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

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)

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

[refrain]
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

[refrain]

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

[refrain]

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

[refrain]

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

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

JFK Assassination Songs: “He Was a Friend of Mine” by The Byrds

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That event inspired a host of songs across a variety of genres, some became well known while others quickly faded into obscurity. This is the first post in a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

“He Was a Friend of Mine” is the last song on side one of The Byrds’ 1965 album Turn! Turn! Turn!“He Was a Friend of Mine” dates back to at least the 1934 when John Lomax recorded James “Iron Head” Baker singing “Shorty George” at Central State Prison Farm in Sugar Land, Texas. Lead Belly also recorded “Shorty George” in March, 1935. Bob Dylan was singing a version of the song from late 1961 until the middle of 1962 under the title “He Was a Friend of Mine” that he had learned from Eric von Schmidt. As sung by Bob Dylan, “He Was a Friend of Mine” laments the death of a friend who died penniless on the road, “He was just a poor boy along way from home”. Dylan did not release “He Was a Friend of Mine” at that time, but the song surfaced on The Bootleg Series, Volumes. 1-3: Rare And Unreleased, 1961-1991. Other folk artists were keenly aware of what Dylan was doing and adapted songs in his repertoire. Jim McGuinn had adapted “He Was a Friend of Mine” for The Byrds before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but after that event McGuinn rewrote the lyrics of the song so that The Byrds’ version is a solemn elegy to the fallen President, lamenting the passing of a “leader of a nation for such a precious time”. He claims to have written the revised lyrics the day of the assassination.

He Was a Friend of Mine
by Jim McGuinn/Traditional

He was a friend of mine
He was a friend of mine
His killing had no purpose, no reason or rhyme
He was a friend of mine

He was in Dallas town
He was in Dallas town
From a sixth floor window a gunner shot him down
He died in Dallas town

He never knew my name
He never knew my name
Though I never met him I knew him just the same
Oh, he was a friend of mine

Leader of a nation for such a precious time
He was a friend of mine

McGuinn’s lyrics seem to suggest that he accepts the ruling of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of JFK. After singing, “His killing had no purpose, no reason or rhyme” he describes the shooting, “From a sixth floor window a gunman shot him down.” When The Byrds performed this song at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, however, David Crosby told the audience that he did not accept this explanation of the JFK assassination. Prefacing his remarks with “I’m sure that they’ll edit this out,” he told the audience, “When President Kennedy was killed, he was not killed by one man. He was shot from a number of different directions by different guns. The story has been suppressed, witnesses have been killed, and this is your country, ladies and gentlemen.” And after the song was over Crosby said, “Thank you. As I say, they will censor it I’m sure. They can’t afford to have things like that on the air. It’d blow their image.” The rest of the Byrds were reportedly upset with Crosby because his remarks resulted in a lack of television coverage of the Byrds performance, not to mention that Crosby performed the following day with Buffalo Springfield without informing any the members of the Byrds.

The Umbrella Man

On the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, filmmaker Errol Morris released a short film called The Umbrella Man, which can be viewed on the New York Times website. In this film Errol Morris interviews Josiah “Tink” Thompson, author of Six Seconds in Dallas: A Micro-Study of the Kennedy Assassination, about a strange figure seen holding an umbrella in Dealey Plaza on the day of the assassination. On a beautiful sunny day, a man opened an umbrella just as the president’s motorcade passed by. Conspiracy theorists have long speculated about the role the Umbrella Man may have played in the assassination.

The Umbrella Man appears in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, which presents the assassination as a coup d’etat organized at the highest levels of the U.S. government. The Umbrella Man is shown a number of times in the film, and he appears to be providing some sort of signal to the assassins. In the version of the screenplay that appeared in JFK: The Book of the Film, Stone and fellow screenwriter Zachary Sklar make this explicit. In his courtroom speculation, Jim Garrison describes the events in Dealey Plaza. He tells the court that after the third shot is fired, “the umbrella man is signalling ‘He’s not dead. Keep shooting.’” Though this line didn’t make it into the theatrical release, the Umbrella Man is shown in the film acting in a sinister manner.

