The Pop History Dig

“Paradise”
1971: John Prine

Gigantic, 20-story tall strip-mining shovel that Peabody Coal Co. used to dig through more than 5,000 acres of Muhlenberg County, KY, 1963-1986, supplying TVA’s Paradise powerplant. Note full-size commercial bus at bottom of photo.
Gigantic, 20-story tall strip-mining shovel that Peabody Coal Co. used to dig through more than 5,000 acres of Muhlenberg County, KY, 1963-1986, supplying TVA’s Paradise powerplant. Note full-size commercial bus at bottom of photo.
In 1971, a song titled “Paradise” began to be heard on the radio. It was written and performed by country singer John Prine. The song, written for Prine’s father, is about how coal mining altered the countryside in western Kentucky. In this case, the type of mining at issue was strip mining. Companies such as Amax, Pittsburg & Midway, and Peabody Coal Company had either acquired coal land or engaged in strip mining in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky during the 1960s, and in some cases, for years thereafter.

Peabody Coal Co., for one, was then supplying coal under contract to the Tennessee Valley Authority which had built two new coal-fired, electric-generating units for a powerplant near the small town of Paradise, Kentucky.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Peabody would supply huge amounts of coal to this plant – known then as the TVA Paradise Steam Plant. This type of powerplant was known in the trade as a “mine-mouth” powerplant, built essentially at or near huge coal deposits that could supply the powerplant’s needs for many years. Such was the case in Muhlenberg County.

Muhlenberg County in Western KY is mostly flat farmland, distinct from mountainous Eastern KY.
Muhlenberg County in Western KY is mostly flat farmland, distinct from mountainous Eastern KY.
1971: John Prine on the cover of his debut album, “John Prine,” which includes the song “Paradise.”
1971: John Prine on the cover of his debut album, “John Prine,” which includes the song “Paradise.”
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“Paradise” – John Prine

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As large-scale strip mining ensued there from the early 1960s thorough the 1970s, a substantial land area near Paradise, Kentucky – encompassing some thousands of acres – would be stripped.

In those days, especially through the 1960s and most of the 1970s, strip mine regulation and land reclamation, then governed by state laws, were minimal at best. As a consequence, land and water in the vicinity of Paradise suffered accordingly – as it did elsewhere in Kentucky and other states.

In the process, the small town of Paradise, a town dating to the 1800s, would become a victim as well, and would disappear entirely by the end of the 1960s. More on the town’s demise and the coal mining history in a moment.

John Prine’s song, “Paradise” — sampled below left — is also known by some as “Take Me Back To Muhlenberg County,” or “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train.” It was released in 1971 on his debut album, John Prine. In 2003, Rolling Stone rated the album at No. 458 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

John Prine was born in October 1946 and grew up in a Chicago suburb. His parents were natives and residents of Western Kentucky until the time when his father escaped the life of a coal miner and moved to Chicago.

However, as a child and a young boy, John spent many summers with relatives in the town of Paradise, where he took in the country environment, the culture, and lore of the region’s blue-collar struggles.

An earlier coal mine – a drift mine, one of the first commercial mines in Kentucky – had opened in the area in the 1820s. Paradise was also a river town, located on the Green River, where a ferry crossing operated. Prine’s song is about remembrance and loss; remembering happier times in that rural environment, and then seeing it altered by the “progress of man.”

“Paradise”
John Prine
1971

When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky
where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town that’s
often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.

Chorus:
And daddy won’t you take me back to
Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where
Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re
too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train
has hauled it away.

Well, sometimes we’d travel right down
the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by
Airdrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and
we’d shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill.

(repeat chorus)

Then the coal company came with the
world’s largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped
all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the
land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the
progress of man.

(repeat chorus)

When I die let my ashes float down
the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the
Rochester dam
I’ll be halfway to Heaven
with Paradise waitin’
Just five miles away from
wherever I am.

(repeat chorus)

In October 2013, Lydia Huthchinson, writing a background piece on Prine at PerformingSongwriter.com, brought together some of the history behind a few of his songs, including “Paradise.” Here’s what Prine had to say about the song:

…I wrote it for my father mainly so he would know I was a songwriter. Paradise was a real place in Kentucky, and while I was in the Army in Germany, my father sent me a newspaper article telling me how the coal company had bought the place out.

It was a real Disney-looking town. It sat on the river, had two general stores, and there was one black man in town, Bubby Short. He looked like Uncle Remus and hung out with my Granddaddy Ham, my mom’s dad, all day fishing for catfish. Then the bulldozers came in and wiped it all off the map.

When I recorded the song, I brought a tape of the record home to my dad; I had to borrow a reel-to-reel machine to play it for him. When the song came on, he went into the next room and sat in the dark while it was on. I asked him why, and he said he wanted to pretend it was on the jukebox…

Prine’s song did not crack the Top 40 on the pop charts in those days, but it did become something of anthem for those trying to bring environmental law and order to the coal fields. At the time, surface coal mining was very weakly regulated – and in Kentucky even less. A major push for increased coal development began in the 1960s, with coal then mined in more than 25 states, East and West. And after the Arab Oil embargo of the early 1970s, coal became a major alternative in the push for “energy independence.”

Throughout these years coalfield citizens and communities all across the country were pressing Congress for a federal strip mine law. Prine’s song became one of the popular expressions of that struggle, helping to bring the issue to a broader audience, and was also used to rally supporters.

Through the 1970s as well, Prine’s song was covered by a number of other prominent musicians – which also helped spread the song’s message. Among those covering the song in 1972-1973, for example, were: Jackie DeShannon, John Denver, the Everly Brothers, the Country Gentlemen, and the Seldom Scene. The Everly Brothers also had family roots in Muhlenberg County.

“Mr. Peabody’s coal train” has a prominent role in John Prine’s 1971 song, “Paradise,” about coal mining’s damage.
“Mr. Peabody’s coal train” has a prominent role in John Prine’s 1971 song, “Paradise,” about coal mining’s damage.
But not everyone was excited by Prine’s song. Peabody Coal, for one, took issue with some of the song’s claims. During 1973, as the company battled strip mine activists, it offered a rebuttal to the song with a missive titled “Facts vs. Prine,” a broadside that noted, “we probably helped supply the energy to make that recording that falsely names us as ‘hauling away’ Paradise, Kentucky.”

It’s true that the town of Paradise wasn’t literally hauled away by Peabody. But the town was bought out by TVA in 1967, with its remaining buildings bulldozed. And so, the town’s essence was wiped out; its geographic identity removed, and so too, in a sense, its culture and heritage. And although “Mr. Peabody’s coal trains” may not have been directly involved with the demise of Paradise, Prine’s song was essentially right on the bigger picture, as Peabody trains during the 1960s and 1970s hauled away lots of coal from numerous other places throughout rural America.

Long lines of coal hopper cars loaded with coal on rail siding.
Long lines of coal hopper cars loaded with coal on rail siding.
In Muhlenberg County near Paradise there were three companies involved with coal land during the 1960s and/or 1970s – Peabody, Amax, and Pittsburg & Midway – but Peabody appears to have been the major player. Peabody then was one of the top U.S. coal producers and among the largest coal companies in the world, and so a prominent name on the list of strip mine operators. Peabody was also the major player then supplying TVA’s Paradise coal plants.

In the late 1950s, TVA – the regional flood control and power authority created by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s – began a major push in building coal-fired electric power plants. Near the town of Paradise, Kentucky, TVA acquired land for what would eventually become the Paradise Steam Plants – initially two units, both in the 740 megawatt range. TVA also began making long-term coal supply contracts with mining companies for thousands of acres of land in the immediate vicinity of Paradise. Some 6,000 acres of relatively flat land in the county held thick seams of coal not far beneath the surface. The beauty of this project for TVA was that the powerplants were built, essentially, right in the coalfield, dramatically cutting coal haulage and transportation costs. TVA officials by this time were also advocating “bigger, faster stripping shovels, more powerful bulldozers, improved explosives and bigger haulage trucks” to improve extraction efficiency. And with Peabody Coal, they had a willing partner on those counts. For Peabody, in Muhlenberg County, would proceed to use one of the largest pieces of mining equipment the world had ever seen.

1970s: Peabody Coal Co.’s “Big Hog” at work at the Sinclair Mine in Muhlenberg Co., KY, uncovering coal seams in a strip mine pit where an army of other smaller shovels and trucks load and haul the coal to TVA’s Paradise plant.
1970s: Peabody Coal Co.’s “Big Hog” at work at the Sinclair Mine in Muhlenberg Co., KY, uncovering coal seams in a strip mine pit where an army of other smaller shovels and trucks load and haul the coal to TVA’s Paradise plant.

This colossal Peabody mining machine would be nicknamed “Big Hog,” and it was so big it had to be built on site, piece by piece. Bucyrus-Erie Company got the contract to manufacture the shovel. Then it had to be shipped by rail to the new mine near Drakesboro – named the Sinclair Strip Mine. New roads had to be built and a special rail spur was made, along with special rail cars, to haul in some of the parts. The huge shovel began arriving in pieces in 1962. Some 300 rail cars would bring in 5,000 parts and a 250-foot boom. The assembly took eleven months. Fully constructed, the Goliath-like machine stood 20 stories tall, weighed in at 20 million pounds, and cost some $7 million (in early 1960s money).

A Peabody “loader,” a smaller shovel, loading coal from a Sinclair Mine pit into a 100-ton capacity coal haulage truck for the Paradise Power Plant, circa 1960s-1970s.
A Peabody “loader,” a smaller shovel, loading coal from a Sinclair Mine pit into a 100-ton capacity coal haulage truck for the Paradise Power Plant, circa 1960s-1970s.
Big Hog’s bucket could scoop up sizeable chunks of earth; each bite had a capacity of 115 cubic yards, more than a football field’s worth, or about 173 tons. The giant shovel was also a huge energy user, requiring a daily electric feed equivalent to the needs of a small town of 15,000 people. Big Hog went to work in 1963 at the Sinclair Strip Mine, and continued mining essentially non-stop supplying coal for the TVA Paradise plant. For the next twenty-five years, the Sinclair strip mines and the Paradise Steam Plant were partners in the production of electric power. During that time Big Hog would supply nearly 80 million tons of coal stripped from more than 5,000 acres of Muhlenberg County land. Thanks in part to Sinclair’s strip mine production, Muhlenberg County during the 1960s and 1970s was the state’s leader in coal production, and at times, the top U.S. coal producer as well.

Peabody’s Big Hog was assisted in its work by a variety of other machines, including sizable loaders and coal haulage trucks. The trucks could carry some 100 tons of coal to TVA’s Paradise Steam Plant. They would drive over the plant’s hopper bays, and usually while moving, dump their coal loads into the massive storage units. Then it was back to the strip mine pit for another load. All of the coal that was being mined at the Sinclair Strip Mine went to Paradise Steam Plant. At the time, it was the largest coal-fired power plant in existence. Plans were made for two more similar units to be built, but the decision was to build an even bigger generator. By the late 1970s, however, the toll on Muhlenberg County land began to come clear. One newspaper reporting out of Bowling Green, Kentucky in April 1978 ran the headline, “50,000 Acres Ruined by Strip Mining,” referring to the acres strip mined in the county, with a soil conservation agent saying another 50,000 acres were ruined. Some landowners in the county said they were hopeful that the new federal strip mine law could help reclaim the land.

