Good Guys, Bad Guys and Bob Dylan


The news of the death this past weekend of William Devereux Zantzinger brought new comment on the song written about him by Bob Dylan, way back in 1964.  Zantzinger beat a black barmaid to death with his cane because she took too long to serve him a drink.  He served six months in jail and was fined $500 – it was 1963, after all. 

Dylan wrote an angry protest song, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” about the different standards of justice that existed back then.  He accurately named the victim, but changed Zantzinger’s name by dropping the “T.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Dylan wrote about real people.  His most famous real-life subject was Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer who was jailed for three murders in 1966.  Dylan wrote and released “Hurricane” in 1975 to declare Carter’s innocence; he also staged two “Night of the Hurricane” concerts to call attention to the jailed boxer.  Carter was eventually released from prison but people still question whether he was really innocent.

Dylan courted controversy in 1971 when he released “George Jackson,” another song about a man in prison.  George Jackson was a member of the Black Panthers militant group and killed a guard while serving time in Soledad prison for robbery.  Jackson was shot by prison guards in 1971 – some believe he was set up and murdered.  Dylan’s song reached No. 33 on the Billboard chart  – the same position that “Hurricane” would achieve four years later.

In 1987, Dylan covered Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd,” about Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd.”   Floyd was a baby-faced bank robber and killer in the late 1920s and early 193os; he was shot to death by Ohio police in 1934.  Dylan would write about other people – Woody Guthrie included – but these were certainly the most colorful.

MP3: “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll” (live, 1975)

MP3: “George Jackson” (acoustic version, 1971)

MP3: “Hurricane” (album version, 1976)

MP3: “Pretty Boy Floyd” (1987)

Bob Dylan official website

6 Responses to “Good Guys, Bad Guys and Bob Dylan”

  1. Good riddance to bad garbage.

    Bob also wrote (with Jacque Levy) the song “Joey” about “Crazy” Joey Gallo.

  2. dkpresents Says:

    Nice post. I hadn’t heard this news – thanks for sharing…

  3. Ken’s right … Bob also wrote “Sara” about his wife Sara who he was estranged from at the time (1975) and in the song he talked about “staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/Writing ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ for you.” They finally divorced two years later. She is, of course, the mother of Jakob Dylan.

  4. I wrote a paper about Dylan’s Hurricane in a college class on ‘persuasion’.
    Couldn’t persuade the professor to give me a good grade.

  5. In “Only A Pawn In Their Game” Dylan wrote about the murder of civil rights pioneer Medgar Evers, and in “Who Killed Davey Moore” he wrote about the death of the one time boxing champion.

  6. And don’t forget St. Augustine!

    Thanks, Ken!

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