JFK Assassination Song: “The Day John Kennedy Died” by Lou Reed

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 Day John Kennedy Died” was written and recorded by Lou Reed and included on his 1982 album The Blue Mask. Released just before Lou Reed turned 40, this album was among the most acclaimed of his career. The instrumentation was relatively spare, as Reed led a stripped down guitar-bass-drums band with few overdubs. Actually, the album features twin lead guitars with Lou Reed and David Quine separated in the mix to great effect. Dispensing with the decadent “Rock N Roll Animal” persona that he had adopted in the 1970s, the songs on The Blue Mask were more direct and personal than on previous Lou Reed albums.

Lou Reed begins “The Day John Kennedy Died”, the second-to-last song on the album, by describing an idyllic dream he had. In his dream Lou Reed is president of the United States and uses his position to create a just and fair society. Key to this vision is forgetting that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. This event, the song implies, negates the possibility of achieving the sort of utopian society Lou Reed envisions.

As if awakening from the dream, Lou Reed goes on to describe his own memory of the JFK assassination. He recalls where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news, and though television had yet to become such a ubiquitous presence in American life, Lou Reed first heard the news on TV. “I remember where I was that day, I was upstate in a bar/The team from the university was playing football on TV” Not wanting to believe the news, he ran into the street where others were gathering. Any chance for reassuring news was ended when a car horn blared and a person in a Porsche reported Kennedy’s death. Lou Reed tries to reconcile this news with his dream but the final image he relates in the song is of the president being shot in the face.

Lou Reed’s recall of details surrounding the moment he heard the news of JFK’s assassination in “The Day John Kennedy Died” signals that this is a “flashbulb memory,” a vivid recollection etched deep in a person’s memory when encountering a shocking event. Flashbulb memories were first described in a 1977 paper by Roger Brown and James Kulik in the academic journal Cognition. Brown and Kulik argued that flashbulb memories were formed by a distinct mechanism in the brain, and they pointed to the Kennedy assassination as the prototypical event bringing about memories of this sort. In recent years, other researchers have called into question some of Brown and Kulik’s assertions but the basic idea of flashbulb memories as a distinct type of memory in response to shocking events has been widely accepted.

Of course, Lou Reed may or may not be describing his own personal memories of hearing the news of the JFK assassination. His recollection is meant to be more broadly applicable so as to resonate with the audience who have their own memories surrounding that event. Similarly, the disillusion Lou Reed describes in this song is likely shared by many listeners. In his book The Kennedy Assassination Peter Knight reports that in 1963 75 percent of the public believed that the government was trustworthy, but within a generation an equal proportion of the population distrusted the government. Though many events conditioned this attitude (the Vietnam War, Watergate, and other scandals), the assassination of President Kennedy and the way its investigation was subsequently handled proved to be a watershed event in American history in terms of how people have come to regard authorities in recent years.

The Day John Kennedy Died
by Lou Reed

I dreamed I was the president of these United States
I dreamed I replaced ignorance, stupidity and hate
I dreamed the perfect union and a perfect law, undenied
And most of all I dreamed I forgot the day John Kennedy died

I dreamed that I could do the job that others hadn’t done
I dreamed that I was uncorrupt and fair to everyone
I dreamed I wasn’t gross or base, a criminal on the take
And most of all I dreamed I forgot the day John Kennedy died

Oh, the day John Kennedy died

I remember where I was that day, I was upstate in a bar
The team from the university was playing football on TV
Then the screen went dead and the announcer said,
“There’s been a tragedy
There’s are unconfirmed reports the president’s been shot
And he may be dead or dying.”
Talking stopped, someone shouted, “What!?”
I ran out to the street
People were gathered everywhere saying,
Did you hear what they said on TV
And then a guy in a Porsche with his radio hit his horn
And told us the news
He said, “The president’s dead, he was shot twice in the head
In Dallas, and they don’t know by whom.”

I dreamed I was the president of these United States
I dreamed I was young and smart and it was not a waste
I dreamed that there was a point to life and to the human race
I dreamed that I could somehow comprehend that someone shot him in the face

Oh, the day John Kennedy died

JFK Assassination Song: “I Saw John Kennedy Today” by Luke Powers

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.

I Saw John Kennedy Today” was written and recorded by Luke Powers and released in 2006 as a track on his album Picture Book. In this bit of Americana, Luke Powers sings of having a brief encounter with John F. Kennedy many years after his assassination. In this parallel universe JFK had decided he’d had enough of being president and was looking for an escape. On November 22, 1963, JFK slipped away to buy a pickup truck and explains, “My double caught a bullet in the head/And I was free because I was dead”. After that he left behind all of the trappings of celebrity and responsibilities of high office to live a simple life on the road in his pickup truck. “All I needed to get by/Was a truck and a highway to ride.” In the song the narrator concludes, “and he sure looks happy enough”.

“I Saw John Kennedy Today” is unique among JFK assassination songs, not to mention one of the cleverest of songs referencing any historical figure. Most JFK songs are homages or articulate some sort of conspiracy theory, while others use the event as a historical marker, including “list” songs such as R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” and Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. “I Saw John Kennedy Today” doesn’t fit any of these categories. Instead, the song is on its own imagining an alternative reality where JFK is still alive. In fact, half of the verses are in the voice of “John Kennedy.” The video Luke Powers made for this song consists of a series of still images that contrast the menacing forces opposed to JFK with the appeal of a simple life living on the open road. “Who would want such a job?” the song asks, which is all the more perplexing given that we know how it all turned out for JFK. Perhaps on some level we want to believe John F. Kennedy was somehow able to live out his days in peace. Of course, then there’s that poor double….

I spoke with Luke powers on the phone recently and he told me the story of how he came to write “I Saw John Kennedy Today”. He was driving in downtown Nashville and saw a man in a red pickup truck who looked very much like John F. Kennedy. I asked him if he looked like JFK looked in 1963 or if he was an older man. The man Luke saw was “vintage Kennedy” and had the look of someone out of time. Not only did he have a JFK-style haircut and Ray-Ban sunglasses on, but the pickup truck also looked like a well maintained truck with from a bygone era. Luke turned around to follow the guy but after two blocks he was just gone. A strange experience, to be sure, but he says he didn’t think much more about it after that. The encounter stuck in his mind, though, because that night he had a dream where the events of the day reemerged. In the dream Luke was in the Exit/In in Nashville and R.E.M. was on stage. In his dream R.E.M. performed a song called “I Saw John Kennedy Today”. According to Luke the song in his dream was completely realized and he got up the next day and wrote it down. He did point out, however, that R.E.M.’s version was more jangly and “R.E.M.-ish” than the more countrified version he recorded.

