the fines

4.  Ma and Pa-Fishbone
1980-1990’s punk/ska/funk Fishbone has always incorporated thoughtful, insightful and provocative lyrics into their hyperkinetic, very danceable jams. This song focuses on divorce law but, it’s bitter, third-party point of view is alarming for anybody working within the legal system;

She’s a problem child now because of a divorce
Hey Ma and Pa, What the hell is wrong with y’all
Hey Ma and Pa, what the hell is wrong with y’all
Well there’s a lot of money for all the attorneys
It’s just not a fight for child custody
Cause Ma and Pa’s revenge
Is making little sister bleed

5.   Mr Bad Example-Warren Zevon 
Werewolves of London’s Warren Zevon has always been a talented provocateur writing about gritty issues. The excerpt from this tune;

Of course, I went to law school and took a law degree
And counseled all my clients to plead insanity

Echoes an all too common public perception towards the profession (by the way, for a very poignant treatise on mortality, check out his swansong “The Wind”, his last work as he was dying from lung cancer).

6.  I Fought the Law -The Clash
This cover of the Sonny Curtis song (he was in Buddy Holly & the Crickets) features the consequences of crime from the protagonist’s position;

Robbin’ people with a six-gun
I fought the law and the law won
I lost my girl and lost my fun
I fought the law and the law one
I left my baby and it feels so bad
Guess my race is run
She’s the best girl that I ever had
I fought the law and the law one

If only criminal defense work, with such a conciliatory tone, was that easy. 

7.   One Million Lawyers- Tom Paxton
You mean everybody doesn’t love me? Iconic 1960’s-1970’s folkie, Tom Paxton, wrote a damning song as to his perspective of our profession. These lyrics should surely impact what you do with your degree and how you act in court;

Humankind has survived some disasters, I’m sure
Like locusts and flash floods and flu
There never a moment when we’ve been secure
From the ills that the flesh is heir to
If it isn’t a war, it’s some gruesome disease
If it isn’t disease, then its war
But there’s worse still to come, and I’m asking you please
How’s the world gonna take any more?
In ten years we’re gonna have one million lawyers
One million lawyers, one million lawyers
In ten years were gonna have one million lawyers
How much can a poor nation stand?

8.  State Trooper-Bruce Springsteen
  
The boss’s much covered song off of the very folky “Nebraska” record hits the stark reality of the inherent dangers of being a law enforcement officer. With the protocol of constant defensive challenges to probable cause and allegations of pretextual stops, this song mirrors so many of the tragic cop killings that arise out of just a simple traffic stop;  

New Jersey turnpike ridin’ on a wet night ‘neath the refinery’s glow
Out where the great black rivers flow
License, registration, I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience
‘Bout the things that I done
Mister state trooper please don’t stop me…
Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife
The only thing that I got’s been botherin’ me my whole life
Mister state trooper please don’t stop me
In the wee wee hours your mind gets hazy, radio relay towers lead me to my baby
Radio’s been jammed up with the talk show stations
It’s just talk, talk, talk til you lose your patience
mister state trooper, please don’t stop me
Hey somebody out there, listen to my last prayer
Hi ho silver-o deliver me from nowhere

Yes defense bar, there’s a reason behind police apprehensions in dealing with the public... you never know what is lurking within that car.

9.  Night the Lights Went out in Georgia-Bobby Laurence

This southern gothic song, made famous by Vicki Lawrence, tell the all too common tale of an innocent man being executed.  However, look at the stab onto his lawyers;

That’s the night the lights went out in Georgia
That’s the night they hung an innocent man
Well, don’t trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer
Cause the judge in the town’s got blood stains on his hands.

As we are as Southern as you can get (at least from a geographical perspective), do we fall into this “backwoods” category?

10.  The Trial-Pink Floyd

The Roger Waters’ penned “The Wall” is hardly a legal theme but, rather, it more about a descent into madness. The Trial is used as a metaphor, yet the lyrics are so biting. Who in the court house has not had this attitude at some time?  

