"Lost" in Translation: Have you heard about the Midnight Rambler?

The shoot-em-dead, brain-bell jangler/The one you never seen before. . .

There’s this badass in your neighborhood named Stagger Lee. He does all manner of wicked shit. Rolls dice. Talks trash. Steals your woman. Slits your throat. But on the other hand he has a really cool hat and slick clothes and does whatever the hell he wants to, virtually all of the time, and so you can’t help digging him. Dude plays by his own rules, yo, and no cop or uptight civic hero is going to mess with his party.

It’s a black thing — an African-American thing, I mean — the by-product of centuries of slavery, institutionalized racism, and more. Centuries of scary badasses, from Stagger Lee to Mick Jagger to NWA to Jack Abramoff to Ticketmaster and on and on. They are the living animation of our own worst instincts and straight-up evil actions. Bombs bursting in air, stolen civilizations, burning villages, crazy-eyed parents, the foreclosing of any pure-hearted person’s free will.

The story of civilization, and now the undergirding of “Lost.”

Which is why Jacob created the Smoke Monster, whose (not entirely ill-placed) anger begat centuries of evil, which begat Jacob’s need for Richard, who created Ben, whose flaws begat Jacob’s need for Jack, whose righteousness infuriated Ben so much he has been pushed to the threshold of becomingm yes, that’s right, the new Man in Black.

follow the jump and go easy on your cloak and dagger

By now you’re either thrilled by, or infuriated with, this increasingly dizzying ride to the bottom of the proverbial glowing cave. Even I, the conscientious objector to all “Lost”-bashing, no matter the occasional cracks in its foundation, felt a little underwhelmed by Jacob’s fireside exposition party. Wasn’t there something just a bit existential about his revelation that our particular group of heroes might as well have been any random selection of screw-ups? (which, btw, doesn’t quite explain all those surprise/coincidencidental connections they didn’t realize they had ’til they got to the island) But on the other hand you could also argue that there’s something reassuring in it, too: We’re all capable of greatness, assuming you can nut up and follow your better instincts. For once.

Until you realize that all your better instincts and best efforts still don’t put you over the top. You get so close to the golden light – maybe even get tossed bodily into it, if only to be shown exactly how much you lack. At which point ambition can curdle and turn wicked. A surfeit of goodness somehow leads to evil. Weird, huh? And yet, somehow, an essential, inescapable truth. The white side must have its dark other side. Yin and yang. Up and down. The Beatles and the Stones.

The Man in Black is, at heart, kind of a cool dude. Jacob can be a bit of a manipulative dick. Jack, as we’ve seen so vividly over the course of six years, is simultaneously heroic and foolish. Ben is capable of kindness and murder, and a stickler for keeping his word. And did you notice when Smokey convinced Widmore to spill his secrets, telling the wicked/good industrialist that he could count on saving his daughter’s life because “I’ll give you my word”?

This is all a very long way of explaining what I realized last night: Jacob will live on in Jack. And when Smokey gets dispatched, as he certainly will come Sunday, he will live on, too. Only now he’ll be Ben.

Which takes us back to Mick and the Stones, and particularly to their great reiteration of the Stagger Lee myth, “Midnight Rambler.” You know, the one you never seen before. It’s an old-fashioned blues riff, played with wicked intent by a smack-addicted Keith Richards, while Jagger (paint it black, you devil!) struts and moans, both warning of and celebrating the awful wonders of the Midnight Rambler, who may also be the Boston Strangler, or Jack the Ripper, slipping down your street in his cap and cloak, climbing your garden wall, leaving his footprints up and down your hall. You never see him, you never hear him, you never feel him. Not until you feel the sudden slice of his blade on your throat (see also: Smokey and Zoe). He’s a monster. But also awesome. And charming enough to steal your missus from under your nose.

It’s a nightmare. Only “Midnight Rambler” also rocks. And when Jagger was at his height he stalked the stage, snarling and sneering and ripping off his sash to whip the spotlight, with a nastiness that was both terrifying and spellbinding. Dude took what he wanted and stomped on the rest. He looked frustration in the face and slit its throat.

Not the sort of thing I tend to do. But a nice, middle-classed boy can dream. Especially in a traffic jam. When stuff doesn’t go his way. And all he wants, for once in his life, is his own damn way.

So go easy with your cloak-and-dagger, he’ll stick his knife right down your throat, baby. And it hurts.