I saw John Kennedy today
by Luke Powers

I saw John Kennedy today
He ain’t dead like they say
He’s driving a pickup truck
And he sure looks happy enough

He was out on old Route 6
We were both stuck in traffic
He was wearing his vintage shades
But he sure didn’t look his age

I yelled, “Hey, is there an accident
And weren’t you the president?”
He just sat there for a while
And then he flashed his Kennedy smile.

He said, “Son, it occurred to me
Way back in ’63,
I no longer had to be
President Kennedy

And I didn’t need Jackie O
Didn’t need Marilyn Monroe
All I needed to get by
Was a truck and a highway to ride

Well in Dallas it was my luck
I snuck out to buy this old truck
My double caught a bullet in the head
And I was free because I was dead

I’ve been driving along ever since
Food and gas are my only expense
Wherever the road takes me
You know the girls are always friendly.”

I saw John Kennedy today,
He waved as he pulled away
He’s driving a pickup truck
And he sure looks happy enough

JFK Assassination Song: “Sleeping In” by The Postal Service

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.

“Sleeping In” is an electronic pop track on Give Up (2003), the only full-length album release to date from the Postal Service. In “Sleeping In” the Postal Service describe a recurrent strange dream where “everything was exactly how it seemed”.  In the first occurrence of the dream “there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy.” They go on to describe JFK’s assassin as “just a man with something to prove, slightly bored and severely confused.” This description sounds much like the Warren Commission‘s conclusions about Lee Harvey Oswald. The Warren Commission determined that Oswald had acted alone. He was a “lone nut” who was driven to kill the president because his life had been “characterized by isolation, frustration and failure” and he “was profoundly alienated from the world in which he lived.” In “Sleeping In” the narrator doesn’t want to wake up from the dream because, the song suggests, reality is much murkier than this. The implication is that Oswald did not, in fact, act alone, and that the public was too willing to be soothed by the simplistic pronouncements of the Warren Commission.

The Postal Service go on to describe a recurrence of the strange dream in the second verse of “Sleeping In” where the focus is on global warming. In the dream global warming is not a threat but a reward of living a good life–for following rules and for being good to others. Here again the Postal Service appear to be saying that the public’s desire for reassuring messages belies the crisis before them. In the dream the narrator celebrates that “[n]ow we can swim any day in November”. The reference to November serves two purposes here, as an example of viewing a radical environmental change through rose-colored glasses, and as a further reference to the JFK assassination, which occurred on November 22, 1963.  Over and over again the narrator states, “Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping in.” as he doesn’t want to awaken from the soothing dream and and be faced with the uncomfortable truth.

Sleeping In
by Ben Gibbard/The Postal Service

Last week I had the strangest dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy
It was just a man with something to prove
Slightly bored and severely confused
He steadied his rifle with his target in the center
And became famous on that day in November

Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping
Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping in

Again last night I had that strange dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where concerns about the world getting warmer
The people thought they were just being rewarded
For treating others as they’d like to be treated
For obeying stop signs and curing diseases
For mailing letters with the address of the sender
Now we can swim any day in November

Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping
(now we can swim any day in November)
Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping in

Give Up was released by Sub-Pop and sold over a million copies. Earlier this month it was reissued as a double-CD Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition. The album was popular enough to inspire photographer and filmmaker Thomas Andrew to produce an unauthorized video for “Sleeping In”, and the video itself has become something of a YouTube hit (uploaded under the name carbootsoul). As of this writing the video has been viewed 3,140,048 times.

The dreamlike quality of this video was produced by having the actor perform actions backward and then showing the film in reverse. After the video had been viewed over 2,000,000 times, carbootsoul uploaded a “making of” video, which shows how the action was filmed.

Update (May 5, 2013). I emailed Thomas Andrew with a few questions about the video he made for “Sleeping In” and he had this to say:

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What inspired you to make a video for “Sleeping In”? Did you ever have any correspondence with the Postal Service about it?

Thomas Andrew: Well back when I made the video in 2006 I had just discovered the Postal Service through their “Give Up” album. I was at University in London studying broadcasting so as part of my studies I produced many short TV programmes. I made all sorts of things from documentaries, to dramas and finally a music video. I got the train into London each day and would often stare out of the window and I would pass the location the video was eventually shot at. I think for me the lyrics really spoke to me and I could visualise how it would work out .

After I posted the video on YouTube (2006) I wrote to the Postal Service, Ben Gibbard and their record label essentially letting them know what I had made and asking their permission to keep it on YouTube. I didn’t get a response so it has been up ever since. To be honest I am not at all upset about that as in the end someone somewhere (the band/label) must approve of it as it hasn’t been removed. It would be a great shame if it was taken down, but now as it’s been downloaded all over no doubt someone else will put it back.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: I’m always fascinated by dream sequences in movies and I love the effect created by the backwards motion in you video. Can you talk a little bit about the imagery you used in this video and how it relates to the track?

Thomas Andrew: I had the idea of this guy essentially dreaming and reliving his journey shot from start to finish. Visually I was inspired by a video by/for Radiohead “There There” which had used a similar technique to create this strange creepy walk. I also have always loved the work of Michel Gondry who makes amazing dream sequences often through very low tech means. The final video was shot in forward motion as normal, so the actor is walking backwards at all times and the wool is being pulled away from the trees. The idea is that when the footage was reversed the actor would be walking forwards and the wool would look like it has a mind of its own.

We shot the video just outside London in April, so the leaves were just starting to come out on the trees and the sunlight was bright. We used about 500 feet of red wool to cover some of the woodland and then would proceed to remove it as the character walked past (backwards). The most difficult thing about the shoot was that I had to always think how this would work in reverse so quite a few shots never made the final cut.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Were you expecting to get so much attention when you initially posted the video on YouTube? What sort of feedback did you get about your video?

Thomas Andrew: I really wasn’t expecting the kind of reception the video got from the users of YouTube. I posted it just after I submitted it for my university course mainly to show my friends. However after a few quiet months the views and comments grew. At this stage it seems even though it is unofficial it has been adopted by the fans of the Postal Service as their video of choice.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Also, your “About” page has very little about you. Where are you located and do you make your living through your photography? App development? Something else?

Thomas Andrew: Yes been meaning to sort that out! I am located in Buckinghamshire, UK (about 10 miles from Oxford and about 50 miles from London). I’m 28 and now I use my skills working in Education teaching my skills to others and developing software and videos for education. I do also do photography work and video work for all sorts of clients…. I’m a busy guy… but still available for the next Postal Service video, if they give me a call!