The voice before the court is incontrovertible
There’s no need for the jury to retire
In all my years of judging
I gave never heard before
Of someone more deserving the full penalty of law
The way you made them suffer
Your exquisite wife and mother
Fills me with the urge to defecate
(Go on, judge. Shit on him)
Since my friend you have revealed
Your deepest fear
I sentence you to be exposed to your peers

11.     Testify-Common

Veteran rapper Common penned this unique tale of a murder trial where the epiphany by the prosecution is at focus. In this song, a girlfriend provides the supporting testimony at a murder trial that doesn’t go well for the defense;

The court awaited as the foreman got the verdict from the bailiff
Emotional outbursts tears and smeared makeup
He stated, he was guilty on all charges
She shakin’ like she took it the hardest
A spin artist, she brought her face up laughin’
That’s when the prosecutor realized what happened
All that speaking her mind, testifyin’ and cryin’
When this bitch did the crime  

That last line really changes the context of the entirety of the preceding lyrics.

12.   Hurricane-Bob Dylan

I’ve saved the best for last. 
It should be as no surprise that one of the most important artists, in any form, wrote one of the most impactful songs of all time.  Can a song lead to an exoneration? For former boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, it actually did. Writers Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy took an interest in this triple murder case where there many defensible aspects. The song was released on a 1975 album which exposed the case to a widespread attention. The song triggered increased public interest in the case leading to the raising of substantial funds used towards post-conviction representation. In 1985, a federal judge ruled that the prosecution was predicated upon racism meaning there was no fair trial resulting in the dismissal of the case. 
Dylan forwent any metaphors with the lyrics acting as an in-your-face indictment towards the jurisdiction that entertained such a debacle;  

Yes, here's the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin' that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world
        All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance
        The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
        The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums
        To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum  
        And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
        No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
        And though they could not produce the gun
        The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
        And the all-white jury agreed
        Rubin Carter was falsely tried
        The crime was murder "one, " guess who testified
?
     
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
       And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
       How can the life of such a man
       Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
       To see him obviously framed
       Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
       Where justice is a game



Notice the common denominator among many of these tunes? Dylan, Springsteen, Earle, Zevon, Young, Common…these are serious songwriters, superior lyrists, very daring artists, thinkers outside the box. Is this not the same type of creativity desired for the practice of law? Documents and evidence should be reviewed over and over because…you may notice something that you didn’t see before?  Right?

These musical artists learned from the legal profession yet, at the same time, it is quite obvious that the legal profession may learn from these types of artists.

Is there a connection between criminal law and rock 'n' roll? Does a bear plotz in the woods?

24 comments:

Robert Kuntz said...

A fine selection but with, I submit, a glaring omission -- especially for a Miami-based criminal justice blog:

Cocaine Blues
Johnny Cash

Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
I went right home and I went to bed
I stuck that lovin' .44 beneath my head

Got up next mornin' and I grabbed that gun
Took a shot of cocaine and away I run
Made a good run but I run too slow
They overtook me down in Juarez, Mexico

Late in the hot joints takin' the pills
In walked the sheriff from Jericho Hill
He said Willy Lee your name is not Jack Brown
You're the dirty heck that shot your woman down

Said yes, oh yes my name is Willy Lee
If you've got a warrant just a-read it to me
Shot her down because she made me slow
I thought I was her daddy but she had five more

When I was arrested I was dressed in black
They put me on a train and they took me back
Had no friend for to go my bail
They slapped my dried up carcass in that county jail

Early next mornin' bout a half past nine
I spied the sheriff coming down the line
Up then he coughed as he cleared his throat
He said, "Come on you dirty hack into that district court"

Into the court room my trial began
Where I was handled by twelve honest men
Just before the jury started out
I saw that little judge commence to look about.
In about five minutes in walked a man
Holding the verdict in his right hand
The verdict read in the first degree
I hollered Lordy Lordy have mercy on me

The judge he smiled as he picked up his pen
Ninety nine years in the Folsom pen
Ninety nine years underneath that ground
I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down
Come on you gotta listen unto me
Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be


(Cash famously played this live at Folsom Prison

Anonymous said...

Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress - the Hollies
Smuggler's Blues - Glenn Frey
Just a Job to Do - Genesis

Rumpole said...

WELCOME SCOTT SAUL our new guest blogger.
Can "zzzzzzz" be far behind?

Springsteen should be listed #1.

What about Billy Joel "I am an innocent man"?

David E. Troyer said...

The best anti-drug and anti-DUI song ever is "That Smell" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which also has the best opening line of any song:
"Whiskey bottle, brand new car, oak tree in my way."
-- Dave Troyer
ASA, 1982-90
Trumpet player, 1968-present

Anonymous said...

Billy Joel Captain Jack
Jay Z 99 Problems
John Mellencamp Authority Song

Anonymous said...

Who gives a flying F.

Anonymous said...

Scott: You have way too much time on your hands.

CAPTAIN JUSTICE said...

Great post Scott Saul.

You missed one from former KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley: BREAKOUT:

Been in this cell block seven years too long
Payin' for a crime when I didn't do anything wrong
Lyin' here rotting for someone else's mistake
I've come to my senses, it's time to make a break

Breakout, I'm coming after you
Breakout, I say our love is overdue
Breakout, I'm at the breaking point
Breakout, gonna bust out of this joint

I'm sick and tired of punchin' out license plates
For a criminal justice system that I hate
The food here sucks, I'm not about to wait
Well I've come to my senses, It's time to make a break

CAP OUT .......


Anonymous said...

I shot the sheriff, but I did not kill the deputy.
She's a brick house.
And the only safe place to live is on an Indian reservation.
Promises in the dark.
One bourbon, one shot and one beer.
Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble, deep.
End up in jail or shot, this monotony's got
Living, just enough, living for the city.
Cause food stamps don't buy diapers.
Who killed the Kennedys, when after all it was you and me.
I've been tried and convicted of things I'm not guilty of.
He's a fairy, I do suppose, flying in the air in panty hose.
I've got 99 problems
Tell me lawyer what to do I think I'm falling in love with you, defend me from the way I feel. Won't you give me some advice on how to handle my private life I'm sure that we can make a deal.



Fake Magistrate Jonathan Goodman said...

Copy cat. I may sue. Copyright violations. I'm the legal-rock-n-roll-guy, not you.

Scott Saul said...

Hey Fake Mag,

This was no research piece; this was me going into my record/CD/iTunes collection and pontificating, romanticizing and pondering. Step up to the plate (fake) little bearded man.

Anonymous said...

she's a bad mama jama

Anonymous said...

Great list Scott. I can tell you did your research. I'd substitute or add another Neil Young song--"Down By the River"--but you managed to find some very good "courtroom" songs, which are much rarer than good "crime" songs. My top courtroom song is "Here Comes the Judge," by Peter Tosh, the ultimate musical rebel. This song is much too radical for the delicate ears of todays listening audience.

Your selection of a Clash (cover) song for the list is to be expected, as the group made crime songs a major part of its oeuvre. You could easily compile a pretty good album out of the following Clash selections--"What's My Name," "Police and Thieves" (cover of Junior Murvin), "White Riot," "Jail Guitar Doors," "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad," "Guns on the Roof," "The Clampdown ('Judge said 5 to 10; I said double that again'),"The Guns of Brixton," "Know Your Rights," "Somebody Got Murdered," "Ghetto Defendant," and "Police on my Back" (cover of Eddie Grant). The group evidently spent a lot of time around the criminal underground and/or the criminal courts.

And what about "I Shot the Sheriff?"--crime song or metaphor?

CK

Anonymous said...


Am I that old or did you all forget Jailhouse Rock by Elvis?

Anonymous said...

