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JFK Assassination Song: “Brain of J” by Pearl Jam

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.

“Brain of J” is the opening track on Pearl Jam‘s 1998 album Yield. Lead vocalist Eddie Vedder wrote the lyrics and guitarist Mike McCready wrote the music. The first line of this song is “Who’s got the brain of JFK?”, indicating that the “J” in the title stands for John F. Kennedy. Pearl Jam had the JFK assassination on their minds, apparently, as the documentary about the making of this album was called Single Video Theory, a play on the “single bullet theory” in the JFK assassination.

The question Eddie Vedder asks, “Who’s got the brain of JFK?”, is one that has vexed conspiracy theorists for years. Rather than conducting the autopsy in Dallas, John F. Kennedy’s body was transported to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland to be examined. The doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas who had tried to revive Kennedy had described head wounds that seemed to indicate that the shot that struck Kennedy in the head had come from the front. At Bethesda, however, the autopsy concluded that the shot had struck Kennedy from the rear, which would be consistent with the story of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman killing Kennedy from the sixth story window in the Texas School Book Depository. Critics, however, have pointed out how poorly the autopsy was carried out, and that JFK’s brain was never fully analyzed. The only way to determine the path of the bullet that killed JFK would be to dissect the brain but this was not done. In Crime of the Century: The Kennedy Assassination from a Historian’s Perspective, Michael L. Kurtz writes, “A note of the autopsy report states, ‘in the interests of preserving the specimen, coronal sections are not made.’ ”

In the wake of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK (1991), Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which “mandated that all assassination-related material be housed in a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).” The Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) was organized to review all of the records associated with the JFK assassination. The most shocking conclusion the ARRB reached was that a different brain had been substituted for Kennedy’s brain in the autopsy photos. FBI agent Francis X. O’Neill Jr., who was present at the autopsy in Bethesda, stated, “there was not too much of the brain left.” He reported that “more than half of the brain was missing” when it was removed from Kennedy’s skull. Yet the photos of Kennedy’s brain taken later show a brain that appears to be much more intact than that described by O’Neill. Also, photos taken around the time of the autopsy are not included in the materials at NARA. Navy photographer John Stringer, who took the initial photos of Kennedy’s brain testified that he used a different kind of film than the pictures that were included in the JFK assassination records, and that his pictures showed a different brain.

And then the brain went missing. Robert F. Kennedy oversaw the transfer of the autopsy evidence and other JFK materials to NARA. He then had the brain transferred to a different office so that it would never become an artifact for display. In 1968 Robert F. Kennedy himself was assassinated and records of what happened to JFK’s brain are incomplete. Could it be, as the National Enquirer reported, that Ted Kennedy ended up with JFK’s brain? In any case, questions still surround the issue of JFK’s brain, and Pearl Jam suggest that the public has been manipulated, “You’ve been taught/Whipped into shape now they got you in line.” This deception was perpetrated to preserve the existing order, states Pearl Jam with a play on words, “Stand behind the stripes/There will be order so give it a good mind.” The song contains a warning, however, that no secret can be kept forever. The truth will be revealed and when that happens, “the whole world will be different soon/The whole world will be relieved.”

Brain of J.
by Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready

Who’s got the brain of JFK?
What’s it mean to us now?
Oh, it’s sound insurance
But I can tell you, this is no lie

The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved
The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved

You, you’ve been taught
Whipped into shape, now they got you in line
Stand behind the stripes
There will be order, so give it a good mind

The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved
The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved

And by name
The name they gave me
The name I’m letting go

The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved
The whole world will be different soon
The whole world will be relieved
The whole world will be different soon…soon

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