Turn Me On, Dead Man: One last question. Any thoughts on the JFK assassination? I’m just curious if that event has much significance anymore in the UK.

Thomas Andrew: I think the JFK Assassination still has a presence here in the UK, US politics is present on the news most evenings so no doubt several references will be made to it on the anniversary. In terms of the video I did do a bit of research so to reference it within the video. The most significant reference is when the actor is taking photographs and then throws the camera away. This was meant to signify the event in terms of how show many images were captured on that fateful day (one of the first world news events to be captured as it happened on video), a truly world changing event but now this time later those memories have faded.

JFK Assassination Song: “The Warmth of the Sun” by the Beach Boys

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 Warmth of the Sun” was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and recorded by the Beach Boys. It was initially released as the B-side of the single “Dance, Dance, Dance” in 1964. Though it may not be immediately obvious, “The Warmth of the Sun” has a strong connection to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. When asked about “The Warmth of the Sun” in an interview in American Songwriter in 2009, Brian Wilson stated, “That song was inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The day he was killed Mike (Love) and I went into my office where I had a piano and wrote a song in his memory. That came quickly.”

In the documentary film I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, which was released in 1995, Brian Wilson had gone into greater depth describing the circumstances around composing this song. Upon hearing the news of JFK’s assassination, Brian went to his office with Mike Love with the expressed goal of writing a song to express their emotions during this trying time. He described it as a “very spiritual night” and considered it a rare event to be able to capture such profound feelings in a song. According to Brian,

JFK got shot to death and so we were a little bit despondent about it. So [Mike Love] called me up and said, “So what do you think?” “Ah, it’s terrible.” And he goes, “Well, do you want to write a song to JFK tonight at your office?” I said, “Sure.” So we met at my office at around 6:00, 7:00 in the evening, just when the sun was going down. Very spiritual night. We had windows. My office had a lot of windows so we had a view–a panoramic view of the city. So we got going. I don’t know… a mood took over. It was like a… something took us over. I can’t explain it. It was like… [plays a bit of the tune on the piano and sings, “that grows into day”] It was a vibration or a mood–whatever you call it–and Mike flipped out. He said, “that song is one of the most spiritual songs I’ve ever heard.” I said, “Thanks.” I said, “Those lyrics are beautiful”–he wrote the lyrics. Whoo. Ya know, I mean, stuff like that happens every 20 years. It doesn’t happen every day that JFK gets shot to death and the Beach Boys can go write “The Warmth of the Sun.”

Though Brian describes his memories of this experience in vivid detail, more than likely this account is not accurate. According to The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America’s Greatest Band on Stage and in the Studioby Keith Badman, on the evening of November 22, 1963, the Beach Boys performed a concert in Marysville, California, over 400 miles from Brian’s office in Hollywood. Beach Boys concert promoter Fred Vail reports that the group and the venue considered canceling the show, but they decided to go forward with it. He asked the audience to observe a moment of silence before introducing the Beach Boys, and he remembers the concert as being a great success. Vail recalls that Mike Love and Brian had been working on “The Warmth of the Sun” earlier and they completed the song at the hotel after the concert. To add to the confusion, Mike Love remembers it differently. He was quoted in Endless Summer Quarterly as saying that he and Brian had written “The Warmth of the Sun” on the day before the JFK assassination. He related that “there was a very mystical eerie feeling associated with writing the song” that was reinforced when the events surrounding the JFK assassination unfolded the following day.

Whenever this song was written, it’s clear that “The Warmth of the Sun,” has come to be associated with the JFK assassination in the minds of its songwriters and those close to the Beach Boys. In this song Brian was trying to remember the happiness of an earlier time in the face of tragedy (“The love of my life/She left me one day… Still I have the warmth of the sun/Within me tonight”). On a surface level the song is about a breakup, but the first verse and the chorus have a more universal quality that could be applied to an event of any kind, including the devastation caused by the assassination of a prominent political figure. The song laments a great loss and yearns for a happier, more innocent time.

Though it was originally released as a B-side, over time the stature of “The Warmth of the Sun” has increased and it has come to be recognized as one of the finest Beach Boys songs. Perhaps this is because the sentiments explored in “The Warm of the Sun” are some of Brian Wilson’s signature themes, and the song expresses nostalgia just as the Beach Boys music generally has come to represent a simpler, more carefree time. This was not always the case, however, as the Beach Boys were among the most trendsetting bands through the release of their album Pet Sounds. Their star began to fade, however, when the band could not carry through with their follow-up album. In I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, lyricist Van Dyke Parks, who collaborated with Brian Wilson, observed,

As Pet Sounds came to print [Brian Wilson] began work on his next project called Smile. Smile was a record to even explore in greater detail the modular aspects of songwriting. He wanted to explore the innocence of youth–maybe the innocence that America had just lost following the assassination of John Kennedy and our entanglement in a war that a generation rebelled against. Brian decided to go back and explore that innocence of childhood.

Brian would ultimately abandon Smile(though he released a reworked version of it called SMiLE with the aid of Darian Sahanaja in 2004). As the 1960s wore on, Brian was increasingly torn in his effort to top Pet Sounds (not to mention the Beatles). His own lifestyle had changed radically from the days of his youth as the Beach Boys’ fame grew and his mental health was deteriorating. For Brian personally, as well as society in general, there was no going back to a happier, more innocent time following the assassination of JFK.

The Warmth of the Sun
by Mike Love and Brian WilsonWhat good is the dawn
That grows into day
The sunset at night
Or living this way

For I have the warmth of the sun
(warmth of the sun)
Within me at night
(within me at night)

The love of my life
She left me one day
I cried when she said
I don’t feel the same way

Still I have the warmth of the sun
(warmth of the sun)
Within me tonight
(within me tonight)

I’ll dream of her arms
And though they’re not real
Just like she’s still there
The way that I feel

I loved like the warmth of the sun
(warmth of the sun)
It won’t ever die
(it won’t ever die)

JFK Assassination Song: “The Motorcade Sped On” by Steinski

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 Motorcade Sped On” by Steinski & The Mass Media is a hip hop sample-based sound collage that was initially released in 1986. This track takes sound clips from news reports of the Kennedy assassination along with samples of JFK’s speeches and arranges them over a sample of the drum pattern from the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” Steinski finds Walter Cronkite’s rhythmic groove in the phrases “More details just arrived”, “Mrs. Kennedy jumped up/she called, ‘oh no'” and rounded out with the phrase “the motorcade sped on” to form the “chorus” of the track. In addition to Walter Cronkite’s reports from CBS’s news coverage of the JFK assassination, the “verses” contain samples from KBOX (Dallas) radio reporters  Sam Pate and Ron McAlister, who were covering Kennedy’s motorcade through Dallas, and Ike Pappas of WNEW (New York), who was reporting on developments surrounding the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

