Dad had a true crime show on tonight, which got me thinking about sociopaths, which got me thinking about spree killer Charlie Starkweather, which got me thinking about Bruce Springsteen (who is neither a sociopath or a spree killer).
But he wrote the haunting, devastating song “Nebraska” about Starkweather. It is as stark and bleak as the crimes he committed with girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate, as stark and bleak as the flat midwestern landscape. Starkweather was a horrible excuse for a human being, Fugate not much better. There is nothing romantic in their vicious acts, nothing to be celebrated. Springsteen handles the whole topic with amazing care, really. The song is from Starkweather’s POV, but it does nothing to make him seem sympathetic. The most notable thing about this song is the utter lack of emotion. He feels no remorse, no empathy for the victims, seemingly nothing at all: “I killed everything in my path. I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done. At least for a little while, sir, me and her we had us some fun.”
Springsteen gives a good basic outline of the whole sordid mess, which is more complex than a few minutes can convey. What makes the Starkweather case so compelling is that it’s so unmotivated. They just went out and murdered eleven people, including Fugate’s entire family, for no real reason. There’s still some question about the level of Fugate’s participation in the spree, but the enormity of the whole thing is unchanged. The flat, unaffected tone Springsteen adopts here mimics the landscape, just a long flat line on the horizon that goes on as far as the eye can see. It is an endless kind of evil–no way to determine where it began, no real way to end it. Because there will always be another Charlie Starkweather. There will always be another Manson Family. There will always be another Columbine.
“I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”