Category Archives: JFK Assassination

JFK Assassination Song: “Bush Killed Kennedy” by the Strap-Ons

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

The documentary Dark Legacy (2009) by John Hankey puts forth a conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination that implicates George H.W. Bush. The basic argument is that George H.W. Bush was at the center of the conspiracy to kill JFK, which was carried out by anti-Castro paramilitaries with CIA connections. George H.W. Bush denied being involved with the CIA (until he was made Director of Central Intelligence in 1976), but Dark Legacy shows a memo written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dated November 29, 1963, one week after the JFK assassination, where he refers to a “misguided anti-Castro group” and states that, “information was furnished to Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency.” The documentary establishes the connections between George H.W. Bush to other key figures in the conspiracy, and further connects these people to the wealthy American Nazi sympathizers during World War II. Dark Legacy tells a troubling story and even if you have a healthy dose of skepticism, this movie will make you question the forces that govern this country.

 

Dark Legacy is an update to an earlier film called JFK II: The Bush Connection, which was released in 2003. Punk band The Strap-Ons saw the earlier movie presumably because shortly after that they recorded “Bush Killed Kennedy“, which was included on their 2004 album Punk On Punk Crime. In the opening lines of the song the Strap-Ons assert that “Bush killed the Kennedys/I know it”. The song deplores the power of the ruling class and expresses discontent about the injustice and inequality that result from their actions.

 

Bush Killed Kennedy
by The Strap-Ons

Bush killed the Kennedys
I know it
A land of sheep with enemies
Don’t blow it
Tacos cheap for the little guy
Oil shores, your slice of pie
Policies feed poverty
No more trees just property

South there’s a drug war
To get me a little weed
Tim McVeigh in his own way
Just saved me
Lost in love, found in war
The riot hose, the broken shores
Justice out on the stem
Street war, let us in

Bush killed the Kennedys
I know it, man
A cowboy hat justice rules
This country is broke
A little Texas moral sleaze
Fixed votes, no missiles please
Broken dreams
Hopes that seemed so close

JFK Assassination Song: “Zapruder’s Film” by Mick Farren & Jack Lancaster

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

Counterculture icon Mick Farren died earlier this week, July 27th. He initially came to fame as a member of the Deviants, who released three albums in the 1960s. Though associated with the counterculture, Mick Farren was no peace-and-love hippie. His work unflinchingly explored a darker view of his times. He recorded only sporadically after leaving the Deviants, instead turning his attention to writing. He was a prolific author, writing several nonfiction books (many indulging conspiracy theories) and more than 20 novels, mainly speculative fiction. He also wrote “The Titanic Sails at Dawn” for the New Musical Express, which anticipated the punk rock revolt against the music scene of the mid-1970s.

In 1995 Mick Farren collaborated with Jack Lancaster on The Deathray Tapes, which describes a dystopian landscape. The cover of the album shows a toy gun but the spoken word pieces on this album describe violence that is all too real. One of the tracks on The Deathray Tapes, “Zapruder’s Film,” expresses the shock of the JFK assassination and the profound disillusion that followed over Jack Lancaster’s mournful accompaniment.

Zapruder’s Film
by Mick Farren & Jack Lancaster

The mass intoned to muffled drums
The child and the black horse come
In that pink haloed vapored brain
A hope that never comes again
An innocence is crushed beneath
Dark shadows that deny belief
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

And whom and why and what it tolls
Goes gunmen on a grassy knoll
Bright day back seat Cadillac
Our passion cannot roll it back
Or any doubt we write the end
No golden age, no gold to lend
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

Head jerks forward, head jerks back
Triangulation, planned attack
Concrete basement, lips are sealed
And ruthless men have cut their deals
And we will never trust again
The public masks of ruthless men
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

And echoes print that awful sound
And still they violate the wounds
The king has fallen, harvest fails
We enter time of guns and jails
A lifetime of no truth unfolds
An image of a head explodes
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

Zapruder’s film is rolling still

The Zapruder film has had a profound impact on our culture and Mick Farren captures the impact of the raw images of this 26-second film in his passionate poetry. He describes not only the graphic violence of the film (“the pink haloed vapored brain” and “An image of a head explodes”) but also the atmosphere of distrust that has followed the events it captured (“an innocence is crushed beneath”). Mick Farren points to a conspiracy (“Triangulation, planned attack/Concrete basement, lips are sealed/And ruthless men have cut their deals”) where the president was executed with military precision (“triangulation, planned attack”) and the conspirators have gotten away with murder (“Goes gunman on a grassy knoll”). Mick Farren asserts that the public’s faith in our institutions has been shattered (“And we will never trust again/The public masks of ruthless men”) and that we no longer trust one another (“We enter a time of guns and jails”). In Mick Farren’s view the Zapruder film opens our eyes to a darker truth about how the world operates and presages the bleak outlook that has become the hallmark of our times (“And down the years no time to kill/Zapruder’s film is rolling still”).