“The Motorcade Sped On” is arranged more or less in chronological order of how events unfolded in November, 1963. The first two verses of “The Motorcade Sped On” includes initial reports of the assassination, in which the journalists struggled to make sense of what was going on during live coverage. Sam Pate and Ron McAlister were positioned at different locations on JFK’s motorcade route. Sam Pate was at Dealey Plaza where the shooting took place, and his reports make up most of the first verse. Ron McAlister was located farther down the route closer to the Trade Mart. His description of the chaos that erupted after the motorcade scrambled away from the site of the shooting make up the second verse. The third verse is Walter Cronkite’s announcement of President Kennedy’s death. Where the first three verses are all from November 22, 1963, the fourth verse shifts the focus to event two days later, with Ike Pappas reporting from the basement of the police station as Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being transferred to the county jail by the Dallas police. Ike Pappas was standing very close to Lee Harvey Oswald when he was gunned down by Jack Ruby. The track also includes a couple of brief samples from Lenny Bruce‘s observations about stereotypical views of Jews in regard to Jack Ruby. Recordings of JFK’s speeches are used at key points throughout the track. Most of the clips are from Kennedy’s inaugural address, but also included here is the famous line “Ich bin ein Berliner” from JFK’s speech at the Berlin Wall on June 26, 1963.

I hear two currents in “The Motorcade Sped On”. The JFK quotes used in the track sound sincerely reverent to me while some of the other samples (Ed McMahon’s “Here’s Johnny” and the opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night”) suggest that the assassination of JFK is just another episode from an endless stream of media images. In a recent email exchange I asked Steinski (Steven Stein) about this. He explained that this is in part due to the spontaneous approach he takes to his work. “I doubt you’ll meet anyone less analytical regarding this sort of thing than me. I work very much in a stream of consciousness vein, just flowing along and grabbing for whatever seems appropriate at the time.” I asked him if media coverage of events reduces everything to banality and he responded, “yes, I believe media–and TV in particular–eventually turn everything into oatmeal.”

Despite whatever trivializing effect media coverage of JFK may have had, the Kennedy samples in “The Motorcade Sped On” present him as an inspirational leader. The overall effect of the track is to highlight the great sense of tragedy surrounding the JFK assassination and to recall the initial shock of this event. Playing back the journalistic accounts of the unfolding tragedy in this way makes it clear why so many people can clearly recall what they were doing when the first heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination. I asked Steinski, “So which wins out in the end, that we can still be shocked or that it all gets reduced to banality?” and he responded, “Shock, I hope. That’s what I was aiming for.” I would make the case that “The Motorcade Sped On” succeeds on all levels, as a comment on media coverage and as a statement of profound reaction to a tragic event, not to mention that it’s an extremely catchy track that stays with you long after you’ve listened to it.

“The Motorcade Sped On” found its way onto a couple of interesting releases. NME magazine included it on a 7″ vinyl compilation called NME’s Hat-Trick, which was given away with the February, 1987, issue of the magazine. Steinski explained that Island Records arranged for the track to be included on the NME compilation, “Just after I put the record out, I got signed to Island Records; Island helped publicize the record through their UK connections.”

Later “The Motorcade Sped On” was included on Stay Free’s Illegal Art Compilation CD. Illegal Art is a record label founded by “Philo T. Farnsworth” in 1998 to challenge existing copyright law. The Illegal Art compilation CD was released in 2002, gathering tracks that had all run into copyright issues that prevented them from wider distribution. The liner notes for the compilation CD explained, “Most of these tracks would never have existed if the artists had adhered to copyright law.” The CD also included liner notes for each track, and it had this to say about “The Motorcade Sped On”:

Steinski & Mass Media*
“The Motorcade Sped On” 
Steven Stein created this cut-up of Kennedy assassination coverage. His label, Tommy Boy, was unable to officially release it because CBS refused to grant clearance for the use of Walter Cronkite’s voice. It was instead released as a white label 12-inch single in 1986.
*used without permission

In 2008 Illegal Art released a compilation of Steinski’s work called What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospectivethat included “The Motorcade Sped On”. Steinski explains, “Illegal Art approached me about putting together a retrospective comp (bless their hearts), and I felt we weren’t taking too big a risk putting the JFK piece out again due to it being so far under the radar at that point.” Illegal Art is on indefinite hiatus, but Steinski’s work is still available through the Illegal Art website. Steinski continues to reflect on “Music. Copyright. Politics. Life” on his website.

The Motorcade Sped On
by Steve Stein

Ed McMahon: And now, here’s Johnny
[Opening chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles]
JFK: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your [three gunshots]
[drums begin]

Walter Cronkite: Here is a bulletin
Walter Cronkite: Here is a bulletin
???: What is it?
Sam Pate: Stand by please
Sam Pate: Stand by please
Walter Cronkite: In Dallas, Texas [gunshot]
Sam Pate: It appears as though something has happened
Sam Pate: in the motorcade route
Sam Pate: in the motorcade route

JFK: ich ich ich bin ein ein ein Berliner

Walter Cronkite: Three shots were fired
Walter Cronkite: three
Ron McAlister: Put me on, Phil, put me on
Walter Cronkite: Three
Ron McAlister: Put me on, Phil, put me on
Walter Cronkite: Three
Walter Cronkite: President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting
Sam Pate: Stand by please
Sam Pate: Stand by please

Walter Cronkite: More details just arrived
Walter Cronkite: Mrs. Kennedy jumped up
Walter Cronkite: she called, “Oh no”
Walter Cronkite: Oh no
JFK: The energy
Walter Cronkite: Oh no
JFK: The faith
Walter Cronkite: Oh no
JFK: The devotion
Walter Cronkite: Oh no
Walter Cronkite: The motorcade sped on

JFK: The world is very different now

Ron McAlister: Something has happened here
Ron McAlister: We understand there has been a shooting
Ron McAlister: Something has happened here
Ron McAlister: I can see many, many motorcycles
Ron McAlister: I can see many, many motorcycles
Ron McAlister: Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit
Ron McAlister: something has happened here
Ron McAlister: many, many motorcycles
Ron McAlister: Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit
Ron McAlister: something has happened here
Ron McAlister: something is wrong here, something is terribly wrong