April 1978 headlines from the “Daily News” of Bowling Green, Kentucky announcing the toll of “50,000 acres ruined” at the hand of surface coal mining in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
April 1978 headlines from the “Daily News” of Bowling Green, Kentucky announcing the toll of “50,000 acres ruined” at the hand of surface coal mining in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

By 1986, most of the coal had been played out at the Sinclair Strip Mine. The mine had been in operation some twenty-five years, sine 1963. Big Hog had been working full time for most of those years. The big shovel had been the center of attention at the Sinclair site for nearly three decades – the technological “star” that churned through the thousands of acres of Muhlenberg County land that laid above the coal seams there. But Big Hog had one more job yet to do. With some fanfare, and with the news media and some miners in attendance, as well as state and federal officials, including some from EPA, the giant Bucyrus-Erie 3850 shovel would now be used to dig its own grave.

'Kentucky New Era' newspaper headline of April 7, 1986, on the burial of giant Peabody strip mine shovel.
'Kentucky New Era' newspaper headline of April 7, 1986, on the burial of giant Peabody strip mine shovel.
In April 1986, the big machine would be buried in the last pit at the Sinclair Strip Mine. Peabody had sought state permission to bury Big Hog in the pit, and no objections were apparently made. Peabody agreed to remove all the toxic and hazardous fluids and materials from the shovel. Its tracks were removed and its boom laid flat. A dragline was used to bury Big Hog.

The Peabody Coal Co. would then become responsible for reclaiming the barren pits at the Sinclair Strip Mine under the requirements of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Today, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife division operates what is called the Peabody Wildlife Management Area at the former strip mine site.

 

Town of Paradise

The town of Paradise, meanwhile, wasn’t in the path of the giant Peabody shovel – although stripping near the town did occur by Pittsburgh & Midway, according to some sources. Rather, the problem for Paradise came from the TVA’s coal-fired powerplants and the burning of the coal. In the early 1960s, after the plants first began operating, the town and power station co-existed. But soon, the fly-ash from the generating unit’s smokestacks became a big problem for residents. When residents would hang their wash out to dry, it would often turn gray with fly-ash. Other emissions were raising health concerns. And this was in the era before EPA. Over the years, in fact, the Paradise plant would become a problematic polluter, often cited by EPA for its emissions. But in Paradise during the 1960s, some residents, fed up with the pollution, began leaving of their own accord. TVA later installed electrostatic precipitators to control the fly ash. By then, many residents had left. TVA finally bought out the remaining residents and buildings, including the post office. All of the remaining buildings were later bulldozed.

An aerial view of the town of Paradise, Kentucky, circa 1965, before the final buy-out by TVA.
An aerial view of the town of Paradise, Kentucky, circa 1965, before the final buy-out by TVA.

Paradise had roots stretching back to the 1800s, first as a river trading post on the Green River called Stom’s Landing, then later, as a pick-and-shovel coal mining location, with a “drift mine” opening there in 1820, known as the “McLean drift bank.” A U.S. post office was established at Paradise on March 1, 1852. The town was located about 10 miles east-northeast of Greenville.

An older map showing a portion of Muhlenberg County, Ky with the town of Paradise shown, now gone.
An older map showing a portion of Muhlenberg County, Ky with the town of Paradise shown, now gone.
One rumor about how the town came to be known as Paradise – and there are at least three local stories on that count – has to do with an early pioneer family traveling up the Green River by boat, circa 1830s-1840s. During their trip, their young daughter became sick. The parents had stopped at several ports and towns along the river, but help was just not available. Without help, they continued on the river and were told by several old timers of a magical place further up river where Native Americans, centuries ago, had left an aura or an emanation that was believed to be able to cure people (Indian Knoll, an archaeological site near Paradise, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966). Several days later, the child was so near death that their last stop was to find a place to bury the child. Unbeknown to the parents, they had stopped at that magical place. The next day the child was better, and in a few days completely well. The parents believed, and would tell others, “this place must be paradise,” and decided to make their roots in the town, which later became known as Paradise.

In the 1960s, after TVA bought out the remaining residents of Paradise, the town ceased to exist. The last families moved out of Paradise in 1967, the same year that the post office closed and the Paradise Ferry ceased to operate. Soon after the TVA bought the town out, they tore down all the structures and constructed a third coal-fired boiler, “Paradise Unit 3″. Today, the Paradise Fossil Plant is the second largest plant in the TVA Fossil Fuels Plant Inventory and the largest power plant in the state of Kentucky. It has a rated output of 2,630 megawatts. It is composed of three units: units 1 and 2, twin 740 megawatt units, built between 1959 and 1962, and unit 3, a large cyclonic boiler rated at 1,150 megawatts, built in 1970. The plant also has three large natural-draft cooling towers. In 1985 a barge-unloading facility was added so that coal could be delivered by barge. That facility occupies a potion of land that was once part of Paradise. All that remains of the original town today is a small cemetery not far from the TVA Paradise plant (and some relatives of those interred there have complained to TVA about the cemetery’s condition).

TVA’s Paradise Power Plant, circa 1996,  near the former site of the town of Paradise, Kentucky, which in this photo would have sat just beyond the left-hand end of the photo and field of view.
TVA’s Paradise Power Plant, circa 1996, near the former site of the town of Paradise, Kentucky, which in this photo would have sat just beyond the left-hand end of the photo and field of view.

Paradise, however, was not the only town in Muhlenberg County that made way for the “progress” of coal development. According to one account in a 1973 edition of Southern Exposure, journalist James Branscome and his wife Sharen reported on the demise of the town of Morehead, a town then located in Muhlenberg County. The residents of this town, apparently, were forced to sell once the roads in their town were condemned for strip mining. Here’s the summary of what the Branscomes found, as reported in the September 1, 1973 edition of Southern Exposure:

…In researching the company’s record in the Division of Reclamation in Frankfort, the office that enforces Kentucky’s strip mining laws, we found that Peabody has succeeded in removing all the residents from the entire community of Morehead in Muhlenberg County. Since Kentucky law prohibits strip mining within 100 feet of a public road, coal companies must persuade the County Judge to declare the roads of no use to the county and send a copy of this declaration to the Division of Reclamation. (The roads of Morehead were thus condemned ..)

Peabody, it was said, “had Judges in their pockets,” and could get rural roads condemned for coal strip mining practically for the asking.

We asked a Division of Reclamation official about Peabody’s success in the Morehead venture:

Q: How Many people live there?
A: Not more than 500, I think.
Q: Did they all sell to Peabody?
A: They had no choice. Everybody knows that they had no choice about selling. If they decide they want what you have, they’ll blast you out. Sure, they force people out.
Q: Does Peabody do this kind of thing often?
A: Peabody is the worst in this. They close roads every day. All they need is to get the Judge to write a letter and we have to let them strip. They’re forcing old people out of their homes all over the place. They just buy everyone around a person and then start pressuring him to sell. They always sell.
Q: Do the County Judges ever object to giving public roads to Peabody?
A: No, they have the Judges in their pockets. Several magistrates in Muhlenberg County work for Peabody. When they decide they want to strip a road, they’ll hire a magistrate who doesn’t work for them it it takes that to get the court’s permission.
Q: Does Peabody pay they county for the roads?
A: No, it looks like, at least, that the coal that is under a public road should belong to the public, but that isn’t the way it is.

The Long View: Peabody strip mine operation supplying coal to the Paradise Fossil Plant, 1970s.
The Long View: Peabody strip mine operation supplying coal to the Paradise Fossil Plant, 1970s.
In addition to the Branscomes’ research, one report from the Woodson Baptist church, formerly of Morehead, noted: “In the Morehead Community the church grew and did prosper…. but then the sad day came when Peabody Coal Company bought all the property in and around Morehead and the church had to be moved to a new location.” In 1971, TVA also battled some Kentucky farmers in Union County, KY when it sought to build a giant 12.5 mile-long overland conveyor belt to move coal between two Peabody-run TVA mines and a river outlet. Twelve landowners went to court to stop the huge conveyor belt, which would be built on concrete supports. In the end, TVA prevailed and used its federal agency eminent domain power to build the conveyor system which would move 30,000 tons of coal each day. A similar fight around the same time occurred with four farmers in Ohio County, adjacent to Muhlenberg County, where Peabody invoked a private use of eminent domain under a little-used law allowing it to build a three-mile coal conveyor belt.

“Small Town Removal”
Strip Mine Depopulation
1960s-2010s

The loss of small towns like Paradise, Kentucky is not something that has occurred only in the “distant past” of the 1960s. Small towns have continued to disappear at the hand of coal development in the 1990s and 2000s. Coalfield citizens have been pointing out for decades that one of the major and often unheralded impacts of strip mining, especially in small rural communities, is the effect it has had – and continues to have – on driving people out of those communities. In some cases, the mining companies make no bones about it, as they set about directly buying up homes located near, or in the path of, planned or expanding mining operations. In other cases, the “driving out” is more subtle, and takes place over time, as in the daily harassment of mining activities, dust, truck traffic, blasting, the diminution of the local tax base, and families leaving one by one.Arch Coal Co., through a subsidiary, bought up more than half of the 231 houses in Blair, West Virginia in the l990s. In still other cases it’s the ruin of natural beauty; the despoliation of tourist and recreational assets that did have, or could have had, local economic value.

In the 1990s, as the Arch Coal Company was strip mining the mountaintop near Blair, West Virginia, it faced periodic complaints from residents who were being harassed by the constant dust and periodic rock fragments pelting their homes from strip mine blasting. Rather than fight constant complaints from homeowners, the coal company decided it would be easier to buy up the residential properties. So it set about doing just that and by August 1997, as Penny Loeb reported for U.S. News & World Report, Arch Coal, through a subsidiary, had bought up more than half of the 231 houses in Blair. Once the homes were vacated, they would often be stripped, and sometimes set ablaze by arsonists – the fate of at least two dozen such homes in the area.

2006: Mountain top strip mining proceeds in the mountains behind a home in Martin County, Kentucky.
2006: Mountain top strip mining proceeds in the mountains behind a home in Martin County, Kentucky.

In southwest Virginia, the town of Roda once had a population of more than 500 residents. In a July 2008 interview with reporter Debra McCown of the Bristol Herald Courier, Pete Ramey, who had made his home in Roda in 1948, said he had to leave town because of strip mining. “It was the dust, the noise, and the blasting and rocks flying from the blasting into homes,” Ramey told McCowan. “The fear is terrible, the fear of blasting on the mountains above you. It’s still going on.” Ramey explained that in the last decade the Roda community – like other coal communities in the region – had dwindled in population. At the time he spoke with McCowan in 2008, the town’s population had fallen to ewer than 100. “There’s people who still live there,” he said, “but they’re just gradually coming down the mountain as most of them are forced to move. The community’s been destroyed.” Residents in Roda and elsewhere are often confronted by strip mining that can come as close as 300 feet to their homes. And once the mining arrives, their choices are limited. With the blasting of nearby strip mines, they can’t sell their homes, unless the coal company buys them. Some never have that option. So they just try to bear the dust, blasting, coal trucks, and mining for as long as they can. But for others, it becomes impossible, and they decide to just walk away. It’s a scenario that’s been played out many times throughout Appalachia and other rural mining locations.

