Killer Songs

Me - 072411
There are so many killers written into literature.   Many killers are portrayed in paintings.  Actors create amazing characters of murderers (think of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector).  I am not much of a poetry fan, but I am sure there are many poems about killing as well.  What I am thinking about today is the representation of killers in songs.

I got onto this theme after listening to Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads on my way home from work.  I then listened to Folsom Prison Blues  and Mack the Knife to get into the theme.  It made me wonder what the appeal of these songs were.  I know I have a number of them on my iPod.

I first explored the voice of the story teller in these songs.  Many are in the first person, but a few are in the third person.  This is interesting that singers and song writers want to be the killer rather than talk about them.  What is the motivation for this?  What makes us want to be vicarious participants in the darkest parts of humanity?

Me - 072411
I think this instinctual drive expresses itself in our acclamation and devotion to mystery/murder novels, television series (CSI, Criminal Intent, Medium, The Sopranos), songs, video games, and movies.  We deep down want to understand the motivations and experiences of a killer without having to actually live them, or to be blunt, pull the trigger or bury the knife.  If we thought about these deep feelings too much we would be disgusted by ourselves, so we never analyze deeper into them.  We just know we like the shows, books, and songs - even if they makes us look away at times.

Are portrayals of violence bad for society?  That is a tough question that is not a simple yes/no answer.  By exploring them through these genres, we can better understand them and maybe even scratch an subliminal itch that keeps us from going further.  On the other hand, these violent productions can stoke inhibited fires to become a reality.  Where is that fine line?  Can we even define that fine line since it is different with every consumer of the content?

Moon - 072411
I explored making abstract violent imagery last year in New York.  The images were inspired by the aesthetic qualities of the night terror dreams I often have.  I don't think the photos got to the point that I was trying to make, but they were my first attempt.  I wanted to capture the horror from those dreams.  They are third person for me, not first person.  Upon further reflection though, the images where the models look at the camera feel first person due to the eye contact.  (Thanks to Moon and Valya for their roles in making these photos.)
Valya - 072411

I think back to when my family first got HBO when I was 13 or 14.  My mom told me she didn't mind me seeing movies rated R if the reason was sex or nudity, but was concerned if the rating was due to violence.  As she said, "Nudity and sex is natural, but violence was evil."  It is in our DNA and basic behavioral psychology to desire sex for procreation.  It is primal.  It is our most basic core programming.  I don't care if someone is homosexual, straight, bisexual, or some other identification, the base drive to do it comes from the same place.  What we find desirable; same, opposite, or both genders, is coding that came later.  Maybe killing is another genetic program as well.

So, back to the question why do we vicariously live in lyrics like "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."? (Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash)  Maybe it is because we are too scared to admit that some of these crude, base instincts are in us but we still need to hear others tell the stories.  I am sure many people will disagree with my theory, but I think everyone has an instinctual killer gene in us that we work so hard to deny.  Way back when, this gene helped protect us and get us food, but we don't need it in that way anymore.  By consuming others' stories of killing, through all genres, most of us stimulate, satiate, and suppress this gene without even acknowledging we have it.  Too bad this cycle it doesn't work for everyone.

Below are some killer songs.  I identified whether they are first or third person and shared a few of my thoughts on them.  I didn't want to write too much and would rather read your thoughts on them.  I chose not to put songs about victims, like Strange Fruit.  That may be worthy of a future post.

Mack the Knife - Louise Armstrong - Third person - I remember when I heard McDonalds use an altered version of this song for an ad campaign called "Make it Mac Tonight".  A few years later I was listening to an old *Satchmo album of my mom's that had the original.  I quickly realized this was no fast food ad song... it was scary as hell.  I listened to it three more times.  It chilled me how Armstrong was retelling the story as if he and some drinking buddies were shooting the shit, gossiping about these murders.  Pretty damn cold song.

Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash - First person - This is a rare one in that it is not about the murder, but how murderer is rotting in prison.

Hey Joe - Jimi Hendricks - Third person - This song is about a man about to kill his lover for cheating on him.  Like the story in Cash's Cocaine Blues - the murderer heads down south to Mexico.

Cocaine Blues - Johnny Cash - First person- This is sort of a continuation of Hey Joe in that it is about a man killing his woman, but then tells the story of his running away and finally getting caught.  It is a light-hearted murder song, but very chilling in how it is meant to humorous ending with a weak warning to avoid drugs and alcohol. 

