Do you believe in ghosts, ghouls, gremlins? Axes and Accidents? Bad moons, bad omens, bad luck? I don’t, not really, except when I do. It’s all primal really, as old as fire pits and cave drawings. Powerful stuff, hard to deny. Film director John Carpenter talks about the medicine man; he sits with his people around a fire and points outside of the circle and says “out there, in the darkness, the forest, that’s where evil is.” He continues and this time he points to his heart and says “in here, the heart, that’s where evil is.”
American folk music, that strange blend of European and African sounds, those tall tales filled with devils carrying off women, serpents beneath pillows, poisoned wine and all those murder ballads. They’re still written, but not nearly as well. The haunts are watered down now when they used to be close to the soil. Still from time to time someone gets it right. Usually when they’re not trying. When they’re writing a tale over whiskey and the crossroad’s spirit takes over.
A few years ago some boys from upstate New York, certainly a haunted place, got it right.
It’s a simple story really, two lowlife hoods run money, maybe drugs to Chicago on weekends and one kills the other. Maybe it’s an accident, they were supposed to be blanks, maybe it wasn’t though, after all it was Frankie’s gun. There was money, a girl, more than enough reason to shoot someone.
The song mixes time. A man is dying and telling his story is one thought, bleeding in the arms of the man who shot him, giving confession, rambling, describing what he sees and what he’ll see last; McDonalds, a truckstop, and sputtering final wishes. Or perhaps he’s dead and haunting his killer, reliving his murder, seeing things differently in death than in life, traveling in time, wishing for his girl. It happened long ago maybe, no one is named Lucille today. Maybe not though old names are new again and these boys punctuate with an accordion and who does that?
The song is an old story shone in a new light. It’s made from the bones of Stagger Lee, Tom Dula and John Hardy and deserves to take its place beside the hill ballads and sung on Halloween.
Frankie’s Gun, The Felice Brothers