Go Down Together was bought immediately after I read and loved Jeff Guinn’s The Road to Jonestown, and was no disappointment. Prior to reading this, I knew the very basics about the pair – Depression era gangsters and snappy dressers, who went down together in a hail of bullets. After reading this, I feel I know the pair rather intimately – and was rather surprised to have some of the more popular myths about them demolished.
Both hailing from incredibly poverty stricken backgrounds – the Barrows moved from one struggling farm to another before giving them up as a loss and turning the family shack into a small gas station, while the Parkers were long-time residents of the slums of Dallas – Clyde was already a petty criminal by the time he reached manhood. Spending some time inside one of the harshest prisons around, by the time he left Clyde would have murdered his prison rapist and cut off two of his own toes to try and escape the hard physical labour that nearly broke many inmates. Initially attempting to go straight, Barrow found that as soon as he’d found a job, he’d lose it again, thanks to the local police preferring to accuse him of every crime committed locally rather than doing actual police work. Figuring if he was going to get busted anyway, he may as well do something to warrant it, he soon set himself up a small ‘gang’ and started knocking over local businesses. Bonnie, already abandoned by the husband she’d married young and excited by the adventurous criminal lifestyle, soon took up with Clyde and joined him in his life on the run.
Reading about the criminal activities of the Barrow gang was rather eye-opening, and destroyed any notions I had of them being big-time gangsters, with their ‘jobs’ often descending into farce and the money reaped barely worth the effort – if it had all boiled down to their effectiveness as bank robbers, they would have been long forgotten by history. What set them apart from others was instead Clyde’s ability to drive his way out of most sticky situations, and the gangs’ willingness to kill anyone – cop, bank worker, civilian – who stood in their way. The snapshots found in one of their abandoned vehicles also helped cement them in the public imagination – if Bonnie hadn’t been attractive and stylish, and been photographed with a cigar in her mouth (something that decent women apparently just didn’t do), then the gang would have most likely been quickly forgotten.
Once again, Guinn’s depth of research and simple narrative style really helped to bring the text to life, building an evocative picture of the rutted, dusty roads that were torn up by the gangs’ favoured V8’s, and the sparse life lived by the outlaws as they camped by roadsides and snuck in and out of Dallas to see their families, as well as illustrating the shifting and often strained relationships between Bonnie and Clyde and the other, changing roster of gang members. It also helped to illustrate just why the cops were so crap at tracking them down, as well as how the pair really weren’t given any chance to surrender come the final showdown, with the cops instead simply blasting away and continuing to pump their bodies full of bullets long past their deaths.
A deeply interesting read for anyone even remotely interested in the subject, I’m now off to watch the Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty movie and dribble over the clothes porn.