JFK Assassination Song: Dealey Plaza (Frame Z-313) by Palo Alto

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

The Zapruder film is a home movie taken by Abraham Zapruder of JFK’s motorcade through Daley Plaza on November 22, 1963. Abraham Zapruder was the owner of “Jennifer Juniors, Inc.” a clothing manufacturer with offices located in the Dal-Tex Building across the street from the Texas School Book Depository. Zapruder was a JFK supporter and on the advice of his assistant he decided to make a film of JFK as he passed through Dealey Plaza. He positioned himself on a concrete pedestal on the northwest side of Elm Street and he used his Bell & Howell Zoomatic 8mm “Director’s Series” camera to film the motorcade. Zapruder was not the only one to bring a movie camera to Dealey Plaza that day. In fact, Orville Nix, filming from the opposite side of Elm Street, captured images of Abraham Zapruder in his film of JFK’s motorcade through Dealey Plaza.

jfk_NixFilmsZapruder

Abrham Zapruder as seen in a frame of the Orville Nix film

What distinguishes the Zapruder film is that it is the most complete of the home movies taken of JFK’s assassination and, because of Zapruder’s position, it also captures the fatal head shot the most clearly. The Zapruder Film lasts 26.6 seconds and each of its 486 frames has been numbered. The most grisly image is captured in frame 313. Below is a thumbnail image of this frame. The Zapruder film, and this frame in particular, is still shocking. Click on the thumbnail of frame 313 below to see a larger rendering of it. Be warned, however, that the graphic violence captured in this frame is disturbing.

jfk_Z313full

Jacques Barbéri, Denis Frajerman, Philippe Masson and Philippe Perreaudin formed Palo Alto in Paris in 1989 and released several albums of experimental electronic music through the 1990s. With the departure of Philippe Masson, the group shifted more toward improvisational performances, often playing with guest artists. They largely stopped producing new releases but in 2003 they founded Halte Aux Records !, a label dedicated to releases by French bands with a similar focus on experimental electronic music. The same year, Palo Alto experienced a renewed focus on industrial music and their performances began incorporating more moving images and texts. In 2007, Palo Alto released Terminal Sidéral: Live 05-06-07 Music and Films on the Optical Sound label. One of the tracks on this release, “Dealey Plaza (Frame Z-313),” refers to the Zapruder film and its most infamous frame. Recently I corresponded with Philippe Perreaudin about this track.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Would you explain what you were trying to express in this track?

Philippe Perreaudin: Palo Alto is a group of improvised music. We create musical atmospheres without wanting to deal with a particular topic. Then, when we listen the results of these improvisations, we seek to give them titles. Listening to this song with the voice, the crowd, the inexorable rhythm loop, I immediately thought of the JFK assassination and the Zapruder film. With each listen, this song reminded me of the images of this film. This piece is very narrative, very cinematic. So, we have given a title related to this event. The title refers to the precise location of the assassination of JFK in Dallas and the fatal frame number in the Zapruder film. In France, this title is enigmatic because, apart from the specialists, nobody knows “Dealey Plaza”, and even less, the frame number of the Zapruder film. The event is terrible but we are fascinated by the images shot that day by Zapruder and others. We are also fascinated by the theories that followed the assassination.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What are the voices in the background on that track and what are they saying?

Philippe Perreaudin: There is a voice at the beginning of the song but you do not understand what it says because the noise around is too loud. It may be the voice of a commentator on radio or television, the voice of one of the bodyguards around the car or, why not, the voice that gives indications to LHO…

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Why the applause about 4:30 and again at about 5:30 into the track?

Philippe Perreaudin: The applause is there to create an atmosphere of crowd because we can imagine that there were applause and cheers throughout the route of the procession.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Z-313 is the frame in the Zapruder film where you see JFK’s head explode. Why this frame in particular?

Philippe Perreaudin: Yes. We like the enigmatic aspect of this code. The title of this piece is very clear for people who are interested in the JFK assassination and totally incomprehensible to others. This is, we believe, a more powerful title than, for example, “JFK”.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: The subtitle on the album is Music and Films. Did you show the Zapruder film (or some other moving images) when performing this track?

Philippe Perreaudin: No, never. But it is a good idea.

The Zapruder film is perhaps the most closely studied film of all time. Here is footage from a documentary showing stabilized images of the Zapruder film at normal speed and in slow motion.

Alex Cox Responds to The Umbrella Man by Errol Morris

On November 22, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the JFK assassination, filmmaker Errol Morris released his short film The Umbrella Man on the New York Times website (covered in earlier blog post). This film featured an interview with JFK assassination researcher Josiah “Tink” Thompson, who discussed a strange figure photographed in Dealey Plaza holding an umbrella as JFK’s motorcade passed by. Strange because it was a bright, sunny day with no forecast of rain, yet the man was standing under an open umbrella. Years later when the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted further investigations into the JFK assassination, a man named Louis Witt came forward claiming to be the Umbrella Man. He explained that the umbrella was a protest against the appeasement policies of the British government under Neville Chamberlain in dealing with Nazi Germany. JFK’s father Joseph P. Kennedy had been ambassador to Britain at the time and had supported appeasement. Neville Chamberlain was often photographed holding an umbrella so the umbrella symbolized appeasement. Convoluted reasoning to be sure, but Thompson thought it was just crazy enough to be true. He summarized his point as,

I read that and I thought this is just wacky enough it has to be true. And I take it to be true. What it means is, that if you have any fact which you think is really sinister. Right? is really obviously a fact which can only point to some sinister underpinning. Hey, forget it man, because you can never on your own think up all the non-sinister, perfectly valid explanations for that fact. A cautionary tale.

A few days ago, filmmaker Alex Cox responded to Errol Morris’s film with a short film of his own. Unlike the slick production of Errol Morris’s film, Alex Cox’s film has a much looser feel to it. He enters a room and begins talking as he kicks off his shoes. The film is just Alex Cox giving an unscripted (?) monologue addressing points Josiah Thompson makes in Errol Morris’s film. He points out that the theory Thompson dismisses in Morris’s film about the umbrella being a weapon may well have been true. He also makes the point that the Umbrella Man did not act as Louis Witt described his behavior on the day of the assassination. The Umbrella Man was standing next to “the dark-complected man” and, Cox asserts, “the pair of them were up to something.”