Stonega. Stonega is the name of another town in southwest Virginia beset by strip mining. Created in 1890 by the Virginia Coal and Iron Co., the town lies between two mountains – Bluff Spur and Ninemile Spur, and had taken form along the banks of Callahans Creek.“The fear is terrible, the fear of blasting on the mountains above you…”
- Pete Ramey, 2008
In the first two decades of the 20th century, Stonega had more than 2,400 residents — white and black, natives and immigrants from Hungary, Poland and Italy. The town was sometimes known by its sections: Red Row, Canal Row, Hunktown, Midway, and others. During its heyday, Stonega boasted a brass band, baseball teams and a gospel quartet. There was also a hotel, a commissary, a theater, a hospital, schools, four churches. The town, in fact, had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2004. “[A] listing on the National Register,” noted reporter Tim Thornton of The Roanoke Times in August 2006, “ is no hedge against demolition, and whole sections are already gone.” Strip mining was moving ever closer to the town, and in 2006 Cumberland Resources, a mining company then operating a strip mine at the edge of Stonega, had set about buying out local residents. As for the remains of the town, Cumberland Resources sought to preserve the neighborhood’s history with photographs and a video it made before the buildings were demolished – the video supplying documentation for a safety record as well.

Lindytown, Boone County, WV.
Lindytown, Boone County, WV.

Lindytown. As far as small towns go, Lindytown, West Virginia was one of the smaller places in America. Yet, it was a place that had several generations of families, a town with a church and a school bus that picked up kids for school. A place from which men went off to fight for their country in foreign wars and returned to marry local women, raise children, and live their lives with friends and family. They enjoyed their natural surroundings, taking to the hills and woods, hunting the wildlife, searching for ginseng, or just wandering in the outdoors. Extended families often had adjacent or nearby homes in the area. One of the deep mines in the area – the Robin Hood No. 8 mine – had shut down, taking jobs with it. Some residents began leaving the area to find work. But then in the 2000s, Massey Energy began strip mining in the area. And not long thereafter, the company began acquiring the homes of local residents.

Massey’s general counsel, Shane Harvey, explained to the New York Times in April 2011 that many of Lindytown’s residents were either retired miners or their widows and descendants. They welcomed the opportunity to move to more metropolitan locations, he explained – places with easier access to medical and other services. Residents who sold homes to Massey also signed documents in which they agreed not to sue, testify against, or “make adverse comments” about coal- mining operations in the area. Local residents of Lindytown came to Massey, he said, expressing interest in selling. So Massey began making offers in December 2008. “It is important to note that none of these properties had to be bought,” Mr. Harvey said. “The entire mine plan could have been legally mined without the purchase of these homes. We agreed to purchase the properties as an additional precaution.” Elaborating later in writing, Harvey added that Massey voluntarily bought the properties “as an additional backup to the state and federal regulations” that protect people who live near mining operations. James Smith, 68, a retired coal miner from Lindytown, told the Times, that yes, some people did approach Massey about selling their homes. But he also explained that many residents decided to leave Lindytown only because the mountaintop operations above them in the hills had ruined the quality of life below. And when residents agreed to sell to Massey, many also signed documents in which they agreed not to sue, testify against, seek inspection of, or “make adverse comments” about coal-mining operations in the area.

Lindytown, WV, November 2009, showing boarded- up homes & buildings.  Photo, OHVEC.org
Lindytown, WV, November 2009, showing boarded- up homes & buildings. Photo, OHVEC.org

In the spring of 2009, Lora Webb and her husband, Steve, a coal miner, packed up their possessions and left Lindytown, the place where Steve’s family had their ancestral roots. The Webbs had borne the strip mine assault – the giant, twenty- story dragline, daily explosions at the mine site, and the dust clouds and fly rock that rained down on their home and garden. They watched the nearby creeks and mountain hollows disappear and their community die. “It’s unreal,” Lora Webb remarked to a local newspaper reporter in the fall of 2008. “It’s like we’re living in a war zone.” So the Webbs moved on, as others did, leaving only a few families.

One who decided to stay was Quinnie Richmond, 85, who lives in a solitary home that displays five generations of family portraits in its small living room. Her son, Roger, a retired coal miner, lives next door. Quinnie, decided to sell various land rights to Massey, but wanted to remain in Lindytown. Roger’s uncle, Carson, who was killed in World War II, is buried in one of the small family cemeteries scattered in the mountains. “If he wanted to pay his respects,” The New York Times reported, “he would have to make an appointment with a coal company, be certified in work site safety, don a construction helmet and be escorted by a coal-company representative.” As regards family cemeteries in Appalachia, they are found quite extensively in small family plots throughout the region, and sometimes become entangled with strip mine sites as mining proceeds around their perimeters, leaving highwalls that make then inaccessible. AuroraLights.org has plotted some family cemetery locations on a map of the Coal River Mountain area of West Virginia (see Sources below).

Penny Loeb's 2007 book, "Moving Mountains."
Penny Loeb's 2007 book, "Moving Mountains."

As for the ever-vanishing Appalachian small town at the hand of strip mining, consider a comment made by Penney Loeb, who wrote the 1997 piece in U.S. News & World Report mentioned at the top of this sidebar, and also a 2007 book titled, Moving Mountains. Here she writes in 2003 about “disappearing towns” from her website:

…I am saddened when I return to communities I first visited five or six years ago and find the problems remain. Blair [West Virginia] got much coverage when the land company associated with the mine bought out more than half the residents, with many vacant homes quickly falling to an unknown arsonist. A similar scene was playing out in Mud River, but few people knew. A couple of years ago, I got an email from a woman whose family homeplace was one of the few remaining properties that Arch Coal had not purchased in Mud River. She had even written to ABC’s Primetime Live. Last summer, her family was featured on NOW with Bill Moyers. Still they are being forced to move away from a sweet little homestead that they loved.

Over the years, I watched as the communities [in West Virginia] disappeared along Rum Creek in Logan County. First Yolyn and Slagle went in the fall of 1997. Then Dehue at the other end of the creek in 2001. In between, a valley fill [from a strip mine operation] bulged nearly to the road in Chambers. Dust from the mining and preparation plant blanketed the communities…

…And apparently, the beat goes on. In 2014, the residents of a small community of about 219 residents and 100 homes in southern Illinois named Cottage Grove, were fighting Peabody Coal over the fate of their community, as the coal company wants to expand a strip mine site there by more than 1,000 acres, taking over a local road, and more. One local resident, citing the John Prine refrain, said “Mr. Peabody’s coal trains want to haul our community away.”

 

John Prine

Young John Prine, circa 1970s.
Young John Prine, circa 1970s.
John Prine on the cover of 1984's “Aimless Love.”
John Prine on the cover of 1984's “Aimless Love.”

As for John Prine, beyond his famous 1971 song “Paradise,” he went on to have a full and successful recording career. Prine had been a mailman in Illinois for a few years following high school, was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Germany. When he returned home he resumed delivering the mail in Illinois. But during those years and while in the Army, Prine was playing his guitar and writing songs, mostly for himself. Then in 1970, after a few friends encouraged him to try some of his songs at an open-mike night at Chicago’s “The Fifth Peg” club, things began to change.

That fall, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who had given up on a bad movie, happened to visit The Fifth Peg and heard Prine perform. Ebert was so impressed with Prine that he wrote an article for the Sun-Times beyond his normal film beat, titled, “Singing Mailman Who Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words.” It proved a glowing first review of Prine’s music and it helped to spread the word about Prine’s talents in Chicago and beyond. He later met Steve Goodman, a singer-songwriter who had helped Arlo Guthrie with his hit, “City of New Orleans.” Goodman played one of Prine’s songs for Kris Kristofferson who was greatly impressed with what he heard. Paul Anka, too, liked some of Prine’s Hank Williams-influenced songs, according to Rolling Stone, and along with Kristofferson, is said to have helped Prine land his first recording contract. Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records put out Prine’s first album – the John Prine titled 1971 album that also included “Sam Stone,” a song about a drug addicted Vietnam veteran that has the famous line: “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes.”

An October 2011 CD album of John Prine recordings from 1970, before his debut, and borrowing the Roger Ebert line for its title, “The Singing Mailman Delivers.”
An October 2011 CD album of John Prine recordings from 1970, before his debut, and borrowing the Roger Ebert line for its title, “The Singing Mailman Delivers.”
John Prine performing with guitar in later years.
John Prine performing with guitar in later years.
Street scene from a portion of Paradise, KY, circa 1958.
Street scene from a portion of Paradise, KY, circa 1958.

Prine’s music and songwriting have brought effusive praise from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, among others. He has turned out more than 20 albums in his career, at least a dozen of which have appeared on the Billboard 200 albums chart. In addition to his first album, other fan favorites include Sweet Revenge (1973), Common Sense (1975), and Bruised Orange (1978). In 1984 Prine co-founded an independent record label, Oh Boy Records, which produced several subsequent albums, among them, Aimless Love (1984), German Afternoons (1986) and The Missing Years(1991).

In early 1998, Prine was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, had surgery and radiation therapy, and after a time, returned to recording. That same year, George Strait had a No. 1 Country & Western hit with Prine’s “I Just Want to Dance With You,” bringing a writer’s windfall to Prine just as he needed funds for his medical care. Although the neck surgery had altered Prine’s voice, giving it a gravelly quality, he continued recording and touring. His album Fair & Square won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and he also received the Artist of the Year award at the Americana Music Awards that September. Earlier in 2003, Prine had been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In November 2013, Prine was diagnosed with operable lung cancer ( unrelated to his earlier cancer), and had surgery to remove the cancer. By March 2014, he had resumed performing and touring.

As for Prine’s coal mining song, “Paradise,” he may have taken some artistic license in that song regarding the town and Peabody Coal, but on balance, his message about the social and environmental damages of strip mining – especially in the larger context of what had occurred and what was occurring in America’s coalfields during those years – was right on the money. In fact, “Paradise” still has resonance today, whether the struggle is about coal or any other form of social, environmental, or corporate bullying.

See also at this website “GE’s Hot Coal Ad” and “Sixteen Tons.” For other story choices please visit the Home Page or any of the category pages, such as the Politics page, each of which include thumbnail sketches and links to dozens of other stories. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 28 May 2014
Last Update: 28 May 2014
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Paradise, 1971: John Prine,”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 28, 2014.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

2001 edition of Harry Caudill’s 1962 classic, best-selling book on the exploitation of Appalachia, “Night Comes to The Cumberlands.”
2001 edition of Harry Caudill’s 1962 classic, best-selling book on the exploitation of Appalachia, “Night Comes to The Cumberlands.”
Chad Montrie’s 2002 book, “To Save The Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining,” University of North Carolina Press, 245pp.
Chad Montrie’s 2002 book, “To Save The Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining,” University of North Carolina Press, 245pp.
Paperback edition of Jeff Goodell’s 2006 book, “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future,” Mariner Books (2007), 352pp.
Paperback edition of Jeff Goodell’s 2006 book, “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future,” Mariner Books (2007), 352pp.
Erik Reece’s 2006 book, “Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness - Radical Strip Mining and the Destruction of Appalachia.” (paperback, 2007), 288pp.
Erik Reece’s 2006 book, “Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness - Radical Strip Mining and the Destruction of Appalachia.” (paperback, 2007), 288pp.
Shirley Stewart Burns’ 2007 book, “Bringing Down The Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities,” 214pp.
Shirley Stewart Burns’ 2007 book, “Bringing Down The Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities,” 214pp.

“John Prine,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 784-785.

Lydia Hutchinson, “Behind the Songs of John Prine,” PerformingSongwriter.com, October 10, 2013.

Jim & Hilma Stewart Graphics, “Peabody Coal Company / Sinclair Strip Mine,” Rock PortKy.com, June 16, 2007.

“Paradise Kentucky,” TheStoms.com.

“Muhlenberg County, Kentucky,” Wikipedia .org.

“Paradise (John Prine song),” Wikipedia.org.

“John Prine (album),” Wikipedia.org.

“Paradise by John Prine,” YouTube.com, Posted July 20, 2007 by johngalt2626.

“Issues Page,” Citizens Coal Council Website.

