Texas is the Reason: The Death of JFK and Danzig's Shining Moment
Or, how a national tragedy spawned a national treasure.
Fifty years ago today, the most sentimental cottage industry known to mankind was born. John F. Kennedy, America’s own bad-back-having, Chicago vote-stealing, unable-to-get-a-Civil-Rights-act-passing Princess Diana was laid low by an assassin’s bullet. He was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, the mob or, potentially, everyone who is now living or has ever lived. Depends who you ask. Either way, baby boomers and speculative fiction writers have been having grief boners ever since.
For everyone who wasn’t black, Native American, Filipino, Spanish, the Dulles brothers, Chinese, Japanese, Cuban, familiar with our history with the Barbary pirates, Lenny Bruce, Lady Bird Johnson, a citizen of any number of African countries having their anti colonialist ambitions consistently under cut by American “national interests,” a woman of any color other than white, fuck it—a white woman too, or generally paying attention in any way shape or form; November 22nd was the end of America’s sense of innocence. Aw.
But I came not to mock our arguably prettiest president, but to praise a song about his death. There are many great songs about JFK’s death but to discuss them all would result in a listicle and, ha-ha, I’m not going to do that. No, I want to talk about the best song about Kennedy, the second best Misfits song, the worst choice for a first song at your wedding; "Bullet."
Bullet was the second single by New Jersey’s finest non-Gern Blandstein related musical export, The Misfits. Straight out of the pulp grotesquerie psyche of Glenn Danzig, The Misfits took a moment away from being the country’s most trenchant observers of rockabilly Martian behavior to eulogize the man who fucked both Marilyn Monroe and the possibility for a rapprochement with communist Cuba.
Bullet, along with James Ellroy’s “The Underworld USA Trilogy,” provides all the information any major dude might need about our 35th president. Honestly, if you just read James Elroy, listen to the Misfits, and never see an Oliver Stone movie, you’ll know enough important truth about American history to run for public office yourself.
Released in 1978, “Bullet,” with its obsession with gore and the adolescent misogyny of its last verses, is a solid as any metaphor on America’s Kennedy worship. All that death and relentless fucking; the story of the Kennedy’s isn’t one of innocence and loss; it’s what happens when EC Comics are never reigned in by the Comics Code Authority. The Kennedy’s were slash fiction walking, with US poet laureate Glen Danzig writing the only appropriate elegy.
Beginning with that most martial of beginnings “1,2,3,4,” "Bullet" is the American tragicomedy writ small. Danzig comes in right with the band because we are an impatient people and Danzig starts with “Presidents’ bullet-ridden body in the street” immediately followed by “ride, Johnny, ride” because we are also an optimistic people, maybe foolishly so, and we really love our cars.
Glenn Danzig is not without a sense of empathy. He quickly starts seeing things from JFK’s disheveled widow’s perspective. Or so it would appear, but Danzig is also an unreliable narrator, his own Zapruder film, and quickly shows himself to be just a taunting jerk: “Texas is an outrage when your husband is dead/Texas is an outrage when they pick up his head” is sublime concern trolling. We’re not really sure you have Jackie’s best interests at heart, Glenn. Hating Texas isn’t really the same as loving Kennedy. If it were, we would all be Arthur Schlesinger. Regardless, with “You gotta suck, Jackie, suck…” Danzig hints at the unfortunate turn the song will later take, though we can at this point convince ourselves that Glenn, true to his B-movie affection, is still spinning an ostensibly sympathetic vampire/ghoul/succubus narrative. Jackie could be sucking up Kennedy’s brains and blood, foreshadowing the next fifty years of ‘60s scholarship.
The next couple verses are repeats of the first two. Like the Ramones, The Misfits were pop purists. No avant-garde digressions for children of the night. Girl groups or go home.
When the song refers to JFK as “Jonathan of Kennedy,” is when the song finally descends into pure adolescent fantasy. Danzig is either unwilling or incapable of reining in his own comic loving sword and sorcery inclinations. Luckily, at this point at least, Danzig’s lyrical proclivities match up nicely with America’s own juvenile need for aristocracy. Despite our contempt for the English system, from the founding fathers to the gilded age to John John lost at sea, we’ve always jumped at the chance to kiss a ring. Oh well. Nailed it, Danzig.
From there, it’s all downhill. While the song remains propulsive and perfect as a listening device, it’s best to make up your own lyrics. Unless you need “96 Tears” rewritten as Jackie O as the now powerless antagonist, forced into literal masturbatory subservience to the eternal 14-year-old boy of Glenn Danzig’s penis. “The dirt gonna be your desert/my cum your life force.” If tentacle porn had been invented, the song would be 20 minutes long. Even the rich, powerful, and iconic must eventually prostrate himself or herself before the universal Danzig cock. In June of 1978, "Bullet" was released. In September of that year, there was what was thought a lunar eclipse, but what was really God rolling his eyes. It took couple months for the song to reach Paradise (that’s why promotional roll out time is so important). Also, credit given where due “poor and devoid” is a very nice turn of phrase.
Danzig ends "Bullet" with the maybe self-flattering, Doorsian imagery of a “dry desert soaking up rain, soaking up sun.” That this is referring to getting with America’s Number One Widow may detract from the Lizard Kingness of it all…it also really doesn’t. Once a guy takes his shirt off onstage, there’s no turning back. It’s also important to remember that at the time of this song’s writing, Jackie Onassis was an editor at Viking Press, so this tryst would have to occur somewhere in between Manhattan and Danzig’s home in New Jersey. I like to picture Glenn’s dad driving him there, Jackie O, just dropped off by Maurice Templesman, in the hotel bathroom, running the faucet water as she peed.
Perhaps the Bullet’s greatest victory, if a song that advocates Jackie Onassis eating Glenn Danzig’s seed from the palm of her own hand can reasonably claim any victory at all, is that JFK’s death is presented as a stand alone fact, with no greater cause given than “Texas.” Danzig doesn’t posit any of the various and nefarious conspiracy theories as needed information because, though Danzig may believe in some of or all of them, he realizes that they simply do not matter. Conspiracy advocates frame the establishment as either willfully deluded about or actually complicit in the assassination while lone gunman advocates insist that the conspiracists are just desperate for some sense and order and reason in a universe that has none. Both are partially incorrect,any inactive revolutionary American is both deluded about their own goodness and complicit in some great crime, while at the same time a Mafia/Vietnam/Haitian/Cuban/Alien cause of death wouldn’t in any way imply a semblance of sanity to the void, it would just mean chaotic reality has sleeper cells. Glenn Danzig knows that none of this matters. Just the fact of death that rhyme or reason can never forestall or justify, the brains on Jackie O’s lap, the sheer crass awfulness of it all, the American-made car driving forward.