 

Alex Cox called this film Case Not Closed: The Umbrella Man, a response not only to Errol Morris but also to Gerald Posner, author of the book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, which argues that Oswald acted alone in the killing of John F. Kennedy. Cox promises to make more short films in the coming months leading up to the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. He also used the opportunity to promote is new book about the JFK assassination The President and the Provocateur: The Parallel Lives of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. Alex Cox, of course, is the filmmaker who made Repo Man in 1984.

MILLER: A lot of people don’t realize what’s going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don’t realize that there’s this like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I’ll give you an example. Show you what I mean. Suppose you’re thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly, somebody’ll say like, plate, or shrimp, or plate of shrimp. Out of the blue. No explanation. No point looking for one either. It’s all part of the cosmic unconsciousness.

OTTO: Did you do a lot of acid, Miller? Back in the hippie days?

JFK Assassination Song: “President Kennedy” by Sleepy John Estes

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

Ry Cooder’s 1972 album Boomer’s Story contains a track called “President Kennedy,” sung by Sleepy John Estes. Estes had already recorded two earlier versions of this song at key points in his long career before recording with Ry Cooder. Sleepy John Estes was one of many blues artists from the Mississippi Delta who had recorded before World War II but had drifted away from music until the blues and folk music boom of the 1960s led to their “rediscovery.” Sleepy John Estes resumed recording in 1962, having been located by musician/music historian Samuel Charters. He appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in July, 1964, and was then asked to join the American Folk-Blues Festival tour of Europe in the fall of that year. By this time Estes was 65 years old and had seldom traveled outside his hometown of Brownsville in Lauderdale County, Tennessee. He had lost his sight entirely and had been living in poverty only a couple of years earlier. Clearly the events of this period were a drastic change from the life he had known up to that point, and he would continue to reference events of this period in his various versions of “President Kennedy”.

While in London in October, 1964, Estes recorded an early version of “President Kennedy” under the title “I’m Going Home,” in which he reflects on events that had made a strong impression on him in the previous year: the death of John F. Kennedy and his newfound fame. He considers JFK “the best president we ever had” who had worked for the cause of civil rights. Reportedly homesick, Estes sang the refrain “I’m going home/Going back home/I stayed away too long,” and then transforms this sentiment into a lament for JFK, “I’m going home/He started home/He stayed away too long.” He expresses concern for Mrs. Kennedy and asserts that “Mr. Kennedy have a right to his long white robe”, but he also recalls his nervousness when he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, according to Kennedy’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on JFK by Guido Van Rijn. He mentions his elevated blood pressure—it was a chronic blood pressure disorder that caused him to fall asleep at odd times giving rise to his nickname.

A few years later Sleepy John Estes recorded a revised version of the song during the Memphis Blues Festival. The Memphis Blues Festival took place in June, 1969, when interest in the blues was still high among rock fans and articles about the blues regularly appeared in the nascent rock press. Chris Strachwitz, who had founded the Arhoolie record label in 1960, took several of the major performers from the festival into Ardent and Royal recording studios in Memphis to record a double-LP set to highlight the festival. Sleepy John Estes contributed two songs, including “President Kennedy Stayed Away Too Long.” This version of the song has some differences from the 1964 version but Estes is still focused on the events of that year. He again mentions his nervousness when he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival but he expresses it differently (“When I went on the stage/I was shaking like a leaf/About 80,000 people/Had their eyes on me”). He also adds a verse about the 1964 presidential election that had not been in the 1964 version of the song, expressing his fear that Barry Goldwater would lead the United States into a nuclear war if elected (“Everybody votes/They don’t know what’s goin’ on/If Goldwater get it/We gonna have no home). Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy ad” had only aired once during the 1964 presidential campaign but its effects were lasting.

Sleepy John Estes recorded another version of the song as a guest artist on Ry Cooder’s album Boomer’s Story, the title now shortened to “President Kennedy.” Ry Cooder’s self-titled debut album, released in 1970, had included a cover version of a Sleepy John Estes song (“Goin’ to Brownsville”), so he was no doubt happy to have Estes in the studio for Boomer’s Story, which was Cooder’s third album. Sleepy John Estes played on two tracks, and Cooder let Estes have the spotlight in his performance of “President Kennedy.” This version is concise and well recorded without losing the spontaneity of Estes’s earlier versions. Estes leaves out any references to his own experiences and puts the focus entirely on President Kennedy and the consequences of his loss. His voice still strong at age 73, Estes uses his “crying” style to great effect as he sings the refrain “But he’s gone home/Gone back home/He stayed away too long” after each verse.

President Kennedy
by Sleepy John Estes
on the Ry Cooder LP Boomer’s Story (Reprise Records, 1972)

Late one Friday evening
Everybody was sad
We lost the best president
We ever had
But he’s gone home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

Rode from town to town
Holdin’ up for our rights
Some low down
Took the President’s life
But he’s gone home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

Mrs. Kennedy got a mansion on an Island
Stayed 9 months, all she’d be
She have another mansion
Soon as she reach Washington, D.C.
But he’s gone home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

Everybody votes
They don’t know what’s goin’ on
If Goldwater get it
We won’t have no home
But he’s gone home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

White horses and cars
All in a row
I think Mr. Kennedy have a right
To his long white robe
But he’s gone home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

President Kennedy Stayed Away Too Long
by Sleepy John Estes
originally on Memphis Swamp Jam (Blue Thumb, 1969)
recorded at Ardent Studio, Memphis, Tennessee, June, 1969

Late on [Friday]
Everybody was sad
We lost the best president
We ever had
But he gone
Gone back home
He stayed away too long

Rode from town to town
Holdin’ up for rights
Some low down
Took the President’s life
But he gone home
Gone back
He stayed away too long

Everybody votes
They don’t know what’s goin’ on
If Goldwater get it
We gonna have no home
But I’m going home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