J.C. Phillips, “The World’s Largest Stripping Shovel” (cover), Science and Mechanics, January 1963.

“Environment: The Price of Strip Mining,” Time, March 21, 1971.

James Branscome, “Paradise Lost,” Southern Exposure, The Institute for Southern Studies, September 1, 1973, pp. 29-41.

Frank Martin, “John Prine Goes Back to What’s Left of Paradise,” People, Vol. 2, No. 18, October 28, 1974.

Associated Press, “50,000 Acres Ruined By Strip Mining,” Daily News (Bowling Green, KY), April 5, 1978.

Associated Press, “Peabody Will Bury Strip-Mining Shovel,” Kentucky New Era, Monday, April 7, 1986, p. 5-A.

Associated Press, “River Queen Surface Mine Begins Closing [Peabody Coal / Muhlenberg County],” Kentucky New Era, June 12, 1991, p. 6-A.

Associated Press, “‘Paradise’ Returning to Mulenberg,” Kentucky New Era, September 1, 1992.

Penny Loeb, “Shear Madness,” U.S. News & World Report, August 11, 1997.

TVA Paradise Powerplant Photo, September 1997, KY Photo File, Fickr.com.

“Histories of the Local Churches,” Muhlenberg County Baptist Association (KY), Baptist History Homepage.

Tanya Anderson, “Finding Katie, A Graveyard in Paradise, Part 4,” Tanya AndersonBooks.com.

“The Plight of the Paradise Cemeteries,” TheStoms.com.

“Paradise Fossil Plant,” TVA.com.

Penny Loeb, “Mining’s Impacts on Commu-nities,”WVCoalfield.com, March 2003.

Walter L. Creese, TVA’s Public Planning: The Vision, The Reality, University of Tennessee Press, August 2003, 304pp.

Tim Thornton, “Companies Strip Town of Homes in Order to Strip for More Coal; People Are Selling Their Properties and Leaving What Used to Be a Thriving Mining Area,” Roanoke Times (Roanoke,VA), Monday, August 7, 2006.

Tim Thornton, “Women Make Some Noise About Mining Blasts; Two Residents of a Coal Mining Town Are Fighting for an Ordinance That Would Limit Explosions,” Roanoke Times, Monday, August 7, 2006.

Shirley L. Stewart Burns, Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountain-Top Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities, West Virginia University Press: Morgantown, 2007.

“Strip Mining Blasting Residents On Black Mountain,” The Appalachian Voice, Wednesday, May 2, 2007.

Debra McCown, “Environmental Groups Sue To Halt Logging At Future Mine Site,” Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol VA), July 31, 2008.

“New ‘Coal Country Music’ CD Benefits The Alliance for Appalachia,” I Love Mountains.org, Friday, November 20th, 2009.

Debra McCown, “Coal Mining Practices That Destroy, Not Just the Land, But Entire Communities,” Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol, VA) February 8, 2010.

“Lindytown Twilight-ed Into Darkness,” Winds of Change, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, (Huntington, WV), March 2010.

Dan Barry, “As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes,” New York Times, April 12, 2011.

Beth Wellington, “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train Wants to Haul it Away,” The Writing Corner, June 22, 2012.

Alexis Bonogofsky, “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train Has Hauled It Away…,” Wildlife Promise, June 27, 2012.

Todd Hatton, “John Prine and Paradise (KY) Lost”(radio clip, 7:18), WKMS.org, Murray, Kentucky, September 1, 2013.

Paul McRee, “Book Inspired by Western Kentucky Coal Mining,” SurfKy.com, October 25, 2013.

Theresa Dowell Blackinton, “How A Town Called Paradise Turned into Hell,” Moon Kentucky (Moon Handbooks Series), Avalon Travel, 2014, p. 399.

“Land Use Map – Coal River Mountain, W.Va.,” AuroraLights.org. Excellent Maps. See this Coal River Mountain area interactive map for a good introduction to the complexity of mining hazards in this one area of Appalachia.

Mud River (and other small towns hit by strip mining), WVcoalfield.com.

Tom Kane, “Classic Strip Mining Battle Looms,” Daily Register (Harrisburg, Illinois), January 8, 2014.

“Naperville City Officials In ‘Partnership to Destroy’ Downstate Town,” CityCouncil Watchdog.com, March 27, 2014.

“Blockade: Fighting Strip Mine Expansion Rocky Branch, Illinois,” The Understory, March 21, 2014.

“Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About John Prine,” Alternative Reel.com.

“A Priceless First Peek at…John Prine,” in Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, New York: Workman Publishing, 2008, pp. 614-615.

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“Dylan’s Hard Rain”
1962-1963

Bob Dylan at work making music and poetry in 1962.
Bob Dylan at work making music and poetry in 1962.
     It was early fall 1962 when Bob Dylan’s song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” was first heard by a New York café audience.  Those were anxious times in America, with the Cold War in high gear.  A Cuba-Soviet Union alliance was getting cozy that summer, making some Pentagon and State Department analysts nervous.  By late August of 1962, there had been reporting in the New York Times and Washington Post/Times Herald that the Russians had increased their military aide to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, located just 90 miles from Florida.  The Russians increased the flow of conventional arms to Cuba, as the Kennedy Administration kept a wary eye on the island nation.  Though not publicly revealed at the time, on August 29, 1962, a U-2 spy plane over Cuba would reveal that eight missile installations were under construction.

     Bob Dylan, meanwhile, was in the midst of a very productive period of song writing, penning nearly 40 songs in 1962.  One of these was “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” which Dylan appears to have written sometime that summer, possibly influenced by the gathering storm clouds over Cuba.  The song would become a classic protest song, one filled with forebodings on war, social injustice, and other dreads.  Dylan first performed the song in September at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, and then more publicly a week or so later on September 22nd at Carnegie Hall as part of a hootenanny show sponsored by Sing Out magazine.  Dylan by then had also been working in studio sessions with his recording label, Columbia Records, which would record “Hard Rain” as part of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, not released for sale until late May 1963.

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“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”


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     Dylan patterned “A Hard Rain…” after a British folk ballad, “Lord Randall,” Child Ballad No. 12, from the late 19th century, in which a mother repeatedly questions her son, beginning with “Where have you been?,” as the ballad later reveals the son has been poisoned and dies.  Dylan’s “Hard Rain” embraces a broad message with themes and imagery relevant to injustice, suffering, pollution and warfare – a song well-suited for its times and beyond.

“A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”
Bob Dylan, 1962-1963


Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.


     By October 1962, the “Cuban missile crisis,” as it came to be called, had the full attention of a nervous nation.  The young Presidency of John F. Kennedy was brought to the brink of war in a showdown with Russia.  On October 16th, Kennedy was shown new U-2 photos revealing fully-equipped missile bases in Cuba capable of attacking the U.S. with nuclear warheads.  Plans were drawn up for a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba, as a massive mobilization of military personnel and hardware began.  Troops and equipment were assembled in Florida.  President Kennedy appeared on television to inform Americans of the crisis and the possibility of a confrontation.  A Naval blockade was placed around Cuba to prevent the Russians from delivering more missiles.  In the end, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev turned his ships around, averting what some believe could have become World War III.  The Soviets agreed to dismantle the missile sites and the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba.  The crisis was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war in the 1960s.

     Bob Dylan no doubt, like the rest of the country at the time, wasn’t sure what those days might bring.  In the liner notes on Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album of May 1963, music writer Nat Hentoff would  reveal that Dylan wrote “A Hard Rain” under some dread at the time – certainly in the shadow of Cold War tensions generally, whether or not the summer-of-1962 events on Cuba were the spur for the song: “Every line in it [i.e. Hard Rain] is actually the start of a whole new song,” Dylan told Hentoff.  “But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.”

     Certainly in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, as the nation had faced the possibility of a nuclear exchange, Dylan’s “Hard Rain” dread – and similar songs that would arrive with his Freewheelin album, including “Blowin in the Wind,” and “Masters of War” – gave Dylan a kind of philosophical currency he did not have before.  But Dylan did add come clarification when it was suggested that the refrain of “Hard Rain” was meant to convey nuclear fallout.  In a 1963 radio interview with Studs Terkel, Dylan stated: “No, it’s not atomic rain, it’s just a hard rain.  It isn’t the fallout rain.  I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen… In the last verse, when I say, ‘the pellets of poison are flooding the waters’, that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.”

Early 1960s: Bob Dylan performing and/or recording.
Early 1960s: Bob Dylan performing and/or recording.
     The Dylan song had an impact on leading thinkers and cultural leaders of that era.  The first time Beatnick poet Allen Ginsburg heard Dylan’s “Hard Rain” he marked it as a changing of the guard in the social protest movement,  believing that “the torch had been passed to another generation from earlier Beat illumination and self-empowerment.”

     “A Hard Rain,” said one review in Rolling Stone, “is the first public instance of Dylan grappling with the End of Days, a topic that would come to dominate his work.”  The verses, continued that review, are examples of Dylan describing his task as an artist: “to sing out against darkness wherever he sees it.”  Bob Weir of the 1960s’ Grateful Dead rock group said of the song: “It’s beyond genius… I think the heavens opened and something channeled through him.”

“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, released in May 1963, included “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, released in May 1963, included “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
     Blogger Teri Tynes, reviewing “Hard Rain” in March 2010 at Walking Off The Big Apple.com, noted that the song’s series of  “mostly disturbing apocalyptic visions” were  “like something out of Dante’s Inferno.”  Tynes also noted the call to action that comes with, “What will you do now my blue-eyed son?” in the final verse.  “Taken in the historical context of 1962,” Tynes wrote, “the song could be interpreted to mean the arms race, nuclear threats, the power elite, the struggle for civil rights and racial justice, or even environmental pollution, the latter just emerging into consciousness with the [September 1962] publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.”

     Dylan himself writes about that period of his life in his book, Chronicles, where he explains that he was then reading a lot about the pre-Civil War period at the New York Public Library, and finding little to be cheery about.  That, no doubt, coupled with the angst of his own times, pushed the artist to his own inner revelations and the poetry he then produced.  Dylan was 21 years old in 1962, with a lot more ahead.

“What Does It Mean?”
Critic & Fan Interpretation


Bob Dylan in Washington, D.C., August 1963.
Bob Dylan in Washington, D.C., August 1963.
     The lyrics in Dylan’s “Hard Rain,” meanwhile, have touched off years of interpretive comment and analysis by all manner of critics, fans, Dylan lovers and Dylan detractors.  A sampling of such opinion and critique in more recent times can be found online at various blogs and websites such as SongFacts.com, where a free-ranging conversation on this song and others is posted for all to see.  Some comment from that site is sampled here below.  In one post there, a writer named “jerrybear” of Flint, Michigan offers this interpretation, among others:

…The “white ladder all covered with water” could refer to the popular capitalist myth of the ladder of success that everyone is supposed to be able to climb if only they work hard enough, blah blah yadda yadda.  Only some people may be so poor and beaten down that they cannot climb the ladder… For them the ladder is symbolically “covered with water” and no matter how hard they try to climb it they just keep slipping down….

