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

Chorus:
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

Chorus

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?
[gunshot]
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)

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