Friday 30 August 2013

Two Days and 50 Years Ago

The Wednesday just past was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's great March on Washington. Blogwise I missed the date, but caught quite a lot of the TV and radio coverage, and stirring stuff it (mostly) was. Though I didn't catch any sound of him (only, alas, of Joan Baez warbling We Shall Overcome), Bob Dylan performed at the rally, singing Only a Pawn in Their Game, attracting some controversy for doing so, and feeling uncomfortable as a white man representing the movement for black rights.
  It was also on that date - August 28th, 1963 - that one William Zantzinger appeared in court in Baltimore, Maryland, and was sentence to six months for manslaughter and assault. In a drunken rage, he had beaten to death (in effect) a black waitress called Hattie Carroll for being, in his judgment, too slow in bringing him a drink. Zantzinger went to jail on September 15th. On October 23rd, in New York City, the 22-year-old Dylan recorded The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, one of the first songs to reveal his talent in all its blazing glory.
  Adjusting Zantzinger's name to Zanzinger - a name to be spat out, if ever there was one - Dylan came up with a song that builds the tension from the start, in long verses of contained anger, dense with internal rhyming and pounding repetition. Listen to it again. Listen here if you like...
That - not Joanie's warbling, not preppy Pete's list of potential uses for a hammer - is a protest song. That is the Swiftian saeva indignatio. Listen and marvel.

'Oh, but you who philosophise disgrace
and criticise all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now is the time for your tears.'

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