Monday, July 16, 2012

The Vampires/ Shopliftin' Clothes

These two songs (the first of which is Track 5 on the Capeman soundtrack) illustrate young Sal's initiation into the Vampire gang and then his first-- today we would say "gateway"-- crime. (As the song is about the Hispanic gang, the music has a decidedly Latin flavor.)

"The Vampires" starts differently in the Lyrics book than on the album. In the book, Hernandez (a.k.a. The Umbrella Man) sees that Sal has been given a beating by a gang called the Red Wings as a warning to stay out of their neighborhood. Hernandez sees his pain and humiliation, and uses the opportunity to goad Sal. Sal tells him to leave him alone, and Hernandez replies, "Oh, now you're ready to rumble?/ I'm gonna run to your stepfather's church and start praying."

In the soundtrack, Hernandez is shaking him down, "Well, did you bring me my money... my cab fare?... I got expenses, you know/ Where's my weekly dues?"

From this point forward, the two versions are the same. Through the song, we get a lesson in gang psychology. Hernandez calls Sal a "Jibaro," a bumpkin or yokel.  Hernandez then humiliatingly tells the gang that Sal still lives with his "mami." Then he praises him: "You know it takes a strong man to survive/ It ain't no accident you're still alive." This break-down/build-up tactic is typical of many initiation rites.

The gang starts to explain his situation and how it relates to them: "We stand for the neighborhood." This is implies that if you don't stand with them, you stand against the neighborhood, and therefore are a threat that they are authorized to address. 

Hernandez says, "You want to fight for your people, don't you Sal?" Sal responds, "If I got to." And Hernandez affirms, "Oh, you got to." So there is the false dichotomy of with us/against us, plus the cloaked threat... which also the removes self-determination.

There is the offering of membership: "So, you gonna be a Vampire!" He is shown the gang's hideout: "This is the cave of the Vampires/ Dracula's castle." Then he is given a knife, a sign of trust. Oh, and he mentions that Carlos collects the "dues." 

The initiation makes membership very attractive... and turning it down much less so. In addition to the implied thrashing should he refuse, there will be major questions as to his loyalty to the neighborhood, and his manliness altogether: "If you got the balls, then come on, mete mano," those last two words being Spanish for, roughly, "put your hand in." If Sal joins, he is "in," and thus enjoys the gang's protection in exchange for (tangible) gratitude. If he doesn't, well... who knows what might happen to a disloyal, cowardly weakling in such a terrible place?

To drive the point home that they need to band together, Hernandez tells him the story of gang member Frenchy. When this upstanding young man only meant to sell some marijuana in an Irish neighborhood, someone there insulted his Puerto Rican heritage (using expletives, yet!) and assaulted him violently, breaking his collarbone! The injustice of the incident, Hernandez sighs, has caused him to question the basic morality of America itself. Obviously, they must fend for, defend, and advance themselves... themselves.

The next song is called "Shopliftin' Clothes," but the lyrics don't relate that. They show Sal and his new "friends" going into a store. They are waited on by a saleswoman, then also a salesman. They are shown pants, shirts, a sharkskin suit, and hats. Then Sal's eye falls on a cape, which he is told is just a floor model to tout the shipment coming in soon. They are waited on so closely, it is hard to see how they could steal anything. Also, how does one steal a suit or hat-- how would one hide that in a pocket? And, if Sal did steal the cape, it would be obvious which store it was from. At most, they could make off with a pair of socks or a handkerchief. Perhaps the thievery is shown through onstage action.

The song might be a pastiche on the song "Shoppin' for Clothes" by The Coasters.

Next Songs: Dance to a Dream/ Quality


  1. I'm coming to your blog late, so I may have missed this, but ...

    Did you manage to get hold of the cast recording for Cape Man? Any idea where I can get it?

  2. Mike-- Sorry, I don't know if one exists. I have certainly never seen it. If I were to look for it, I would do the same thing you would-- do a Google search. If you find it, let me know! The available version, "Songs from The Capeman" does have a few singers from the cast on it here and there.

  3. "Sorry, I don't know if one exists."

    Rats. I am pretty certain that it did, but it was one of those things where they only pressed fifty, or some similar number, and it was never on sale.

    I would give a lot for MP3s.

  4. Mike-- Good news! When you said "MP3s," it prompted me to look for those instead of a CD. The complete, original cast recording is on iTunes. At least it was in 2006.