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

Chorus:
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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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