Thursday, December 09, 2010
Anyone who's heard this, even if only by way of the Clash cover, which is worthy, has a pretty good idea just how terrific it is—the galloping rhythm, the big strumming charge of the guitar, the almost-too-chipper declarations of desperation. "Breaking rocks in the hot sun" and "I needed money 'cos I had none" and "Robbin' people with a six-gun." It's sort of a cautionary tale, but only from certain angles. The ringing chorus of "I fought the law and the law won" somehow insinuates itself more as some kind of 50-50 proposition, the moral equivalent of "I called heads but it came up tails," although that doesn't scan so well and obviously loses all the outlaw chic glamour. Meanwhile, the arc of the Bobby Fuller biography I think brings a lot of unexpected depth to the whole thing. Fuller pretty much spent all of his short career as a Johnny-come-lately Buddy Holly knockoff. Both came from West Texas, and Fuller outright idolized Holly and covered a number of his tunes, such as the follow-up to this, "Love's Made a Fool of You." In fact, "I Fought the Law" was written and recorded first by Sonny Curtis and the Crickets. Fuller was only 22 when he died in 1966, a few months after this twisted across the pop landscape. Reportedly his body was discovered in his parked car in front of his home in Hollywood. He had been beaten and gasoline was found in his stomach. Friends speculated it was related to Fuller's suspected mob ties. Los Angeles police ruled it a suicide. There's a lesson in here somewhere but I think maybe you have to be a corkscrew to see it clear.