David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 222: Jim Croce (Bad, Bad Leroy Brown)

January 30, 2023

I just gotta tell ya, I don't understand how today's younger generations can argue they have more anxieties than us older generations. I won't pretend to suggest they don't have reasons to be anxious, but they didn't grow up in the frightening 70s.

For those of us who grew up listening to 1970s AM/FM radio, I tell you, kids, we thought bedlam and blood was let loose on the streets daily: jailbreaks; people shooting sheriffs (but letting deputies go free); ballrooms being blitzed. Everyone apparently was Kung Fu fighting. Freddie Mercury admits he kills a man and then proceeds to drag us through the operatic hell of his guilt. We believed an actual woman had been killed to create the background screams on The Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster," so who had the guts to go to Kennywood or King's Island? Bad Company basically cast themselves as bad company to keep. Throw in that we lived in fear of being accosted by a streaker (heck, it happened to David Niven on national t.v.) and it's a surprise we ever came out of our rooms.

Our fears could be granularized to actual people, as the world seemed full of some bad muthaf*ckas. Isaac Hayes wasn't subtle about it all, telling us "Shaft is a bad mother_." Foreigner very thoughtfully warned us of the "Headknocker," who "if he catches you a messin" might "teach you a lesson." And when Alice Cooper told us he was "no more Mr. Nice Guy," most of us went, "duh!"

On top of all this, we had Jim Croce, who seemed to want to make a career built upon bad mothers: Jim Walker, who you better not mess with, and Leroy Brown, so bad we had to say it twice.  Croce emerged as a surprising candidate to lead the pop song criminal parade. With his curly hair and not-quite-groomed-handlebar mustache, he looked more like a comedian than an observer of street thugs, a sidekick to Cheech & Chong as opposed to Bonnie & Clyde. He mostly relied upon his acoustic guitar, which hardly could provide the same kind of fireworks that Brian May or Eric Clapton might provide. Nevertheless, he was devoted to giving us a character study of the bad dudes that walked our streets and populated our pool halls.

Jim Walker was given to us first, but after he gets killed for being too good of a pool hustler, Croce reinvents him as the Baddest Leroy Brown. Croce relocates his thug from New York City to Chicago and makes him the "baddest man of the whole damn town." I suppose we had given up on NYC as ever being saved, so given that, courtesy of Paper Lace, we already suspected Chicago had died, Croce's choice to move his "treetop lover" freak there fit the narrative. And it's a narrative Fox News hasn't given up on 50 years later.

You kids today will never understand the conversations we all had about Leroy.

"Leroy's the man! All them fancy clothes and diamond rings. What a life!"

"But he was meaner than a junkyard dog, Doofus."

"So what? Junkyard dogs get a lot of respect."

"The dude is so freaking bad he keeps a razor in his shoe."

"Man, wouldn't that cut him?"

"Yeah, which is why he is the baddest man in town, you idiot."

(For the record, friends could be pretty harsh with each other in the 70s. None of this sensitivity bullshit.)

It was convenient for us to forget that Leroy is either dead or broken by the end of the song. Croce's tough guys folded like a tent when really challenged.  Leroy takes on a jealous husband and ends up looking "like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone," a fate hell of a lot better than Jim Walker who "got cut in about a thousand places and shot in a couple more." Talk about not messing around with somebody.

The fact that these guys got their comeuppance didn't ease our troubled minds, kids. We understood that another Leroy Brown (after all, Queen did bring the dude back on Sheer Heart Attack) would always be around the corner. That's how we learned to survive in the world. Rock music saved our lives, dudes. Thanks to that cigar-smoking goofy-looking guy who had such self-esteem problems he had to announce in song, "I Got A Name." Yeah, we all do, Jimbo. And you ought to see some of the names of the kidz these days!

Jim Croce. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." Life And Times. ABC, 1972. Link here.

Day 221: David Baerwald "Born For Love"

Day 223: Zero 7 "In The Waiting Line"

See complete list here.