The Trial verses in Alice's Restaurant:
27 8 by 10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back with an explanation on the back how they are going to be admitted in evidence against us. ....Then in walked the Judge and the Judge's seeing eye dog...
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant

Anonymous said...

Your forgot this classic: https://youtu.be/_wZoFB7zbVQ. Tijuana Jail by The Kingston Trio. And Locked Up In Jail by John Lee Hooker. https://youtu.be/iVX7-h8FOkE.
Early one morning
The blues came fallin' down
Early one morning
The blues came fallin' down
I was all locked up in jail
And prison bound

When they had my trial, baby
You couldn't even be found
When they had my trial, baby
You could not be found
I was all locked up in jail
And prison bound

But it's too late to cry, baby
You're daddy's prison bound

When they had my trial, baby
You know you couldn't be found
When they had my trial
Baby, you could not be found
But it's too late to cry, baby
Your daddy's prison bound

I guess I'm out, baby
I ain't got no more to say
Bye, bye, bye, baby
Your daddy ain't go no more to say
But I am all locked up in jail
And prison bound

Anonymous said...

In honor of the traffic guys................Sammy Hagar, I can't drive 55!

BTDT

Anonymous said...

Scott Saul is not middle aged, he's elderly

Anonymous said...

Gil Scott-Heron: Angola, Louisiana (1980)

Anonymous said...

This song brought parental child abuse to the forefront:

Dear Mr. Jesus (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen)

Dear Mr Jesus I just had to write to you
Something really scared me when I saw it on the news
A story bout a little girl beaten black and blue
Jesus, though I'd take this right to you

Dear Mr Jesus I don't understand
Why they took her Mom and Dad away
I know that they don't mean to hit revolt of angry hands
Tell them just how big they are I pray

Chorus:
Please don't let them hurt your children
We need love and shelter from the storm
Please don't let them hurt your children
Won't you keep us safe and warm

Dear Mr Jesus they say that she may die
Oh i hope the doctors stop the pain
I know that you could save her and take her up to the sky
So she would never have to hurt again

Chorus:
Please don't let them hurt your children
We need love and shelter from the storm
Please don't let them hurt your children
Won't you keep us safe and warm

Dear Mr Jesus please tell me what to do
And please don't tell my Daddy that my Mommy hits me too

Chorus:
Please don't let them hurt your children
We need love and shelter from the storm
Please don't let them hurt your children
Won't you keep us safe and warm

Please don't let them hurt your children
We need love and shelter from the storm
Please don't let them hurt your children
Won't you keep us safe and warm

Anonymous said...

Man, you're old

DMD said...

"Hangman, stay your rope a while..." DMD

David Markus said...

My dad, Stuart Markus, sued and deposed Bob Dylan over Hurricane Carter. At the deli, they got a good laugh in over all of the lawyers and the absurdity of it all. The case went all the way to the 11th Circuit back in the 80s.

Anonymous said...

I will take Springsteen's Johnny 99 over State Trooper:

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin' Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call'm Johnny 99

Down in the part of town where when you hit a red light you don't stop
Johnny's wavin' his gun around and threatenin' to blow his top
When an off-duty cop snuck up on him from behind
Out in front of the Club Tip Top they slapped the cuffs on Johnny 99

Well the city supplied a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown
He came into the courtroom and stared young Johnny down
Well the evidence is clear gonna let the sentence son fit the crime
Prison for ninety eight and a year and we'll call it even Johnny 99

A fist fight broke out in the courtroom they had to drag Johnny's girl away
His mama stood up and shouted "Judge don't take my boy this way"
Well son you got a statement you'd like to make
Before the bailiff comes to forever take you away

Now judge, judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin' my mortgage and they were gonna take my house away
Now I ain't sayin' that make me an innocent man
But it was more 'n all this that put that gun in my hand

Well your honor I do believe I'd be better off dead
So if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head
Then won't you sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time
And let 'em shave off my hair and put me on that execution line