78 years ago on May 23 popular bank robbers Bonnie & Clyde met their doom in Louisiana, mere months before John Dillinger suffered a similar fate outside the Chicago Biograph Theater.
We might describe them as the first and greatest post-modern criminals. Bonnie Parker detested the provincial life of Texas and loved motion pictures, while Clyde Barrow was said to have been fixated on vengeance against the Texas penal system that turned him into a hardened criminal. By post-modern, it should be taken to mean that, like the literature of the first half of the 20th, Bonnie & Clyde’s motivations were far more complex than simply stealing money. Their nearest analogue, in a sense, might then be François Villon, a legendary poet and thief whom the great writer Blaise Cendrars called the “source” of modern poetry.
The media fascination with Bonnie & Clyde was accelerated by a rolls of undeveloped film and poetry left behind after they fled their Joplin, Missouri hideout. In the photos, the duo posed with various weapons. Bonnie Parker’s poetry even has a film noir atmosphere to it that is cinematic in flavor. (Check out Parker’s poem “The Story of Suicide Sal” and “The Trail’s End” below.) The romance and poetry of the union was hard to ignore. And in the years since it has inspired many books, films and music.
One might say that a good portion of Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic oeuvre was inspired by the misadventures of Bonnie & Clyde. Films like “Le Petite Soldat,” “Breathless” and most creatively, the surreal “Pierrot le Fou.” Godard even famously turned down an opportunity to direct a Bonnie & Clyde film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, which eventually fell upon Arthur Penn’s shoulders.
Another Gallic artist, Serge Gainsbourg, was also infatuated with the myth of Bonnie & Clyde, constructing a theme around the criminal lovers for his collaborative album with Brigitte Bardot entitled “Bonnie & Clyde.” Merle Haggard tapped into the lovers’ myth as well for his LP “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde.”
And although they were violent killers, to those interested in the pair’s criminal spree they are the ultimate rebels and their story — a modern and even post-modern narrative — will continue to be re-imagined in various media.
The Trail’s End
You’ve read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you’re still in need;
of something to read,
here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.
Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang
I’m sure you all have read.
how they rob and steal;
and those who squeal,
are usually found dying or dead.
There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
they’re not as ruthless as that.
their nature is raw;
they hate all the law,
the stool pigeons, spotters and rats.
They call them cold-blooded killers
they say they are heartless and mean.
But I say this with pride
that I once knew Clyde,
when he was honest and upright and clean.
But the law fooled around;
kept taking him down,
and locking him up in a cell.
Till he said to me;
“I’ll never be free,
so I’ll meet a few of them in hell”
The road was so dimly lighted
there were no highway signs to guide.
But they made up their minds;
if all roads were blind,
they wouldn’t give up till they died.
The road gets dimmer and dimmer
sometimes you can hardly see.
But it’s fight man to man
and do all you can,
for they know they can never be free.
From heart-break some people have suffered
from weariness some people have died.
But take it all in all;
our troubles are small,
till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.
If a policeman is killed in Dallas
and they have no clue or guide.
If they can’t find a fiend,
they just wipe their slate clean
and hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.
There’s two crimes committed in America
not accredited to the Barrow mob.
They had no hand;
in the kidnap demand,
nor the Kansas City Depot job.
A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped.
In these awfull hard times;
we’d make a few dimes,
if five or six cops would get bumped”
The police haven’t got the report yet
but Clyde called me up today.
He said,”Don’t start any fights;
we aren’t working nights,
we’re joining the NRA.”
From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
is known as the Great Divide.
Where the women are kin;
and the men are men,
and they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.
If they try to act like citizens
and rent them a nice little flat.
About the third night;
they’re invited to fight,
by a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.
They don’t think they’re too smart or desperate
they know that the law always wins.
They’ve been shot at before;
but they do not ignore,
that death is the wages of sin.
Some day they’ll go down together
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.
We each of us have a good “alibi”
For being down here in the “joint”
But few of them really are justified
If you get right down to the point.
You’ve heard of a woman’s glory
Being spent on a “downright cur”
Still you can’t always judge the story
As true, being told by her.
As long as I’ve stayed on this “island”
And heard “confidence tales” from each “gal”
Only one seemed interesting and truthful-
The story of “Suicide Sal”.
Now “Sal” was a gal of rare beauty,
Though her features were coarse and tough;
She never once faltered from duty
To play on the “up and up”.
“Sal” told me this tale on the evening
Before she was turned out “free”
And I’ll do my best to relate it
Just as she told it to me:
I was born on a ranch in Wyoming;
Not treated like Helen of Troy,
I was taught that “rods were rulers”
And “ranked” as a greasy cowboy.
Then I left my old home for the city
To play in its mad dizzy whirl,
Not knowing how little of pity
It holds for a country girl.
There I fell for “the line” of a “henchman”
A “professional killer” from “Chi”
I couldn’t help loving him madly,
For him even I would die.
One year we were desperately happy
Our “ill gotten gains” we spent free,
I was taught the ways of the “underworld”
Jack was just like a “god” to me.
I got on the “F.B.A.” payroll
To get the “inside lay” of the “job”
The bank was “turning big money”!
It looked like a “cinch for the mob”.
Eighty grand without even a “rumble”-
Jack was last with the “loot” in the door,
When the “teller” dead-aimed a revolver
From where they forced him to lie on the floor.
I knew I had only a moment-
He would surely get Jack as he ran,
So I “staged” a “big fade out” beside him
And knocked the forty-five out of his hand.
They “rapped me down big” at the station,
And informed me that I’d get the blame
For the “dramatic stunt” pulled on the “teller”
Looked to them, too much like a “game”.
The “police” called it a “frame-up”
Said it was an “inside job”
But I steadily denied any knowledge
Or dealings with “underworld mobs”.
The “gang” hired a couple of lawyers,
The best “fixers” in any mans town,
But it takes more than lawyers and money
When Uncle Sam starts “shaking you down”.
I was charged as a “scion of gangland”
And tried for my wages of sin,
The “dirty dozen” found me guilty-
From five to fifty years in the pen.
I took the “rap” like good people,
And never one “squawk” did I make
Jack “dropped himself” on the promise
That we make a “sensational break”.
Well, to shorten a sad lengthy story,
Five years have gone over my head
Without even so much as a letter-
At first I thought he was dead.
But not long ago I discovered;
From a gal in the joint named Lyle,
That Jack and his “moll” had “got over”
And were living in true “gangster style”.
If he had returned to me sometime,
Though he hadn’t a cent to give
I’d forget all the hell that he’s caused me,
And love him as long as I lived.
But there’s no chance of his ever coming,
For he and his moll have no fears
But that I will die in this prison,
Or “flatten” this fifty years.
Tommorow I’ll be on the “outside”
And I’ll “drop myself” on it today,
I’ll “bump ‘em if they give me the “hotsquat”
On this island out here in the bay…
The iron doors swung wide next morning
For a gruesome woman of waste,
Who at last had a chance to “fix it”
Murder showed in her cynical face.
Not long ago I read in the paper
That a gal on the East Side got “hot”
And when the smoke finally retreated,
Two of gangdom were found “on the spot”.
It related the colorful story
Of a “jilted gangster gal”
Two days later, a “sub-gun” ended
The story of “Suicide Sal”.