Mrs. Kennedy got a mansion on an island
Nine months, all she’d be
She had another mansion
Since she reached Washington, D.C.
I’m going home
Going back
He stayed away too long

When I went on the stage
Shaking like a leaf
About 80,000 people
Had their eyes on me
I’m going home
Going back
I stayed away too long

White horses and cars
All in a row
I think Mr. Kennedy have a right
To his long white robe
But he’s gone home
Gone back home
He’s staying away too long

I’m Going Home (also credited as Blues for JFK)
by Sleepy John Estes
Sleepy John Estes in Europe (Delmark, 1966)
recorded at Olympic Studios in London, 1964

spoken: That’s Hammie Nixon playing

Late one Friday evening
Everything was sad
We lost the best president
We ever had
I’m going home
Going back home
I stayed away too long

I heard the news in the air
I wondered what could it be?
Nothing but the seabird
Singing a song to me
I’m going home
He started home
He stayed away too long

He rode from town to town
Holdin’ up for rights
Some old low down rascal
Took the President’s life
I’m going home
I’m going back home
I stayed away too long

spoken: I hear you, I hear you, I hear you, man, I hear you!

Mrs. Kennedy got a home, mansion
Nine months, all she’d be
And then she fly
Back to Washington, D.C.
I’m going home
Going back home
I stayed away too long

He rode from town to town
Holdin’ up for light
Some old low down rascal
Took Mr. Kennedy’s life
I’m going home
I’m going back home
I stayed away too long

Every night
‘fore I lay down
I pray to the Lord for six little children
To lead poor Sleepy John around
I’m going home
I’m going back home
I stayed away too long

I heard the news in the air
I wondered what could it be?
Nothing but the seabird
Singing a song to me
I’m going home
I got to go home
I stayed away too long

spoke: Only but two more verses. Hold it for me, Hammie, too.

White horses and cars
All in a row
I think Mr. Kennedy have a right
To his long white robe
I’m going home
He’s gone home
I stayed away too long

spoken: One more time I got to go here.

They checked my blood pressure (I was worried that day)
A hundred and three
Nothing but salty water
I had drank right out the sea
I’m going home
Going back home
I stayed away too long

JFK Assassination Song: “Less Than Zero (Dallas Version)” by Elvis Costello

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

During his infamous appearance on Saturday Night Live on December 17, 1977, Elvis Costello was supposed to play “Less Than Zero” from his debut album My Aim Is True. He played a few bars of the song and then abruptly stopped, telling the audience, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen. There’s no reason to do this song here”. He then launched into “Radio, Radio” instead, causing the show to run over time and getting him banned from Saturday Night Live for 13 years. Perhaps he did this because he thought “Less Than Zero” would mean little to an American Audience. The “Oswald” in the song refers to Oswald Mosley, who organized the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. Elvis Costello had recently seen Oswald Mosley on the BBC and had been disgusted with his unapologetic tone. As Elvis Costello explained in the liner notes for the 2001 Rhino reissue of My Aim Is True,

“Less than Zero” was a song that I had written after seeing the despicable Oswald Mosley being interviewed on B.B.C. television. The former leader of the British Union of Fascists seemed unrepentant about his poisonous actions of the 1930’s. The song was more of a slandering fantasy than a reasoned argument.

Within a few weeks of his appearance on Saturday Night Live, however, Elvis Costello performed “Less Than Zero” with alternate lyrics that would have much more meaning for an American audience. John Ciambotti, bassist for Clover, the backing band for Elvis Costello on My Aim Is True, told Elvis Costello that he was convinced that “Less Than Zero” had been about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Perhaps inspired by this discussion, Elvis Costello rewrote the verses of the song to use imagery from the JFK assassination. John Ciambotti later remarked, “Maybe I put a bug in his ear.”

The chorus of the “Dallas Version” is the same as the LP version but Elvis Costello had completely rewritten the song’s three verses, with “Mr. Oswald” now referring to Lee Harvey Oswald. Where the LP version of “Less Than Zero” was about teenagers turning up the TV to drown out the sound of them having sex, the “Dallas Version” describes two people having adulterous sex while watching televised coverage of JFK’s motorcade through Dallas (“Jenny takes her clothes off in succession/While her husband rides a bumper in the President’s procession”). Elvis Costello retained some of the lyrics from the original and these lines take on new meaning, hinting at a conspiracy (“A pistol was still smoking, a man lay on the floor/Mister Oswald thought he had an understanding with the law”). Jenny’s rubies (“With rubies on her fingers/Jenny turns and looks away”) suggest Jack Ruby, who in turn assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald. Images of the assassination, such as the Zapruder film, and eyewitnesses can’t seem to give a definitive account of what actually happened (“Calling Mister Oswald, calling anyone at the scene/If you were taking home movies/There’s a chance you might have seen him/They’ve got a thousand variations/Every witness in a file”). But like the LP version of “Less Than Zero” the real point of the song is not the specific event but a broader point about callousness our tolerance for the inhumane. With the play on words “Her mind is on a basement in the USA”, The “Dallas Version,” points to the degradation on both a political and a personal level brought about by these events. Lyrically, the “Dallas Version” doesn’t work quite as well as the LP version, as there wouldn’t really be much reason for the TV to drown out the sounds of sex so that the parents won’t hear, but this is still vintage Elvis Costello.

Though Elvis Costello has regularly included “Less Than Zero” in his setlists over the years, he only performed the “Dallas Version” in 1978. Fittingly, his first and last performances of this version of the song were in Dallas. A couple of live recordings of the “Dallas Version” from this period have surfaced on official Elvis Costello releases. On March 6, 1978, Elvis Costello performed the “Dallas Version” at El Mocambo in Toronto. Elvis Costello’s El Mocambo performance was broadcast live on Toronto radio station CHUM-FM and later released as a promotional album for Canadian Columbia. This album was bootlegged and did not receive an official release until it was included in the Rykodisk box set 2 1/2 Years, but Live at the El Mocambo has since been released separately. Also, in 2008 Hip-O re-issued This Year’s Model with a bonus disc containing a live set recorded on February 28,1978, at the Warner Theater in Washington DC, that includes the “Dallas Version” of “Less Than Zero”.