JFK: ich ich ich bin ein ein ein Berliner

Walter Cronkite: The flash
Walter Cronkite: Apparently official
Walter Cronkite: The flash
Walter Cronkite: Apparently official
Walter Cronkite: President Kennedy died at 1:00 PM central standard time
Walter Cronkite: Time
Walter Cronkite: Time
Walter Cronkite: Time
Walter Cronkite: Time
Walter Cronkite: Time

JFK: We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution

Ike Pappas: There is the prisoner
Ike Pappas: There is the prisoner
Ike Pappas: Wearing a black sweater
Ike Pappas: Do you have anything to say in your defense?
Ike Pappas: Oswald has been shot
Ike Pappas: Oswald has been shot
Ike Pappas: Jack Ruby
Ike Pappas: Jack Ruby
Lenny Bruce: Ruby
Lenny Bruce: Came from Texas
Ike Pappas: He runs the carousel club
Ike Pappas: Here is the ambulance

Chorus (2x)

JFK Assassination Song: “Sympathy for the Devil”

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

In the summer of 1968 the Rolling Stones returned to Olympic Studios to record the album Beggars Banquet. After the previous year’s Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Rolling Stones had had enough of psychedelia. They set out to move in a different direction and found their footing in “jaded, blues-soaked hard rock“. Beggars Banquet would be the first of a string of great classic Stones albums, and the song that leads off the album is “Sympathy For The Devil.” Mick Jagger wrote the lyrics and had the basic melody when the Rolling Stones went into the studio in early June, 1968. The development of “Sympathy for the Devil” is captured in the movie Sympathy for the Devil (1968), directed by John-Luc Godard.

Godard had set out to make a movie about a woman involved with both a neo-fascist and a black militant. For whatever reason he not only scrapped this story but abandoned conventional storytelling altogether. Instead this film jumps randomly from one abstract statement to another. Scenes of the Rolling Stones in the studio experimenting with different approaches to “Sympathy for the Devil” anchor the film, and it serves as a fascinating document of the Stones’ creative process. While the initial composition was Mick Jagger’s, the film shows clearly how Keith Richards was the driving creative force in the band, first playing the bass (with Bill Wyman relegated to playing the maracas), then guitar, then leading the “whoo whoo” chorus; and it was Keith who suggested using a samba-like rhythm for the track. In According to the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts is quoted as saying “‘Sympathy is one of those sort of songs where we tried everything…. We had a go at loads of different ways of playing it; in the end I just played a jazz Latin feel in the style of Kenny Clarke would have played on ‘A Night in Tunisia’–not the actual rhythm he played, but the same styling.” The film also shows the marginalization of Brian Jones. He might just as well not even be there, as his acoustic guitar is not even audible at any point in the film, or in the resulting final track, for that matter. Godard’s version of the film was called One Plus One, but the title was changed because the producer, Iain Quarrier, saw fit to include the Rolling Stones’ final version of “Sympathy for the Devil” in the soundtrack, an edit that so enraged Godard that he assaulted Quarrier.

“Sympathy for the Devil” contains just one reference to the JFK assassination. After describing events ranging from the trial of Jesus Christ to the 100 Years War (1337-1453) to the Russian Revolution to World War II, the lyrics turn to recent political assassinations, “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys’/When after all it was you and me”. Interesting to note that Jagger originally wrote “I shouted out, ‘Who killed Kennedy?'” referring only to John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, but the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy occurred during the time the Stones were developing this track. The “Sympathy” sessions took place from June 4 to June 10, 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 6, 1968. The change in the lyric indicates that at least Mick Jagger was aware of the event, but it passes without a mention in the film. The rehearsal where Jagger changes the lyric is the same one where the “whoo whoo” chorus is introduced, which is a much more noticeable change for viewers.

Godard’s film has one other reference to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Godard’s wife, Anne Wiazemsky, plays the role of Eve Democracy. Wearing what looks to be a peasant dress, she wanders through a forest answering only “yes” and “no” to a series of non sequitur questions about politics, art, drugs, sex, religion and culture. Along the way the interviewer asks, “Do you have a theory about who killed Kennedy?” to which Eve Democracy answers, “No.” demonstrating clearly that in Sympathy for the Devil Godard was not interested in current events, but rather in making more abstract ideological statements. Some of the scenes in this film are of revolutionaries just reading radical texts–just… reading… and reading.

Keith Richards appreciated the film because it captured the transformation of the song “from a turkey into a hit” but otherwise he thought Godard’s movie was “a total load of crap.” Martin Scorsese, by contrast, called Sympathy for the Devil “quintessential.” In an interview in The Guardian shortly before the release of his own Rolling Stones documentary, Shine a Light, Scorsese went on to say,

That movie still, with the vignettes that [director Jean-Luc] Godard intercuts, the rehearsal sessions with this still powerful and disturbing movie. It makes you rethink; it redefines your way of looking at life and reality, and politics.

While I have a great deal of respect for Martin Scorsese, I think Keith Richards is closer to the mark here. It’s hard to imagine a film like One Plus One/Sympathy for the Devil being made today. Revolution was in the air in 1968 and this film gave expression to some of the intellectual currents of the time, but the pacing of this film is laboriously slow and the ideological statements go on way too long. I watched Sympathy for the Devil again recently and was struck by how awful the acting in this movie is. In one scene, black revolutionaries toss guns to one another like some kind of bucket brigade. I gather that this is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of white viewers particularly when they lay the guns across white women who have been executed. Not only do the murdered women’s white gowns have what look like ketchup stains, but the men tossing the guns look so awkward in this scene that they look like “they couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag,” to quote one of my father’s favorite sayings. Also, the graffiti scenes look more like snotty punks out for kicks rather than revolutionaries. My main criticism of this movie, however, is that the Stones track really doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the film. Unlike “Street Fighting Man” recorded only weeks earlier, “Sympathy for the Devil” is not about upsetting the existing order. The song recounts historical tragedies not as prelude to revolution, but as senseless acts. And in the case of the Russian revolution, “Sympathy for the Devil” sympathizes with the monarchs (“Killed the czar and his ministers/Anastasia screamed in vain”). The message of the song appears to be that evil exists in the world and that we all share in the blame for tragic events (“Tell me baby, what’s my name?/I tell you one time, you’re to blame”). Jann Wenner, in a 1995 interview in Rolling Stone, asked Mick Jagger about the message of the song:

WENNER: Were you trying to put out a specific philosophical message here? You know, you’re singing, “Just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints”.
JAGGER: Yeah, there’s all these attractions of opposites and turning things upside down.