The Umbrella Man is also seen in an episode of the X-Files that includes the assassination of JFK. In “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man“, the Smoking Man is shown as the real assassin, firing not from the Texas School Book Depository or from the Grassy Knoll, but from a storm sewer drain as the president’s motorcade passes by. From this position he relies on the Umbrella Man to signal when he should fire.

The X-Files is fiction, of course (right?), but Oliver Stone’s film is presented as fact, or at least as a plausible alternative to the Warren Commission’s ruling that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. as Oliver Stone explains in the director’s commentary included on the DVD release of JFK,

I mean, so many weird stories. But the point is, it was military because it was precisely done, as Fletcher Prouty points out in detail. And so was the cover-up. And so was the confusion. That’s all you can do, is you can point up 99… 144 pieces of weird evidence in a film like this because it is a deconstruction of the Warren Commission. As I call it a counter-myth not a… to the myth of the Warren Commission. It was my counter-myth. All I can do is say, “here are 140 pieces of deconstruction,” and if someone says, “well I can prove you wrong here: 10, 11, 12.” Doesn’t matter… 4, 3, 2 times. Fine. But what about the other things you cannot disprove? Y’know, eyewitnesses. This, that. The weirdness of certain things. I mean so many weird things happened. Mathematically, you pile that into a computer, I think you have a million ot one chance of a lone shot… of a lone killer. It’s just too much, you see. Too much circumstantial and primary evidence.

Stone’s commentary is included on the following clip. Note the appearance of the Umbrella Man opening his umbrella (1:19) as if to signal that the assassination is “on”, pumping his umbrella within the view of the sniper on the Grassy Knoll (2:45), and continuing to hold his umbrella open until that assassin fires the shot that hits Kennedy in the head (3:30).

In The Umbrella Man, Errol Morris is not taking issue with Oliver Stone, but this film serves as a counter to the sort of logic Stone employs in the construction of his film. Oliver Stone presents a dizzying array of images of conspiracy. Stone suggests that a skeptic might be able to provde him wrong on individual points, but that does not diminish the general idea he is putting across. In Errol Morris’s film, however, Tink Thompson presents an alternative viewpoint, not against conspiracy, but about the nature of investigation itself.

In December 1967, John Updike was writing Talk of the Town for the New Yorker. And he spent most of that Talk of the Town column talking about the Umbrella Man. He said that his learning of the existence of the Umbrella Man made him speculate that in historical research there may be a dimension similar to the quantum dimension in phsycial reality. If you put any event under a microscope you will find a whole dimension of completely weird, incredible things going on. It’s as if there’s the macro level of historical research where things sort of obey natural laws and usual things happen and unusual things don’t happen. And then there’s this other level where everything is really weird.

In 1976 the U.S. House of Representatives established the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to investigate the recent assassinations of political figures including JFK. The HSCA released a photo of the Umbrella Man and asked the public to help locate him. Dallas resident Louie Steven Witt came forward, unaware that he had been a figure of controversy. In his testimony he described how he took the umbrella with him to Dealey Plaza to heckle the president. His protest was not against anything John F. Kennedy had done, but rather was directed at his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who had served as ambassador to the U.K. in the years leading up to World War II. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., had supported Neville Chamberlain’s policy of “appeasement” toward Nazi Germany. Neville Chamberlain was often seen holding an umbrella, and the image of the umbrella became associated with appeasement. In this cartoon, David Low, cartoonist for the London Evening Standard, attached a label reading “appeasement” to an umbrella in the mouth of a tiger covered by swastikas.

Witt, then, was under the impression that John F. Kennedy would somehow recognize the symbolism of the umbrella as he was passing through Dealey Plaza, some 25 years after Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations with Adolf Hitler. See Witt’s testimony before the HSCA. Takes all kinds… Tink Thompson’s view of Witt’s testimony is,

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-sinster, perfectly valid explanantions for that fact. A cautionary tale.

Back and to the left… Back and to the left… Back and to the left…