Psycho Killer - The Talking Heads - First person. I think these are some of the best lyrics about the mentality of a killer.
I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I
Can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire
A bit of the song is in French.
Part of the chorus and the bridge are in French. The verse translates to "What I did, that evening, what she said, that evening fulfilling my hope I throw myself towards glory." The chorus lyric "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" means "What is this?"  from the Song Facts website.

My Name is Mud - Primus - First person - A dark disturbing story of how fast it happens and how it has to dealt with by the murderer.  Les Claypool is the band's leader, singer and bass guitarist.  His guitar style is rough, dirty and hard.  I like it.  It matches the theme of this song.

Henry Lee - Nick Cave and PJ Harvey - This comes from Cave's album Murder Ballads.  In this unique song, the killer is not who you would think.  The fair lady is the murderer.  Here is a link to the color youtube version of it.  I highly recommend you watch the black and white version by clicking on the photo and scrolling down to this song. 
Click the image and scroll down to the video

Jack the Ripper - Morrissey- First person - Sounds like he is telling of the stalking of his victim.

State Trooper - Bruce Springsteen - First person - Not sure if this is about a killer, but feels like he is willing to kill to get away.

Midnight Rambler - Rolling Stones - Third and first person - Starts off in the third person and transitions to first person after a long bridge section. 
And if you catch the Midnight Rambler
I'll steal your mistress from under your nose
Well, go easy with your cold fandango
I'll stick my knife right down your throat
Baby, and it hurts!

It feels like he is bragging about his work.

All of these songs are from the last 100 years.  I know there are great pieces from operas, and other musical genres, about murderers and killing and would be interested in learning about them as well.

* My mom named her trumpet Satchmo in honor of Mr. Armstrong.


Walk a mile without shoes... or anything else

karl-14 - Kristen Lucus

Kim Weston told me that it was crucial for the photographer to model nude to truly understand what the model experiences.   A few years ago I did a few self portraits sans clothing, but didn't feel that was the same thing as posing for another photographer.  Back in May I did the full Monty.  I posed nude for another photographer.

karl-20 - Kristen Lucus
Kristen Lucas is a great photographer that I took a class with last semester.  She was creating a series capturing the temporary marks we have on our skin from the restrictive clothing and accessories we wear all day.  These included the patterns left by underwear elastic bands, socks, rings, watches, belts, bras, and other tight items.  They are all black and whites and are close ups that approach abstraction.

I wore my belt an extra notch tighter that day so both it and my undies were rubbing deep into my skin.  My ring was etching into my finger.  I wore tight socks and tied my shoes tight to get maximum effect.  I wanted to be marked up for her.  This is the exact opposite of how must nude models dress for a shoot.  They usually wear loose clothing to avoid these marks.  This part of the reason I loved this theme.  It showed the real human state we live in... we have temporary marks from our daily costumes of life.

We photographed during class lab time in the same studio I photographed Candace in during our February session.  We started off with my hands.  I removed my ring and there was a big dent.  With only a single light source, the shadows from the textures and grooves were very pronounced.

karl-4 - Kristen Lucus
After a few minutes we switched to my feet and my feet with my hands.  The socks created a harsh pattern on the tops of my feet.  I twisted and contorted to her directions and tried lining up everything for her.  It made me appreciate the moves and poses models must hold.  I enjoyed it.

Next came the waist band marks.  I pulled it down to see if there were marks and there were.  I dropped my pants and undies, pulled off my shirt and stood there as she photographed those marks by having me slowly rotate to get them full circle.

I felt comfortable even though I have never posed nude before.  I wondered why as I drove home.  First, I trust Kristen.  I support and believe in her project.  I've seen her work.  She made me comfortable.  Second, I've grown to accept my body as what it is.  It isn't beautiful, but I try not to be ashamed of it.  Third, it was very educational to learn how being on the other side of the lens felt.
karl-43 - Kristen Lucus

As you can see... or can't, my face is absent from all shots.  This is true of her whole series.  I don't know how I would feel having nude photos taken of me with my face visible.  I would like to think I would be as comfortable as I was with these photos, but I can't say for sure.

Kristen shared her photos with me and I was very impressed.  I know I have to lose weight, but her photos did not make me feel ugly and fat.  I appreciate her treatment of the model, photos, and the subject.

What pearls of wisdom can I share with other photographers from having been on both sides of the camera?  Only one, earn trust (both ways), keep it, and honor it after the shoot.  Kristen did all of these.  She gave me a print and a cd with proofs of the session.  I greatly appreciate that.
karl-29 - Kristen Lucus

I photographed Kristen a few weeks later.  She wasn't nude, but the theme and situation was much more personal.  That story and those photos will have to wait for another day.


