JFK Assassination Reference in “American Pie” by Don McLean

I believe “American Pie” by Don McLean makes a reference to the JFK assassination. “American Pie” is the (early) Baby Boomer coming-of-age story, as the chronology of the song runs roughly from 1959 to 1971, the year “America Pie” was released. The song is about disillusion, and each of the song’s six verses describes a moment of despair (“the day the music died”) for that generation. Most of these moments revolve around music and its potentially redemptive powers, but the song also makes cryptic references to larger political issues of the time.
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Frame of Mind

With a few minor revisions, this is a post that appeared on the old Turn Me On, Dead Man blog on October 24, 2009. With the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination approaching (Nov. 22, 2013) I decided to revisit this topic.

A JFK assassination movie that nearly slipped by me is Frame of Mind. This movie went straight to DVD in 2009, but it isn’t all that bad. Also, the film has a particularly interesting cast. Carl T. Evans, who starred, directed and co-wrote Frame of Mind with Charles Kipps, plays the character of David Secca, a New York City cop who decides to take a job with the local police force in Carlstadt, New Jersey. Secca returns to Carlstadt to take up a quiet life and raise his kids, but as soon as he and his wife move into their new house he discovers a piece of film taken at the scene of the JFK was assassinated that pulls him into a 40+-year-old conspiracy.
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JFK Assassination Song: “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” by XTC

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 Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” which was released as a single and was the lead-off track on XTC’s 1992 LP Nonsuch, isn’t specifically about the JFK assassination. According to songwriter Andy Partridge, “I just started writing about this perfect sort of Jesusy character who happened to have a pumpkin for a head.” Taking his inspiration from a rotting pumpkin just outside their studio, Andy Partridge was trying to write a song about political martyrdom in the mold of a “Bob Dylan-style epic”. The instrumentation of this track is also inspired by Dylan and features a harmonica. According to guitarist Dave Gregory, “I just came up with some Harrisonesque guitar and we added some Hammond organ to give it that Al Kopper, Blonde on Blonde feel.” Some of the lyrics are suggestive of JFK, such as the line “Plots and sex scandals failed outright”. The song’s reference to the Vatican could also be interpreted as a reference to JFK, as he was the first Catholic president of the United States. Still, each verse of the song remains very general and does not commit itself to a specific historical figure.

The video for this song, however, is another story, as it contains a number of visual references to JFK. The video shows a motorcade in a vintage car with a Kennedyesque figure waving from the back seat and Andy Partridge is shown holding a vintage movie camera, suggesting the Zapruder film. The video also shows a woman who looks much like Marilyn Monroe, with whom JFK allegedly had an affair. Throughout the video a set of guns is shown next to text reading “Both Brothers,” referring perhaps to the assassinations of both John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy.  In addition, a number of times a little boy is shown looking on, which serves as a reminder of John-John, who famously saluted as his father’s funeral procession passed. According to XTC: Song Stories by Neville Farmer, Andy Partridge was “justly dismissive” of the JFK-themed video. He also expressed jealousy that the Crash Test Dummies had a hit with their version of the song, which was included on the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack. The Crash Test Dummies made no references to the JFK assassination in their version of the song or its video.

The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
by Andy Partridge
performed by XTC

Peter Pumpkinhead came to town
Spreading wisdom and cash around
Fed the starving and housed the poor
Showed the Vatican what gold’s for

But he made too many enemies
Of the people who would keep us on our knees
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin
Who’ll pray for Peter Pumpkinhead?
Oh, my!

Peter Pumpkinhead pulled them all
Emptied churches and shopping malls
Where he spoke it would raise the roof
Peter Pumpkinhead told the truth


Peter Pumpkinhead put to shame
Governments who would slur his name
Plots and sex scandals failed outright
Peter merely said any kind of love is alright


Peter Pumpkinhead was too good
Had him nailed to a chunk of wood
He died grinning on live TV
Hanging there he looked a lot like you
And an awful lot like me!


Don’t it make you want to cry-oh?

JFK Assassination Song: “Bullets For You” by Blurt

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 construction of the Berlin Wall began on August 13, 1961, as the Cold War was intensifying. By the summer of 1963 the Berlin Wall completely encircled West Berlin, leaving that city physically isolated. On June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy gave a speech from the Rathaus Schöneberg near the Berlin Wall to show his support for West Berlin. To declare his solidarity with the citizens of that city he used the German phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner).