     Tim, of Charlotte, North Carolina, offers his view on another “Hard Rain” line: “‘I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’– I always thought this was a reference to the Billie Holiday song ‘Strange Fruit,’ which referred to the lynchings of black people in the South…”  Bob of Boston has a different take on the same line:With Dylan’s work, like all poetry, “there are a myriad interpretations…” “I believe the line ‘I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’ is a reference to Dante’s Inferno where a group of sinners are doomed for eternity to be trapped in black trees.  When Dante breaks one of the branches the tree bleeds and cries out…”

     “This song is, indeed, about the threat of nuclear annihilation,”writes James of Wakefield, Massachusetts, citing the line, “the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world.”  But James also adds: “that is far too simplistic an analysis.  Bob Dylan’s work is as close as popular music ever came to approaching real poetry and, like all poetry, there are a myriad interpretations.  Some of the themes addressed in this work include the general injustice of the world, the unrealized ‘better society’ (‘a highway of diamonds with nobody on it’), the guilt and fear in leaving a dangerous and damaged world to the next generation (‘I saw a new-born baby with wild wolves all around it’),…the artist’s fear of ‘shouting in the wilderness,’ and so on…”

MCA single of “A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians from1989 film, “Born on The Fourth of July.”
MCA single of “A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians from1989 film, “Born on The Fourth of July.”
     Still others mentioned that a cover version of “Hard Rain” by Edie Brickell that is heard on the soundtrack of the 1989 Vietnam-era film, Born on the Fourth of July, was also quite moving for them. ” …I love the song,” wrote “James” of Boerne, Texas.  “It really made the movie, Born on the Fourth of July, for me.  I know that this song has been used in many tribute videos to honor our service men and women.”  Born on the Fourth of July, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic, the all-American boy who is paralyzed during combat in Vietnam and becomes an antiwar activist on his return to America, was nominated for eight academy awards.

     Another writer suggested that the highway-of-diamonds line “referred to the carbon in asphalt converted to diamond under intense (nuclear) heat.” Amanda, from Fayetteville, Arkansas wrote: “I believe the line about the woman whose body was burning is in reference to Joan of Arc, and the young girl who gave him a rainbow is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.  Just my opinion.”  And Mark from Washington, D.C. called Dylan “an empath, channeling the late 50’s and early 60’s mood and culture into lyrics.”  These, of course, are only a small sampling of opinion and interpretation on Dylan’s song from one website.


Cover art for Mark Edwards’ 2006 book, “Hard Rain.”
Cover art for Mark Edwards’ 2006 book, “Hard Rain.”
     In 1969, photographer Mark Edwards hit upon the idea of trying to compile photographs to illustrate each line of the Dylan’s “Hard Rain” song.  In May 2006, an exhibition of Edwards’ photos, following up on this idea, began to be shown at various venues around the world, followed by a book titled, Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature.  This work offers photographic images to help illustrate the “sad forests” and “dead oceans” that Dylan’s tune invoked, as well as the places “where the people are many and their hands are all empty” – and more.  Edwards’ intention was to highlight and go beyond many of interconnected problems that Dylan alluded to with his musical imagery – environmental degradation, poverty, the wasteful use of resources, and more.  The exhibition has been seen by some 15 million people at over 100 venues.  Similar work continues today with the Hard Rain Project and subsequent photographs and exhibition to help illustrate solutions to the problems highlighted in “Hard Rain.”

Cover art for Bob Dylan’s 2008 version of “a Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” produced for Expo Zaragoza.
Cover art for Bob Dylan’s 2008 version of “a Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” produced for Expo Zaragoza.
     Bob Dylan, too, has used his song for some environmental-related work.  In 2008 he recorded a new version of “Hard Rain” exclusively for Expo Zaragoza 2008 – a World’s fair focused on water resource issues and sustainable development.  Zaragoza is the capital city of the Zaragoza Province of Spain and the autonomous community of Aragon.  Zaragoza hosted Expo 2008. 

     Dylan also chose a local-band, Amaral, to record a version of the song in Spanish.  The new version of “Hard Rain” ended with a brief Dylan comment that he was “proud to be a part of the mission to make water safe and clean…”

 


Handwritten Lyrics

A portion of the page of Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for the song “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” that reportedly sold at auction in August 2009 for 51,363.60.  Click for auction site.
A portion of the page of Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for the song “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” that reportedly sold at auction in August 2009 for 51,363.60. Click for auction site.
     In 2009, an on-line auction site, Gotta Have Rock and Roll.com, obtained some of Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics for the song “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.”  According to the website, these working lyrics were given to Dylan’s long-time friend Peter McKenzie by Dylan’s first manager, Kevin Krown.  The website also had a signed and dated letter from forensic document examiner, James A. Blanco, giving his opinion that the writing was Dylan’s.  Described by the site as “an incredible rock and roll artifact showing the working of Dylan’s mind as he worked out the lyrics to this classic song, ” the item went up for bid in August 2009 with an estimated value of $30,000-$40,000.  On August, 6th 2009, after 11 bids, the handwritten lyrics were sold for $51,363.60.

     Since then, additional handwritten lyrics of Dylan’s have gone to the auction block, with collectors bidding even higher amounts.  Dylan‘s handwritten lyrics to “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with most of the verses appearing on a weathered sheet of ruled paper — which also included Dylan’s lyrics for “North Country Blues” on the back — sold at an auction for $422,500, according to a Sotheby’s representative.  The winning bidder in this case was Adam Sender, identified as an American collector and a hedge fund trader.  Mr. Sender also owns the guitar that John Lennon was using when he met Paul McCartney.  Sotheby’s was “banking on there being a rich person out there who came of age in the 1960s for whom this [Dylan’s lyrics] would mean a great deal,” said Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton University and author of Bob Dylan in America.

2005: Paperback edition of Bob Dylan’s memoir, “Chronicles,” Vol. 1, published by Simon & Schuster.
2005: Paperback edition of Bob Dylan’s memoir, “Chronicles,” Vol. 1, published by Simon & Schuster.
     The two sets of hand-written Dylan lyrics originate from a batch of documents that have been described as “The MacKenzie-Krown Papers,” according to Dylan historian Clinton Heylin.  Eve and Mac MacKenzie and Kevin Krown were friends of Dylan’s during his early New York years.  Together, they came to possess a number of Dylan’s early songs — some handwritten, some typed out with chords.  Kevin Krown, also a folk singer in the those years, introduced Dylan to the New York music scene in 1960, and the two became friends.  Krown came to have a number of Dylan’s lyrics sheets.  After Krown’s death in the 1990s, the lyrics were given to Eve and Peter MacKenzie, in whose New York apartment Dylan sometimes stayed and composed music.  The handwrittten notes for “The Times They Are-A Changin'” were first sold by the MacKenzies’ son, Peter, about 10 years ago to a private collector.

     Bob Dylan’s musical cannon, meanwhile, continues to be heard and played around the world.  To date, his “Hard Rain,” for example, has more than two dozen cover versions, including those by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Leon Russell, Bryan Ferry, Robert Plant, Jimmy Cliff, and others.  As a songwriter and musician, Dylan has received numerous awards over the years including Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards; he has also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  He is considered to be one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and has produced 34 studio albums, 13 live albums, and 14 compilation albums.  Seven of his albums were No. 1 hits on the U.K. album charts; five topped the charts in U.S.  In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

     See also at this website, “…Only A Pawn in Their Game,”another story of Dylan’s protest music from the early 1960s.  Additional stories on music at this website may be found at the Annals of Music category page, or go to the Home Page for other story choices.  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. —  Jack Doyle

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this Website

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Date Posted: 6 March 2012
Last Update: 29 May 2012
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Dylan’s Hard Rain, 1962-1963,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 6, 2012.

____________________________________


 


Sources, Links & Additional Information

Rolling Stone magazine’s cover story tribute to Bob Dylan at his 70th birthday, May 24, 2011.
Rolling Stone magazine’s cover story tribute to Bob Dylan at his 70th birthday, May 24, 2011.
“Live at The Gaslight 1962" is a CD with 10 songs from Bob Dylan performances at the Gaslight cafe in New York's Greenwich Village; Columbia Records, 2005.
“Live at The Gaslight 1962" is a CD with 10 songs from Bob Dylan performances at the Gaslight cafe in New York's Greenwich Village; Columbia Records, 2005.
The Original Mono Recordings box set of  Dylan's first 8 studio albums in mono on 9 CDs, released in October 2010 on Legacy Recordings with 56-page booklet.
The Original Mono Recordings box set of Dylan's first 8 studio albums in mono on 9 CDs, released in October 2010 on Legacy Recordings with 56-page booklet.
Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album, released in Aug. 1965, rose to No. 3 in the U.S., No. 4 in the U.K.
Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album, released in Aug. 1965, rose to No. 3 in the U.S., No. 4 in the U.K.
Clinton Heylin’s “Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973,” Chicago Review Press, 2009.
Clinton Heylin’s “Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973,” Chicago Review Press, 2009.

“Bob Dylan,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp.286-288.

Alan Light, “Bob Dylan,” in Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, New York: Random House, 1992, pp.299-308.

Bob Dylan, Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, New York: Borozi/Alfred A Knopf, 1973.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Wikipedia .org.

Associated Press, “Cuba Charges U.S. With Air Violations,” Washington Post, Times Herald, July 2, 1962, p. B-19.

“Raul Castro Sees Khrushchev,” Washington Post, Times Herald, July 4, 1962, p. A-8.

“Experts Doubt Landing Of Red Forces in Cuba,” The Washington Post, Times Herald, August 9, 1962, p. A-17.

“Cuba Says Sub Violated Waters; U.S. Denies It,” Washington Post, Times Herald, August 16, 1962, p. A-16.

“Red Technicians Landing in Cuba,” Washington Post, Times Herald, August 17, 1962, p. A-1.

“U.S. Studying Red Influx in Cuba,” Washington Post, Times Herald, August 23, 1962, A-17.

“15 Communist Ships Head for Cuba, Probably With Arms, Technicians,” Washington Post, Times Herald, August 24, 1962, p. A-8.

“Guns to Cuba,” Washington Post, Times Herald, August 24, 1962, p. A-12.

Joseph A. Loftus, “Russians Step Up Flow of Arms Aid to Castro Regime; More Technical Personnel Sent In–U.S. Aides Doubt Rise in Offensive Power; Soviet Increases Aid Flow to Cuba,” New York Times, August 25, 1962, p. 1.

Robert Shelton, “Songs a Weapon in Rights Battle; Vital New Ballads Buoy Negro Spirits Across the South; Music Is New Force in Bolstering Morale, Leaders Declare,” New York Times, August 20, 1962, p. 1.

“Carnegie Is Still Going Strong: Capacity Crowd at Hootenanny,” New York Times, September 24, 1962.

“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” Wikipedia .org.

“The Ten Greatest Bob Dylan Songs,” Rolling Stone.com.

Greil Marcus, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, Public Affairs, 2005.

Song List & Liner Notes by Nat Hentoff, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, May 1963.

Teri Tynes, “New York Notes on Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’,” Walking Off The Big Apple, March 31, 2010.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan,” SongFacts.com.

Evan Schlansky, “The 30 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs: #7, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’,” American Songwriter.com, May 1, 2009.

Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004, Paperback, 2005.

Mark Edwards, Lloyd Timberlake, Bob Dylan, Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature, Publisher: Still Pictures Moving Words, 2006.

The Hard Rain Project.

“Born on the Fourth of July (film),” Wiki- pedia.org.

Lot #171: Bob Dylan “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” Handwritten Working Lyrics, GottaHaveRockandRoll, Bidding ended  on: August 6, 2009.

Dave Itzkoff, “Sign of the `Times': Dylan’s Lyrics for Sale,”Arts Beat, New York Times, November 29, 2010.

“Bob Dylan’s Handwritten Lyrics on View in NYC,” The Independent (UK), December 4, 2010.

Dave Itzkoff, “Accept It: Dylan’s Lyrics Are Sold at Auction,”Arts Beat, New York Times, December 10, 2010.

