Somewhere in South America, August 4th
There's trouble on the streets tonight,
I can feel it in my bones.
I had a premonition,
That he should not go alone.
A row of greenery grows in front of what appears to be a home. Two children run out. A dark-skinned man flips through the stacks of money in his briefcase. The driver of the car smokes nervously. His partner reassures him that “it’s just a job”. In the background the children’s voices can be heard. Gunshots ring out, the idling auto takes off after the man with the briefcase gets in and that’s how the video for the song Smuggler’s Blues starts off.
I knew the gun was loaded,
But I didn't think he'd kill.
And the blood began to spill.
Glenn Frey, former member of The Eagles, is the chain-smoking American. When his partner is killed he takes the money and hands it off to a woman (Frey's then wife Janie) with the agreement that she will lie low for twenty hours. Meanwhile he goes into a disreputable bathroom to shave. Minutes later his open necked shirt and white cabana pants have been replaced with a three-piece suit. Glenn is freshly shaved and judging from the amount of money he deals with on a regular basis I’m guessing that the sunglasses he’s sporting weren’t cheap.
The sailors and pilots,
The soldiers and the law,
The pay offs and the rip offs,
And the things nobody saw.
The woman Glenn handed the money off to slides through airport security. Her stride is confident as she moves down the sidewalk. Her outfit is cool and summery. She’s wearing a large white hat and the suitcase full of cash is a creamy beige color. A dark haired man stops her. She sees the paperwork he’s holding up. The scene fades to Glenn and his femme fatale speaking with various law enforcement agents in a smoke filled room. Glenn is free to go after his conference although the woman he’s with is shown being photographed with a mug shot number. The formal suit and constrictive tie are gone as Glenn drives down the highway in his Porsche.
I'm sorry it went down like this,
And someone had to lose,
It's the nature of the business,
It's the smuggler's blues.
Once more Glenn is the cocky, confident Miami businessman. His convertible top is down, he’s driving like he owns the road so perhaps it’s not too surprising when a cop on a motorcycle pulls him over. Sitting in his car on the open road Glenn is prepared for the officer. The camera closes in on Glenn displaying his driver’s license. The officer smiles at him. Observant viewers will note that the officer is the same man who’s been chasing Glenn through the video. The barrel of the gun comes up, the video is now being filmed from Glenn’s perspective and the victorious smile on his enemy’s face is the last thing Glenn sees before the shot is fired. The final scene shows Glenn slumped over. The freeway is empty. A radio announcer explains that Dade County officials are investigating the death of a Miami businessman, the motorcycle engine revs and that’s how the video ends.
While the video and music are products of times gone by, the clothing and cars recall the heyday of the 1980’s Miami Vice era, the video is still interesting to watch and much more realistic when compared to equivalent snippets from the show Miami Vice. The Smuggler's Blues video employs color contrast throughout the song. Good guys wear white, they drive white cars and the men pursuing them are dressed in sober colors and driving black automobiles. Glenn's female partner in crime travels to the airport dressed in white and after he hands her the money he remains in his room singing about the Smuggler’s Blues. Interesting imagery here includes the hanging mosquito netting and the white of the lamp near the bed. This is a softer side of the crook. Regret is in his voice when he’s singing about the way things are and how they don’t always work out.
At 5 minutes and 33 seconds the video isn’t long but as a micro-movie it manages to tell the story efficiently and effectively. Earlier I mentioned the good guys drive white but as the video plays you notice a role reversal. Glenn is driving his blue 1983 Porsche 911 SC Cabrio down the Floridian highway when he’s pulled over by the pseudo officer. His nemesis dismounts from his white 1979 Suzuki GS, smiles at Glenn and pulls the trigger. Other autos featured in this video are the 1974 BMW 2002 – this is the vehicle pursuing Glenn and his partner as the video opens. A white Volkswagen is Glenn's getaway car. The woman Glenn hands the money to steps into a pale yellow Checker Marathon (think vintage taxi-cabs if you’ve never seen one) and after her run-in with an undercover agent she’s ushered into a waiting Dodge Diplomat.
