Sunday, October 6, 2013

Filter -- "Hey Man, Nice Shot" (1995)

I wish I would have met you
Now it's a little late

(I recently stumbled across this song, which I remember hearing years ago, and decided to write about it.  I had no clue that the event described below inspired it.)

In the early 1980s, the state of Pennsylvania realized that it had been deducting too much money for Social Security and Medicare from its employees' paychecks.  

It was clear that figuring out how much should be refunded to each state employee was going to be a big job.  A firm named Computer Technology Associates ("CTA"), which was owned by a Harrisburg native named John Torquato, won a $4.6 million contract to help the state straighten everything out.

A Dwyer campaign flyer
Based on an anonymous tip, the U.S. Attorney opened an investigation of state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer's role in the awarding of the contract.  the feds eventually alleging that he had accepted a $300,000 kickback from Torquato in exchange for using his influence to see that CTA got the job.  Torquato, his lawyer, and several others were also indicted.

Torquato and his attorney, William Smith, pled guilty and cooperated with the government in exchange for receiving lighter sentences.  Prosecutors offered Dwyer a deal as well -- if he pled guilty to one count of receiving a bribe (which carried a maximum sentence of five years) and resigned his position as state treasurer, they would drop the other charges.

Dwyer insisted he was innocent and rejected the plea bargain.  But a jury found him guilty.

Dwyer was scheduled to appear before Judge Malcolm Muir for sentencing on January 23, 1987.  The day before that, he called a press conference.  Most of the reporters who attended assumed that he was going to resign from office.  Instead, they were treated to an impassioned but rambling assertion of innocence from Dwyer: 

[M]y life has changed for no apparent reason.  People who call and write are exasperated and feel helpless.  They know I'm innocent and want to help.  But in this nation, the world's greatest democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime they know I did not commit. . . . 

Judge Muir is noted for his medieval sentences.  I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $300,000 fine for being innocent.  Judge Muir has already told the press that he, quote, "felt invigorated" when we were found guilty, and that he plans to imprison me as a deterrent to other public officials.  But it wouldn't be a deterrent because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent; it wouldn't be a legitimate punishment because I've done nothing wrong. . . . 

I ask those that believe in me to continue to extend friendship and prayer to my family . . . and to press on with the efforts to vindicate me, so that my family and their future families are not tainted by this injustice that has been perpetrated on me.

The Dwyer family
Dwyer's remarks then took an unanticipated turn:

After many hours of thought and meditation I've made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. . . . I am going to die in office in an effort to . . . see if the shame[ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.  Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S.  

Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don't want to cause physical or mental distress.  Joanne, Rob, DeeDee -- I love you!  Thank you for making my life so happy.  Goodbye to you all on the count of three.  Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.

Dwyer then opened a manila envelope and pulled out a .357 Magnum revolver, holding the gun with the barrel pointing straight up as he told the crowd, "Please, please leave the room . . . if this will affect you."  

Some people pleaded with Dwyer to put the gun down, while others ran to get help.  Dwyer urged everyone not to come near him, saying, "Don't, don't, don't, this will hurt someone."  

Dwyer suddenly put the barrel of gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger.  He was dead before his body hit the floor.

There were five TV station cameras at the press conference.  I'm going to provide a link to video of Dwyer's suicide, but you should think twice before you click on it.

Dwyer was 47 when he died, leaving a widow and two children.  He attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, which I visited with my son (then a junior in high school) in 2012.

Budd Dwyer and his wife are buried here
"Hey Man, Nice Shot" was the first single from Filter's first album, Short Bus, which was released in 1995.  Filter's frontman, Richard Patrick, had been the touring guitarist for Nine Inch Nails, and Filter's music will likely remind you of Trent Reznor's music.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana had committed suicide a year before Short Bus was released, and there were rumors that "Hey Man, Nice Shot" was about Cobain's suicide.  But Richard Patrick insists that the song was written several years before Cobain's death.  

The Short Bus album cover
Patrick was watching TV when Dwyer killed himself.  He was a 22-year-old living in the Cleveland suburbs, and the gory video made a big impression on him.

The tone of the song is very odd.  I can't figure out what Patrick's point of view is, but he doesn't seem to care much about Dwyer.

Here's a footnote to this story.  Patrick's older brother is actor Robert Patrick, best known for his role as the shapeshifting robotic assassin who battles Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.  

Here's another footnote.  A full-length documentary movie about Dwyer, which was titled Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, was released in 2010.  

In that movie, William Smith -- the lawyer for the businessman who allegedly bribed Dwyer, who was  himself a defendant in the case -- admits that he gave false testimony against Dwyer in order to get a lighter sentence.  

Here's the trailer for the movie:

And here's the video for "Hey Man, Nice Shot":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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