I appreciate those songwriters who can look to nearly inspiration in plying their trade. The annals of pop music is overstuffed with songs that offer up generic views of romance and heartbreak, but it takes a special craftsman to pen a warm, lovely, rueful song about the villain’s comeuppance in Magnum Force.
The second feature to cast Clint Eastwood as snarling San Francisco cop Harry Callahan, Magnum Force wasn’t a beloved favorite of Robyn Hitchcock. It was simply a movie that played with numbing regularity on cable television, the refuge of distraction for touring musicians in bland hotel rooms. And, as a creator who obviously loves a good turn of phrase, Hitchcock locked in on Callahan’s rugged understatement in assessing the end of the line for Lieutenant Briggs (although, Hitchcock admits, his misremembered it slightly).
The magic that Hitchcock does, routinely, is to take the odd and absurd and somehow make it seem universal and truthful. The lyrics of “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs” comment explicitly on the explosive plot turn at the end of Magnum Force, but “You were riding in your car in San Francisco/ You were riding through the weather and the rain/ You were riding in your car in San Francisco/ But you’re never gonna ride that way again” winds up feeling like so much more, like it’s encompassing any number of experiences of loss into a single lilting sentiment.
When songs like this are the result, Hitchcock should channel surf all he wants.
Listen or download –> Robyn Hitchcock, “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs”
(Disclaimer: It’s possible this song crops up elsewhere, but the version posted in this space is from the album Obliteration Pie, which I believe to be out of print, at least as an item that can purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that properly compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. I’m fairly certain Hitchcock’s latest, a self-titled effort, is available at that store, and should be sought out eagerly and urgently. It’s great. Though I mean no harm in sharing this here, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)