"Hurricane" leads me to question
Dylan's judgment

Column published in The Herald-News, Passaic-Clifton, N.J., 1975

"Here comes the story of Hurricane,
The one the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done,
And put him in a prison cell,
But one time he could have been
Champion of the world..."
-- Bob Dylan

Herald-News Columnist

I HAVE mixed emotions about Dylan's song to Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, former contender for the middleweight crown, former resident of Paterson, now a convicted murderer.

On the positive side, it indicates that Dylan is still capable of writing a story-poem as intense and meaningful as anything he has ever done, something that shows he is still concerned with more than stock options and the difference in real estate taxes between Malibu and the West Village.

But from a different perspective, it is disturbing. It is a song which leads me to question not Dylan's motives, but his judgment.

Before writing the song, Dylan spent hours speaking with Hurricane Carter, getting his story of the night of the murders in a Paterson bar.

BASED on Carter's story and his own impressions of the fighter, Dylan wrote "The Story of Hurricane," a song that is unequivocal in its conviction that Carter was innocent, was "falsely tried" and falsely convicted by "the all-white jury." Dylan names all the principals in the case, rips the police and the prosecution and describes Carter as a self-effacing gentleman and gentle man who would prefer to ride a horse than fight.

Perhaps he is, I don't know. Frankly, I have no opinion about the innocence or guilt of Rubin Carter. It isn't that I don't care. It is simply that I don't know. If he is guilty, he is where he belongs. If he is innocent, someone had damn well better do something about getting him out of there.

What disturbs me about Dylan's song is its blatant lack of objectivity. According to Dylan, Carter was railroaded by Paterson police who hated him because he is black and who told one of the men who testified against him, "Don't forget that you are white."

Carter may have been set up. It has happened before, and it will happen again. But he might also have been guilty as hell and Dylan does not take that into even the remotest consideration.

Well, the songwriter has no obligation to be objective. It is his song, his point of view, frankly his paranoia about a police state, and if one takes into consideration the fact that Dylan did not talk to anyone on the other side, did not make any attempt at all to be fair, then his lack of objectivity will not necessarily be harmful.

BUT "The Story of Hurricane" has already been heard by millions of people and will be heard by millions more who know nothing about the case. To them, Hurricane Carter is going to seem like another Emmett Til.

If Dylan is right -- and it will be purely by accident for he certainly did not investigate this case -- then he will have done both Carter and society a service.

If he is wrong, he will have given millions of impressionable people a false impression of our judicial system, at least as it relates to this case.

The system is often as racist and as hypocritical as Dylan says and it is because it is that we need Dylan and Phil Ochs and William Kunstler to remind us that it was once one of the basic precepts of our system of justice that it is better to free 10 guilty men than to allow one innocent man to rot in jail.

It is better to have a thousand misinformed liberals demand freedom for Rudolph Hess than to ever again take freedom away from a Sam Sheppard.

BUT IF we are to believe Dylan and the others when they claim the system has broken down, then we must have from them a commitment to truth. Not truth as they wish to see it, not truth from the point of view of one man who has everything to gain by their belief in only his side of the story.

In "The Story of Hurricane," Dylan has violated every ethic of objectivity and because he has, it makes his point of view suspect.

And his failure to take into consideration any story other than Carter's unfortunately casts suspicion not only on "The Story of Hurricane" but, in retrospect, on many of Dylan's earlier works.

Perhaps, for instance, William Zantginger was merely a misguided philanthropist and the Maryland judicial system the fairest in the land; perhaps Hollis Brown was a homicidal maniac.

Perhaps Rubin Carter was railroaded, at worst, or falsely convicted by a white jury that considered him, in Dylan's word, "a revolutionary bum."

BUT HE will never be free if those who champion his cause do so vituperatively, as Dylan has done.

Sam Sheppard was freed not by rhetoric but by hard work; not by the subjectivity of songwriters who didn't take the time to fully investigate the case, but at least partially by objectivity and sense of fair play of Dorothy Kilgallen who covered the trial for the Hearst papers and who later wrote that, in the Sheppard case, justice "took the day off."

The same may have happened in Carter's case but Dylan will not help his cause by putting the prosecution and the police on the defensive.

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