In the end, then, we all have the potential for committing (or allowing) evil acts.That we all share in the blame for tragic events is stated explicitly in the lyrics in the case of the Kennedy assassinations (“I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys’/When after all it was you and me”). The Rolling Stones Wiki suggests that the verse about the assassination of the Kennedys was a reference to The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche.

The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers!

Perhaps this is what Jagger had in mind, but this seems like a stretch to me. This passage discusses the abandonment of religious faith, while the assassinations of JFK and RFK were real-world events. Then again, perhaps my resistance to this idea stems from my experience of being assigned to read Nietzsche for a class in college and hating every minute of having to read that turgid, turgid writing. Hard to believe that reading Nietzsche could inspire anything other than the desire to doze off. In any case it’s clear that neither Mick Jagger nor Jean Luc Godard thought it worthwhile to go beyond broad philosophical statements in regard to the assassination of JFK.

“Sympathy for the Devil” has been covered a number of times. The most interesting cover version is by the Slovenian (then Yugoslavian) band Laibach, who released an EP with seven different versions of the track in 1988. One version, “Sympathy for the Devil (Who Killed the Kennedys)” starts out with a sample from Godard’s film, the moment when the interviewer asks Eve Democracy “Do you have a theory about who killed Kennedy?” and she answers, “No.” Despite the title, that’s really the only thing in the track about the Kennedy assassinations. From there Laibach include recordings related to the Rolling Stones performance at Altamont, as well as drug references sampled from Godard’s film.

Sympathy for the Devil
by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith

I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank


I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

I shouted out,
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay


Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I’m in need of some restraint

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste


Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can you guess my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame

JFK Assassination Song: “Who Killed JFK” by Misteria

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

“Who Killed JFK” is a techno track by Misteria, released in 1992. Misteria, active in the early 1990s, was the German duo of Peter Ries (also known as Marc Cassandra) and Wolfgang Filz. Over a driving dance rhythm and an atmosphere of emergency created by synthesizers mimicking police sirens, a voice asks over and over “Who killed JFK?” Despite the title, the track really doesn’t try to answer its own question about the JFK assassination in any way. The vinyl and CD releases of Who Killed JFK include three versions of the track, the “Radio Cut” and the “Aggressiv Cut” include a soundbite from JFK’s inaugural address (“Let the oppressed go free”) and his famous quote from the speech he gave in West Berlin in June of 1963, “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!'” The “Energetic Cut” also includes these sound bites, but opens with what would appear to be media coverage of JFK’s funeral and features more quotes from JFK’s inaugural address. It’s not clear whether Misteria think these quotes, which show Kennedy as a staunch Cold Warrior, had anything to do with JFK’s assassination. It seems more likely that Kennedy’s statement of support for the people of West Berlin after the building of the Berlin Wall resonated with Misteria and they used the soundbites in tribute to JFK.

The cover photo for Who Killed JFK, which shows a picture taken just after President Kennedy had been shot, is puzzling on a number of levels. The image shows Jackie Kennedy as she went up onto the trunk of the car to retrieve a piece of JFK’s skull, while secret service agent Clint Hill is trying to jump on the back of the limousine.

At first I thought it was from the Zapruder film, but something didn’t look quite right. After looking into it a little bit I discovered that the cover image is actually from a home movie taken from the opposite direction by Orville Nix. The image on the cover of Who Killed JFK has been reversed and cropped. Here is the frame from the Nix film in its original orientation.

The British documentary The Day the Dream Died (1988), directed by the English musical duo Godley & Creme for the TV series Dispatches, showed a frame from the Nix film and claimed that “French film director Jean Michel Charlier” had used “optical enhancement” to reveal a figure on the grassy knoll holding a rifle “in a firing position.” The Day the Dream Died speculated that this man was David Ferrie, and that he, as part of a larger conspiracy, had fired the shot that hit President Kennedy in the head. Perhaps Misteria was referring to this conjecture as an answer to the question raised in the song’s title. But why is the photo reversed and cropped on the cover of Who Killed JFK? If they were referencing the use of the Nix film to establish that another shooter had fired at President Kennedy from a position on the grassy knoll, the cover image is cropped in a way that removes that evidence. Another oddity is that on my CD copy of Who Killed JFK, the cover photo is credited as “Foto: dpa”. DPA is the German Press Agency. It’s possible that Misteria simply did not know the source of the image or have any idea of its significance.

JFK Assassination Song: “Abraham, Martin and John”

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

“Abraham, Martin and John”, written in 1968 by Dick Holler, tries to make sense of the assassinations of progressive leaders throughout American history. Abraham is Abraham Lincoln, who was president during the Civil War and was assassinated on April 15, 1865. After the bloody Battle of Antietam in 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Though this proclamation was limited (it only freed slaves in areas that would subsequently come under Union control) and slavery would not be ended in the United States until after Lincoln’s death with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Abraham Lincoln came to be known as the “Great Emancipator.” Martin refers to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who rose to national prominence during the year-long boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 and 1956. His leadership of the grassroots civil rights movement undoubtedly helped to end institutionalized racism in the United States. John is, of course, President John F. Kennedy, assassinated on November 22, 1963. Though Kennedy’s commitment to civil rights is debatable, and the major civil rights legislation (the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965) was passed after his death, Kennedy had increasingly supported the civil rights movement during his administration and Lyndon Johnson capitalized on the sentiment created by Kennedy’s death to get this legislation passed through Congress. “Abraham, Martin and John” devotes a verse to each man, stating “He freed a lotta people but it seems the good they die young”.

A popular idea that emerged after the death of John F. Kennedy was the supposed list of coincidences between the assassinations of JFK and Abraham Lincoln. I remember my grandmother giving me a mimeographed list of these coincidences and it fascinated me. This list dates back to at least August, 1964, when it was published in Time and Newsweek magazines.

Lincoln was elected in 1860, Kennedy in 1960. Both were deeply involved in the civil rights struggle. The names of each contain seven letters. The wife of each president lost a son when she was First Lady. Both Presidents were shot on a Friday. Both were shot in the head, from behind, and in the presence of their wives. Both presidential assassins were shot to death before they could be brought to trial. The names John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each contain 15 letters. Lincoln and Kennedy were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson. Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson, who followed Lincoln, was born in 1808; Texan Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.

