I may have touched upon this before in a previous entry, but I have always loved songs that told a story. To me, the songs were just much better if you could follow along with the story as the lead singer belts out each lyric.
The latest entry in the Sunday Jukebox portion of the blog can definitely be classified as a story song. However, unlike most storytelling songs, this one never really had a resolution. The song was a big hit all over the world, and its accompanying music video only served to provide the listener with more questions than answers.
Set in a fictionalized version of a real life small town in the state of Nebraska, the lyrics of the song are haunting, powerful, and by the end of the song, you're left wondering what the solution to the mystery is. The song's lyrics have all the makings of a soap opera. It has affairs, it has childhood trauma, it has bullying...it even has murder. Somebody ends up dead during the song, and it is assumed that we're supposed to know who the murderer is. But do we?
So, I thought that what we would do today is take a look at this song, examine it in detail (maybe give some information on the singer who performed the song), and give some possible explanations as to what we think really happened in the song. And, after that, I'll open up the floor to your own theories. Doesn't that sound like fun?
So, here's the video for the song in question. Be sure to watch it very closely.
ARTIST: Richard Marx
ALBUM: Rush Street
DATE RELEASED: January 28, 1992
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #9
Though, I should note that the song hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary Charts in May 1992.
First, we might as well talk about the artist who recorded the song. Richard Noel Marx, born September 16, 1963, got his start in the music business when he was just five! Having a father who worked in advertising writing commercial jingles, young Richard would sing on some of his father's jingles for such products as Nestle Crunch and Arm & Hammer.
In early 1981, when Marx was seventeen, he was living in Highland Park, Illinois sending out demo tapes, having decided that he wanted to get into the recording industry in some manner. Somehow, one of his demo tapes ended up in the hands of singer Lionel Richie, who liked what he heard so much that he recommended that Marx move to Los Angeles, in hopes of making his dream come true. Once Marx graduated high school, he boarded a plane to Los Angeles and quickly met up with Lionel Richie, who was in the process of recording his first solo album. Marx recalled that Richie was having a bit of trouble with the background harmony for a specific song, and Richie asked for his input on how it should sound by inviting him to sing it. Marx obliged, and as a result, he ended up providing background vocals on this Lionel Richie hit from early 1983.
And Lionel Richie wasn't the only singer who Richard Marx provided background vocals for. He also sang backing vocals on songs recorded by Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Luther Vandross, among others. He even got into the idea of writing songs for other artists. He penned hits for Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, Freddie Jackson, and rock band Chicago! Marx was only in his early twenties at the time he had all of these accomplishments, so that is definitely something to be commended.
Still though, as much success as he had behind the scenes, his real dream was to have his own record deal releasing solo albums and having his own success on the charts. It took Marx four years for his dream to become a reality, as almost every record label in Los Angeles rejected his demo tape. But in 1987, Bruce Lundvall, then head of EMI/Manhattan Records, took a chance on Marx, believing that he had the star power to make it huge in the world of music. In June of 1987, Marx released his self-titled debut, which skyrocketed up the music charts, as did his 1989 album 'Repeat Offender'. When Marx's first single, “Don't Mean Nothin'” was released, he was just a few months shy of turning twenty-four. His success with his first two albums was huge. He was nominated for two Grammy Awards between 1987 and 1990, having his first seven singles reach the Top 5 on the Billboard Music Charts (three of which were #1 hits), and his record sales and concert tours helped make him a household name.
By 1991, with the release of his third album, “Rush Street”, Marx's popularity on the main Billboard Charts was waning, but his performance on the Adult Contemporary Charts had grown, as it appeared as though Marx was taking a different direction with his music. A more mature direction.
Hence the creation of the song, “Hazard”, which was Marx's second single from “Rush Street”.
And what a song “Hazard” was. There's just as many things that by watching the video and listening to the lyrics that we know as fact. There are just as many unanswered questions though. First, as we would any murder mystery, we should state what we know.
FACT #1: A young woman is brutally murdered in the small community of Hazard, Nebraska. Her name is Mary. The cause of death is somewhat hazy, but based on the fact that she was found in the bottom of a river with a scarf tied around her neck, I think it's safe to say that Mary died of strangulation, and that her body was thrown into the river in an effort to hide the crime.