The crowd responded enthusiastically but an urban legend has since arisen that the people of Berlin were chuckling to themselves that Kennedy had used improper grammar and had actually declared that he was a jelly donut.

Wikipedia points to Len Deighton’s 1983 spy novel Berlin Game as an “early reference” to this misconception, and they quote the following passage from the book:

“Ich bin ein Berliner,” I said. It was a joke. A Berliner is a doughnut. The day after President Kennedy made his famous proclamation, Berlin cartoonists had a field day with talking doughnuts.

While the narrator of Deighton’s novel was presented as someone who was less than reliable, in his review of the book in the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt repeated this as fact. “Here is where President Kennedy announced, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’ and thereby amused the city’s populace because in the local parlance a ‘Berliner’ is a doughnut.” Though Kennedy’s supposed grammatical error has since been debunked it has been repeated by otherwise reputable major mainstream media outlets.

In 1984, Ted Milton, leader of Blurt, wrote the song “Bullets for You”  around Kennedy’s “donut” reference, drawing an ironic comparison between the hole in a donut and the hole in JFK’s head when he was assassinated.

Bullets For You
by Ted Milton
performed by Blurt

Bullets for you

I am a donut
There’s a hole in my head
Ich bin ein Berliner
That’s what Jack said
That’s what Jack said
And Jack was not red (?)
That’s what Jack said
And now Jack is dead

Bullets for you

As humorous as Blurt’s song may be, no one has made Kennedy’s Berlin Wall speech as funny as Eddie Izzard.

JFK Assassination Song: Conspiracy Rock

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.

“Conspiracy Rock” is a parody of the popular Schoolhouse Rock series that aired on ABC Saturday morning children’s programming from 1973 to 1985, and was revived in the 1990s. “Conspiracy Rock” was produced by students at Emerson College in 1992.


I recently corresponded with Scott Rosann, who directed “Conspiracy Rock”. As Scott Rosann explains on the “Conspiracy Rock” YouTube page,

This video debuted at Emerson College in 1992, as part of a live show by the Emerson comedy troupe This Is Pathetic. After making the rounds at several broadcast outlets (including SNL, where it is rumored that Al Franken personally savaged it as unfaithful to conspiracy theory canon), the bit finally aired multiple times on Comedy Central during the week of November 22, 1993.

Four and a half years later, Robert Smigel aired a similarly titled bit on SNL’s “Saturday TV Funhouse.” (The producers are content to view this as a coincidence and not a conspiracy.) A remixed version of the film also appeared as an Official Selection in the 2000 Sundance Film Festival.

This silly little film would never have been possible without the brilliance and talent of animator Jason Scott Sadofsky, and of co-writers Michael D’Alonzo, Stephen Johnson, and Eric Drysdale. Thanks also to vocalists Shannon Hart Cleary and Carolyn Forno, and to the cast members (past and present) and supportive audiences of This Is Pathetic.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What gave you the idea to make this video? It’s a dead-on parody of the Schoolhouse Rock videos.

Scott Rosann: Thanks. From 1989-1992 I was a writer and performer in an Emerson College sketch group called “This Is Pathetic.” The troupe would put up a big show each semester that would run for two or three nights, with a few smaller shows mixed in during the school year.

I’m sure Pathetic had been making videos to play in between live sketches for years (Emerson had really active film & TV programs, with lots of equipment you could steal and talent you could tap)…but when I got in with my writing partner, Mike D’Alonzo, the filmed bits were the main thing *I* wanted to focus on. I was a so-so performer, but I was crazy about SNL-style parodies, so I put most of my obsessive energy into producing those.

We’d just done a really big 10th anniversary show in 1991, and we’d made some pretty ambitious videos for that. Roughly two-thirds of the troupe were set to graduate, and so we wanted to top ourselves for our last show.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Quite a few JFK-related songs came out in the wake of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK (1991). Were you at all influenced by JFK?

Scott Rosann: Almost definitely, yes. At the time, people were reacting to that movie like it was a documentary; it really inflamed people’s passions. So it certainly would have fit our high opinions of ourselves to tap into that for a comedy show.