A version of the list appeared in Martin Gardner’s column in Scientific American, attributed to Gardner’s fictional alter-ego Dr. Matrix. Like most of his writings about Dr. Matrix, Gardner made interesting observations about numbers and created clever puzzles for his readers to solve. Dr. Matrix claimed to have originated the list and then went on to claim that the JFK assassination had, in fact, been numerologically predicted:

Both the FBI and the Secret Service, had they been skilled in the prophetic aspects of numerology, would have been more alert on the fatal day. The digits of 11/22 (November 22) add to 6, and FRIDAY has six letters. Take the letters FBI, shift each forward six letter in the alphabet, and you get LHO, the initials of Lee Harvey Oswald. He was, of course, well known to the FBI. Moreover, OSWALD has six letters. Oswald shot from the sixth floor of the building where he worked. Note also that the triple shift of FBI to LHO is expressed by the number 666, the infamous number of the Beast.

Gardner wasn’t so much trying to debunk the Kennedy-Lincoln Coincidences list but rather to spoof it, as he often did with pseudoscientific thought. One of Gardner’s themes was that it was fairly easy to come up with lists of all sorts of numerological coincidences, but that these had very little meaning. Despite Gardner’s best efforts, the list has become an urban legend of sorts. The list has been expanded upon over the years, mocked and debunked, but the idea that the Lincoln and JFK assassination are linked remains in the popular consciousness. “Abraham, Martin and John” takes this idea and builds on it, particularly focusing on the notion that these figures “were deeply involved in the civil rights struggle”. The song serves as an elegy to those martyred in the cause of freedom, adding Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy to the list. “Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?/Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?” the song asks in the bridge, followed by “And we’ll be free some day soon/It’s gonna be one day”.

This song was a hit for Dion in 1968, released within months of the deaths of Martin Luther King, assassinated on April 4, 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated on June 6, 1968. The country was trying to come to terms with these tragedies, which took place less than five years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Though Bobby Kennedy is not mentioned in the title, the final verse of the song is devoted to him, concluding with “I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill/With Abraham, Martin, and John.” The Smothers Brothers invited Dion to perform the song on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in November, 1968. The usually comic Tommy Smothers gave the song a straight introduction, “We first heard this next song on the radio and we thought so much of it and thought it was such a great song we thought we’d like to have it on the show so that more people could hear it and see it performed.”

Several artists recorded their own versions of this song, including Andy Williams (1969), The Miracles (1969), Moms Mabley (1969), Harry Belafonte (1969), Leonard Nimoy (1970), Marvin Gaye (1970), and Ray Charles (1972). One of the most notable versions of this song was an audio collage assembled by Tom Clay, combining “What the World Needs Now Is Love” with “Abraham, Martin and John” along with sound clips associated with the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Bookending this recording is an adult asking a small child the meaning of segregation, bigotry, hatred and prejudice. Tom Clay’s recording, released in 1971, broadened the theme of these songs to address the turmoil of the times, suggesting that the war in Vietnam, the urban rioting and the assassinations of the 1960s were fueled by hatred and bigotry.

Abraham, Martin and John
by Dick Holler

Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lotta people but it seems the good they die young
You know I just looked around and he’s gone

Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lotta people but it seems the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed lotta people but it seems the good they die young
I just looked around and he’s gone

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free some day soon
It’s gonna be one day

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John

JFK Assassination Song: “Oswald Defence Lawyer” by The Fall

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

In 1988 the British group The Fall released the album The Frenz Experiment, which contained the track “Oswald Defence Lawyer,” written by Steve Hanley and Mark E. Smith. The Oswald mentioned in the title is Lee Harvey Oswald, accused of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Oswald never had legal representation, however, as he was gunned down by Jack Ruby two days after the JFK assassination, before he could secure the services of a lawyer. This song would seem to refer to On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald, a mock trial produced for television in 1986 by London Weekend Television. Two other dramatizations, both titled The Train of Lee Harvey Oswald, had been produced in the United States in the years after the JFK assassination. The first The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald was released in 1964, just months after the assassination, but was suppressed (or so the film claims in its opening title sequence) and not seen again for many years (it’s now available on DVD from Something Weird). Another film called The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald was a made for TV in 1977, during the investigations by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald was more ambitious than either of these films. Though filmed in London, the judge and jury were from Texas and flown in for the event. The people taking the stand were actual witnesses from the case and the lawyers for the defense and prosecution were well known American attorneys.

The attorneys in On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald were a study in contrasts, highlighted in “Oswald Defence Lawyer.” Defending Lee Harvey Oswald was Gerry Spence, a successful attorney who has never lost a case and is best known for his involvement in the Karen Silkwood case. Spence was folksy in his cowboy hat (“buckskin hat” in the words of The Fall), while “His opposite is vain”. The prosecuting attorney, Vincent Bugliosi, made a point of stopping the proceedings to make sure his name was pronounced correctly. When Bugliosi made clear that “the G is silent” Spence joked, “That’s the only thing that’s silent about Mr. Bugliosi.” Throughout the trial Bugliosi spoke quickly and was all business but The Fall were having none of it. “His mouth is in his brain” they said of the prosecutor.

In the absence of an actual trial, the public had to content itself with the findings of the Warren Commission, a group of high government officials formed a few days after the assassination and issued their final report in September, 1964, less than a year after the event. The Warren Commission came to the conclusion that Oswald had acted alone in the assassination of JFK. The prosecution in On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald relied heavily on the Warren Commission report, but in doing so “The prosecution lawyer/Turns himself to butter” according to The Fall. But Bugliosi was passionate about the subject and spent the next 20 years working on a 1600+ page tome called Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2007) confirming the findings of the Warren Commission.

The Fall take issue with several aspects of the Warren Commission’s findings, particularly in their explanation of the shots fired by Oswald. According to the Warren Commission, Oswald’s first shot missed his target but Oswald’s second shot hit his target and then some. This shot, which supposedly hit both Kennedy and Gov. John Connally, who was riding in the seat in front of JFK, has come to be known by conspiracy theorists as the “Magic Bullet Theory” because of the strange trajectory the bullet would have had to have taken to have had the effect suggested by the Warren Commission. The “theory of zigzag bullet line” and  the “theory of triangle bullet lines/Turning in circles twice”, is how “Oswald Defence Lawyer” mocks the Warren Commission’s description of Oswald’s second shot.

from Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedyby Jim Marrs

The Fall also express skepticism about the idea that Oswald fired the shot that struck JFK in the head. Oswald was shooting from behind Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, but conspiracy theorists argue that the shot that hit Kennedy in the head must have been a frontal shot because its impact caused Kennedy’s head to move back and to the left. The head shot was most likely fired by another gunman placed on the “Grassy Knoll”, which would have been a frontal shot from the right. The Fall would seem to support the idea that the head shot was not fired from the rear with the line “Then incredible, marvelous, exiting back of mind”.

