The Assassination of Jesse James by Jack Sanger

Let me explain the background to this odd title. I saw a documentary on Jesse James recently and then went to see the film with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, (excellent!). Both were reasonably well researched and showed Jesse James to have been a psychotic killer. Rather like Billy the Kid, he became the subject of contemporary US equivalents of penny dreadfuls – cheap paperbacks that eulogised him as a hero. The song, ‘Jesse James’ has helped to consolidate this myth and it is sung by country folk singers all over the western world.

What, of course, the song does, is prop up the case for Americans’ inalienable right, within their constitution, to bear arms. Making heroes of killers is one of the earlier examples of ‘spin’ that was, and is still, so powerful, it is continual free publicity for the American gun lobby. I don’t think I’m being PC in rewriting it, merely historically correct.

Jesse James

Jesse James was a lad, he killed many a man
He robbed the Glendale train
He stole, fought and lied with his brother by his side
He’d kill without shame, he was insane

Oh Jesse had a wife to mourn all her life
Two children they were brave
But that weak neurotic coward who shot Mr Howard
Has laid evil Jesse in his grave

It was on a Saturday night, the moon was shining bright
They robbed the Glendale train
With the agent on his knees, he delivered up the keys
To those outlaws Frank and Jesse James

The people held their breath, when they heard of Jesse’s death
They wondered how he ever came to fall
Robert Ford, it was a fact, shot Jesse in the back
While Jesse hung a picture on the wall

Oh Jesse was insane, something in his brain
Though he never killed a mother or a child
He stole, fought and lied, with his brother by his side
And at the hand of Robert Ford, he died

Well, this song has been remade to show the world today
That Jesse was a killer in the west
He lived by the gun and was shot by fellow scum
As a hero he could never pass the test

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