A bit out of touch.

Katie - 071411

I hate it when real life takes away from living.  I've been absent for a bit and will be for a bit more.  My day time job has become a 12-15 hour workday, 6 days a week slog due  to a worldwide project due to go live in late September.  I am hoping my portion will start slowing down in two weeks.

I highly recommend you visit the Magnum photo site for these two series.  Both are amazing.

Women Artists


Secrets, brilliant disguises, masks, and façades.

Candace Nirvana - 070211

If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees. - Kahlil Gibran

I just read a post over at What We Saw Today by my friend Carla titled Secrets.  I recommend reading her post.  To summarize it, she shared some personal information with someone who betrayed her with the secret.  This reminds me of why we all keep secrets and must be careful with whom we share our most personal details.

I wrote a bit about façades and how we build up fake fronts to hide what is inside of us.  I think we also build safe rooms in our hearts and brains where we keep the most intimate secrets buried.  I've bared only parts of my safe room to a very few.  Nobody has burned me horribly, but I've had some bumps along the way.  Nobody, but me (and depending on views on God) knows all my secrets.
Secrets are made to be found out over time. - Charles Sanford
There were two people I shared a bit with that didn't hurt me, but never forgot a word I said.  Even months and years later, both will mention a shared nugget or two at relevant times.  I am not sure if they do that to show they have power over me with the secret or to show they were listening and remember what I shared and care for me.  It may be a mixture of both.  This reminds me of why during biblical times God, and other characters, were hesitant to share their names.  By knowing some one's name you had power over him or her.  Similarly, by knowing a person's deep secret, you have large power over them as well.

What is love? Love is when one person knows all of your secrets... your deepest, darkest, most dreadful secrets of which no one else in the world knows... and yet in the end, that one person does not think any less of you; even if the rest of the world does. - unknown

I recently had a falling out with someone (person A).  We "de-friended" on Facebook and cut other ties as well.  We still have common online friends and that is where the pixel forest fog comes in.  I wrote a status update on Facebook about an event that we and another friend had in common.  An hour later I got a Facebook private message from the shared friend (person B) that was meant for  person A, not me.  It had my FB quote, sort of trashed me and made a few jokes.

I don't know what hurt more,  that person A told person B about the falling out or that person B, a shared friend, was spying and relaying information back to person A.  The fact that all of this is happening online is not new, this type of coy spying has been going on for ages.  I remember these types of shenanigans going on in junior high, but now it happens in the pixel forest as well.

I purposefully keep things secret.  Some are to protect myself, loved ones, family, friends, and other interests.  I kept my name secret on my old blog out of fear of how my photography and dark and/or erotic thoughts could harm me.  I now own this blog and use my name, but no longer share those parts and only some of my photography for the same reason.   I have a separate day job and multiple lives I live and need to protect.

I was once talking to a friend about how our personal universes were shaped.  Hers was one big sphere where all parts of it swirled around together, colliding, bonding, and separating from each other.  Things were not compartmentalized.  My personal universe is more like a wheel hub with spokes going out.  The only place those spokes may touch is at the center, the hub, or me.  I rarely mix my work life with my art life or my family life or college life or blog life or church life.  If I do let them mix, I try to control the meeting as much as possible and am very nervous during it.  I really hate when those hubs or worlds collide outside of my control.
We dance around a ring and suppose, While the secret sits in the middle and knows - Robert Frost
Why do I keep such strict separation between these parts of me?  Part of it is that I know the spokes would conflict with each other, may not understand each other, and would hurt me in the end.  I also keep them separated because I seek out different things from each group that make most of them mutually exclusive for me.  I don't like mixing those groups because the mix rarely goes well.

At times I wish I could be as open as the friend with the sphere universe.  I think it is healthier because she has fewer secrets or perceived needs for them.  For me though, I can't do it.  I was raised this way and it is an atomized part of my essence.

It takes a lot of my energy to maintain my spoke universe and even though I am decent at keeping everything separated, the parts do bleed through to one another on occasion.  One such area is my art.  If you spend enough time looking at it, you can see what I try to keep hidden from other areas.  Maybe my reluctance to change is partly due to me not wanting to give up one of my internal muses, my secrets that make up most of my art and expression. 

The last song from the last Beatles performance on the roof of the Apple Offices- Get Back