Less Than Zero
My Aim Is True album version

by Elvis Costello
Less Than Zero
Dallas Version

by Elvis Costello
Calling Mr. Oswald with the swastika tattoo
There is a vacancy waiting
In the English voodoo
Carving “V” for “vandal”
On the guilty boy’s head
When he’s had enough of that,
Maybe you’ll take him to bed
To teach him he’s alive
Before he wishes he was dead
Jenny takes her clothes off in succession
While her husband rides a bumper
In the President’s procession
She sees him on the screen
As she looks up from giving head
When he’s had enough of that
Her lover throws her on the bed
To teach her she’s alive
And suddenly he’s dead
(Chorus)
Turn up the TV, no one listening will suspect
Even your mother won’t detect it
So your father won’t know
They think that I’ve got no respect but
Everything means less than zero
(Chorus)
Turn up the TV, no one listening will suspect
Even your mother won’t detect it
So your father won’t know
They think that I’ve got no respect but
Everything means less than zero
Oswald and his sister are doing it again
They’ve got the finest home movies
That you have ever seen
They’ve got a thousand variations
Every service with a smile.
They’re gonna take a little break
And they’ll be back after a while.
well I hear that South America is coming into style.
Calling Mister Oswald, calling anyone at the scene
If you were taking home movies
There’s a chance you might have seen him
They’ve got a thousand variations
Every witness in a file
Jenny puts on some coffee
And she comes back with a smile
She says, “I hear that South America is coming into style”
(Chorus) (Chorus)
A pistol was still smoking
A man lay on the floor
Mr. Oswald said he had an understanding with the law
He said he heard about a couple
Living in the USA
He said they traded in their baby for a Chevrolet
Let’s talk about the future
Now we’ve put the past away
A pistol was still smoking
A man lay on the floor
Mr. Oswald thought he had an understanding with the law
She’s got rubies on her fingers
Jenny turns and looks away
Her mind upon a basement out of the USA
She says, “Let’s talk about the future
Now we’ve put the past away”
(Chorus) (Chorus)

 

JFK Assassination Song: “Single Bullet Theory” by Exploding Castro Cigars

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

“Single Bullet Theory” is an acid punk gem by the incredibly prolific band Exploding Castro Cigars. The title of the song refers to the Warren Commission’s findings about the wounds sustained by President John F. Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally as their motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The Warren Commission concluded that three bullets were fired at President Kennedy, all from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. This meant that the second bullet would have had to have struck both Kennedy and Connally, who was sitting in the seat in front of Kennedy. The bullet tore through Kennedy’s neck causing him to raise his arms, then through Connally’s midsection before striking him in the wrist. Critics sometimes call the “single bullet theory” or the “magic bullet theory,” arguing that the bullet must have changed direction in mid-air. Also, the bullet was found in almost pristine condition despite the going through both men and striking bone along the way. According to Joe Marchi, who wrote the song, “I called it ‘Single Bullet Theory’ because it was so implausible to think that was the case.”

MagicBullet

“Single Bullet Theory” by Exploding Castro Cigars is told from JFK’s perspective as the assassination is unfolding and offers a twist on the usual conspiracy theories. In this version of the story, JFK is world weary and submits to the assassination (“I can now pass cuz this place is getting old”) “Single Bullet Theory” shows a malevolent JFK who freely indulges in drugs and maps out the “Kennedy curse” as becomes aware of what is taking place. He foresees Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, Ted Kennedy’s incident at Chappaquiddick, and thinks of Jackie Kennedy’s life going to waste after they “Take my skull chunks out of her face”.

“Single Bullet Theory” has plenty of references to conspiracy. “Fake piggy on the side fills my coil with one more” refers to images of “Badge Man,” a vague image of a shooter on the grassy knoll who appears to have been wearing a police uniform. In the song JFK disputes the Warren Commission’s conclusion that only three bullets were fired (“I get my head in my hands and I think there were 4 bullets or more”), which would mean there must have been more than one shooter and a larger conspiracy at play. Using Wizard of Oz imagery, “Single Bullet Theory” describes Lee Harvey Oswald as “the wizard of Ozzie”, a patsy who is felled by “the Ruby”. The lyrics allude to Fidel Castro, as well, but when I asked Joe if he thought Castro was involved in the assassination, he said he thought it was an “inside job” and pointed to the CIA.

“Single Bullet Theory” was the opening track on an EP of the same name released by Exploding Castro Cigars in July, 2011. The cover image is a Mad magazine cover from October, 1963, showing Castro smoking a cigar with Alfred E. Newman plugging his ears in anticipation of the explosion. Like much of Exploding Castro Cigars’ material, “Single Bullet Theory” revels in Cold War intrigue and absurdity (one of the genre tags on the Bandcamp page for this EP is “MKUltra,” the CIA’s mind control program that began in the 1950s and continued through the 1960s). I asked Joe what his inspiration for this song was and he told me that he had just finished reading The Cold Six Thousand, the second of James Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy. Ellroy’s vision of a corrupt order is certainly evident in “Single Bullet Theory.”

Single Bullet Theory
by Joe Marchi

Driving down the road with a bleeding hole (x3)
Driving down the road with my sore my brain has shattered whole

Fucking Castro’s (w)hole

Driving down the road with a bleeding soul
Driving down the road with a bleeding sole
Driving down the road with a bleeding sore
I get my head in my hands and I think there were 4 bullets or more.