I want to say I was the one who said, “Let’s make a Schoolhouse Rock of that.” I’d been wanting to do a Schoolhouse Rock about SOMETHING, so I may have sprung the idea…but Mike and the others were on it so quickly and brought so much to it that I hardly think it matters.

Two quick things:

  1. One of our housemates at the time, Jason Scott Sadofsky (now Jason Scott)—who was a preternaturally talented animator and is now a preternaturally talented historian, documentarian, and raconteur—was our one-man animation army on that sketch, and he’s written beautifully on how the film was made: http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/1299
  2. Three guys who are MUCH funnier and much more musical than I am wrote the song: the aforementioned Mike D’Alonzo, Steve Johnson, and Eric Drysdale. All three are geniuses, all three work professionally in entertainment to this day. I probably helped. Two marvelous singers, Shannon Hart Cleary and Carolyn Forno, sang our lyrics to the completely unchanged tune of “A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing” by Lynn Ahrens. The seven of them are “Conspiracy Rock.”

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Were all of the people involved in making this video college students or were others involved?

Scott Rosann: Yes. Everyone involved (except for Ahrens, from whom we stole outright) was an Emerson student.

The sketch first played during our spring 1992 show, entitled “The Concourse of Humanity.” (It had a loose—very loose—theme centered around a Hall of Presidents-style museum ride.) There were some really good sketches in that show…and some clunkers that I KNOW I was partially responsible for…and “Conspiracy Rock.” Which that audience really, really responded to.

Schoolhouse Rock hadn’t been on the air for almost 10 years at that point. There were these shabby VHS tapes of it that you could buy, or that would get copied and passed around. (We had one, which we used to accurately copy the look and feel.) But you had to be a real nerd to have been watching those. But EVERYONE had grown up with it, so I guess the mixture of that childhood memory and all that bloated Oliver Stone nonsense really clicked. (That part I will take some credit for: I figured it would work, and it worked. And I was really relieved and grateful for that response. That was a nice way to go out, sketch group-wise.)

A year after that, in 1993, ABC put Schoolhouse Rock back on the air, and so that rejoined the zeitgeist. But that was also the year of the 30th anniversary of the JFK assassination. All the “Conspiracy Rock” creators had graduated and were pursuing fitful careers in comedy and entertainment…and a tape of some of that Pathetic material made its way to comedy agent Barry Katz. I don’t remember who passed it to Katz, but after a very weird meeting that I DO remember, that tape was sent over to SNL. There was talk of their buying it to air close to the 30th anniversary.

Here’s where it gets hazy for me; I didn’t hear it from Katz, so he must have told somebody who told me. Folks at SNL liked it. Tom Schiller stands out in my mind as someone who went to bat for it. But the crank-di-tutti-cranks around SNL, Al Franken, HATED it. (Turns out he’s a huge conspiracy buff, and the sketch was too loose with the historical “facts” as he understood them. He’s not wrong, exactly…but we all figured accuracy was hardly the point of the bit. BUT…no shoddy conspiracy cartoon was going to get on his SNL, so down it went.)

The other bidder for “Conspiracy Rock” was the still-fairly-new Comedy Central network. They had significantly less money and a smaller audience than SNL, but they were extremely willing. So we agreed they’d air the sketch a handful of times during the anniversary week, in a deal I like to describe as “a couple hundred dollars and some hats…and we never got the hats.” (I do still have an air check of one of those broadcasts, though. God love old-timey Comedy Central.)

There wasn’t really enough money to split between so many dedicated participants, so we threw a party in Times Square on New Years Eve, 1994, with those proceeds. Many, many Emerson comedians reunited in that cramped Best Western hotel room. A very large sandwich was ordered, much of which probably wound up on the sidewalk, whole or partially digested. If any of your readers have photos of that night, I’ll gladly pay them a lot of money—and some hats—to see them.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: I’m curious to know if you’ve ever had any correspondence with Robert Smigel

Scott Rosann: I assume you’re asking because in 1998, he produced an SNL sketch under the TV Funhouse banner called “Conspiracy Theory Rock.” It aired once and was pulled from circulation because it dared to suggest that GE unduly influences NBC’s entertainment and news output, up to and including the wrongful firing of comedian Norm Macdonald. (It’s NOT about the JFK assassination…although that gets a mention.) It is a fact that Smigel was at SNL when our tape was there.

