#885: 1975, Bob Dylan, Hurricane

by Jackie_South on April 21, 2014

Yesterday, former middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died. He fought, but lost, the world title in 1964.

But he is better known for what happened three years later, when he was convicted, along with his friend John Artis, for the double homicide committed in a bar in Peterson, New Jersey. He served eighteen years in prison. You could argue that he was fortunate with that: the prosecutors had pressed for the death penalty.

The problem was that the evidence was extremely flimsy and Carter always protested his innocence. The facts are these: two men were murdered in the bar and a third seriously injured. One witness, Alfred Bello, said he saw two black men flee the bar – Bello was using the furore to rob the till at the time. Another witness saw both Bello leave the bar and a white car driven by two black men speed away. The police arrested Carter and Artis in a white car in town.

That was about the sum of the evidence: no fingerprints, no gunshot residue. The surviving victim positively identified Carter as not being the culprit. The person who called the police, Patricia Valentine, did not see anyone. The facts suggest that the police, angered by Carter’s vocal support of the Black Power movement, planted evidence in the car and lent on Bello to falsify his testimony.

Bello recanted his testimony in 1975, and a campaign then rapidly mounted to have Carter freed. It prompted Bob Dylan to return to the protest songs he had abandoned after The Times They Are A’Changin’ twelve years before. It is arguably the last truly great Dylan track: bristling with righteous anger on Carter’s behalf, dramatic acoustic guitar and the brilliant use of violin, swirling its tune around Dylan’s lyrics and soaring away in between verses.

It still took another decade for Carter to be released.

Dylan’s label are notoriously difficult about You Tube clips, so this live performance is the best I can find: great, but the violin misses the mark occasionally. Go and dig out Dylan’s Desire for the real thing.

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