Strange Fruit Heartbreaker

OK I’ll admit that I watch football, NFL (USian) football sometimes, especially now these recent years when my local team the Patriots, also known as the Massachusetts Liberals, have been kicking ass left right and central (and also teams from Texas, such as the Houston Halliburtons and the Dallas Swaggering Ignorami, have generally sucked–an extra bonus).

So I have not been able to avoid noticing that the Rolling Stones will be playing the half-time extravaganza at the SuperDuperBowl this year, because during other NFL games on TV, approximately every three bleeping minutes there’s another “Rolling Stones at SuperDuperBowl” commercial. Which their playing this gig is not a bad thing in itself, I guess, since although the Rolling Stones have indeed intermittently been over the last several decades just what they claimed to be, that is, The Greatest RockaRoll Band inna World, they’ve never been celebrated for their good taste, so why shouldn’t they highlight the world’s largest annual celebration of the aesthetic of kitsch?

But the use of their song “Heartbreaker” to market the SuperDuperBowl is deeply sad and offensive to me. And I don’t mean in the way Led Zep selling Cadillacs or the Who selling whatever, or even Bob Dylan selling investment portfolio management, for the love of Christ, with “The Times They Are A-Changing” is sad and offensive. It’s more as if Billie Holiday were to have used her song Strange Fruit to market Fruit Loops cereal or strawberry Pop Tarts.

The commercials don’t use the lyrics to Heartbreaker; they just play the opening riff as the announcer talks about the Kitsch Extravaganza, and then splice in the closing coda at the end. I’ve always liked this song. I believe it’s on the Goat’s Head Soup album, circa 1980. Just hearing the opening riff makes me think of the lyrics, and hearing the lyrics makes me think deep thoughts, and thinking these deep thoughts makes me momentarily take inventory of my own small efforts in the direction of justice and decency. It’s a powerful song. The music is patented Keef-Charlie stonemasonry; rock solid. Here are the lyrics:

(M. Jagger/K. Richards)

The po-lice in New York City
They chased a boy right through the park
And in a case of mistaken identity
They put a bullet through his heart

Heart breakers with your forty-fours
I wanna tear your world apart
You heart breaker with your forty four
I wanna tear your world apart

A ten year old girl on a street corner
Sticking needles in her arm
She died in the dirt of an alleyway
Her mother said she had no chance, no chance!
Heart breaker, heart breaker
She stuck the pins right in her heart!
Heart breaker, pain maker
Stole the love right out your heart

Heart breaker, heart breaker
You stole the love right out of my heart
Heart breaker, heart breaker
I wanna tear your world apart

Doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo….

(On some versions I believe he sings, “heart breaker, vein ripper”)

Here are the lyrics to Lewis Allen’s “Strange Fruit”, made famous by Billie Holiday:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Enjoy your breakfast!


  1. Doesn’t really beat the irony of Microsoft adopting “Start Me Up” as the tune for their Windows 95 rollout campaign. With classic lyrics such as:

    “I’ve been running hot
    You got me ticking gonna blow my top”

    “You make a grown man cry”

    And of course:

    “You, you make a dead man come”

    However, since 99% of the populace of American consumers seem to be irony deficient, these things can easily be glossed over by marketers.

  2. The movie Senegalese movie “Xala” by Sembene Ousmanne

    The story involves this guy, who’s about fifty years old, who gets the Xala (curse of impotence) put on him.

    Right before the curse, he takes as third or forth wife this hot 19 year old chick (and believe me, Senegalese women are hot).

    So, of course, he can’t get it up & consumate the marriage.

    This pisses off the guy’s new mother-in-law, who also happens to be about his age. In this one funny scene she tears into him: “You can’t get it up for MY daughter? What the fuck is wrong with you? She could make a dead man come!”

    Shortly after this movie came out — within months — the Rolling Stones used that line in “Start me up.” “You make a dead man come” or something like that.

    I always wondered if Mick Jagger stole the line from the movie. I’ll bet he did.

    I saw it when I still understood Wolof pretty well.

Comments are closed