Sunday, September 16, 2012

Virgil and the Warden

In his classic comic lament, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," Hank Williams sings: "Everyone's ag'in' me and it's got me down." Well, almost everyone is against Salvador, too, but instead, it gets him fired up.

At the moment, his opposition is a guard named Virgil. We met him in his eponymous song a couple of tracks back. 

Here, he continues his persecution of Salvador. The song opens with him chastising Salvador for playing his music too loudly, only he adds the insult "spic music"; later, he throws words like "si" and "senior" at Salvador like slurs. 

Salvador retorts that he is using headphones, and furthermore, "Why don't you just go to Hell?" Salvador further threatens to issue another formal complaint to the warden about Virgil.

Virgil responds, basically, "Oh, you're gonna write me up? Yeah, you're a big-shot writer now." He taunts Salvador about his fame as an author and his "liberal lawyers." He calls Salvador a "hernia" and tells Salvador that his report to the warden will fall on deaf ears. 

Virgil's hatred of Salvador is based on several factors. Virgil feels that he himself should have more opportunity and success. After all, he is a working man and a family man, while Salvador is a murderer! Oh, and also a immigrant and a non-native speaker. Further, because they are in the South, Virgil is seen by many outside the South as a "rube," which he feels in an additional unfair slight; in fact, as a white American, he should be ahead of Salvador in the race for success as a matter of course. How awful it must feel to be rigging the game and still losing!

It is very even-handed of Simon to show the reaction by many to Salvador's success. After all, Salvador became famous originally for being a cold-blooded killer... and now he's back on TV, but not on the news. He's on the talk shows, shilling his book. That a convicted murderer of any background should be celebrated so is upsetting to many. Add to this the unfairness felt by the people who went to work to pay taxes for Salvador's incarceration-- and now he's getting out, going to college, writing books, becoming respectable... just who does he think he is?

On top of this is the general hatred many, sadly, feel toward those of a different background, race, language, or national origin, and you can see how a resentment of Salvador's literary pretensions was nearly inevitable. It is a shame that those who protested the musical did not see it, for in this song Simon upholds many of their doubts about the worthiness of such a man as the focus of, for instance, a Broadway musical.

Now Salvador and Virgil have their meeting with the Warden. Before they enter his office, he says to the audience that he is paranoid about someone doing violence to him while he sleeps, and says that if anything does happen to him, he will be sure Salvador is blamed regardless: "Shadows cross my bed/ My blood is on your head.""

Then to Salvador, he says that he has read his writing, and feels that it is revisionist: "You treat your crime as fiction/ When the opposite is true." He then tells Salvador that his parole hearing is in just five months, so he'd better not screw up before then. 

Only he tells him that, it seems, in front of Virgil! Which gives Virgil permission to provoke Salvador as much as he likes, while Salvador dare not retaliate for fear of losing his chance at parole. Five months is a long time to put up with such treatment.

Or to enjoy engaging in it, as Virgil now does. As he escorts Salvador back to his cell, he tells him what he told us in his earlier song about his rifle: "I like that gun for deer... but if it came down to me/ I'd use it right here."

Salvador retorts that it will be hard to aim at a non-existing target: "If this harassment goes on... I won't wait for my parole, I'll be gone." Yes, he tells his guard he plans to escape. Perhaps not the most discreet move.

Virgil gets the last word, which is, more or less: "Good luck with that." Salvador should not feel himself too powerful, despite his fans and high-class friends. On a day-to-day basis, he will be dealing not with them but the man who has the keys to his cell. 

Racist though he is, Virgil does make one valid point: The moral high ground is hard to assert when you are in a dungeon.

Next Song: Trailways Bus/ El Malecon

No comments:

Post a Comment