Crime Song Wednesday – Black River Killer by Blitzen Trapper

There are at least two readings in this brilliantly written Cormac McCarthy inspired song.

The first is simply that we are hearing a song about this guy who’s got a dark heart and just can’t stop doing what he’s doing. Sociopath, psychopath, whatever this guy is a stone cold killer and it makes for an arresting tale.

The other reading starts with the intentional ambiguity in the first verse that implies that the man is innocent in the death of the girl and that the direct influence of his prison experience turns him into a killer later on.

Whichever way you lean – and the song is written in such a way that there isn’t a clear cut answer – one has to acknowledge the haunting power of Black River Killer by Blitzen Trapper.

After the jump check out the lyrics and the video

It was just a little while past the Sunset Strip
They found the girl’s body in an open pit
Her mouth was sewn shut, but her eyes were still wide
Gazing through the fog to the other side

They booked me on a whim and threw me deep in jail
With no bail, sitting silent on a rusty pail
Just gazing at the marks on the opposite wall
Remembering the music of my lover’s call

So you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a man’s soul back from heaven’s gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a-callin’ for my soul to send
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

It was dark as the grave, it was just about three
When the warden with his key came to set me free
They gave me five dollars and a secondhand suit
A pistol and a hat and a worn out flute

So I took a bus down to the Rio Grande
And I shot a man down on the edge of town
Then I stole me a horse and I rode it around
Til the sheriff pulled me in and sat me down

He said, you make no mistake
I know just what it takes
To pull a man’s soul back from heaven’s gates
I’ve been wandering in the dark about as long as sin
But they say it’s never too late to start again

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a-callin’ for my soul to send
Oh when, Oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

Well the sheriff let me go with a knife and a song
So I took the first train up to Oregon
And I killed the first man that I came upon
‘Cause the devil works quick, you know it don’t take long

Then I went to the river for to take a swim
You know that black river water is as black as sin
And I washed myself clean as a newborn babe
And then I picked up a rock for to sharpen my blade

Oh when, oh when
Will the spirit come a calling for my soul to send
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?
Oh when, oh when
Will that black river water wash me clean again
Oh when, oh when
Will the keys to the kingdom be mine again?

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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