I’ve never spoken with Smigel. My pal Eric Drysdale (who, as I noted earlier, is a co-creator of “Conspiracy Rock”) went on to work closely with Smigel, and I’m sure they’re still friends. I’ve never asked Eric whether Smigel was aware of our sketch; I’m sure he never asked Smigel. To me, it doesn’t matter even a little whether Smigel had seen it or not. His bit is really, really funny. I just watched it on YouTube and laughed out loud; you can ask my wife. It had its (brief, interesting) time, and ours had a (brief, interesting) time of its own.

“Conspiracy Rock” did have another pleasant audience experience in 2000, when it was selected for the shorts program at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. I was allowed to represent it and enjoyed a gratuitous director credit…but as I said, it’s really the work and property of the people I’ve mentioned. And now it lives on YouTube, and is fortunate to be remembered on Turn Me On, Dead Man and elsewhere. It’s a silly little bit, from a silly little time, but it meant a lot to the people involved—much like the things and events it parodies.

JFK Assassination Song: “Now Your Dead” by Fear

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.

Fear was a key group in the Los Angeles punk rock scene in the 1970s. AllMusic credits Fear, along with Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, with shaping the distinctive sound and style of punk rock in L.A. Fear has been around more or less continuously since 1977 (that is to say Lee Ving, frontman and the only continuous member of the band, has returned to Fear from time to time over the years), but they released only one 7″ record with their original line up of Lee Ving (vocals), Derf Scratch (bass, vocals), Burt Good (guitar) and Johnny Backbeat (drums). On the A side was “I Love Livin in the City” and on the B side was “Now Your Dead (Musta Bin Somthin You Said)”. Both songs were written by Lee Ving so it’s hard to say whether the band shared his disdain for apostrophes. The 7″ came out in 1978 but “Now Your Dead” was not issued on CD until it was included on reissues of More Beer (now available on Fear’s own record label).

“Now Your Dead” is something of a punk version of “Abraham, Martin and John” only without a reference to Abraham Lincoln and without the sentimentality. In concise two-line verses, Lee Ving’s lyrics cover the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, and Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby each get a verse, as well. The subtitle of the song appears to blame the victims for their fates (“musta bin somthin you said”). As is evident in Penelope Spheeris’s 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, however, Lee Ving was primarily a provocateur and he delivered his lyrics—as well as baited his audience—in a tongue-in-cheek manner (Trouser Press compares his stage presence to insult comic Don Rickles). Still, choosing to write a song about the assassinations of the progressive leaders of an earlier generation suggests a certain amount of reverence, and Lee Ving even expresses some anger about the lack of justice in these cases. Lee Ving credits “the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA” with carrying out JFK’s assassination. The reason a conspiracy of this magnitude hasn’t been exposed is that the public is too willing to believe the “lone nut” explanations for these crimes (“And now fools believe what they read”).

Now Your Dead
by Lee Ving
performed by Fear

Musta been somethin’ you said
Musta been somethin’ you said
And now people believe what they read
Musta been bad, now you’re dead

Poor Johnny got put away
By the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA


Poor Martin, people didn’t like you, too
So they did what they had to do


Poor Bobby wasn’t even lookin’
Pretty soon he wasn’t even cookin’


Lee Harvey, some fools still say
You were just set up that day


Jack Ruby, you’re so slick with your gun
They believe you did it just for fun


Musta been something you believed
Y’all die blamelessly

Musta been somethin’ you said
Musta been somethin’ you said
And now fools believe what they read
Musta been bad, now you’re dead

Fear baiting the audience in The Decline of Western Civilization

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

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

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

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

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

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

Brain of J.
by Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready

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

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

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

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

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

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

JFK Assassination Song: “Bush Killed Kennedy” by the Strap-Ons

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 documentary Dark Legacy (2009) by John Hankey puts forth a conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination that implicates George H.W. Bush. The basic argument is that George H.W. Bush was at the center of the conspiracy to kill JFK, which was carried out by anti-Castro paramilitaries with CIA connections. George H.W. Bush denied being involved with the CIA (until he was made Director of Central Intelligence in 1976), but Dark Legacy shows a memo written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dated November 29, 1963, one week after the JFK assassination, where he refers to a “misguided anti-Castro group” and states that, “information was furnished to Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency.” The documentary establishes the connections between George H.W. Bush to other key figures in the conspiracy, and further connects these people to the wealthy American Nazi sympathizers during World War II. Dark Legacy tells a troubling story and even if you have a healthy dose of skepticism, this movie will make you question the forces that govern this country.


