Woke-washing Bob Dylan

Andrew Donaldson |

11 May 2022

Andrew Donaldson writes on the controversy over the BBC’s mutilation of the music ‘Hurricane’


A COUPLE of Sundays again, a crudely “edited” model of Bob Dylan’s Hurricane was broadcast on the BBC’s 6 Music station. A line containing the N-word had been hacked from the music. Listeners weren’t knowledgeable beforehand that it had been censored and producers of the Now Playing @6Music programme have but to elucidate why they deleted the road. A row of kinds adopted.

The music, which opened Dylan’s 1975 album, Desire, is concerning the middleweight boxer Rubin Carter, who was wrongfully convicted for a triple homicide in a New Jersey bar in 1966 and imprisoned for all times. After a prolonged appeals course of, Carter was lastly freed in 1985 after a ruling that his conviction had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure”.

Hurricane, with lyrics co-written by theatre director Jacques Levy, was thought-about to be a return to Dylan’s early Nineteen Sixties “protest” kind. It was not with out controversy. An earlier model, carried out reside on America’s Public Broadcasting Service, recommended that key witnesses in Carter’s trial had “robbed the bodies” of the victims, an allegation that Columbia Records’ attorneys warned might end in a expensive defamation lawsuit. The music was rapidly rerecorded and launched with altered lyrics. It nonetheless drew authorized motion: an eyewitness who claimed the music portrayed her as being a part of the conspiracy to border Carter sued Dylan for libel. Her swimsuit was dismissed.

Hurricane additionally stands accused of varied factual errors. Boxing aficionados, for instance, level out that Carter was by no means the “number one contender the middleweight crown”, as Dylan had claimed, however was, as an alternative, ranked ninth on the time of his arrest and had by no means been ranked larger than third in his complete profession. Others had accused the songwriter of “excessive poetic licence”; whereas he praised the music, one Dylan biographer complained it fails to say Carter’s “antagonistic rhetoric, criminal history, or violent temper”.

For all that, the music is an “impassioned anti-racist account of a notorious injustice”, as one lister complained to the BBC, and “the line you omitted is very much a key moment in the story; a key moment, because in Dylan’s story-telling, even black onlookers assumed Carter was guilty…”:


All of Rubin’s playing cards have been marked prematurely
The trial was a pig-circus, he by no means had an opportunity
The choose made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white people who watched, he was a revolutionary bum

And to the black people he was only a loopy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the set off
And although they may not produce the gun
The DA stated he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed

Dylan isn’t any stranger to prices of “excessive poetic licence”. An earlier controversy considerations The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, a “topical” music from his 1964 album, The Times They Are a-Changin’. Given the occasions that impressed the music, the factual errors appear negligible.

Carroll was a 51-year-old black barmaid who died about eight hours after being assaulted in a racist fury at a Baltimore lodge by a drunk William Zantzinger, the 24-year-old scion of a rich Maryland tobacco farming household. She wasn’t Zantzinger’s solely sufferer that night. He had additionally lashed out and abused different staffers who had been sluggish in serving him drink. He’d even attacked his personal spouse, knocking her to the bottom and hitting her along with his shoe.