Hurricane — Bob Dylan Meaning of the song

On April 20, 2014, former boxer Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter passed away. He could well have become a world champion, but spent almost two decades in prison for a triple murder, which he most likely did not commit. A feature film, The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington, was made about his life. But the world paid close attention to the athlete’s case after Bob Dylan dedicated the song Hurricane to him. We will talk about this story.

The case of Rubin Carter

It all started on June 16, 1966 at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. At night, three whites were shot dead in this institution. Almost immediately after the incident, the police detained Rubin Carter and his friend John Artis. They were taken to the hospital, where one of the victims was dying, thinking that he would be able to identify the killers. But their hopes were not justified.

The grand jury then considered the case and declined to press charges against the suspects. But three months later, local criminal Alfred Bello, who he said was near the bar that night, said he recognized Rubin and his friend as killers. Based only on the testimony of such an unreliable person who had numerous troubles with the law, the court found the guys guilty of triple murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. The lack of motive and evidence did not stop the jury.

While behind bars, Carter wrote his autobiography, which he titled The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472. In the book, he maintained his innocence and talked about the trial’s bias due to racial discrimination.

He sent a copy to Bob Dylan. The musician was struck by the tragic fate of the former boxer, and he came to visit him. This is how he later described his impressions of the meeting:

From the very first meeting, I left knowing one thing … I realized that his philosophy and my philosophy are on the same road, and you don’t meet such people very often.

Naturally, the singer decided to support the prisoner by dedicating a song to him.

History of Dylan’s song Hurricane

About how the Hurricane was born, Jacques Levy tells in the book Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited by Heylin Clinton:

Dylan had written topical ballads like The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll before, but he wasn’t sure he could write a song [about Carter]… He was just really worried about The Hurricane. He couldn’t take the first step. I think the first step was the decision to present the entire song as a story. I don’t remember whose idea it was. But in fact, the beginning of the song is like stage directions, like the ones you read in the script: “Pistol shots are heard in the bar at night … This is how the story of the Hurricane begins.” Bach! Credits. You know, Bob loves movies and he knows how to write films that are eight to ten minutes long, but at the same time feel as full or even fuller than regular films.

When the co-authors presented the finished song to Columbia Records bosses, they consulted with lawyers and asked Dylan to re-record the song, slightly changing the most harsh lines in order to avoid lawsuits. Bob had to agree to this step.

Review of the Carter case

The Hurricane single was released in November 1975. That same fall, Dylan organized a charity concert tour, which included Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg and Roberta Flack. One of the speeches took place in the prison where Carter was serving time. In winter, another concert was held in support of Rubin. Then Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and other famous musicians also appeared on the stage.

The funds raised went to pay for the re-trial, but it was also unsuccessful for Carter and Artis. They were found guilty again. By that time, even found a motive. They allegedly killed three whites in retaliation for a black bartender who had been shot the previous day in Paterson.

And only in 1984, a federal judge came to the conclusion that the case of Carter and Artis was considered biased, and the charges were based on racism. But they were removed from Rubin only in 1988.

Carter later served as executive director of the Association for the Defense of the Wrongly Convicted for twelve years. He died of cancer at the age of 76.

Clip Hurricane – Bob Dylan

As far as I know, the official music video for the song has not been filmed, so let’s watch the live recording.

Interesting Facts

  • Even in the softened version of the song’s lyrics, critics find too many inaccuracies to be considered objective.
  • The “Gentleman Jim” mentioned in the song is Irish boxer James Corbett.
  • The song is featured in the film Hurricane, dedicated to the life of Rubin Carter.

Text of the song Hurricane – Bob Dylan

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, “My God, they killed them all!”
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously
“I didn’t do it,” he says, and he throws up his hands
“I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand
I saw them leavin’,” he says, and he stops
“One of us had better call up the cops”
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
In the hot New Jersey night

Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
’Less you wanna draw the heat

Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men

Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”
Yes, here’s the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Four months later, the ghettos are in flame
Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame
“Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”
“Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
“You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”
“Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
“Don’t forget that you are white”

Arthur Dexter Bradley said, “I’m really not sure”
Cops said, “A poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
Now you don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow
You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

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