I should get satellite radio. It might preserve my sanity while driving through the big red spot in the middle of California. The Highway 99 corridor down the middle of the San Joaquin valley is the stiff and unyielding backbone of right-wing political thought (or lack of thought) in the Golden State. Scanning the broadcast bands on the car radio is a claustrophobic venture into a very narrow spectrum of opinion. Whenever the undiluted real thing is unavailable, you never lack for a crowd of third-string talk-show loudmouths—wanna-be Limbaughs, Hannities, and Becks. It's an education in American exceptionalism, Judeo-Christian moral superiority, and my-country-(extreme-)right-or-wrong.
Time to fire up the CD player.
Perhaps you're thinking I should try the FM band instead. Surely it's the AM dial that is infested by such Neanderthal grunting. FM stations must be better. Right?
Sort of. There are fewer talk shows, but still plenty of country-western broadcasts and a handful of Golden-Oldie stations. It was while I was popping back and forth between talk and music that a coincidental juxtaposition gave me a small epiphany.
A talker was reprising an old rant about the superiority of Christian culture to Islamic. His evidence included the eagerness of Muslims to engage in honor killings, one chilling example involving the supposedly moderate founder of Bridges TV. As Reuters described it, Bridges was established “with a mission to show Muslims in a more positive light.” When Muzzammil Hassan beheaded his estranged wife, he did a very effective job of contradicting his broadcast company's message. (He seems to be an idiot as well as a murderer.)
The talk-show host stressed that such killings were the peculiar domain of non-Christian cultures, so all the more reason we should deport every last one. Westerners would never put up with this kind of thing.
Okay. Heard it before. I switched the radio to FM. I recognized the song being played. The Kingston Trio was singing its 1958 hit “Tom Dooley,” which got a lot of play in my childhood. Perhaps you know it:
I met her on the mountainDooley is on his way to be hanged because he murdered his lover. The song is based on a real murder that occurred in North Carolina in 1866. She was seeing another man and Dooley was jealous.
And there I took her life
I met her on the mountain
And stabbed her with my knife
Ancient history, of course. And we should make allowances for folk songs. It's not as though we were supposed to identify with Dooley and sympathize with him, right? (“Poor boy, you're bound to die.”) I switched to another music station. More oldies, but no more “Dooley.” An hour later, I got this instead:
Then I awake and look around me, at four gray walls that surround meTime for more capital punishment, this time with Tom Jones. He was singing “Green, Green Grass of Home,” with which he had a hit in 1966. Okay, so he's on death row. We don't know, however, that he necessarily killed his girlfriend.
and I realize that I was only dreaming.
For there's a guard and there's a sad old padre—
arm in arm we'll walk at daybreak.
Again I touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they'll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree
as they lay me neath the green, green grass of home.
But Tom wasn't finished. The radio station then played his 1968 hit “Delilah.” (What was this, a Tom Jones festival?) It's a poignant love song in which the jilted lover stalks his former girlfriend and finds it necessary to kill her when she mocks him after her tryst with another man.
At break of day when that man drove away, I was waitingWell, she did laugh at him. And Delilah's killer is apparently remorseful—even as he demands an explanation from her corpse:
I cross the street to her house and she opened the door
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more
My, my, my DelilahThat really makes him a lot more sympathetic.
Why, why, why, Delilah?
So before they come to break down the door
Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn't take any more
These examples prove nothing, of course. Western culture does not celebrate or empathize with killers in general or men who kill women in particular. Let us speak no more about it.
Besides, I want to listen to today's broadcast of Bizet's Carmen.