The Richard Marx song and video for Hazard are about the shared bond between two societal outcasts, our narrator (Marx) and a woman named Mary. The two have an incredibly close connection, based largely on their mutual preoccupation with two things: leaving the town of Hazard and walking the edge of a river.
I am ready to posit that the river mentioned so frequently in the song is a metaphor for death, and that the confines of the town of Hazard stand in for the existential ache of modern life. Both Mary and the narrator long desperately to leave their lives in Hazard, and it is this despair that brings them over and over again to the shore of the great divide between this world and the next.
It is important to understand that the song and video for Hazard both function independently of each other. The lyrics of the song are spare and simple, and exclusively revolve around the pair’s shared obsession with death as a form of escape. The video takes the themes of the song and extrapolates them into a complex narrative whodunit involving an obsessive Sheriff trying to pin Mary’s murder on Marx. But while the video has a great deal more content than the song, I would argue that both ultimately explore the same themes.
The first image in the video is of Marx cutting his long mane of lustrous hair on the riverbank. He gazes across and sees Mary on the other shore. We then cut to a nearly identical image of a young Marx, presumably at a funeral, looking across the river to see his mother on the opposite side.
Next is a montage of Marx meeting and cavorting with Mary on the edge of the river. Yet it is important to note that Marx and Mary are never seen in any explicit moment of sexual intimacy. Later in the video, when Marx tells the Sheriff that he and Mary weren’t dating, I believe he is telling the truth. The end of “Hazard Part 2” only corroborates this belief, when Mary tells him that she doesn’t know what she’d do if she lost him “as a friend”. Yet all the while Mary has been taking comfort in the knowledge that Richard Marx will be right there, waiting for her.
The video goes to great pains to track the white scarf that Marx is seen wearing. On the night of Mary’s disappearance he sees her coupling with someone in a car, and turns away in despair. A mortified Mary notices him and buries her head in shame on her lover’s shoulder. Marx is then seen running away, leaving his scarf behind. Next we see Mary walking the bank of the river wearing her best friend’s scarf. When she is discovered at the bottom of the river this scarf is tied neatly around her neck, not to strangle her, but carefully, lovingly. In “Hazard Part 2” she is actually seen wearing the scarf, wading into the water of her own volition.
Many of the misunderstandings and misinterpretations associated with the Hazard video involve the subplot of Marx’s traumatic childhood. In flashback we see Marx and his mother abandoned by his soldier father, and watch as Marx walks in on his mother finding comfort in the arms of a man with hair even more lustrous than that of the adult Marx. The unstable and angry child sets fire to the family home and runs away, presumably leaving his mother and her lover to burn to death. This subplot serves to richen and enliven the plot by explaining Marx’s status as a pariah in the community of Hazard, his unstable reaction to Mary’s betrayal, and Mary’s subsequent overreaction. It also opens a psychological window onto his relationship to his own hair: both to his Oedipal compulsion to grow it long and on his cathartic self-shearing in the end.
I believe the video illustrates that Marx loved Mary unrequitedly, and explains that when she realized she had broken his heart she was driven to drown herself in the river that had imprisoned them both. Marx, faced with the loss of his true love and only friend, though cleared of complicity in her death is still driven by his grief to the edge of the river, where he contemplates his own suicide.
This interpretation lends great poignancy to his ultimate decision not to plunge into its murky depths, but to instead start fresh by cutting his hair, turning his back on the river, and leaving Hazard city limits. As Marx sings yearningly of his need to “leave this old Nebraska town”, viewers can take solace in knowing that unlike Mary, Marx won’t take the easy way out of town. Instead he’ll find the strength to escape the hard way. By putting one foot in front of the other.