'Making A Murderer'-Inspired Song "Lake Superior" Appears To Be All About Steven Avery
Gruesome murders have long inspired songwriters. Just think of Sufjan Stevens' "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.," the Decemberists' "Shankill Butchers," Elliott Smith's "Son of Sam," or Blitzen Trapper's "Black River Killers." But perhaps less frequently have alleged wrongful criminal accusations spawned musical interpretations. Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach has now filled that void with a new Making a Murderer-inspired song from his side project the Arcs, which highlights the Steven Avery case that is the subject of the recent Netflix series. It's called "Lake Superior," and right down to the lyrics, the track pretty explicitly focuses on Steven Avery's story.
"Last week, we got a sneak peek at what goes on behind the curtains of our criminal justice system," the band wrote on its Soundcloud page. "A few sleepless nights later we gathered in the studio and wrote this song." The band has not explicitly stated that the song is about Avery. But it's not just a thoughtful narrative — sales of "Lake Superior" will benefit the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on exonerating the wrongfully convicted using DNA testing. According to the Innocence Project's site, among the more than 300 prisoners who were eventually exonerated as a result of DNA evidence, they served an average of 14 years in correctional facilities. (For reference, Avery served 18 years prior to his first release in 2003.)
So even though "Lake Superior" appears to focus specifically on the Avery case, the group seems to be aware of the larger criminal justice issues examined in Making a Murderer. Still, the "Lake Superior" lyrics really seem to go after both the officials involved in the case and the community at large.
The song starts out setting a vivid scene that places listeners right there on the shores of Lake Superior.
On a stretch of sand, sweet northern breeze Manitowoc put Avery on the beach Your alibi will never do When the whole town’s got it out for you
"Lake Superior" appears to immediately condemn the alleged miscarriage of justice that Avery's lawyers claim got him wrongfully convicted. In essence, the song describes the court of public opinion even more intensely than the courtroom of Manitowoc County — as the verse continues, "the fat get fatter and the rich stay rich."
The chorus then zooms out from Wisconsin, highlighting the resonance that a case like Avery's has on the public.
I wanna know people outdoors Ain’t gonna go out and act insane My baby girl out in a world All alone burns a hole in my brain
Read differently, the chorus could also signify a change in perspective from a voice that criticizes Avery's treatment to a voice that pleads for Teresa Halbach, the victim in the 2005 murder case. Halbach's family declined to participate in Making a Murderer, as did the prosecution for the trial. This leaves a more intimate understanding of their perspective to the imagination — or to musical reconstruction.
The song raises the stakes even further as it moves into the last chorus, comparing what appears to be the Avery case and surrounding media coverage to McCarthyism and the Red Scare.
The red tide is back again Old Superior’s new McCarthy clan Back on the shore, where the poor get whipped
Things get very real towards the end of "Lake Superior." At risk of going a bit too English major on this analysis, the "red tide" line stands out, and not just for its connotations of the Red Scare: It recalls the "blood-dimmed tide" of Yeats' "Second Coming," the poem that also inspired the title of Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. It's not much of a stretch to think that Auerbach had Yeats' apocalyptic vision in mind when he began composing "Lake Superior" — this particular line has been not-infrequently folded into pop culture references, prompting the Paris Review to deem the poem "the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature" in the English language. And as far as its original context, it signifies a cycle of violence descending into chaos.
Clocking in at nearly five minutes, "Lake Superior" is a hefty composition for, as the Arcs write on their Soundcloud page, two days' work. What it might lack in subtlety, it compensates in a few well-placed literary and historical references, as well as a jarring shift from second to first person that prompts the listener to identify with the lyrics — just as Making a Murderer has inspired thousands of viewers to identify with Steven Avery's cause.