Driving down the road with a broading soul
Fake piggy on the side fills my coil with one more
Driving down the road with a broading soul
I’m driving down the freeway and I’m gonna take Bobby fucking home (guilty)

Oh I feel (although I can’t) that Cuba’s at risk
Teddy looked at me funny but I feel his car likes the water
And I know inside Bobby is a goner
Good old Joe, I let him know, grabbed a knife and made him grow

Driving down the road and i’m feeling whole
Driving down the road the I’m feeling sore
Driving down the road and I’m feeling sick
That book repository, what a fucking act

Oh, Ozzie
You didn’t do that 999
You just loved playing patsy
Here comes the wizard of Ozzie with the Ruby
Oh no, lay down down down

You didn’t have a bad brain
You just enjoyed that cocaine
You now see what I can see
Now they want a piece of me

Bad Guys

Driving down the road feeling so Sirhan (x3)
I can now pass cuz this place is getting old

Marijuana would have helped me here
Where the fuck is my wife
Take my skull chunks out of her face
And then we will watch her life go to waste

JFK Assassination Song: “Jack Ruby’s Hat” by the Crick Gypsies

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

The Crick Gypsies from Cincinnati, Ohio, are a roots band that incorporate a variety of influences. The term “Americana” applies to them, but they use the phrase “Original American Music” to describe themselves. CincyMusic.com describes them as “Bob Dylan and Mike Nesmith busking on the steps of the gilded palace of sin.” In any case, one of their songs, “Jack Ruby’s Hat” offers a clever take on the JFK assassination. When Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, he was wearing a gray fedora. This image was captured on camera and for a time Jack Ruby was identified as “the man in that hat.”

RubyShootsOswald

In the Crick Gypsies’ song the narrator buys Jack Ruby’s hat on eBay. His life becomes filled with chaos and he attributes his bad fortune to the hat. I corresponded recently with Patrick Ewing, who wrote this catchy, lighthearted song.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: I ran across a couple of references to Jack Ruby’s hat in past news stories. In 1992 a collector spent $220,000 on the gun Jack Ruby used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald, and then spent another $12,100 on the hat he wore that day. In 2009 the hat sold for $53,775. So what inspired you to write the song?

Patrick Ewing: I think I saw that, or a similar post on-line. In the song I say “I got it on eBay.” Got me thinking about Jack Ruby and that Sunday morning. Thinking about how, watching it live on TV as a kid in ’63, I noticed the hat before I saw the gun. Thinking about bad luck in that hat and to all those who wear it. Then it just took off on its own.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: When did you record the song? There’s no date on Bandcamp.

Patrick Ewing: We’ve recorded the song several times but I think the version on bandcamp was done in 2008. The EP on there was done in 2010.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: I’ve listened to this song several times now and I think it’s great. I would like to ask you what it all means but I don’t want to over-analyze it. To be honest, though, that’s the way my mind works. So what does Jack Ruby’s hat symbolize?

Patrick Ewing: As far as what the song “means”, I’d say it has to do with the random events in life that change individuals; or in some cases, alter history. Jack Ruby may or may not have been part of a large conspiracy but as soon as he pulled the trigger on Oswald, that image, including his hat, was eternally etched into the global iconography. It all seemed like an improbable coincidence at the time whether it was or not. The narrator in the song passes through a series of unlikely events and his only explanation for any of it is tied to the belief that the hat causes misfortune. Even so, because of its history and mojo, the hat is desired by hipsters worldwide.

Jack Ruby’s Hat
(C) Patrick Ewing, gofertunes music, ASCAP.

Find lots of trouble every place I go
Some of it’s real but you know, a whole lot of it’s just show
I noticed things really started getting crazy like that
On the day I started wearing Jack Ruby’s hat

Playing for tips down at the Barbecue Shack
Woman walks in with a poodle, it’s got a monkey on its back
She said, “Boy you know there’s not much future in that”
She dropped a $100 bill into Jack Ruby’s hat

Thought she was joking from some things that she said
Then the monkey shot the poodle and they left him for dead
Cops showed up about 10 minutes flat
And they took me to jail, they said I stole Jack Ruby’s hat

My court-appointed lawyer working on my appeal
So she had the nerve to ask me if any of this stuff was real
Said I’m not stupid and I’m not getting fat
On the meals I’ve been missing wearing Jack Ruby’s hat

The moral of this story, the twist to this tale
As simple as Simon, the boy that paid my bail
He said, “you know, mister, there’s a whole lot of hip cats
They all wish they were wearing Jack Ruby’s hat”

I’m wearing Jack Ruby’s hat
I got the original
Jack Ruby’s hat
Bought it on eBay
Jack Ruby’s hat
Don’t I look stylish wearing Jack Ruby’s hat?

JFK Assassination Song: “In the Summer of His Years”

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

“In the Summer of His Years” was written by Herbert Kretzmer and David Lee shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. David Lee was a composer and conductor and Herbert Kretzmer was a lyricist for the BBC’s comedy program That Was the Week That Was (TW3). Rather than go forward with the usual satirical review of the week’s events, on the day after the assassination TW3 aired a somber tribute to John F. Kennedy, and Millicent Martin, who normally sang topical songs on TW3, sang “In the Summer of His Years” on the program. Like everything else in this tribute episode, “In the Summer of His Years” had been written within 24 hours of the assassination. Despite how quickly the broadcast had been produced, the words and music resonated with the grieving audience. The program was rebroadcast on NBC in the United States and an LP of soundtrack of the program entitled That Was The Week That Was: The British Broadcasting Corporation’s Tribute to John FItzgerald Kennedy was released shortly afterward.  Millicent Martin’s performance of “In the Summer of His Years” was included on the LP.


