From The Gun Club's song "John Hardy" off the album Miami:

He's been the death of many, a poor man


Who's gonna kiss your rosy red cheek
It's gonna be that steel drivin' man

What I don't understand is that in the beginning of the song John Hardy killed a man only one and at the end of the song comes "he has been the death of many" which means he killed more than one person

  • I don't know why all the online sources I can find for these lyrics have a comma between many and a poor man. There's no question that comma is syntactically invalid, regardless of whether in the actual rendition there's a detectable pause at that point (as there is between many and a poor boy in The House of the Rising Sun). Perhaps the John Hardy orthography is erroneously repeating the comma that correctly appears before poor boy (no article) at the end of several lines. Jun 7 at 16:47

There's definitely no comma in the idiomatic usage many a poor man (which is a dated / stylised / poetic alternative to [he has caused the death of] many poor men).

For the second point, it refers back to who - it means that steel drivin' man is the one who will kiss your rosy red cheek. Where according to Wikipedia's article on this Johnny Cash song, I see that a steel-driving man means a man tasked with hammering a steel drill into rock to make holes for explosives to blast the rock in constructing a railroad tunnel.

  • "I've been the death of many a poor boy" suggests not only that he caused the death of many boys but also that he did so one at a time. He was a serial killer rather than a mass murderer. There's also the implication that he was convicted of one count of murder. The other deaths might not have been murder, or might simply have not been prosecuted. Oct 24 '18 at 19:19
  • @GaryBotnovcan: I think you might be "extrapolating by association" (from many a time) there. I can't find a written instance, but Many a good man died at Agincourt sounds fine to me as a reference to a single occasion when many died "at the same time". Plus I think that Past Perfect itself (I have seen many people) implies repeatedly, over time more strongly than Simple Past I saw many people. But I can't see what makes you think there's any implication that "he was convicted of one count of murder [etc., etc.]". Oct 25 '18 at 12:23
  • As OP mentions, the shooting on the West Virginia line is the only death mentioned until near the end of the song. The intervening line "But, there was no bail allowed for the murderin' man" makes the charge clear. The stanza containing "many a poor man" also says that he's ready to die, letting us know that the death sentence has already been imposed and he's just waiting for it to be carried out. Since he's going to be hanged anyway, it hardly matters what he confesses at that point. Oct 26 '18 at 3:04
  • 2
    I wonder if "many a poor man" is a nod to House of the Rising Sun There is a house in New Orleans / / They call the Rising Sun / And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy / And God, I know I'm one It was the first thing I thought of when I read it.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 4 at 15:13
  • 2
    @ColleenV, not so much a "nod" as parallel construction, I would imagine. The Wiki article on "Rising Sun" says the lyrics were "known by miners in 1905" with the oldest published version appearing in 1925. "John Hardy" describes events that happened in 1893, and was the discussion of a 1919 Journal of American Folklore article. And of course there is the confusion/conflation with "John Henry;" the "steel-drivin' man" lyric is not present all the versions of "John Hardy" that I'm familiar with. See also bobdylanroots.com/jhardy.html.
    – randomhead
    Jun 4 at 15:32

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