FACT #2: The main suspect in her murder is the character played by Richard Marx in the video (for argument's sake, let's refer to our unnamed man as Richard.
FACT #3: The scarf that was found around Mary's neck did belong to Richard. We know this because we saw Mary pulling on it when Richard was wearing it.
FACT #4: Richard was not very well liked in Hazard, even at an early age. He said that his mother moved to Hazard when he was just seven, and that the townspeople were quite judgmental in their assessment of him. They felt that there was something that was just not right with Richard.
FACT #5: At some point, three years before the murder took place, Mary and Richard meet, and they begin dating each other for a time.
FACT #6: The sheriff of the town of Hazard seems to have a lot of time on his hands, as he seems to view Richard and Mary as “cheap entertainment”, watching every single move they make. Which would have been fine if it were a reality television show, but in this case, it's just creepy.
FACT #7: At some point in the video, we see that Richard's parents split up when Richard was a young boy. His father left with another woman, and then Richard's mom appeared to have an affair of her own. Coincidentally, this brings us to...
FACT #8: Richard happens to come across a disturbing sight just hours before Mary breathed her last breath. He saw Mary cheating on him with another man.
FACT #8: Richard happens to come across a disturbing sight just hours before Mary breathed her last breath. He saw Mary cheating on him with another man.
So, it's pretty obvious what the solution is, right? You think you know who did the crime?
I admit that I thought I knew who it was too, but after doing a lot of research (which admittedly had me watching the video in a continuous loop for a 90-minute period), I realize that there are four possible scenarios that could have happened. Some of them are likelier than others, but the more I think of it, all four of them make sense.
We'll begin with tentative conclusion #1...
1 – RICHARD KILLED MARY
We heard him protest his innocence throughout the whole song. He swore he left her by the river. He swore he left her safe and sound. According to Richard, there was absolutely no way that he would kill the one person who actually gave a damn about him in the whole community of Hazard, Nebraska. But, the evidence spoke volumes. Mary was found with Richard's scarf around her neck. The sheriff knew that Mary had cheated on Richard with a new squeeze (because as we know, the sheriff somehow knew everything that had gone on), and cited a motive of jealousy in regards to Mary's death. And thanks to flashbacks, we know that Richard didn't take the fact that his mother was getting involved with a new man so soon after his father abandoned them. We even see a child version of Richard running out of a burning building with his mother and her man still inside, but what exactly this represents, we don't know. I suppose one guess might be that Richard set the fire, which presumably ended the lives of his mother and her boyfriend, which could possibly explain the town hatred towards him. Of course, that's just a wild theory.
Do I believe that this is how the crime took place though? No. The reason being that when Richard happened to spot Mary and the man she was with in that car, he took off running, his scarf getting tangled up in a bush. I suppose it could have been possible for him to come back later on, but given how upset he was at his mobile home, I don't see it happening. Anything is possible, but I don't believe Richard to be the guilty party. The only thing that I think he did lie about was when he told the sheriff that he didn't date her during the interrogation. It was pretty clear that there had to be SOMETHING between the two.
2 – MARY'S LOVER KILLED MARY
I only entertain this theory because of the fact that we do see him in the video. Just imagine that Mary has started seeing this new man. Suppose she KNEW that Richard had come up at that moment and saw her in the embrace of another man, and she felt very guilty about what had happened. So guilty that she abruptly ended the lovemaking session that she was partaking in to chase after Richard to explain what happened. She doesn't find him, but she does find the scarf. Picture her putting on the scarf and dissolving in tears knowing that she hurt him terribly (remember, we see Mary crying just before she dies). I suppose it's entirely possible that the real jealous one was Mary's new love, who may have been so angry over the fact that Mary was still hung up over the town outcast that he decided to take matters in his own hands. It is a possible scenario, and definitely one that makes sense. But, I also dismiss this as being what really happened, because if it did go the way it did, wouldn't you think that Mary's secondary love interest would have a much larger role in the video?
3 – THE SHERIFF KILLED MARY
Now we're getting into the real questions. Why was the sheriff so preoccupied with Mary and Richard so much? I mean it, he was everywhere they were. It even got to the point where the sheriff creeped Mary out so much that she literally ran away in fear every time the police car came near. But, why was that?
Well, the reason why I thought this was the case was because I believe that the sheriff killed Mary. And, here's the scenario that I have outlined to support this.