“Bob Dylan’s Handwritten ‘Times They Are a-Changin” Lyrics Sell for $422,500; Hedge-Fund Trader Buys Document at Sotheby’s Auction,” Rolling Stone, December 10, 2010.

Katya Kazakina, “Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A-Changin’ Fetches $422,500,” Bloom- berg.com, December 10, 2010.

See also a new journal devoted to Bob Dylan’s art named Montague Street and also a related blog at GardenerIsGone.

___________________________________________


 



“Four Dead in O-hi-o”
1970

Life magazine of May 15, 1970 showing one of the Kent State University students who was shot by National Guardsman during a time of unrest over the Vietnam War.
Life magazine of May 15, 1970 showing one of the Kent State University students who was shot by National Guardsman during a time of unrest over the Vietnam War.
     “Ohio” is the name of a song that marks one of America’s darkest moments on the home front during the Vietnam War.  The song came in reaction to the May 1970 shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio — students shot by National Guard troops sent there to quell student unrest over the Vietnam War.  The song — by the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young —  is both a commemorative tune and a protest song that became popular, rising on the music charts following the shootings.  More on the song in a moment.  First, the events leading up to the shootings.

     On April 30th, 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon addressed the nation in a televised broadcast in which he explained that American military troops, engaged in the Vietnam War, had been sent into neighboring Cambodia.  This action — perceived by many as an expansion of the war and an invasion of another country — came in the midst of an already contentious national mood over the Vietnam War.  Student protests over the war had already occurred on many college campuses.  With the Cambodian invasion, more protesting ensued, including protests at Kent State University, located in the town of Kent in the northeastern Ohio, not far from the Pennsylvania border.  In the town of Kent, on Friday evening, May 1st, following daytime demonstrations on campus, some store fronts were damaged, leading to a call to Ohio Governor James Rhodes and his activation of a National Guard unit.

National Guardsmen with bayonets fixed near Taylor Hall at Kent State University, prior to shootings.
National Guardsmen with bayonets fixed near Taylor Hall at Kent State University, prior to shootings.
     On Saturday, May 2nd, some students helped clean up the damage that had occurred in town.  However, that evening, an Army Reserve Officer Training (ROTC) barracks on campus was surrounded by some 1,000 pro- testors, with a few setting it on fire.  Tensions mounted on all sides along with misunderstandings.  The National Guard, meanwhile, herded students into dormi- tories.  On Sunday morning, Ohio’s Republican Governor James Rhodes, in a press conference also broadcast to the troops on campus, vowed to “eradicate the problem” of protest at Kent State.  Later that day, some impromptu demon- strations occurred in the streets with tear gas being fired by the Guard.  As Monday’s planned demonstration on campus proceeded, about two thousand students gathered on a commons area.  The National Guard assumed a position nearby with loaded weapons and fixed bayonets.  The students were ordered to disband and things soon got out of control, resulting in the Guard firing on the students.  It was later determined that the Guard fired between 61 and 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds.  Four students were killed — two men and two women; two of whom were 19 years old and two 20.  Nine other male students were also wounded, one left with permanent paralysis.  Most of the injured were also in their early 20s.  Among those shot, not all were demonstrators; some were simply innocent bystanders.  The incident sparked national outrage  (see “Sources” below for links to more detailed accounts).

Mary Vecchio, screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller, killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970. Photo was taken by undergraduate John Filo and appeared on newspaper front pages the next day. It has become the iconic image of that tragic day.
Mary Vecchio, screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller, killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970. Photo was taken by undergraduate John Filo and appeared on newspaper front pages the next day. It has become the iconic image of that tragic day.
     The press and national media covered the story in detail, with many front-page newspaper accounts using what would become the iconic photograph of the event —  a young girl with arms outstretched screaming over the body of one of the slain students.  In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, protests and a student strike ensued across the country.  Two days after the Kent State incident, police wounded four demonstrators at the University of Buffalo.  On May 8th, some 100,000 protesters — angered over Kent State and the Cambodian invasion — gathered in Washington.  Another 150,000 protested in San Francisco.  Nationwide, four million students and 450 universities, colleges, and high schools would become involved in the student strike, which included mostly peaceful protests and walkouts.  However, on some campuses, ROTC buildings were attacked or set on fire, and 26 schools witnessed clashes between students and police.  National Guard units were mobilized on 21 campuses in 16 states.  Public opinion polls, meanwhile, supported Nixon’s actions, with 50 percent of the American public backing him in polls taken during the second week of May.  Fifty-eight percent blamed the students for what had occurred at Kent State.  In one pro-Nixon demonstration in New York City on May 8th, some construction workers supporting the President’s actions rioted and attacked demonstrating students.

     Following the Kent State tragedy there were extensive investigations that went on for years, with long-running legal proceedings and numerous books and articles written, some offering conspiracy theories.  The event was dissected from beginning to end to determine who was responsible, but debate continues to this day regarding what some believe are still unanswered questions (see “Sources” below for more detail & links).  But particulalry prominent among reactions to the shootings at the time of the incident was the song “Ohio” by the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — a song that reached the airwaves quite soon after the event.


Song History

Single sleeve for the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song , ‘Ohio’, with ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ on B side.
Single sleeve for the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song , ‘Ohio’, with ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ on B side.
     David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash — each a singer, songwriter and guitarist — had formed their group, “Crosby, Stills & Nash” in 1968-69.  Their debut album, Crosby, Stills & Nash, released in mid-1969, became quite popular among young listeners and especially on college campuses across the country.  The group became known for both their lyrics and melodic harmonies, and particularly the songs of that first album, such as, “Marrakesh Express,” “Suite For Judy Blue Eyes,” “Guinnevere,” “Wooden Ships,” and “Helplessly Hoping.”  Another song on that album, “Long Time Gone,” by David Crosby, was a response to the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.  “Marrakesh” and “Judy Blue Eyes”also became successful Top 30 singles.  By the summer of 1969, the group began touring and Neil Young, another singer-songwriter, had joined them.  Young would later write the song “Ohio.”

“Ohio”
Music Player

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     By March 1970, now a foursome, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y) released a second album, Déjà Vu.  In addition to having advance orders for more than 2 million copies (it eventually sold more than 7 million copies), this album included additional songs that marked the group as speaking for their generation and the unsettling times.  Among these was “Woodstock,” a song commemorating the giant gathering at the August 1969 music festival in New York’s Hudson Valley north of New York city ( “Woodstock” was written by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell who performed her own somewhat different version).  “Teach Your Children,” was another “message” song from the Déjà Vu album.  Both became top 20 hits as singles.  Then came the Kent State shootings in early May 1970.

Two Famous Photos

     In May 1970, Howard Ruffner was a second year student at Kent State University majoring in broadcast communications.  Before attending Kent State, he had spent four years in the Air Force where he had learned photography.  At the university, Ruffner was on the staff of the Daily Kent Stater newspaper and had captured some of the events that occurred during the shootings on May 4, 1970.  One of his photographs ended up on the Life magazine cover above, with others used in the cover story that ran inside the magazine.  Of the students who suffered that day, Ruffner stated, “I saw their faces and I could feel their pain, and I took their pictures so that no one would ever forget what happened at Kent State and the trauma that it caused for our nation.”

     Another Kent Stater on May 4th, 1970 was John Filo, a young undergraduate working in the Kent State photo lab.  As the protest ensued that day, he decided to grab his camera and see if he could get an interesting picture.  He saw one student waving a black flag on the hillside, with the National Guard in the background.  He took that photograph, believing he had recorded the moment.  As he wandered through a parking lot where a lot of the students had gathered, the National Guard suddenly opened fire.  Filo thought they were shooting blanks, and started taking pictures.  A second later, he saw Mary Vecchio crying over the body of one of the students who had just been killed.  He took the picture.  A few hours later, he started to transmit the photos he had taken to the Associated Press from a small newspaper in nearby Pennsylvania.  The photograph won him a Pulitzer Prize.

     Neil Young by then had already demon- strated his singer-songwriter talents on previous work and he brought an important dimension to the group’s sound and message.  His song “Ohio,” about the Kent State shootings, captured some of the anger and frustration felt by many young people at that time.

     According to the story behind this song, Young was given an early copy of the Life magazine issue that had run the dramatic cover photo of a shot student being attended on its May 15th, 1970 issue (photo at top of page, above).  David Crosby had given him the magazine copy, and after Young looked at the photos and read the story, he reportedly disappeared for several hours, returning later with his song.

     The four musicians then rehearsed a version of the song which was then recorded on the evening of May 15th, 1970 at the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles.  The foursome, with other back-up musicians, recorded it live in just a few takes.  During the same session they also recorded what would become the single’s B-side, Stephen Stills’ ode to the Vietnam war’s dead, “Find the Cost of Freedom.”

     The record was then mastered and rush-released by the Atlantic record label soon after its recording.  It was being sold on the market as a 45 rpm single in June and was being heard on the radio even before that, within weeks of the shootings.  But the new song wasn’t welcomed everywhere.  In some parts of the country it was banned from radio playlists — especially AM radio, the mainstream pop radio in those days.  The song was held off the air at a number of those stations because of it’s “anti-war” and “anti-Nixon” sentiments.  Meanwhile, FM radio, then regarded as underground radio, played the song without hesitation.  In any case, the song’s lyrics — especially the refrain, “four dead in O-hi-o” — became a ringing anthem for a gener- ation angered by the war and what had happened at Kent State.

“Ohio”
Lyrics by Neil Young

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down

Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio.
Four dead in Ohio…

[ fade…]
…How many more…?  Why?…

     Bill Halverson, who was the engineer in the studio for the recording of “Ohio,”and had worked with the group on their other music, later explained of the AM/FM radio issue: “… I do recall that AM wouldn’t play it, and it was very controversial that AM wouldn’t play it.  And FM, the underground — all the FM stations started playing it… And it got up in the 30s or so [on the music charts] just with FM play. …At that point, FM was pretty underground and AM was the deal.  But they tried to ban it.”

     In any event, “Ohio” entered the music charts on July 11th, 1970 and reached No. 14 at its peak, remaining in the Top 40 for about seven weeks that summer.


Presidential Commission

     Following the tragedy at Kent State University — and also at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, where two students were killed and at least twelve wounded during May 14th demonstrations that followed the Kent State shootings — President Nixon established the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest on June 13, 1970.  The Commission conducted a series of hearings and an investigation,  issuing its findings in a formal report September 1970. That report concluded the Kent State shootings were “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”  The report also added: “Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force.  The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified…. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”

     Meanwhile, years later, Crosby, Stills, and Nash visited the Kent State campus on May 4, 1997, attending the 27th annual commemoration of the shootings.  When asked about the song “Ohio” on this occasion and why the group was attending the commemoration, Graham Nash responded:  “Four young men and women had their lives taken from them while lawfully protesting this outrageous government action.  We are going back [to Kent State] to keep awareness alive in the minds of all students, not only in America, but worldwide…to be vigilant and ready to stand and be counted… and to make sure that the powers of the politicians do not take precedent over the right of lawful protest.”  Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed “Ohio” at the end of the commemoration ceremony.


The CSN&Y Sound

Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby, on the cover of their 1969 album that helped advance the singer-songwriter genre of music in the 1970s.
Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby, on the cover of their 1969 album that helped advance the singer-songwriter genre of music in the 1970s.
     Even though they performed together as a group for only a few years, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had a significant impact on the music scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.  In 1969, their first album in particular, Crosby, Stills & Nash, proved very influential in advancing the singer-songwriter movement of that era, and helped define a kind of “California” or “soft rock” sound subsequently heard throughout the 1970s in groups such as The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and others.  The album has been rated among the top 300 all time by Rolling Stone, and it has been issued on compact disc three times: the mid-1980s, again in 1994, and most recently as an expanded edition in 2006.  Their second album as well, Déjà Vu, which was a No. 1 album at its release in March 1970, has also been named as one of the top albums of all time by Rolling Stone, VH-1, and others.

