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.

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.