Dark Legacy is an update to an earlier film called JFK II: The Bush Connection, which was released in 2003. Punk band The Strap-Ons saw the earlier movie presumably because shortly after that they recorded “Bush Killed Kennedy“, which was included on their 2004 album Punk On Punk Crime. In the opening lines of the song the Strap-Ons assert that “Bush killed the Kennedys/I know it”. The song deplores the power of the ruling class and expresses discontent about the injustice and inequality that result from their actions.


Bush Killed Kennedy
by The Strap-Ons

Bush killed the Kennedys
I know it
A land of sheep with enemies
Don’t blow it
Tacos cheap for the little guy
Oil shores, your slice of pie
Policies feed poverty
No more trees just property

South there’s a drug war
To get me a little weed
Tim McVeigh in his own way
Just saved me
Lost in love, found in war
The riot hose, the broken shores
Justice out on the stem
Street war, let us in

Bush killed the Kennedys
I know it, man
A cowboy hat justice rules
This country is broke
A little Texas moral sleaze
Fixed votes, no missiles please
Broken dreams
Hopes that seemed so close

JFK Assassination Song: “Zapruder’s Film” by Mick Farren & Jack Lancaster

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.

Counterculture icon Mick Farren died earlier this week, July 27th. He initially came to fame as a member of the Deviants, who released three albums in the 1960s. Though associated with the counterculture, Mick Farren was no peace-and-love hippie. His work unflinchingly explored a darker view of his times. He recorded only sporadically after leaving the Deviants, instead turning his attention to writing. He was a prolific author, writing several nonfiction books (many indulging conspiracy theories) and more than 20 novels, mainly speculative fiction. He also wrote “The Titanic Sails at Dawn” for the New Musical Express, which anticipated the punk rock revolt against the music scene of the mid-1970s.

In 1995 Mick Farren collaborated with Jack Lancaster on The Deathray Tapes, which describes a dystopian landscape. The cover of the album shows a toy gun but the spoken word pieces on this album describe violence that is all too real. One of the tracks on The Deathray Tapes, “Zapruder’s Film,” expresses the shock of the JFK assassination and the profound disillusion that followed over Jack Lancaster’s mournful accompaniment.

Zapruder’s Film
by Mick Farren & Jack Lancaster

The mass intoned to muffled drums
The child and the black horse come
In that pink haloed vapored brain
A hope that never comes again
An innocence is crushed beneath
Dark shadows that deny belief
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

And whom and why and what it tolls
Goes gunmen on a grassy knoll
Bright day back seat Cadillac
Our passion cannot roll it back
Or any doubt we write the end
No golden age, no gold to lend
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

Head jerks forward, head jerks back
Triangulation, planned attack
Concrete basement, lips are sealed
And ruthless men have cut their deals
And we will never trust again
The public masks of ruthless men
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

And echoes print that awful sound
And still they violate the wounds
The king has fallen, harvest fails
We enter time of guns and jails
A lifetime of no truth unfolds
An image of a head explodes
And down the years no time to kill
Zapruder’s film is rolling still

Zapruder’s film is rolling still

The Zapruder film has had a profound impact on our culture and Mick Farren captures the impact of the raw images of this 26-second film in his passionate poetry. He describes not only the graphic violence of the film (“the pink haloed vapored brain” and “An image of a head explodes”) but also the atmosphere of distrust that has followed the events it captured (“an innocence is crushed beneath”). Mick Farren points to a conspiracy (“Triangulation, planned attack/Concrete basement, lips are sealed/And ruthless men have cut their deals”) where the president was executed with military precision (“triangulation, planned attack”) and the conspirators have gotten away with murder (“Goes gunman on a grassy knoll”). Mick Farren asserts that the public’s faith in our institutions has been shattered (“And we will never trust again/The public masks of ruthless men”) and that we no longer trust one another (“We enter a time of guns and jails”). In Mick Farren’s view the Zapruder film opens our eyes to a darker truth about how the world operates and presages the bleak outlook that has become the hallmark of our times (“And down the years no time to kill/Zapruder’s film is rolling still”).

