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
Take this blood from my veins
And paint me a masterpiece of a parade
A parade of the dead son.
(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)
Last man standing is a joke
In spite of the
Glorious head shots
(Bleeds into red)
Head shots and 8x10s
In exchange for your conspiracy
(Bleeds into red)
We’ll give thanks
(Bleeds into red)
Stop and you’ll decide
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
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
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
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.