Now judge, judge I had debts no honest man can pay…

 

The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand

These lines from Johnny 99 – a typical Springsteen tale about a worker driven in anger to commit murder by the dire economic conditions he faces – struck me recently in a way they hadn’t before. They face some competition, but they may very well be the most thoughtful lyrics the man has penned. Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man. But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand. To me this says – yes, crime is inexcusable and unforgivable and those that commit it deserve our scorn. And yet somehow simultaneously – and I happily concede this is a contradiction – it seems only human to call for compassion sometimes when the context is clarified. It’s the old, irresolvable mental battle between condemnation and understanding, put to music and made to be growled by the murderer himself to the judge determining his future! That comic element is captured better by the rocked up version he nowadays plays live, but the original acoustic is better for focusing and inducing the second emotion; compassion. Listen here.

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