There’s not much information on Japanese artist Toru Kamei (at least not in English) available online. But his pieces are wonderfully reminiscent of the Vanitas painting from the 1600-1700′s. When I’m fabulously wealthy I shall own all of them! Evil cackle… etc… so on & so forth.
“Toru KAMEI was born in 1976. He is inspired by Vanitas and try to express transience but beautiful, by drawing common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death, flower, which symbolize transience of beauty.”
This entry comes courtesy of two of my friends from college (regular ol’ college, not mortuary college), Lixian Hantover and Alex Bender.
Click on the link directly below to listen to Lixian’s incredible cover of the murder ballad Knoxville Girl and then read on to Alex’s description of the twisted, macabre lyrics of the deceptively sweet sounding ballad.
Suppose it’s 1959 and you’re fascinated with death. Problem is, there’s no Order of the Good Death website to peruse. What do you do? If you have a taste for country, folk, or bluegrass music, you’re in luck. You can get your death fix by listening to carnage-filled murder ballads such as “Pretty Polly,” “Tom Dooley,” “Little Sadie,” and “Omie Wise.” And then there’s my favorite of them all, “Knoxville Girl.”
“Knoxville Girl” is a deceptively sunny-sounding tune; indeed, there’s nary a minor chord in the entire song. Or as this YouTube user puts it, “Wow this song is just Gangsta Cruel…Don’t be fooled by the easy music style listen to the lyrics.”
The lyrics tell a sordid little tale that goes something like this. Willie, the narrator, meets a girl in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he starts visiting her home every week. One night, the new couple goes for a walk. Without warning, and for apparently no reason, Willie picks up a stick and knocks the girl to the ground. She begs for her life, but Willie beats the shit out of her and doesn’t stop until the soil is soaked with her blood. Romantic, right? Then, Willie grabs the girl by her hair and drags her corpse around and around. It’s not entirely clear if he’s doing this out of sheer panic, or just for fun, but eventually, he dispenses of the body in the river.
He then addresses the girl, who is presumably sinking to the bottom of the river or floating downstream by now; but in case she hasn’t gotten the point, Willie proclaims that she can never be his wife. After this, Willie returns home and is greeted by his worried mother, and when she asks about the blood on his clothes, he makes up a lame excuse about an epic nosebleed. Willie retires to bed with a throbbing headache, and he has bad dreams all night long. Soon thereafter, Willie is taken to jail, and despite the best efforts of his friends to bail him out, he is eventually sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. But, protests Willie in closing, he really did love that Knoxville girl.
The provenance of “Knoxville Girl” can be traced back to 17th century England. European immigrants brought a murder ballad called “Oxford Girl” (alternately, “Wexford Girl”) with them to the United States, and over time, the song got shorter and was rechristened “Knoxville Girl” (for more on the origins of the song, see http://www.planetslade.com/knoxville-girl1.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Knoxville_Girl).
The song as we know it today was first immortalized as a commercial recording in the mid-1920s. In 1956, country brother duo the Louvin Brothers released what is perhaps the most beloved recording of the song on their Tragic Songs of Life LP. Since then, countless other artists have taken a crack at it (and not just country artists; see, e.g., the Lemonheads’ (?!) rendition on their Car Button Cloth album from 1996). My preferred version has always been the nowadays lesser-known Wilburn Brothers recording from 1959 (see also this live version, and dig that grin at 1:13 during one of the song’s most gruesome moments). A mere 2 minutes and 36 seconds long, the Wilburns managed to create the most fucked up version of an already pretty fucked up song by further shortening it (by comparison, the Louvins take a whole 3 minute and 49 seconds to perform the song). More on this later.
Part of what makes “Knoxville Girl” special is its lack of a clear motive for the murder. Why does Willie kill the girl? Was she cheating on him? Perhaps Willie is just a jealous fellow with a lethal temper. Maybe things were moving too fast and he really, really didn’t want to face the prospect of getting married. Or maybe she was pregnant, like the murdered woman in “Omie Wise.”
There is, of course, little support in the song for any of these scenarios. The closest we ever get to a motive is a line about the girl’s “dark and roving eye,” which, in some early incarnations of the song, is delivered while the girl is still alive – thereby suggesting that the girl incurred the wrath of Willie because she was a bit of a flirt. But by the time the Wilburns recorded the song, this line had been changed to “dark and rolling eyes” and was being delivered directly after Willie dumps the murdered girl in the river. Yes – over time, the one line that possibly shed light on Willie’s motive was transformed into nothing more than a deliciously gratuitous description of the slaughtered girl’s eyes rolling around in their sockets. And you know what? I’m okay with that. In fact, I like to think that the song mentions no motive because Willie didn’t NEED a motive to kill. Because Willie is batshit insane. Because Willie’s a psychopath.
I don’t know if this is the most plausible reading of “Knoxville Girl,” but listen to the Wilburns’ recording, and you can almost believe it. If Willie has family and friends, the Wilburns make sure we don’t hear about it; in their version, Willie’s “anxious mother” and the friends who try to “go his bail” are conspicuously absent. These excisions are key, for they ensure that the listener knows nothing about Willie other than the fact that he expresses his love through intentional homicide. No longer might the listener be inclined to interpret Willie as a dumb kid with a temper who makes a lethal mistake and gets in way over his head. Nope, in the Wilburns’ version, it’s just as likely that Willie is a cold-hearted drifter who simply kills the Knoxville girl for fun, a natural born killer. With no human connections, the Wilburns’ Willie is less sympathetic, less human. And, dare I say it, way more interesting. The less insight we have into Willie’s mind, the better. But then again, maybe that’s just me.