During the video Glenn is singing while he's acting out his role. It's interesting to watch how his character develops. First he's nervously drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. Shots are fired, Glenn takes off, the tinny noise of the idling engine turns into the hum of a driving one. For all of his earlier nervousness Glenn is thinking calmly and clearly when he runs across the rooftop trying to escape the men who are after him. He arrives at his hotel, the scene cuts to him talking to his wife about the money. Suspense builds as viewers watch Glenn getting into one elevator and his pursuer getting into another. This is the strength of video as a medium. The action is implied, the tension rises and falls.
The Smuggler's Blues video is fast paced action/adventure. Movements are quick. The camera cuts from pursuer to pursued. Facial expressions and body language are easy to read. One of the neat things about this video is how what you expect doesn't occur. You expect a confrontation between Glenn and the bad guy in the hotel. You anticipate that Glenn's wife will be troubled by airport security but neither of those things happen. Another thing the viewer might expect is Glenn's indictment. During Glenn's interview with the authorities the passage of time is conveyed by the shedding of his coat and tie. At the end of the scene his hair is rumpled, his shirt has been unbuttoned. His wife's hair is loose and wild for her mug shot photos. She stays behind while Glenn is free to go.
The next scene features Glenn and his car. He's confident, triumphant, maybe a little smug. The sky is brilliantly blue. The world is his oyster. Being pulled over is annoying instead of worrisome. The end of the video is almost anti-climactic. In the beginning the action is fast and furious. At the end the camera lingers on both Glenn and the bad guy. A creepy smile crosses the villain's face. Glenn knows his time has come. The disembodied voice of the radio announcer reporting the death of a Miami businessman wraps things up for the viewer. Glenn has come full circle. The cool-headed, split-second decision maker is another unsolved murder mystery for officials to investigate.
Since this is a video and not real life there are some inconsistencies. The first one I noticed is Glenn talks about it being night but the video is shot in broad daylight. The video "starts" on August 4th and "ends" on the 23rd. Going back to 1984, August 23rd was a Friday and not a Wednesday as the newscaster proclaims. Allegedly the video is filmed in Van Nuys, California, not somewhere in South America. Other inconsistencies are the sparkling white sink in the grungy bathroom where Glenn changes his clothing, Glenn's hotel room has been trashed before the bad guy appears and Glenn's gun toting rival is shown reloading his gun before he's had a chance to fire it.
During my research I encountered a website that mentions that the children in the video are a flashback Glenn is having. I'm not an expert but if they are a flashback they are a poorly done one. The children are shown with the car that Glenn is driving. One of the children appears to be female and while their laughter has a strange echoing quality it seems to me that they are in the present adding to Glenn's nervous fear. Dealing with drugs means life in the fast lane. Smuggler’s Blues does an effective job of conveying both energy and intensity. The lyrics are unexceptional but delivered in Frey’s conversational style they become a valuable part of the story line.
In my opinion the video glamorizes the drug trade. The characters are always able to think on their feet. They're attractive, upwardly mobile and always one step ahead of the law. Drugs are portrayed as a profitable commodity where only the dealers take risks. Death and violence are exciting, officials are easily duped. Interesting elements in the video include the woman taking the fall for drug trafficking and the shooting of Glenn by the man who's been chasing him. At the end of the video you wonder if crime really does pay as the bad guy takes off on his Suzuki. This plot twist is one of the reasons I like the video because life isn't fair. People don't always live happily ever after, especially when drugs are involved. The video does a nice job of demonstrating what can happen to someone who becomes overly confident and carelessly lets their guard down.
While Smuggler's Blues is a short video in my opinion it's well crafted, well executed and it makes a statement that crime does not pay. The lure of easy money is a powerful call to people who want an escape from life and the world around them. Drugs are a losing proposition. Smugglers may get rich but in the end life and liberty are lost in the pursuit of financial success.
The Smuggler's Blues video was a commercial and critical success. Smuggler's Blues won an MTV award for best concept video. Frey was also featured on an episode of Miami Vice. The Smuggler's Blues video is available for your viewing pleasure on both YouTube and the MTV website. There are better songs, better videos and better recording artists out there but Smuggler’s Blues is a nice five minute slice of what Americans were listening to and concerned about back in 1984. In my opinion this video is worth checking out. Smuggler's Blues. The Heat is On, down at the Sunset Grill.
Thanks to The Custodian for editorial assistance.