SPRINGFIELD, MO — When Bob Frank and John Murry released their critically acclaimed album, World Without End, in 2006, Frank told me “These are murder ballads based on true stories. They’re just songs. There are no political intentions.” Listeners would have to formulate their own conclusions.
The common thread that ran through that album (all songs written by Frank and Murry) was one of extreme violence within the borders of the United States from the 18th through the 20th century. Lynchings, workplace shootings, domestic violence, revenge, revenge on revenge—it’s all there.
Within a year after World Without End was released, Frank wrote the words to a new song at the request of Bill Hartsfeld, the father of a slain vet who had served a tour of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Frank, like Bill Hartsfeld, was a Vietnam vet. Dylan Hartsfeld was not killed on foreign ground. He was shot by a cop in his own back yard. Frank put the story to words. Murry put the words to music.
For years, “The Murder of Dylan Hartsfeld” remained a download, which you could download for free if you knew where to look. It received an official release in 2014 as a “bonus” track on Murry’s Califorlornia CD.
The song begins with a minute and a half of actual 911 recordings and police dispatches. Then Murry sings the story. No detail is left out of the tale. The original injury (a fall down a flight of steps.) The PTSD related behavior. The previous police visits to the home. The knowledge by police of assault weapons and knives on the property. When the police arrived at the home in response to an emergency call, they came with weapons drawn. Bill Hartsfeld was holding a set of keys. Dylan Hartsfeld’s “deadly weapon” was a broken hockey stick. Dylan was shot through the heart.
But this is not a story about police overreaction. It goes much deeper than that. The songs final verse?
If your looking for a moral then go look at yourself/ You killed Dylan sure as hell/ When you wave that flag and act like it’s swell/ To send them young men straight off to hell/ So your chicken shit ass can trade & sell/ It was you—You killed Dylan Hartsfeld
And thus, the tradition of American violence continues into the 21st century.
Bill Glahn is a retired warehouse laborer and an unretired writer from Springfield, MO.