Since I go to BobDylan.com every day at least once now, I may be the first to have noticed that Columbia is releasing a new two dvd/two cd version of the Thirtieth Anniversary Concert. I plan to pre-order it, but as I am STILL waiting on the copy of the Complete Album Collection that I ordered in December, I have no faith that it will actually ever arrive. That said, I can’t watch it until 1992, which is some time around August so there’s plenty of time.
I do remember watching this show on television when it aired, though the only thing that sticks in my memory is Sinead O’Connor being booed off the stage following her Pope-ripping incident on Saturday Night Live, and Kris Kristofferson coming out to speak to her (“Don’t let the bastards get you down”). There’s a lot to be said about the relation of that to Dylan’s own Judas moment, but it will have to wait for a few months.
My self-imposed rules don’t allow me to skip ahead to show you a Dylan clip from this show, but nothing stops me from linking to a Bob Marley cover:
The best song on The Times They Are A-Changin’ is “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, the strongest topical song that Dylan ever wrote.
In Chronicles, Dylan notes that this song was a major change in his writing, and that it was influenced by the work of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, in particular “Pirate Jenny” which he wrote out the lyrics for in an effort to understand how it was constructed.
The story was literally ripped from the headlines, as William Zantzinger killed Hattie Carroll in Baltimore on February 9, 1963 and the song was recorded in October of that year. The story is, in some ways, even more disturbing than the song presents it – Zantzinger actually assaulted three staff people at the hotel and his own wife in a drunken rage. The indictment of the Maryland legal system is thorough and well merited, and the song has all the hallmarks of a great tragedy.
The NBC tv show, Homicide: Life on the Streets, which did more to talk about race than probably any show on network television before or since, actually based a three-part series of episodes at the beginning of their sixth season around this song – modernizing the class issues for the 1990s – that was among the best material that that show ever produced (which is saying something given how many great episodes that series produced).
“Hattie Carroll” is a testament to the blunt, direct reportage of the topical song. It takes its power from its truth, and its truth is particularly galling.