We know that the townspeople of Hazard hated Richard. I provided a couple of theories behind why this was the case earlier in this entry, but let's just say it was because they saw him as threatening to the community. He didn't think the way they thought, he didn't look the way they did. Richard was basically an island community of one within the Nebraska town. Part of me thinks that the sheriff was part of the problem. How do we know that he didn't start all of the rumours that were circulating around Richard? One thing we know for sure though. The sheriff's obsession with Richard grew the very day that he met Mary and started to hang around her. The more fun that Richard and Mary had, the more that the sheriff's obsession grew. He knew that he wanted nothing more than to see Richard run out of town for good...but with his relationship with Mary growing stronger and stronger, the sheriff's anger seemed to grow and grow. The sheriff knew that as long as Mary was around, Richard would be too. That's when his evil scheming began.
But how does he succeed? I bet I have the answer. I'm figuring that maybe he hired the man who cheated with Mary, courtesy of the taxpayers of Hazard, Nebraska. I'm thinking that he told the man to seduce Mary with the intention of Richard coming across the pair of them, and erupting in anger. In fact, I think that is what he was counting on (which I suppose if the theory that I coined does amount to being true, it makes the relationship breaker an accessory to murder, but let's move on from that thought). The point is that by doing this, our sheriff provided a motive for Richard. Let's face it, I doubt the man hired by the sheriff would squeal. He was likely paid for his silence, and if he broke it, he could have done jail time or worse. The idea that the sheriff blackmailed the man to participate in his evil scheme is a possibility. Maybe he had something on him, and promised to wipe the record clean if he did what the sheriff wanted. Think about it, it could make sense.
The fact that Richard lost his scarf was also a prime opportunity for the sheriff to commit the perfect crime. Because Mary was holding onto the scarf that Richard dropped at the time she died, the sheriff thought that it was a perfect murder weapon. After strangling Mary with the scarf, he dumped the body in the river, partly for show (the river was a significant place for Mary and Richard), but partly to destroy evidence (as the water would have likely erased any traces of fingerprint evidence left on the scarf. Oh, but, seeing as how fingerprint dust was shown during the video, we can safely also assume that the sheriff probably used it to frame Richard. Though, this is merely speculation.
The fact remains that by the end, it appeared that the sheriff got what he wanted. It didn't matter whether the evidence was enough to convict Richard or not of murder. The town hated him even more than ever, as evidence by the fact that some townspeople set his home ablaze. People shielded their children's eyes when Richard looked at them. Meanwhile, the sheriff was treated like a hero, and he delighted in the fact that he successfully got the 'cancer of the town of Hazard' removed.
And, besides, his smug smile throughout the whole video was presented in a way that we knew he was hiding information.
But, you know, Richard also stated through the lyrics of “Hazard” that he and Mary both were desperate to dream a way out of town. So, by that argument, we can suggest that the sheriff didn't even need to kill Mary. Richard and Mary were supposedly leaving by their own accord, and had plans to do exactly that. Of course, the sheriff of town did not want to have a happy ending for Richard, and I honestly do believe that Mary paid the price for the sheriff's judgmental opinions.
Of course, there's another possible theory that we could bring up, as unbelievable as it could be.
4 – MARY KILLED HERSELF
You know, I never once thought that this could be a possible theory until quite recently. But the more I think about it, the more I think it could have happened. The reason why isn't quite clear, but my guess is that she felt guilty over cheating on Richard and hurting him just like everyone else did in his childhood. She may possibly have seen herself as being no better than the very people in town she despised, and maybe decided to do herself in. She wrapped the scarf around her neck and quite possibly passed out, falling over the side of the bridge, and drowning. It's a crazy theory, I know, but for whatever reason, I can't really eliminate it from being a possibility.
So, I guess after presenting my opinions, what do YOU think?
In Richard Marx's song “Hazard”, who do YOU think killed Mary? Richard? The Sheriff? Mary's lover? One of the Hazard citizens? Someone else unaccounted for? I'd like to hear your views, and if you can, how you came to that conclusion.
The one final question I have to bring up is Mary's final line in the video. “You know, everyone thinks I should be afraid of you, but I'm not.”
Who do you think Mary said this to?
I'll end this piece right here, and turn over discussion to you!