Paul From Minneapolis

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Old Footprints

From "Chronicles," the Bob Dylan autobiography, which is great in a way that will support many readings:

One guy who kept reappearing in the news was Caryl Chessman, a notorious rapist whom they called the Red-Light Bandit. He was on death row in California after being tried and convicted of raping young women. He had a creative way of doing it - strapped a flashing red light to the top of his automobile and then pulled the girls over to the side of the road, ordering them out, hauling them into the woods, robbing and raping them. He'd been on death row for quite a while making appeal after appeal, but his last appeal had been final and he was scheduled to go into the gas chamber. Chessman had become a cause célèbre and luminaries had taken up his plight. Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, Robert Frost, even Eleanor Roosevelt were calling for his life to be spared. An anti-death penalty group had asked Len (Chandler, a friend) to write a song about Chessman.

"How do you write a song about a pariah who rapes young women, what would be the angle?" he asked me me as if his imagination was actually on fire.

"I don't know, Len, I guess you'd have to build it slowly... maybe start with the red lights."

Len never did write that song, but I think someone else did. One thing about Chandler was that he was fearless...