The Ballad of
Charles Whitman
Sniper
Written by Harry Chapin
Performed by Harry Chapin
Written by Kinky Friedman
Performed by Kinky Friedman
Hear .mp3
Hear .mp3
It is an early Monday morning.
The sun is becoming bright on the land.
No one is watching as he comes a walking.
Two bulky suitcases hang from his hands.
He heads towards the tower that stands in the campus.
He goes through the door, he starts up the stairs.
The sound of his footsteps, the sound of his breathing,
The sound of the silence when no one was there.

I didn't really know him.
He was kind of strange.
Always sort of sat there.
He never seemed to change.

He reached the catwalk. He put down his burden.
The four sided clock began to chime.
Seven AM, the day is beginning.
So much to do and so little time.
He looks at the city where no one had known him.
He looks at the sky where no one looks down.
He looks at his life and what it has shown him.
He looks for his shadow it cannot be found.

He was such a moody child, very hard to touch.
Even as a baby he never smiled too much. No no.No no.

You bug me, she said.
Your ugly, she said.
Please hug me, I said.
But she just sat there
With the same flat stare
That she saves for me alone
When I'm home.
When I'm home.
Take me home.

He laid out the rifles, he loaded the shotgun,
He stacked up the cartridges along the wall.
He knew he would need them for his conversation.
If it went as it he planned, then he might use them all.
He said Listen you people I've got a question
You won't pay attention but I'll ask anyhow.
I found a way that will get me an answer.
Been waiting to ask you 'till now.
Right now!

Am I?
I am a lover whose never been kissed.
Am I?
I am a fighter whose not made a fist.
Am I?
If I'm alive then there's so much I've missed.
How do I know I exist?
Are you listening to me?
Are you listening to me?
Am I?

The first words he spoke took the town by surprise.
One got Mrs. Gibbons above her right eye.
It blew her through the window wedged her against the door.
Reality poured from her face, staining the floor.

He was kind of creepy,
Sort of a dunce.
I met him at the corner bar.
I only dated the poor boy once,
That's all. Just once, that was all.

Bill Whedon was questioned as stepped from his car.
Tom Scott ran across the street but he never got that far.
The police were there in minutes, they set up baricades.
He spoke right on over them in a half-mile circle.
In a dumb struck city his pointed questions were sprayed.

He knocked over Danny Tyson as he ran towards the noise.
Just about then the answers started coming. Sweet, sweet joy.
Thudding in the clock face, whining off the walls,
Reaching up to where he sat there, answering calls.
Thirty-seven people got his message so far.
Yes, he was reaching them right were they are.

They set up an assault team. They asked for volunteers.
They had to go and get him, that much was clear.
And the word spread about him on the radios and TV's.
In appropriately sober tones they asked "Who can it be ?"

He was a very dull boy, very taciturn.
Not much of a joiner, he did not want to learn.
No no.No no.

They're coming to get me, they don't want to let me
Stay in the bright light too long.
It's getting on noon now, it's goin to be soon now.
But oh, what a wonderful sound !

Mama, won't you nurse me ?
Rain me down the sweet milk of your kindness.
Mama, it's getting worse for me.
Won't you please make me warm and mindless ?
Mama, yes you have cursed me.
I never will forgive you for your blindness.
I hate you!

The wires are all humming for me.
And I can hear them coming for me.
Soon they'll be here, but there's nothing to fear.
Not any more though they've blasted the door.

As the copter dropped the gas he shouted " Who cares ?" .
They could hear him laughing as they started up the stairs.
As they stormed out on the catwalk, blinking at the sun,
With their final fusillade his answer had come.

Am I?
There is no way that you can hide me.
Am I?
Though you have put your fire inside me.
Am I?
You've given me my answer can't you see ?
I was!
I am!
and now I Will Be
I WILL BE !!!




He was sitting up there for more than an hour,
Way up there on the texas tower
Shooting from the twenty-seventh floor. yahoo!
He didn’t choke or slash or slit them,
Not our Charles Joseph Whitman,
He won’t be an architect no more.
 







Got up that morning calm and cool,
He picked up his guns and walked to school.
All the while he smiled so sweetly
And it blew their minds completely,
They’d never seen an Eagle Scout so cruel.








Now won’t you think for the shame and degradation
For the school’s administration
He put on such a bold and brassy show.
The chance looked right, it’s adolescent
And of course it’s most unpleasant
But I got to admit it was a lovely way to go.








There was a rumor about a tumor
Nestled at the base of his brain.
He was sitting up there with his .36 magnum
Laughing wildly as he bagged ’em.
Who are we to say the boy’s insane ?








Now Charlie was awful disappointed
Else he thought he was anointed
To do a deed so lowdown and so mean.
The students looked up from their classes
Had to stop and rub their glasses,
Who’d believe he’d once been a Marine.








Now Charlie made the honor roll with ease,
Most all of his grades was A’s and B’s.
A real rip snorting trigger squeezer
Charlie proved a big crowd pleaser
Though he had been known to make a couple C’s.








Some were dying, some were weeping,
Some were studying, some were sleeping,
Some were shouting Texas #1!
Some were running, some were falling,
Some were screaming, some were bawling,
Some thought the revolution had begun.








The doctors tore his poor brain down,
But not a snitch of illness could be found.
Most folks couldn’t figure just-a why he did it
And them that could would not admit it,
There’s still a lot of Eagle Scouts around.








There was a rumor about a tumor
Nestled at the base of his brain.
He was sitting up there with his .36 magnum
Laughing wildly as he bagged ’em.
Who are we to say the boy’s in
Who are we to say the boy’s in
Who are we to say the boy’s insane ?
I had intended to post this song sometime and do a compare and contrast discussion with the Kinky Friedman song addressing this chapter of Austin history, The Ballad of Charles Whitman.  But then the Kinky Friedman song was posted on amarillo.com board, so the timeline moved up.

I do find one striking contrast to the Kinky Friedman song.  The Kinky song mentions the shooter by name, but is more about the reaction of the people at the time, while Chapin's song mentions several of the victims by name, but is really all about the shooter.  That is in addition, of course, to the difference in moods.  But each has some memorable lyrics:
The Ballad of Charles Whitman:
     Some were dying, some were weeping,
     Some were studying, some were sleeping,
     Some were shouting Texas #1!
Sniper:
     In appropriately sober tones they asked "Who can it be?".

I play Sniper whenever things happen that defy comprehension.  Sadly, that has been happening all too frequently of late.  I no longer look to this song for answers.  While the psychologic autopsy of the shooter makes for fascinating speculation, that all it ends up being.  I take a different message out of events like this - that the control we appear to have over our own destiny is largely an illusion.  Personally, I believe that trying to maintain that illusion in spite of the randomness that does occur, is the root cause of a great deal of the anxiety, depression, and unhappiness in our modern society.  Not to mention lawsuits...
Harry Chapin page
Song of the Week Listings
Back to Suerrealism