The Fall also contest what the Warren Commission regarded as an incriminating piece of evidence, a backyard photo of Oswald holding the rifle used in the assassination. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the photo was altered, putting a picture of Oswald’s head on someone else’s body (“Cheap rifle photo touched up/Drawn on sky/Oswald’s head added on a commie tie”).

At various points throughout the track, The Fall express their disgust with what they clearly regard as a sham with the lines “Embraces the scruffed corpse” of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, suggesting that these historical figures, both of whom died many years before the JFK assassination, would be rolling over in their graves. With his folksy manner, Gerry Spence invokes a sort of rustic image consistent with these American icons, and also taps into the sort of outrage that they represent. Mark Twain was a satirist who was strongly anti-imperialist. Perhaps The Fall believed that Kennedy was assassinated because he was about to scale back American involvement in southeast Asia, though this is not explicitly stated in the lyrics. Walt Whitman was a  champion of American democratic ideals, which The Fall perhaps believed were subverted by the JFK assassination (“CIA shit flying over head fast”). Perhaps the greatest disgust in this song is expressed toward the jury in this mock trial, drawn from a public that was far too willing to accept a simplistic and illogical explanation of the assassination, a “jury made up of putrid mass” in the words of The Fall. At the end of On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

Oswald Defence Lawyer
by Steve Hanley and Mark E. Smith

How could he cope with a flash in my past?
Through my vid earphone amp I had to tap
I relate the tract
Oswald Defense Lawyer

Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of the Mark Twain
Oswald Defense Lawyer

How do you think that jury made up of putrid mass
Embraced theory of triangle bullet lines
Turning in circles twice
Then incredible, marvelous, exiting back of mind?

And Oswald’s Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Mark Twain
Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Walt Whitman
Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Mark Twain

Decent lawyer fishes in buckskin hat
Raccoons drown beneath his embarking mass
When he sees CIA shit flying over head fast
Goody goody looks up
In cloudless sky enhancing theory of zigzag bulletline

Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of the Mark Twain
Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of the Mark Twain

He’s liberal and insane,
He’s caught the good news horse
His opposite is vain
The cardboard fake in the witness stand
He’s got an interview in Spin magazine
He loves the magazine
His mouth is in his brain
The prosecution lawyer
Turns himself to butter

Oswald Defense Lawyer
Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Walt Whitman
Oswald Defense Lawyer

Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Walt Whitman

Oswald Defense Lawyer

Cheap rifle photo touched up
Drawn on sky
Oswald’s head added on a commie tie

While Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Mark Twain
Oswald Defense Lawyer
Embraces the scruffed corpse of Walt Whitman

JFK Assassination Song: “11 MPH (Abe Zapp Ruder Version)” by Was (Not Was)

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

Of all the tracks about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, “11 MPH [Abe Zapp Ruder Version]” by Was (Not Was) on the 1988 album What Up, Dog? is perhaps the most concise in making a case for conspiracy. In the first verse Was (Not Was) describe Lee Harvey Oswald as a loser who had learned to kill while serving in the Marines. “11 MPH” takes issue with the Warren Commission’s ruling that Oswald acted alone, however, describing him as the perfect patsy, a “radical nut” who was “made to order”. Was (Not Was) are explicit about their conspiracy theory, pointing to “The CIA, the Cubans and the underworld bosses” as the culprits. This song even goes so far as to establish a motive for the assassination. The act that triggered the assassination, according to “11 MPH”, was when “JFK told Khrushchev I’ll leave Castro alone/If you take away those missiles/They’re too damn close to home.”

Was (Not Was) present Kennedy as a heroic figure, venturing into Texas, which was hostile territory for him. “JFK went down to Dallas to cool some heels in the oil palace/Unfriendly country, but he was not afraid.” The title of this song, “11 MPH” refers to the speed of JFK’s motorcade when the shooting started. In his book On the Trail of the Assassins: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Murder of President Kennedy, Jim Garrison stated that Kennedy’s motorcade route through Dealey Plaza had been mysteriously changed at the last minute. Rather than proceeding down Main Street, the motorcade turned right on Houston Street and then made a hard left turn onto Elm Street that forced Kennedy’s limousine to slow down as it passed the Texas School Book Depository. This change, Garrison argued, would force the motorcade to slow down, making it easier for Lee Harvey Oswald to hit his target as he fired at JFK from his sniper’s nest on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Though the notion that Kennedy’s motorcade route was somehow changed has been debunked, it has often been repeated as fact. Though “11 MPH” does not make any mention of a sinister route alteration, by focusing on the speed of the motorcade at time of the shooting “They turned their limousine/Down Elm Street slow and clean”, not to mention that this was “At the time and place agreed”, Was (Not Was) imply the route of the motorcade was part of the conspiracy.

Map of the motorcade route from On the Trail of Assassins by Jim Garrison

Was (Not Was) released two versions of this track. The UK issue of What Up Dog? contains “Eleven Miles an Hour”. The US release, however, contains the remixed “11 MPH [Abe Zapp Ruder Version]” The assassination of JFK was captured vividly in the Zapruder film, the infamous home movie Kennedy’s motorcade through Dealey Plaza taken by Abraham Zapruder, or “Abe Zapp Ruder” as Was (Not Was) call him. The Abe Zapp Ruder Version opens with some sound effects and a voice yelling “Hey Kennedy! Look Out!  No!” and the order of the first two verses is reversed.

11 MPH (Abe Zapp Ruder Version)
by David Was/Don Was

Lee Harvey O. didn’t have no daddy
He never caught a break, he never drove a Caddy
Joined the Marines to learn a skill
And that he did, he learned how to kill

At eleven miles an hour
Such a deadly speed
Eleven miles an hour
At the time and place agreed
They turned their limousine
Down Elm Street slow and clean
Lead fell like a shower
At eleven miles an hour

JFK went down to Dallas
To cool some heels in the oil palace
Unfriendly country, but he was not afraid
He would wave to the people
From a passing motorcade


JFK told Khrushchev I’ll leave Castro alone
If you take away those missiles
They’re too damn close to home
The CIA, the Cubans and the underworld bosses
Decided that was it, they had to cut their losses


Lee Harvey O. was made to order
A radical nut, a drifter and a boarder
Earl Warren got a version out fast
America was happy, the patsy had been cast