Millicent Martin performs “In the Summer of His Years” on the TW3 year-end review program

 

In the days that followed, several artists recorded “In The Summer of His Years”. Mihalia Jackson recorded her version on November 29th and Connie Francis followed on December 2nd. By the time Billboard went to press for its December 14, 1963, issue, seven artists had recorded the song. The records by Millicent Martin and Connie Francis were the only versions to make the Billboard charts, although neither of them made the Top 40. Many radio stations refused to air the records because they thought it was distasteful to profit from such a tragedy. Billboard quoted a number of radio station program directors who expressed these sentiments.

‘Blatant,’ Says Paulsen – In New York, Varner Paulsen, program directory of WNEW, said: “The records are a blatant attempt to commercialize on a national tragedy. The song as sung in the BBC-TV show of ‘[That] Was the Week That Was’ was a heart-rending and sincere performance. Taken out of the context of the show it becomes something completely different.”

Billboard ran an editorial in the same issue criticizing radio stations for “crippling censorship.” While lauding radio stations’ concern about commercializing a national tragedy, the Billboard editorial argued that the records were tasteful and should be aired.

The song—and the recordings of the song—are considered models of good taste by most who have heard them. A distasteful impression may be created if the songs are not properly programmed—that is, if they are surrounded by blatant commercials. The obligation to see that this does not happen falls upon the broadcaster—not upon the record company, songwriter or publisher.

Connie Francis did not intend to cash in on the assassination, though, as she donated all proceeds from the sale of the single (and the album of the same name that followed) to the family of officer J.D. Tippit, who had been killed in the street when he confronted Lee Harvey Oswald following the assassination. Though charity records had been produced in the 1950s, this is one of the earliest examples of an artist donating the proceeds from sales of a record to a worthy cause.

In the Summer of His Years
by Herbert Kretzmer and David Lee

A young man rode with his head held high
Under the Texas sun
And no one guessed that a man so blessed
Would perish by the gun
Lord, would perish by the gun

A shot rang out like a sudden shout
And Heaven held its breath
For the dreams of a multitude of man
Rode with him to his death
Lord, rode with him to his death

Yes, the heart of the world weighs heavy
With the helplessness of tears
For the man cut down in a Texas town
In the summer of his years
The summer of his years

And we who stay mustn’t ever lose
The victories that he won
For wherever men look to freedom’s path
His soul goes riding on
Lord, his soul goes riding on

JFK Assassination Song: “The Kennedy Curse” by Alexisonfire

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

With a variety of vocal styles (screamo, demonic, emo, and spoken) post-hardcore band Alexisonfire from St. Catherines, Ontario, describe (and cast?) the “curse” on the Kennedy family. The song entitled “The Kennedy Curse” from the album Alexisonfire (2002) makes lurid references to the assassination of John F. Kennedy “(When white)/Glorious head shots/(Bleeds into red)/Head shots and 8x10s/(When white)/In exchange for your conspiracy/(Bleeds into red)”. Here the mention of conspiracy is not about whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but rather about a darker conspiracy to erase the Kennedy family altogether. “Put the dead Kennedy in the ground/In the ground, in the ground/The name does not live on/Not live on!”

The notion of a Kennedy curse arose as a result of the tragedies that have occurred to members of the Kennedy family over the years, not least of which were the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s. Because of the high profile of the Kennedy family and the shocking nature of these events, news outlets began connecting these tragedies with all sorts of news stories involving other members of the Kennedy clan. The phrase “Kennedy curse” is now regularly used in news stories involving any member of the Kennedy family, and Edward Klein has written a bestselling book on the subject entitled The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family for 150 Years.

Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969) had nine children, several of whom have had ambitious political goals. The oldest, Joe, died in World War II, John was assassinated in 1963 in the third year of his presidential administration, and Bobby was assassinated in 1968 during his campaign for the presidency. Ted Kennedy also made a run for the White House but his bid failed in part because of his role in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969. The death of JFK’s son John F. Kennedy Jr. in a plane crash in 1999 renewed the public discussion about a curse of the Kennedy family. In the report of John F. Kennedy’s Jr.’s plane crash, the Washington Post referred to the Kennedys as “the star-crossed family that has become America’s version of political royalty.” The most recent use of the phrase “the Kennedy curse” was last year when Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s second wife committed suicide. In the article “Kennedy Curse Strikes Again: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Wife Found Dead”, Forbes did what so many media outlets do when a tragic story involves a member of the Kennedy clan, they include a timeline of tragic events that suggest some sort of curse is on this family.

In reality, however, the “Kennedy curse” is simply a convenient way for media outlets to rehash old stories about the Kennedys because a large numbers of people love reading and hearing about the Kennedy family. An insightful piece in the Atlantic Wire summed it up well,

All of [the past tragedies] get a mention not because many of these sad things are so unusual, necessarily, but because of who the Kennedys are: We’ve been watching this “curse” bear out for nearly a century because we’ve long considered the Kennedys our only sort of royalty in America, celebrities of a different sort. We want them to be a fairy tale, and so there must be a “curse” when they are cut down. Maybe there’s also a bit of schadenfreude here, that this powerful, famous clan has faced so much pain. And they are, to be true, a big family. But a  “Kennedy curse,” you’d imagine, is something the family hopes we’d retire as a journalism trope.

