Do you ever wonder how musical geniuses like Bruce Springsteen come up with ideas for their songs? Some seem pretty obvious – “Glory Days” is about a guy looking back on the good times he enjoyed when he was younger, and “Born to Run” expresses the desire a lot of us have to flee our hometowns. But what inspired some of The Boss’ more obscure songs?
One of my favorite Springsteen albums is 1982’s Nebraska, and I was surprised to learn that the title track was influenced by a real life teenaged couple who went on a murder spree in the late 1950s. How’s that for inspiration?
Take a look at the lyrics to Nebraska:
I saw her standin’ on her front lawn just twirlin’ her baton.
Me and her went for a ride sir and ten innocent people died.
From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed off .410 on my lap.
Through to the badlands of Wyoming I killed everything in my path.
I can’t say that I’m sorry for the things that we done.
At least for a little while sir me and her we had us some fun.
The jury brought in a guilty verdict and the judge he sentenced me to death.
Midnight in a prison storeroom with leather straps across my chest.
Sheriff when the man pulls that switch sir and snaps my poor head back.
You make sure my pretty baby is sittin’ right there on my lap.
They declared me unfit to live said into that great void my soul’d be hurled.
They wanted to know why I did what I did.
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.
As it turns out, the lyrics pretty much line up with the true story of 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.
The love story started in…you guessed it, Lincoln, Nebraska. Starkweather was a high school dropout-turned-garbageman, and Fugate was just a schoolgirl when they started dating. Starkweather fancied himself a James Dean-type rebel, and Fugate was attracted to his bad-boy image.
The couple dated against Caril’s parents’ wishes, and who could blame them? The 19-year-old worked a minimum wage job, was known around town as a delinquent…and Caril was only 14-years-old. The tension between Starkweather and Caril’s parents boiled over on January 21, 1958. That day, Starkweather argued with the Fugates and ended up killing both of them and Caril’s two-year-old sister. Caril was not home at the time, but when she arrived, she helped Starkweather hide the bodies behind the house.
For the next 6 days, the couple hid out in Caril’s home, with the bodies stashed out back. Caril left a note on the front door, warning visitors that the entire family was “sick with the flue.” On January 27, Caril’s grandmother threatened to send the police to the Fugate house, and the couple fled Lincoln. What happened over the next three days shocked the nation, as the couple embarked on a deadly murder spree.
Starkweather and Fugate drove across Nebraska and eventually ended up in Wyoming, killing 7 more people over the next few days. The victims were completely random, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They ranged in age from 17-70. A massive manhunt ensued: Starkweather and Fugate were the most wanted people in America.