Musical inspiration can come from anywhere, and why not real life when truth is stranger (and far more awful) than fiction? Here are five of the most affecting songs about real murders.
The Drones, Taman Shud
Taman Shud comes from from The Drones’ critically acclaimed, AMP-longlisted album Feelin Kinda Free (2016); it’s a gritty and grindingly angry track which looks at the mysterious cold case of a corpse found on Somerton beach (SA) in 1948, and reflects on why the story isn’t well-known to Australians (read frontman Gareth Liddiard’s thoughts in our interview).
Detectives found a shred of paper in the corpse’s pocket, on which was printed “tamam shud”, meaning ‘ended’ or ‘finished’ in Persian. (Some reports at the time misspelled the phrase “taman shud”, hence the discrepancy.) Police identified the paper scrap as a portion of a poetry book authored by 12th century writer Omar Khayyam, and appealed to the public to help find the copy. The book was located in the footwell of a car completely unconnected with the case, and inside its back cover police found three messages, caused by handwriting indentations. They were a local phone number, another random number, and what was thought to be a code. The weirdly scrawled letters on Feelin Kinda Free’s cover are that as-yet unsolved code. The Somerton man has never been identified.
Bad Dreems, Naden
Adelaide band Bad Dreems are self-professed true crime nuts – particularly when it comes to events around their home city (see: New Boys, about South Australian bikie gang prince Vince Focarelli, who has allegedly survived six attempts on his life). Naden meshes the boys’ childhood experiences with the story of Malcolm Naden, a brutal man from Dubbo who murdered two women, shot the moon and lived in the bush for seven years while police mounted one of NSW’s biggest ever manhunts. After his capture in 2013, Naden pleaded guilty to the murder of Kristy Scholes (the girlfriend of Naden’s relative), and his cousin, Lateesha Nolan. He is currently serving a life sentence.
Sufjan Stevens, John Wayne Gacy Jr
This one’s really, really sad, so if you’re feeling fragile maybe don’t listen (it never fails to make me cry). In this gentle, eerie ballad by American indie multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens, we hear about the awful crimes of John Wayne Gacy, Jr. – also known as the Killer Clown. Gacy was a well-liked local entertainer in Illinois, regularly dressing up as the self-invented character ‘Pogo the Clown’ for charity events and children’s parties. Between 1972 and 1978 he sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 adolescent boys and young men, committing the crimes inside his home and burying most bodies within the house’s crawl space or elsewhere on the property. Gacy was on death row for 14 years before his death by lethal injection in 1994.
The motivation for Nivrana’s 1991 track Polly apparently came after frontman Kurt Cobain read about the abduction of a 14-year-old girl in 1987, by previously jailed serial rapist Gerald Friend. In 1960 Friend was convicted of the torture and rape of a young girl, but only served 20 years of his 75-year sentence before he was paroled. Seven years later he snatched his following victim, who accepted a car ride from Friend; the teen was held against her will inside his mobile home, suspended from the ceiling by a harness. She escaped repeated beatings and sexual assault by leaping from Friend’s car during a stop at a petrol station, and subsequently sued the Department of Corrections for having released Friend from jail before his previous term was completed.
The Boomtown Rats, I Don’t Like Mondays
I Don’t Like Mondays sat at the top of the UK singles chart for four weeks in 1979; written by Bob Geldof (then the vocalist for Irish new wave act The Boomtown Rats), the track is about Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16-year-old girl who lived across the road from a San Diego elementary school. One January morning in 1979, Spencer loaded the Ruger rifle (with telescopic sight) she’d received from her father for Christmas the previous year, set it up at the front window and shot at children standing outside the school. Eight children and a policeman were injured, while the school’s principal and custodian were killed. A reporter managed to phone Spencer while she was still inside her house, and asked her why she’d committed the crime, to which she replied: “I don’t like Mondays.” Geldof said of the song, “It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it.” Spencer is currently serving a life sentence.