February 27, 2024

American Fiction – see the movie!

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Yesterday I saw the film American Fiction. Great film, great actors, and a message we need to hear, repeatedly.

When we got home, I looked up the song Stagger Lee from Lloyd Price from 1959, which in turn made me look up the story behind the song.

First the song.

Here is a link to the original version that I remember as a kid:

But while searching, I discovered that Dick Clark thought the lyrics were too violent for his American Bandstand show and had Price rewrite them to tone it down for performance on the show,

with a happy ending. History of Stagger Lee 1950 – 1960.

Here are the original lyrics:

The night was clear
And the moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down

I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark
He was barking at the two men
Who were gambling in the dark

It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven
Billy swore that he threw eight

Stagger Lee told Billy
“I can’t let you go with that
You have won all my money
And my brand new Stetson hat”

Stagger Lee went home
And he got his .44
Said, “I’m going to the bar room
Just to pay that debt I owe” (go’n Stagger Lee)

Stagger Lee went to the bar room
And he stood across the bar room door
Said, “Now nobody move”
And he pulled his .44

“Stagger Lee”, cried Billy
“Oh, please don’t take my life
I got three little children
And a very sickly wife”

Stagger Lee shot Billy
Oh, he shot that poor boy so bad
‘Til the bullet came through Billy
And it broke the bartender’s glass

Now look out, Stagg, come on
Get out of here Stagg
Police is coming
Go’n now Stagg

Songwriters: Lloyd Price, Harold Logan

The story

The story dates back to the late 1800’s. It is long, but totally worth the read.

The Real Story Behind That Bad Man “Stagger Lee” • Missouri Life Magazine

“On Christmas Eve, 1895, a shooting occurred in a North St. Louis saloon that was destined to find a prominent—and permanent—place in American oral tradition. “

“Lee belonged to a group of pimps known as macks. They were conspicuous for their strutting style and their flashy clothes. According to Cecil Brown, on the night Lee killed Billy Lyons, he wore a black dress coat, high-collar embroidered yellow shirt, elaborately patterned red velvet vest, and gray striped slacks. Dove-gray spats covered the tops of his St. Louis flats low-heeled shoes, with long, pointed, upswept toes, on each of which was a small mirror, designed to catch the light. He wore gold rings on his fingers and carried a  gold-headed cane. Crowning it all was an expensive highroller, white Stetson, its hatband adorned with an embroidered image of his favorite girl, Lillie.”

A memory

While I read the last quoted paragraph above, suddenly I remembered Matthias and Frankfurt, a long time ago. In the mid 1980’s I danced in a nightclub on a boat moored on the Main River in Frankfurt, Germany. It was large with a long bar, dance floor and generous seating on the deck. Below deck, Matthias had an office and private bar with seating for maybe 20.

Matthias was a tall, handsome, Nigerian. Married to a German woman named Ellen. He came to the club every night dressed to the nines. Alligator shoes, flocked velvet vests, silk shirt, numerous gold chains around his neck and a huge gold medallion. Gold and diamond rings. Curly black hair shining with pomade. Always easy-going, smooth-talking.

I don’t recall how I came to perform there, perhaps through the artists union or an agency, as I was listed with various promoters throughout Germany. When I did my show, the audience was attentive and appreciative, though they didn’t look at all like the audiences I was used to. I think they were in more transitory fields of employment. I never spoke with any of them, but I do recall that Hans bought a car stereo from some muscled guy with dark glasses and tattoos. It was hot, no doubt. And two weeks after we installed it in our Peugeot, it was stolen while parked on the Kaiserstrasse in Frankfurt.

One night Hans and I showed up for my show and the boat was dark and no one was around. We drove back to our apartment in Offenbach and the next morning, there was his photo in the Bild Zeitung. After closing the night before, he had an altercation with someone below deck over money and drugs and Matthias had been shot dead.

Read more musings here.

About Post Author

Designer Marta

Pioneer type, fascinated by the latest and greatest developments in technology, web design and database management. I initiated the popularity of the bellydance movement in Germany way back in the 1970s through the guidance of my mentor and better half, Hans Hilberath. Performed throughout Europe and the Middle East, which greatly expanded my cultural sophistication. Worked with many talented artists, learned languages and developed many survival skills! Lots of highs and many lows. My insight: set goals and keep moving forward.
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