When Ted Kennedy died in 2009 at the age of 77, the Guardian couldn’t resist framing the story in terms of the Kennedy curse. “Senator Ted Kennedy is the only one of four brothers to die from natural causes in a clan synonymous with untimely death”. Leave it to The Onion to put this in perspective with their headline

‘Kennedy Curse’ Claims Life Of 77-Year-Old Tumor-Riddled Binge-Drinker

A variety of explanations have been put forth about the causes of the “Kennedy curse”. True Conspiracy relates stories ranging from a Kennedy ancestor who once destroyed a “fairy dwelling” in Ireland to retribution for Joseph P. Kennedy’s anti-Semitism. Even further out on the fringe are explanations involving astrology or a “right-wing vendetta“. Others have tried to explain the Kennedy curse through pop psychology. The website “Thrive With ADD” suggests that the Kennedys have a family history of ADD or ADHD, a condition that can result in more risk-taking behavior and makes people prone to more accidents, while The Fix opines, “Perhaps the Kennedy Curse is nothing more mysterious than garden-variety alcoholism and drug abuse.” In his book on the subject, Edward Klein explains the curse this way, “The Kennedy Curse is the result of the destructive collision between the Kennedys’ fantasy of omnipotence-their need to get away with things that others cannot-and the cold, hard realities of life”. Still others have dismissed the “Kennedy curse” as “nonsense“. The Skeptic’s Dictionary calls the idea of a curse on the Kennedy family a “media creation”.

If one considers the size of the [Kennedy] clan, their wealth, their extraordinary achievements, and their propensity for taking risks, then their misfortunes do not seem disproportionate. The media would have us believe, however, that if a member of this clan dies in war, gets cancer or has a mental disorder, it’s because they’re cursed. If they are cursed, then so are the millions of others who suffer the same fate.

The Kennedy Curse
by Alexisonfire

Take this blood from my veins
And paint me a masterpiece of a parade
A parade of the dead son.
Bang Bang

Writing
(Writing this letter to you)
This letter to you.
(I slice my wrists)
Kill their leader
(By way of paper scars and pictures frames)
And watch his family die
(Of all you left behind)
Family die.

Last man
Last man standing is a joke
In spite of the

(When white)
Glorious head shots
(Bleeds into red)
Head shots and 8x10s
(When white)
In exchange for your conspiracy
(Bleeds into red)

(When white)
We’ll give thanks
(Bleeds into red)
Stop and you’ll decide
(When white)
Decide if you can
(Bleeds into red)

Then the name won’t exist
Set him on death row
Go on, let this happen

That. That’s all that you get. That’s all you get. That’s all. Kennedy’s in the ground.
In. In the. The ground. In the ground. In the ground. In the ground. The ground.

Put the dead Kennedy in the ground.
In the ground. In the ground.
The name does not live on.
Not live on!

Shona Laing from New Zealand had an international hit in 1986 with “(Glad I’m) Not A Kennedy“, included on the album South (1987). While this song focused specifically on JFK and features two extended excerpts from his commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963, the sentiment she expresses is that the Kennedy family has borne a great burden.

(Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy
by Shona Laing

Living on through politics, body-guarded, heart in bits
A blue-eyed honesty, indigo injury
The family tree is felled, bereavement worn so well
Giving up on certainty, wilderness, society

[chorus]
Wearing the fame like a loaded gun
Tied up with a rosary
Ooh, I’m glad I’m not a Kennedy

Imagine being a Kennedy, rule without remedy
To watch your family die, the world loves a sacrifice
Prophets longing for the three, honouring the tragedy
They hunger for the crime, the privilege to take a life

[chorus]

JFK: …and is not peace basically a matter of human rights?
The right to live out our lives without fear of devastation?
The right to breathe air as nature provided it?
The right of future generations to a healthy existence?
Let us if we can step back from the shadows of war and seek out
the way of peace.

I love the look in your eyes
I can see your soul sometimes and we laugh
And when we try too hard we stop and start
Oh imagine being a Kennedy, I’m glad I’m not a Kennedy

[chorus]

JFK: The cost of freedom is always high yet one path we shall never choose, that is the path of surrender or submission.
When a man’s way please the lord, the scriptures tell us, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the course of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth

Though the two tracks discussed so far are from artists who are from outside the United States, a number of American artists have used the image of the Kennedy curse in their lyrics. In “Love’s Lost Guarantee” (2005) Rogue Wave invoke the image “Love comes like a Kennedy curse/The victim whom is well rehearsed/You can paint over any mistake/but you can’t remove the original thing/then you go for your one shot/to where you are, to where you are.”

The undercurrent of violence is made more explicit in the track “The Kennedy Curse” by Black Cloud Music. Despite the title, this track only uses this image as backdrop, and distorted images of JFK appear only briefly in the video.

Several months ago Taylor Swift began dating Conor Kennedy, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, leading to a whole new round of speculation about the Kennedy curse and a hash tag on tumblr. PolicyMic claims to be a platform for “high-quality political discussion and debate aiming to become the first first mainstream news site to meaningfully engage young people in politics while bridging the left-right partisan divide.” Well, what better way to do that than with the following headline?

Taylor Swift Boyfriend: Music Queen Could Get Drawn Into the Kennedy Curse

It’s hard to imagine a more stupid, trivial headline, particularly considering that this comes from a platform that claims their mission is to “spark thoughtful debate across the world to solve our biggest challenges”. Perhaps it’s better to look to The Weekly World News, which reported that Taylor Swift and Conor Kennedy had actually gotten married even after she had been warned about the Kennedy curse. “Even though members of Swift’s family warned her that she way wind up at the bottom of a river someday, due to the “Kennedy curse”, Swift went ahead with the wedding.” I used to love reading the Weekly World News in the check-out lane at the grocery store. I thought it was gone forever but apparently it has simply migrated to the web. For the uninitiated, the Weekly World News, despite their claim to being “the world’s only reliable news” was (and perhaps still is) the most creatively outrageous of the supermarket tabloids. A perfect place for stories about the Kennedy curse.