Episode 032: Jack the Ripper's Bedroom
In which we discuss mysteries, theories, and polyrhythms
We aren’t huge TV people around here. We basically watch three things:
British murder mysteries.
And we are big British murder mystery fans. All the shows. Too many to list.
Recently started watching [albeit a little late to the party] Whitechapel. So good. A little more violent than I like, but it is so creepy, I can abide.
It is so creepy.
Anyway, major Jack the Ripper thing going on in the first season, and I felt like I wanted to write something for it…but could I find a Ripper painting as creepy as this TV show?
Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom, painted by the little-known artist Walter Sickert in 1907, qualifies. In spades.
Walter Sickert not only painted what might be the spookiest Jack the Ripper painting in history…he may have been Jack the Ripper!
Well, he probably wasn’t actually The Ripper. Too many holes in the arguments made by author Patricia Cornwell in her two books on the subject. But I think he is the closest we’ve come to a plausible identity.
Sickert couldn’t have made the painting more dreadful. I can’t look at the reddish-brown color without thinking of blood despite the absence of onscreen violence.
You can really feel the violence in the room. Sickert. Sick art.
The person at the window. The person who spends their time in this room, staring out this window into the street, can only be thinking of horrible, terrible things.
This beat needed a cinematic feel. A creepy beat, but bombastic at the same time with all the weight of eerie Victorian England. Jack the Ripper fanatics are so over the top, and I thought the vibe of this one should be outlandish as well.
Lots of sound effects in play here…footsteps, doors opening and closing, knives being sharpened…all drowned in reverb.
Finally, I needed the rhythm to sound disjointed, so I went with something I do a decent amount: the old Jailhouse Rock trick.
Fun music trivia: for the Elvis tune Jailhouse Rock (and so many other late 50s recordings from Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and others), popular music was in the process of transitioning from a swing feel to a straight rock and roll feel. So you often get a result where the drummer is swinging his butt off and the guitar player or piano player is playing straight. The result when done well: off-kilter greatness.
In this beat you can hear the drums are [maybe awkwardly, haltingly] swinging, but the bass and guitar and percussion are playing straight.
Instant confusing serial killer creepiness!
Back to British murder mysteries. It’s tough to pick a Top 5, but if I had a knife to my throat…
Inspector George Gently
There are other greats as well [Vera, Morse, Lewis, Grantchester, Frost, Father Brown, Whitechapel of course]...
Would love to hear any suggestions of others we should watch!
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and creepy murder mysteries], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.