JFK Assassination Song: Dealey Plaza (Frame Z-313) by Palo Alto

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 Zapruder film is a home movie taken by Abraham Zapruder of JFK’s motorcade through Daley Plaza on November 22, 1963. Abraham Zapruder was the owner of “Jennifer Juniors, Inc.” a clothing manufacturer with offices located in the Dal-Tex Building across the street from the Texas School Book Depository. Zapruder was a JFK supporter and on the advice of his assistant he decided to make a film of JFK as he passed through Dealey Plaza. He positioned himself on a concrete pedestal on the northwest side of Elm Street and he used his Bell & Howell Zoomatic 8mm “Director’s Series” camera to film the motorcade. Zapruder was not the only one to bring a movie camera to Dealey Plaza that day. In fact, Orville Nix, filming from the opposite side of Elm Street, captured images of Abraham Zapruder in his film of JFK’s motorcade through Dealey Plaza.


Abrham Zapruder as seen in a frame of the Orville Nix film

What distinguishes the Zapruder film is that it is the most complete of the home movies taken of JFK’s assassination and, because of Zapruder’s position, it also captures the fatal head shot the most clearly. The Zapruder Film lasts 26.6 seconds and each of its 486 frames has been numbered. The most grisly image is captured in frame 313. Below is a thumbnail image of this frame. The Zapruder film, and this frame in particular, is still shocking. Click on the thumbnail of frame 313 below to see a larger rendering of it. Be warned, however, that the graphic violence captured in this frame is disturbing.


Jacques Barbéri, Denis Frajerman, Philippe Masson and Philippe Perreaudin formed Palo Alto in Paris in 1989 and released several albums of experimental electronic music through the 1990s. With the departure of Philippe Masson, the group shifted more toward improvisational performances, often playing with guest artists. They largely stopped producing new releases but in 2003 they founded Halte Aux Records !, a label dedicated to releases by French bands with a similar focus on experimental electronic music. The same year, Palo Alto experienced a renewed focus on industrial music and their performances began incorporating more moving images and texts. In 2007, Palo Alto released Terminal Sidéral: Live 05-06-07 Music and Films on the Optical Sound label. One of the tracks on this release, “Dealey Plaza (Frame Z-313),” refers to the Zapruder film and its most infamous frame. Recently I corresponded with Philippe Perreaudin about this track.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Would you explain what you were trying to express in this track?

Philippe Perreaudin: Palo Alto is a group of improvised music. We create musical atmospheres without wanting to deal with a particular topic. Then, when we listen the results of these improvisations, we seek to give them titles. Listening to this song with the voice, the crowd, the inexorable rhythm loop, I immediately thought of the JFK assassination and the Zapruder film. With each listen, this song reminded me of the images of this film. This piece is very narrative, very cinematic. So, we have given a title related to this event. The title refers to the precise location of the assassination of JFK in Dallas and the fatal frame number in the Zapruder film. In France, this title is enigmatic because, apart from the specialists, nobody knows “Dealey Plaza”, and even less, the frame number of the Zapruder film. The event is terrible but we are fascinated by the images shot that day by Zapruder and others. We are also fascinated by the theories that followed the assassination.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What are the voices in the background on that track and what are they saying?

Philippe Perreaudin: There is a voice at the beginning of the song but you do not understand what it says because the noise around is too loud. It may be the voice of a commentator on radio or television, the voice of one of the bodyguards around the car or, why not, the voice that gives indications to LHO…

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Why the applause about 4:30 and again at about 5:30 into the track?

Philippe Perreaudin: The applause is there to create an atmosphere of crowd because we can imagine that there were applause and cheers throughout the route of the procession.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Z-313 is the frame in the Zapruder film where you see JFK’s head explode. Why this frame in particular?

Philippe Perreaudin: Yes. We like the enigmatic aspect of this code. The title of this piece is very clear for people who are interested in the JFK assassination and totally incomprehensible to others. This is, we believe, a more powerful title than, for example, “JFK”.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: The subtitle on the album is Music and Films. Did you show the Zapruder film (or some other moving images) when performing this track?

Philippe Perreaudin: No, never. But it is a good idea.

The Zapruder film is perhaps the most closely studied film of all time. Here is footage from a documentary showing stabilized images of the Zapruder film at normal speed and in slow motion.