     CSN&Y’s “Ohio” is perhaps the most well-known song associated with the Kent State shootings.  However, at least a dozen other artists have made lesser-known Kent State tribute songs, including Dave Brubeck, the Beach Boys, Steve Miller, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Walsh (see “artist tributes.”).

See also at this website, “Kent State Reaction,” a short story on the protest and I-5 freeway occupation by students at the University of Washington in Seattle upon learning of the Kent State shootings. For additional stories on politics please see the “Politics & Culture” page, and for music, the “Annals of Music” page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

Please Support
this Website

Donate Now

Thank You

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Date Posted: 13 July 2009
Last Update:  15 October 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Four Dead in O-hi-o, 1970,”
PopHistoryDig.com, July 13, 2009.

______________________________




 


Sources, Links & Additional Information

National Guard in position on the campus of Kent State University, early May 1970.
National Guard in position on the campus of Kent State University, early May 1970.
“Inquire, Learn, Reflect: May 4, 1970,” Kent State University Website with Links.

Kent State Shootings,” Wikipedia.org.

Photos – “Four Dead Students and Nine Injured,” May 1970.

I. F. Stone, The Killings at Kent State; How Murder Went Unpunished, New York: Vintage Books, 1970.

I. F. Stone, “Fabricated Evidence in the Kent State Killings”, The New York Review of Books, Vol. 15, No.10, December 3, 1970.

“At War with War” (cover story on student protest & Kent State shootings), Time, Monday, May 18, 1970.

Tear gas being fired on demonstrators at Kent State University, May 4, 1970.
Tear gas being fired on demonstrators at Kent State University, May 4, 1970.

“New Trial Called in Kent State Suit That Seeks Damages in ’70 Killings; Governor Told Not to Talk,” New York Times, Tuesday, September 13, 1977, p. 16.

“Ohio Approves $675,000 to Settle Suits in 1970 Kent State Shootings; Governor Rhodes and 27 National Guardsmen Offer Their Regrets for Deaths of 4 and Injuries to 9; Earlier Trial Finding Deep Emotions Over Years,” New York Times, Friday, January 5, 1979, p. A-12.

“May 1-4, 1970: Why and How It All Began.”

New York Times of May 5, 1970 with headline ‘4 Kent State Students Killed by Troops,’ and subhead, ‘8 Hurt as Shooting Follows Reported Sniping at Rally.’
New York Times of May 5, 1970 with headline ‘4 Kent State Students Killed by Troops,’ and subhead, ‘8 Hurt as Shooting Follows Reported Sniping at Rally.’
James Renner, “The Kent State Conspiracies: What Really Happened On May 4, 1970?”, Cleveland Free Times, Vol 14, No. 3, May 2006.

Ohio,” Wikipedia.org.

William A. Gordon, Four Dead in Ohio, North Ridge Books, 1995.

Photos from Kent State shootings, May 1970.

The Ohio Historical Society, “Kent State University: May 4, 1970,” Ohio Historical Marker, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio. See for example: “Kent State University Shooting 2.”

The Report of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, Wash., DC: U.S. Govern- ment Printing Office, September 1970.

The Parkersburg News of Parkersburg, West Virginia carried a somewhat different headline on the shootings, but also mentioned Cambodia in a top headline.
The Parkersburg News of Parkersburg, West Virginia carried a somewhat different headline on the shootings, but also mentioned Cambodia in a top headline.

Henry Diltz and Dave Zimmer, Crosby Stills & Nash: The Authorized Biography, St. Martin’s Press, 1984

“Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 224-225.

The Tony Bittick Interview: Text of Interview with Bill Halverson About the Recording of ‘Ohio’ and the Events at Kent State.

Scott Bills, Kent State/May 4: Echoes Through a Decade, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1988.

National Geographic Channel documentary series, How It Was: Kent State Shootings, 2008.

May 15, 1970 headlines from Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University, where demonstrations also occurred. Headline below photo notes Jackson, Miss. shootings. Front page photo, courtesy Ken Steinhoff.
May 15, 1970 headlines from Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University, where demonstrations also occurred. Headline below photo notes Jackson, Miss. shootings. Front page photo, courtesy Ken Steinhoff.

Gary Tuchman, “Kent State Shootings Remembered,” CNN.com, May 4, 2000

Suzanne Goldenberg, Washington Bureau, “Tape Reveals Order’ to Shoot Vietnam Protesters; 37-Year-Old Recording of Kent State Killings Found,” The Guardian (U.K.), Wednesday, May 2, 2007.

Christopher Maag, “Kent State Tape Is Said to Reveal Orders,” New York Times, May 2, 2007.

Extensive On-Line Kent State University Photo Archive, at: University News Service, Photographs, April 30, 1970 – May 4, 1977 (bulk May 4, 1970).

“At War With War,” (cover story on student protest & Kent State shootings), Time, Monday, May. 18, 1970.

Ken Steinhoff, “Kent State: Never Forget,” Story & Photo Gallery.

Ken Steinhoff, “Kent State: ‘Never Forget’,” PalmBeachBikeTours.com, May 4, 2009.



 




“Only A Pawn in Their Game”
1962-1964

July 2, 1963: Bob Dylan at civil rights gathering in Greenwood, Mississippi singing ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game,’ a song about the murder of activist Medgar Evers.
July 2, 1963: Bob Dylan at civil rights gathering in Greenwood, Mississippi singing ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game,’ a song about the murder of activist Medgar Evers.
     In the summer of 1963, the civil rights movement in the United States was coming to a head.  There had already been eight years of activism in the south, beginning with the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, where a young preacher named Martin Luther King began to emerge as a leader.  In 1957, the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas had begun.

In the early 1960s, lunch counter sit-ins challenging “whites only” serving policies at drug stores and restaurants began to get national notice after small groups of black activists in Greensboro, North Carolina and college students in Nashville, Tennessee conducted such protests in their towns. In 1961, hundreds of black and white “freedom riders” were drawn to the south to test federal requirements for desegregating interstate bus travel. By then as well, a few black students, for the first time, had gained admission to the universities of Alabama and Georgia. Blacks across the south and elsewhere were finding they could act to change their world. Medgar Evers, of Decatur Mississippi, in his mid-30s by that time, was one of those who became committed to action.

Meanwhile, a world away in New York’s Greenwhich Village, a new, young singer named Bob Dylan had been playing coffee houses and recording new folk music along with old blues. Some of his songs would turn toward civil rights matters. More on Dylan in a moment.

Medgar Evers, 1963.
Medgar Evers, 1963.
     Back in Mississippi, Medgar Evers would become one of the rising young leaders in the state’s civil rights movement.  In the 1940s, he had dropped out of high school at the age of 17, joined the army and fought in Europe during WWII, completing his service honorably in 1945.  But when Evers returned home, he was prevented from voting in elections, and was also intimidated by a mob of white men.  He vowed then to work for change.  By 1952, he graduated from Alcorn State University and married a classmate Myrlie Beasley. 

“Only a Pawn
in Their Game”
1963

A bullet from the back of a bush
took Medgar Evers’ blood.
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game.

A South politician preaches
to the poor white man,
“You got more than the blacks,
don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born
with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the
governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man’s used in the
hands of them all like a tool.
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

From the poverty shacks, he looks
from the cracks to the tracks,
And the hoof beats pound in his brain.
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ‘neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from
the bullet he caught.
They lowered him down as a king.
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.

     In early 1954, Medgar Evers applied to the then-segregated University of Mississippi to study law.  When his application was rejected, Evers became the focus of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school that would later culminate in the 1961-62 case of another student, James Meredith.  By this time, Evers and his family were living in Jackson, Mississippi and he became the first field secretary of the NAACP in that state.  He traveled throughout Mississippi recruiting new members, organizing voter-registration, protesting unequal social conditions, and boycotting companies that practiced discrimination.  Evers soon had a high profile as an activist, and that made him a threat to the power structure in Mississippi, and also a target.

 

Shot in the Back

     On June 12, 1963, just past midnight, Evers drove up to his Jackson home, parking under the car port, the kitchen door to his house a short distance away.  Evers that night had attended a group meeting at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, while his wife Myrlie and his children watched President Kennedy’s televised speech — a speech that focused on the racial tensions in Birmingham, Alabama, where violent clashes between protesters and police had been going on for the past two months.  As Evers got out of his car, he grabbed a bundle of T-shirts that were to be handed out the next morning to civil rights demonstrators.  He only took a few steps away from his car toward the kitchen door when he was shot in back.  The bullet tore though his body and went into the house where his wife Myrlie and their three children were.  “Medgar was lying there on the doorstep in a pool of blood,” said Myrlie. “I tried to get the children away. But they saw it all — the blood and the bullet hole that went right through him.”  Medgar Evers was 37.

     On June 19, 1963 in Washington D.C., Evers was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, receiving full military honors.  More than three thousand people attended.  It was the largest funeral at Arlington since the interment of John Foster Dulles, former U.S. Secretary of State in 1959.  On June 23, 1964, Byron De La Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and member of the White Citizens’ Council and Ku Klux Klan, was arrested for Evers’ murder, but it would take decades before justice was finally served in the case.

 

“Oxford Town”

     Back in New York’s Greenwhich Village, Bob Dylan had generated some commercial interest with his folk music and performances at local coffee houses, and had begun recording.  In 1962, he released his first album, titled Bob Dylan. By then he had also written songs such as “Blowin in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” which were labeled “protest music” by some since they touched on issues of the day, including civil rights.  Some of Dylan’s music keyed specifically on civil rights controversies of that time. In 1962, for example, he wrote “Oxford Town” — a song about the riots that occurred in Oxford, Mississippi after James Meredith became the first black student to be admitted to University of Mississippi.

“Oxford Town”
1962

Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their heads bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town

He went down to Oxford Town
Guns and clubs followed him down
All because his face was brown
Better get away from Oxford Town

Oxford Town around the bend
He come in to the door, he couldn’t get in
All because of the color of his skin
What do you think about that, my frien’?

Me and my gal, my gal’s son
We got met with a tear gas bomb
I don’t even know why we come
Goin’ back where we come from

Oxford Town in the afternoon
Ev’rybody singin’ a sorrowful tune
Two men died ‘neath the Mississippi moon
Somebody better investigate soon

Oxford Town, Oxford Town
Ev’rybody’s got their heads bowed down
The sun don’t shine above the ground
Ain’t a-goin’ down to Oxford Town

     The small town of Oxford was the university’s main campus and on September 20, 1962, it became something of battleground, as U.S. Marshalls had been sent there under direct order from President John F. Kennedy to ensure James Meredith’s enrollment and protection.  Rioting ensued; two were killed and numerous students were injured.  Dylan’s “Oxford Town” focused the events surrounding the campus riots and Meredith’s enrollment there, and also the larger civil rights movement then unfolding.  “Oxford Town” was written by Dylan in October or November 1962 and first recorded on December 6, 1962.  He is said to have performed the song at appearances in the fall and winter of 1962 and 1963, including a Carnegie Hall concert in October 1963.  The song also  appears on Dylan’s second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

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“Oxford Town”-1962

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     Back in New York, Dylan continued to perform in Greenwich Village, as well other cities during 1963, and also a few television shows.  On May 12, 1963, Dylan sparked controversy when he walked out of a rehearsal for a scheduled appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Dylan wanted to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” but was informed by CBS Television’s “head of program practices” that the song was potentially libelous to the John Birch Society.  Rather than comply with the censorship, Dylan refused to appear on the program.  He did perform several days later with Joan Baez on May 18, 1963 at the Monterey folk festival in California.  His second album, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released at the end of May 1963.

