Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas – "Little Children" (1964)

Little children
Now why you don't you go bye-bye?

Most of the little children who ran into Gilles de Rais went bye-bye permanently.

Gilles de Rais was a 15th-century French knight who fought side-by-side with Joan of Arc.  He was named a Marshal of France by King Charles VII in recognition of his "high and commendable services,"  the "great perils and dangers" he had faced," and his "many other brave feats."

Gilles de Rais
He was also a narcissistic spendthrift who bankrupted himself by producing a theatrical spectacle with 140 speaking parts and 500 extras.  (Those who attended the production were given unlimited free food and drink, so I'm guessing the show sold out.)

But Gilles de Rais is best known as a major-league serial killer of children. 

On this date in 1440, Gilles de Rais and two of his servants were arrested and accused of torturing, raping, and killing hundreds of children – mostly boys.

Joan of Arc
If you have a strong stomach, you can click here to read the testimony of one of his servants, who lays out in excruciating detail what Gilles did to these poor innocents.

The number of murders committed by Gilles has been estimated at somewhere between 80 and 200, although some have put the number as high as 500 to 800.  (The nobleman's servants burned the victims' bodies in the fireplace in his room after he gave 'em the old coup de grace, so no one knows for sure what the final tally was.)

After an investigation carried out by both secular and ecclesiastical courts, Gilles de Rais and two of his henchmen confessed to the horrific crimes of which they were accused.  They were sentenced to be hanged and their bodies burned.  

Despite the confessions and eyewitness accounts relating to the crimes he was accused of, some historians question the validity of Gilles's conviction.  He had enemies in the Catholic Church and the French nobility who stood to benefit from his death.  And his and his servants were tortured, which probably facilitated their confessions.

The execution of Gilles de Rais
Nevertheless, one defender of Gilles who characterizes his trial as a "farce" admits that "it is certain that Gilles was one of Europe's worst child rapists and murderers."

Gilles's crimes may been indirectly motivated by his financial woes.  One of his servants duped Gilles into believing that the servant could put him in touch with a demon named Barron, who could be made to cough up gold.  Gilles may have hoped that the eyes, hearts, and other organs that he offered up to Barron would result in the demon giving him mucho do-re-mi.

In the end, however, Gilles refused to offer up his soul to the devil, but clung to his belief in God.  He may have confessed to his crimes out of fear of being condemned by the Church to eternal damnation.  The morning of his execution, he made a pious speech to the crowd, and seems to have gone to the scaffold believing that he would ascend to heaven after his death.
One of his biographers summed up Gilles de Rais in the following words:

In the end, Gilles de Rais’ obsession with prodigal destruction led him to his own doom, along with his spent wealth, his wasted heroism, and the many lives he threw away. Despite being a learned man, his childish nature seems quite apparent, and, to be sure, his vicious acts often resemble the same mindless attraction to evil that a young boy shows when stirring the guts of a murdered frog. These medieval crimes still resonate today as hideous, self-negating acts, as the strange gestures of a nobleman and hero transformed by his own ruinous desires into a wastrel and murderer.
By the way, there's a high-end realtor in south Florida named Gilles Rais.  (You can click here to read about him.)  I wonder if he's related?

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas
Billy J. Kramer was born William Howard Ashton in 1943 in Bootie, a Merseyside town that's just north of Liverpool.  He was discovered by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, and his first three hits were Lennon-McCartney songs.

But his biggest single, "Little Children" – it was a #1 hit in the UK and made it to #7 in the U.S. – was written by J. Leslie McFarlane and Mort Shuman.  (Shuman is best-known as the songwriting partner of Doc Pomus.  That duo's hit songs include "A Teenager in Love," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "Viva Las Vegas.")

Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas were a big enough deal that they were allowed to sing four songs in the 1964 concert movie, The T.A.M.I. Show.  (The Supremes, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Chuck Berry also were allotted four songs each in that movie.)

Here's Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas performing "Little Children" on the old ABC pop music show, Shindig!

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

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