Bob Dylan: Hurricane
As an initial matter, I know that we have been having a big “dead link” issue on the blog, and I hope we can figure out a way to stop that from happening. There have been lots of emails behind the scenes. But I am going to post, and link, and hope that you can listen. If not, I expect that most readers are savvy enough to find a version of this song somewhere. In fact, I bet that many of you already own this one.
Since I started writing for this blog, I have posted every week, sometimes twice, and often first. But this past week, I was on vacation, and am glad that the theme has been extended. I was at the Newport Folk Festival last weekend with my wife, and stayed in Newport for the rest of the week. It was our first time at the festival, and it was incredible. The first day was wonderful, and we heard some incredible music, including the incendiary Alabama Shakes, Dawes, Apache Relay, Patty Griffin, First Aid Kit, and the closer, My Morning Jacket. During which, the skies opened up, and the torrential downpour led to a Dunkirk-esque evacuation from the concert for those of us who used the ferry.
When I saw the theme, on Sunday morning, I thought that I could post this song, about boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, by Bob Dylan, in honor of Dylan’s legendary electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. I was planning on trying to post during the week, but it never happened. Sunday was another full day of music, including Sara Watkins, New Multitudes (with Jay Farrar, Jim James, Will Johnson and Anders Parker), the amazing Gary Clark, Jr., Conor Oberst and tUne-yArDs. We also caught the last song of Tom Morello’s set, “World Wide Rebel Song,” which he played with the stage filled with spectators, and during which he taunted the security and police for trying to clear the stage. After the set was over, the announcer said, “The Newport Folk Festival is still political.”
Maybe, but certainly not as much as it was back in the sixties, when folk music was a vanguard in the civil rights and antiwar movements, and Dylan’s desire to play electric could become an international incident. Reading accounts of that day, it is pretty clear that the myth, that Dylan decided to play an electric set, was booed by the crowd, and that Pete Seeger used an axe to cut the electricity, is not really accurate, and what really happened is subject to interpretation and opinion. In fact, there are those who believe that Dylan wasn’t booed at all, but that the crowd was upset that his set was so short.
Similarly, the facts about Rubin Carter’s murder charges are unclear. Dylan’s song takes the position that Carter was innocent and framed, and convicted due to racism. It is an incredibly powerful protest song, and it is easy to understand why critics considered it a return to form for Dylan after a long stretch away from political music. Or why it resonated so strongly in the mid-70’s. And yet, despite the ultimate overturning of Carter’s conviction, there are many who believe that he was guilty, and a simple Google search will uncover many sites that still argue both sides.
I don’t know if anyone will ever be able to say definitively what happened at Newport on July 25, 1965, or in Paterson, New Jersey nearly a year later, on June 17, 1966. And maybe that should make us think before we rely blindly on reports of events that we did not experience ourselves.