Pete Seeger performing in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Pete Seeger performing in Greenwood, Mississippi.
     Following the murder of Medgar Evers on June 12th, 1963, Dylan was moved to write a song about the incident, which he titled “Only a Pawn in Their Game.”  In Mississippi that summer, there were voter registration drives underway in various communities, one of which was Greenwood, Mississippi.  It was here that Dylan visited on July 2, 1963 after an overnight flight.  He performed there before a small gathering of civil rights workers and did the song “Only A Pawn in Their Game” and others.  Pete Seeger, who had been there for a few days already, also performed at the Greenwood gathering.

Joan Baez & Dylan in August 1963 at the historic ‘March on Washington’.
Joan Baez & Dylan in August 1963 at the historic ‘March on Washington’.
     Elsewhere that summer, Dylan would also perform his songs, including those with the civil rights themes, at numerous performances.  At the July 26, 1963 Newport Music Festival, he performed “Only A Pawn in Their Game” and did duets with Joan Baez, some in small group sessions.  On the main stage near the end of the festival, the songs “We Shall Overcome” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” were performed with a larger group that included Dylan, Baez, Pete Seger, the Freedom Singers, and Peter, Paul and Mary.  In late August 1963, at the historic “March on Washington,” Dylan sang “Only A Pawn in Their Game”, among others, at the Lincoln Memorial — where Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.  Nor would Dylan end his songwriting of civil rights-related music with his 1963 Medgar Evers tune.

 

Hattie Carroll’s Death

     Dylan also wrote and recorded a song in late October 1963 entitled, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”  The song first appeared on Dylan’s 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin.’  However, he performed the song live very soon after he had first written it.  The song provides what is believed to be a generally factual account of the death of 51 year-old African American barmaid named Hattie Carroll.  She was struck by a wealthy young tobacco farmer from Charles County, Maryland named William Devereux “Billy” Zantzinger — named “William Zanzinger” in Dylan’s song.  For his crime, Zantzinger served a sentence of six months in a county jail.  In 1963, Charles County, Maryland was still strictly segregated by race in public facilities such as restaurants, churches, theaters, doctor’s offices, buses, and the county fair.  The schools of Charles County, for example, would not be integrated until 1967, four years after Hattie Carroll was killed.

“The Lonesome Death
Of Hattie Carroll”

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ‘em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’.
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

     Reportedly, the main incident occurred at a white-tie Spinsters’ Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland in early February 1963.  A drunken Zant- zinger arrived at the hotel carrying a toy cane  — a cane later described by Time magazine as “a wooden carnival cane that he had picked up somewhere.”  At the Emerson Hotel, Zantzinger assaulted at least three of the hotel workers: a bellboy, a waitress, and, at about 1:30 in the morning of February 9th, barmaid Hattie Carroll.  She was 51 years old, the mother of ten children. Zantzinger — then 24 years old and about 6′-2″ — struck her after she did not bring his bourbon quickly enough.

     When Zantzinger and his party arrived at the hotel that night, he was already drunk and had earlier assaulted employees at a Baltimore restaurant, also using his toy cane.  At the hotel Ball, however, he continued to be abusive, calling a 30-year-old waitress a “nigger” and hitting her with his cane.  Shortly thereafter he started in on Hattie Carroll when she didn’t bring his bourbon immediately, cursing her — calling her a “nigger” and a ” black son of a bitch” — and hitting her on the shoulder with the cane.  He also attacked his own wife, knocking her to the ground and hitting her with his shoe.  Hattie Carroll meanwhile, told co-workers she felt ill after being hit and verbally abused, and then collapsed.  She was  hospital- ized shortly thereafter and died eight hours later.  Her autopsy showed hardened arteries, an enlarged heart, and high blood pressure.  A brain hemorrhage was the reported cause of death.

     Zantzinger was initially charged with murder.  His defense was that he had been extremely drunk and said he had no memory of the attack.  His charge was reduced to manslaughter and assault, based on the likelihood that it was her stress reaction to his verbal and physical abuse that led to the intracranial bleeding, rather than blunt-force trauma from the blow that left no lasting mark.  On August 28, 1963 Zantzinger was convicted of both charges and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.

Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963.
Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963.
     Time magazine, covering the sentencing, noted:

     “In June, after Zantzinger’s phalanx of five topflight attorneys won a change of venue to a court in Hagerstown [50 miles or so west of Baltimore], a three-judge panel reduced the murder charge to manslaughter.  Following a three-day trial, Zant- zinger was found guilty.  For the assault on the hotel employees: a fine of $125.  For the death of Hattie Carroll: six months in jail and a fine of $500.  The judges considerately deferred the start of the jail sentence until September 15, to give Zantzinger time to harvest his tobacco crop.”

     Bob Dylan, meanwhile, had been following the case in the news, and reportedly wrote the song in Manhattan, sitting in an all-night cafe.  He recorded it on October 23, 1963, when the trial was still relatively fresh news, and incorporated it into his live performances.  Dylan also performed the song on Steve Allen’s network television program soon after its release.  A studio version of the song was later released on January 13, 1964 and it also appears on Dylan’s 1964 album, The Times They are A-Changin’.  But by then Dylan had begun moving away from protest and folk music.

 

Reluctant Icon

Dylan, with guitar, in the early 1960s somewhere in the south -- quite possibly Greenwood, MS, July 1963.  Photo, www.bobdylan.com
Dylan, with guitar, in the early 1960s somewhere in the south -- quite possibly Greenwood, MS, July 1963. Photo, www.bobdylan.com
     Dylan, by virtue of his early 1960s protest music, had become something of a civil rights icon and protest leader — at least in the eyes of many civil rights workers at the time.  But he soon moved to take himself out of that role, feeling restricted and pigeon- holed by the designation.  In December 1963, three weeks after the assassination of John Kennedy and four months after the March on Washington, Dylan was the invited guest of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at their annual Bill of Rights dinner.  There, Dylan was to receive the Tom Paine Award for services to the cause.  But in accepting the award that evening, and after some heavy drinking, Dylan signaled his frustration with the protest role, finding it a burden and a limit on his creativity.  For some, this was Dylan marking the end of that involvement; expressing his rejection of his role in protest politics and of folk musician in that genre.  It would be something of a pattern for Dylan whenever the outside world tried to define him.  In mid-1964 he reportedly said to writer Nat Hentoff: “Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore — you know, be a spokesman.  From now on, I want to write from inside me …I’m not part of no movement… I just can’t make it with any organization…”  Then came Dylan’s embrace of electric music at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965, which left many of his fans and colleagues in shocked disbelief.  Yet the change in style, like his speech at the civil rights award dinner, would be “Dylan being Dylan,” following his muse, and rejecting outside labels, especially when others would try to impose some definition on who he was or what his music meant.

     In any case, while Dylan the musician continued to move on to new musical forms and genres — as he does to this day — his contributions to protest music are fact, remain significant, and have become legend.  Dylan’s protest songs of the early 1960s did make an important contribution for many in the civil rights arena and beyond. Dylan’s contributions to protest music are fact,  remain significant, and have become legend. “He was a folk-singer writing during a time when popular song focused on ‘Moon-June’ sentimentality and vacuous ditties,” wrote Robert Chapman in the late 1990s on why Dylan was important to civil rights in the early 1960s.  “At the time it was unheard of for a young white songwriter to compose the kind of songs that he did, and he knocked down some serious barriers as to what was thought possible within the parameters of popular music.”  In addition to “A Pawn in the Game,” “Oxford Town,” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” mentioned here, other protest and civil rights-related songs he wrote include: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, and “The Death Of Emmett Till” (a song about the a young Chicago boy beaten to death on a visit to Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman).  And of course, there is also “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Another photo of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger at the July 1963 Greenwood, MS gathering.
Another photo of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger at the July 1963 Greenwood, MS gathering.
     Although “Blowin’ in the Wind” is regarded generally as a protest song about peace, war, and freedom, it became something of an anthem for the civil rights movement.  Upon first hearing the song in the 1960s, other musicians involved with civil rights, such as Marvin Gaye and Mavis Staples of the Staples Sisters, were quite impressed.  Staples, in fact, said she was amazed at how a young white man at that time could write something that captured the frustration and aspirations of black people. 

     “Blowin’ in the Wind,” however, was not made famous by Dylan, but by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. Albert Grossman, who then managed Dylan, also managed Peter, Paul and Mary. Their version of the song, released as a single in 1963, sold 300,000 copies in the first week.  By mid-July 1963, it was No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart and had sales exceeding one million copies.  But it was Dylan’s songwriting that shone through on this and other songs of that era.

See also at this website, “Dylan’s Hard Rain, 1962-1963,” a story on the history, reaction, and various interpretations of his song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” For additional stories on music, see the Annals of Music category page, and for politics, the Politics & Culture page. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  13 October 2008
Last Update:  14 December 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Only A Pawn in Their Game,”
PopHistoryDig.com, October 13, 2008. 

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

This 1964 Dylan album contains both ‘Only A Pawn...’ and ‘Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.’
This 1964 Dylan album contains both ‘Only A Pawn...’ and ‘Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.’
“Northern Folk Singers Help Out at Negro Festival in Mississippi, New York Times, July 7, 1963.

Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, Da Capo Press, 2003 reprint of 1986 original, 576 pp.

Pete Seeger, “Report from Greenwood, Mississippi: A Singing Movement,” originally published in Broadside Magazine, No. 30, August 1963; also in, Pete Seeger, The Incompleat Folksinger, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972, p. 247.

Gerry Cordon, Liverpool Community College, Book Review: Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan’s Art, by Mike Marqusee New Press, 2003, Review posted, January 18, 2005.

“The Spinsters’ Ball,” Time, Friday, February 22, 1963.

“Farmer Convicted in Barmaid’s Death,” New York Times, June 28, 1963. p. 11.

1965 recording of songs & narrative related to voter registration drive & related activities.   (2004, Smithsonian Folkways)
1965 recording of songs & narrative related to voter registration drive & related activities. (2004, Smithsonian Folkways)
“Farmer Sentenced in Barmaid’s Death,” New York Times, August 29, 1963. p. 15.

“Deferred Sentence,” Time, September 6, 1963.

Robert Chapman, writing on “African American Culture and Bob Dylan: Why He Matters,” posted to selected newsgroups, Saturday April 26, 1997, and later reprinted at “Things Twice” web page.

Bob Dylan’s website; source for “Dylan in South photo.”

“Bob Dylan” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” Wikipedia.org.

“Negro Applies to Enter Ole Miss,” The Jackson Daily News (Jackson, MS), January 22, 1954.

Manfred Helfert, “A Bullet from the Back of a Bush — The Life and Death of Medgar Wiley Evers,” Dignity, No. 9, Mar/Apr 1997, pp. 18-24.

Audio recording, The Story of Greenwood Mississippi, Recorded and Produced by Guy Carawan for the Student No-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Featuring Bob Moses and SNCC workers, Fanny Lou Hammer and Greenwood citizens, Mass meetings, hymns, prayers, Freedom songs, Medgar Evers and Dick Gregory, 2004 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / 1965 Folkways Records #5593.

Murray Lerner, producer, The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 (DVD), Sony, 2007.

See also a new journal devoted to Bob Dylan’s art named Montague Street and also a related blog at GardenerIsGone.

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