The year was 1988. I’d barely scratched the surface of the Johnny Cash catalog, but songs like “25 Minutes To Go” and “Folsom Prison Blues” were already favorites. Cash’s ability to transition easily between those criminal tales and traditional gospel music, however, was mind-blowing to my teenage ears. I just couldn’t reconcile it. Then Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released the album “Tender Prey” and everything came into sharp focus.
The protagonist in “The Mercy Seat” is a death row inmate in his final hours. The song is littered with powerful imagery that alternately portrays the electric chair as both the end of his suffering and the throne of God. Religious themes and struggles with morality drive the narrative forward as he constantly asserts his innocence and claims that he’s “not afraid to die.”
It isn’t until the last line of the song that he admits he “told a lie,” leaving the listener to weigh the evidence and decide if it’s a confession, or if he’s simply done with all “this measuring of proof.”
Read the lyrics for “The Mercy Seat” HERE.
Previous installments in this series:
- Frank Turner— “Photosynthesis”
- Brian Wilson— “Love & Mercy”
- Taylor Swift— “Mean”
- Big Star— “September Gurls”
- Violent Femmes— “Country Death Song”
- Husker Du— “Books About UFOs”
S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.