Monday, August 1, 2016

Monday's Poetry: "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" and "The Sniper"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the horrendous mass shooting that occurred at the University of Texas in Austin.   On August 1st, 1966, twenty-five-year-old architecture student, Charles Joseph Whitman, began his final day on earth by stabbing his mother and then his wife to death.  After those murders, Whitman loaded two suitcases with guns and set off for the university in Austin where he calmly climbed the stairs of the school's famous clock tower, crossed a catwalk, and ensconced himself in the tower where he had a clear shot at much of the campus.  Before the long and bloody morning was over Whitman had shot forty-nine people and killed sixteen - before being killed himself by the police.

At the time it was the bloodiest mass shooting in the history of the United States, but it was a mere pale prelude to decades of gun madness that have consumed the nation with shocking headlines from such far-flung places as Jonesboro, Red Lake, San Ysidro, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernadino, and Orlando - to name but a very, very few.

With each of these murderous attacks the only sure response was that the gun industry and it's lobbying organizations like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America would rise in righteous indignation and demand wider access to bigger and bigger weapons.  More guns in the hands of more people, they argued, make us safer - despite massive and sustained evidence to the contrary.

Today's poetry selections are actually two songs dealing with the shooting at the University of Texas fifty years ago.  The first, The Ballad of Charles Whitman, was penned and sung by the irreverent Kinky Friedman - musician, novelist, and sometime candidate for Governor of Texas.  It is, like the man who wrote it, a bit flip - but compelling, nonetheless.  Friedman notes the role that mental illness played in the crime - "there was a rumor about a tumor."

The second piece, The Sniper, written and sung by Harry Chapin, gives more insight into the actual shooting, telling how Whitman accessed the tower and even naming some of his victims.  Combined, the two songwriters give a disturbing view of one of America's more deranged individuals.  We have witnessed decades of bloody madness, an era of insanity whose door was essentially pushed open by Charles Joseph Whitman fifty years ago today.

This posting is dedicated to NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, aging rocker Ted Nugent, and moldering pond scum everywhere.

The Ballad of Charles Whitman
by Kinky Friedman

He was sitting up there for more than an hour
Way up there on the Texas Tower
Shooting from the twenty-seventh floor, yahoo

He didn't choke or slash or slit them
Not our Charles Joseph Whitman
He won't be an architect no more

Got up that morning calm and cool
He picked up his guns and walked to school
All the while he smiled so sweetly
And it blew their minds completely
They'd never seen an Eagle Scout so cruel

Now won't you think for the shame and degradation
For the school's administration?

He put on such a bold and brassy show
The Chancellor cried, "It's adolescent
And of course it's most unpleasant
But I got to admit it was a lovely way to go"

There was a rumor about a tumor
Nestled at the base of his brain
He was sitting up there with his .36 Magnum
Laughing wildly as he bagged 'em
Who are we to say the boy's insane?

Now Charlie was awful disappointed
Else he thought he was anointed
To do a deed so lowdown and so mean

The students looked up from their classes
Had to stop and rub their glasses
Who'd believe he'd once been a Marine

Now Charlie made the honor roll with ease
Most all of his grades was A's and B's
A real rip snorting, trigger squeezer
Charlie proved a big crowd pleaser
Though he had been known to make a couple C's

Some were dying, some were weeping
Some were studying, some were sleeping
Some were shouting, "Texas number one"
Some were running, some were falling
Some were screaming, some were bawling
Some thought the revolution had begun

The doctors tore his poor brain down
But not a snitch of illness could be found
Most folks couldn't figure just-a why he did it
And them that could would not admit it
There's still a lot of Eagle Scouts around

There was a rumor about a tumor
Nestled at the base of his brain
He was sitting up there with his .36 Magnum
Laughing wildly as he bagged 'em

Who are we to say the boy's in?
Who are we to say the boy's in?
Who are we to say the boy's insane?

And singer / songwriter Harry Chapin has the following perspective on the same incident.

by Harry Chapin

It is an early Monday morning.
The sun is becoming bright on the land.
No one is watching as he comes a walking.
Two bulky suitcases hang from his hands.

He heads towards the tower that stands in the campus.
He goes through the door, he starts up the stairs.
The sound of his footsteps, the sound of his breathing,
The sound of the silence when no one was there.

I didn't really know him.
He was kind of strange.
Always sort of sat there.
He never seemed to change.

He reached the catwalk. He put done his burden.
The four sided clock began to chime.
Seven AM, the day is beginning.
So much to do and so little time.

He looks at the city where no one had known him.
He looks at the sky where no one looks down.
He looks at his life and what it has shown him.
He looks for his shadow it cannot be found.

He was such a moody child, very hard to touch.
Even as a baby he never smiled too much. No no.No no.

You bug me, she said.
Your ugly, she said.
Please hug me, I said.
But she just sat there
With the same flat stare
That she saves for me alone
When I'm home.
When I'm home.
Take me home.

He laid out the rifles, he loaded the shotgun,
He stacked up the cartridges along the wall.
He knew he would need them for his conversation.
If it went as it he planned, then he might use them all.

He said Listen you people I've got a question
You won't pay attention but I'll ask anyhow.
I found a way that will get me an answer.
Been waiting to ask you 'till now.
Right now !

Am I?
I am a lover whose never been kissed.
Am I?
I am a fighter whose not made a fist.
Am I?
If I'm alive then there's so much I've missed.
How do I know I exist?
Are you listening to me?
Are you listening to me?
Am I?

The first words he spoke took the town by surprise.
One got Mrs. Gibbons above her right eye.
It blew her through the window wedged her against the door.
Reality poured from her face, staining the floor.

He was kind of creepy,
Sort of a dunce.
I met him at the corner bar.
I only dated the poor boy once,
That's all. Just once, that was all.

Bill Whedon was questioned as stepped from his car.
Tom Scott ran across the street but he never got that far.
The police were there in minutes, they set up baricades.
He spoke right on over them in a half-mile circle.
In a dumb struck city his pointed questions were sprayed.

He knocked over Danny Tyson as he ran towards the noise.
Just about then the answers started comming. Sweet, sweet joy.
Thudding in the clock face, whining off the walls,
Reaching up to where he sat there, answering calls.

Thirty-seven people got his message so far.
Yes, he was reaching them right were they are.

They set up an assault team. They asked for volunteers.
They had to go and get him, that much was clear.
And the word spread about him on the radios and TV's.
In appropriately sober tone they asked "Who can it be?"

He was a very dull boy, very taciturn.
Not much of a joiner, he did not want to learn.
No no.No no.

They're coming to get me, they don't want to let me
Stay in the bright light too long.
It's getting on noon now, it's goin to be soon now.
But oh, what a wonderful sound!

Mama, won't you nurse me?
Rain me down the sweet milk of your kindness.
Mama, it's getting worse for me.
Won't you please make me warm and mindless?

Mama, yes you have cursed me.
I never will forgive you for your blindness.
I hate you!

The wires are all humming for me.
And I can hear them coming for me.
Soon they'll be here, but there's nothing to fear.
Not any more though they've blasted the door.

As the copter dropped the gas he shouted "Who cares?" .
They could hear him laughing as they started up the stairs.
As they stormed out on the catwalk, blinking at the sun,
With their final fusillade his answer had come.

Am I?
There is no way that you can hide me.
Am ?
Though you have put your fire inside me.
Am I ?
You've given me my answer can't you see?
I was!
I am!
And now I will be
I will be

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