My time in Hawaii is coming to an end, but not before I use my childhood home as a backdrop for a new Ask a Mortician. In this short n’ sweet episode, I talk artificial nails & embalming, mortuary eye caps, Mozart’s mass grave, and getting away with murder.
I was on Facebook tonight (trolling through my feed in the wee hours of the evening, as one does) when I saw someone had re-posted the following status:
Today, our son, Frederick Eugene Buhl (@freddy_E), age 22 years old, took his own life with a rifle shot to the head. Our family is saddened beyond words; our loss is great; this tragedy is enormous and unforseen. Not only our family, but the world has lost a talented, sensitive, brilliant young man who lit up our existence with his. We love him a great deal, and he will be sorely missed.
The original status was posted by the father of Freddy E., the young man who killed himself.
I went to the @freddy_E Twitter page, mostly because I was wondering why a father would identify his son in a death notice by his Twitter handle.
The first thing I noticed were the heart-wrenching tweets Freddy E. had made leading up to his suicide. In essence, he came as close as possible to live-tweeting his own death.
The second thing I noticed was that Freddy E. had an enormous number of followers and was apparently a well-known YouTube comedian and rapper (which explains why his father identified him by his Twitter handle). His videos regularly got over 100,000 views and he was extremely popular in the Seattle area.
Other than the Facebook notice from his father, the only information about Freddy E.’s death comes from a blog post made Saturday night by someone who knew him. In the post, this friend of Freddy’s says that he also looked to Freddy’s Twitter for answers, and found:
“…you said something about being alone and all that shit so I went on your lil crushes twitter, Honey Cocaine. And she talking about being single and how she didn’t tell anybody to fall in love with her. And looking at the tweets and the post you said on facebook a few weeks back about you in love with her and you’ll take a bullet for her, I am praying you didn’t do this over a bitch.”
And then, all hell broke loose on social media. Someone is trending on Twitter right now and it’s not Freddy E., it’s Honey Cocaine, a Cambodian rapper and Freddy E.’s girlfriend? Ex-girlfriend? Never really girlfriend?
The Internet has decided that Honey Cocaine killed Freddy E. No one disputes that he did, in fact, die from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. But though Freddy E. pulled the trigger, it was surely Honey Cocaine who killed him.
There are thousands of tweets and Facebook posts just like this from the past few hours.
Even more bizarre, over and over again people are insisting that Honey Cocaine caused Freddy E. to kill himself as a sacrifice to the Illuminati (the 18th century Bavarian secret society of powerful people that has snuck its way back into modern conspiracy theory). The Illuminati, if they accept Honey Cocaine’s sacrifice, will make her a true star.
As for Honey Cocaine herself, at first she tweeted several things about “being single,” probably trying to distance herself from the inevitable ensuing shitstorm. When the attacks started coming, she started backpeddling, posting the following:
Besides this being NONE OF OUR DAMN BUSINESS, it can become our business in a weird future-dystopia way. Because even someone who doesn’t know anything about either of these people, their relationship, or their lives, can flit around various social media outlets gathering the information they made public over the past two weeks. I should know, I spent the last hour doing just that.
On his Facebook a week ago, Freddy wrote about how Honey Cocaine was his “future wife.”
The fact remains, whether or not Honey Cocaine was the most insane heartless harpy she-witch in all the land, she did not kill Freddy E. She is not responsible for his death. Because it simply doesn’t work like that.
What is it that she did this week? What’s the worst thing we can come up with? Maybe she cheated on him! Maybe she told him she didn’t love him! Maybe she ignored him on Twitter! Maybe she plotted with the Illuminati to make him feel bad about himself!
The bottom line is that it does not matter what she did. Acting like not the best girlfriend does not a murderer make.
As a mortician I’ve seen the “I’ll show you, you’ll see!” suicide at work. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it in my own private life as well. Each time it is horrible and senseless and leaves you looking for a scapegoat, someone to goddamn blame.
But Freddy’s girlfriend cannot be blamed under any circumstances. It sets a shameful precedent. Especially since I’m not sure that it would be the same situation if Honey Cocaine had killed herself and Freddy E. were still alive.
The history of the depiction of female hysteria shows us that surely Honey Cocaine would have been called “unstable” and “overly emotional” and “clingy” and “crazed.” Freddy would not have been getting hundreds of tweets a minute about how he had literally and directly caused her death. That he was responsible. And that he was going to be killed for what he had done.
The pitchforks of the townspeople are out. The mob is forming. But it is online. And the world is becoming a strange place, indeed.
As I’ve shared with you before, I don’t like whales.
They are a fear of mine. They’re unnaturally large aquatic beasts moving in the great, horrifying deep and will one day arise from the oceans to be our overlords. True story. It’s, like, science.
So when I heard that a 40-ft., 40,000-lb. dead fin whale had washed up in Malibu, California, honestly I kind of felt like this.
Things started to get interesting because we’re not used to animals of that scale decomposing on dry land. So as the whale started to do it’s rot-thing, it became a question of what to do with the massive carcass.
Unfortunately I am not in LA this month, so I couldn’t go down to Malibu and say hello. And by “say hello” I mean feel ever-so-briefly superior to an animal that could easily eat/destroy/drown me if we were on his turf.
So I sent Order of the Good Death buddy Oliver Anderson (who designed the flying Ask a Mortician titles) to take pictures. Apparently there were two marine mammal rescue workers there because when they didn’t stand guard people were taking bones. Which I don’t totally blame them for doing.
Alas, you can no longer view the whale, as the celebrities and rich folk that live on that stretch of Little Dume beach in Malibu (including Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan) had the whale towed back into the ocean where it can no longer offend their highbrow sensibilities.