“Streets of Laredo” (Unfortunate Rake, Part Three)

Cowboys shooting craps (Detroit Publishing Company Postcards; NY Public Library Digital Collection)

This is the third in a short series of posts on “The Unfortunate Rake.” Read the previous posts here and here. “So brave, young, and handsome” “When I got back to Wichita, I met one Zach Potter, a man with whom I had had some difficulty. He was on his … → read more

“Gambler’s Blues” (Unfortunate Rake, Part Two)

This post on “Gambler’s Blues”/”St. James Infirmary” is the second installment on variants of the “Unfortunate Rake” ballads. The first installment was on an older, British “Rake” ballad, called “Pills of White Mercury,” in which the narrator comes across a military comrade wrapped in white linen and dying. Mercury was a … → read more

“Pills of White Mercury” (Unfortunate Rake, Part One)

Murder ballads help us chart the frontiers of our empathy. They provide the chance to connect emotionally with victims and villains; sometimes with sympathy, sometimes with revulsion. Through them, we inhabit the perspectives of the dead and dying, witnesses and bystanders, and often the poor souls who, rightly or wrongly, voluntarily or in desperation, take the lives … → read more