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Music History #7: "Hurricane"

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“Hurricane”
Written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy (1975)
Performed by Bob Dylan

The Music

In 1974, when Bob Dylan wrote “Hurricane” about Rubin Carter, the boxer had already been in prison for ten years for a murder he supposedly did not commit. But his case had become a kind of cause célèbre for civil rights leaders and politicians. No stranger to topical protest songs, Dylan poured his outrage about racial profiling and what he saw as a false trial into an eight-minute song (“Here comes the story of the Hurricane / The man the authorities came to blame” went the chorus). Lengthy for a single, an abridged version became Dylan’s biggest hit in years, rising to #33 on the charts.

http://youtu.be/LHr6fiyuJJw

The History

In October 1966, while Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was training for the world middleweight boxing title match, he was arrested. The charge was for the murder of three patrons at a bar called Lafayette Grill in Paterson, NJ. Months earlier Carter and an acquaintance, John Artis, had both been arrested on the night of the crime. Though they fit an eyewitness description of the gunmen (“Two Negroes in a white car”), they were cleared by a grand jury when a surviving victim failed to identify them as the killers.

But two new eyewitnesses came forward, and they made positive identification of Carter and Artis. A trial followed. The prosecution had little evidence linking Carter and Artis to the crime, and a shaky motive about it being a racially motivated revenge for the murder of a black bar owner by a white man in Paterson the same day. The two eyewitnesses, Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, both had criminal records, and it was later revealed that they had received reduced sentences and cash in exchange for their testimonies.

Nevertheless, in June 1967, Carter and Artis were convicted of triple murder and sentenced to successive life-in-prison terms.

The Boxer Meets the Folk Singer

In jail, Carter maintained his innocence. He defied authority by refusing to wear an inmate’s uniform. He vowed to kill any prison official who touched him. In solitary confinement, he read, studied and worked tirelessly on his autobiography. The 16th Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472 became a best-seller that attracted attention to his plight.

One of Hurricane’s new champions was Bob Dylan. After visiting Carter in prison and then meeting with some of the boxer’s supporters, Dylan started to write his epic song, collaborating with Broadway director and songwriter Jacques Levy.

The original release of “Hurricane” was halted after lawyers at Columbia Records raised concerns about several lyrical references being potentially libelous. Chief among them, Dylan said that the two eyewitnesses, Bello and Bradley, “robbed the bodies” of the victims.

Because the original recording had too much leakage on the tracks for a vocal punch-in fix, Dylan couldn’t just replace the offending lines. He had to recut the entire song. Even in the new version, the song was controversial. Penny Valentine, one of the other eyewitnesses who’d been name-checked in the song, filed a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed.

Legacy

In 1975, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the convictions, and Carter and Artis were freed from prison. But a year later, deep in debt and with his family on welfare, Carter was accused of assaulting his former parole officer. Shortly after, he and Artis were retried for the murders at the Lafayette Grill and found guilty. Carter was sent back to prison in 1976, and remained there for another eleven years.

He was finally freed in 1988. He now lives in Canada, where he works and lectures on behalf of wrongly convicted prisoners. In 1999, Carter’s autobiography was made into a motion picture The Hurricane, which starred Denzel Washington.

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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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entertainment
The Time Sammy Davis Jr. Impersonated Michael Jackson
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Sammy Davis Jr. was known for his impersonations—check out his rendition of “As Time Goes By” as 13 different people. So when he hit the stage with Jerry Lewis for a 1988 TV special, he decided to show the audience that his talents weren’t just limited to acts from his era.

Though he briefly mentions Rod Stewart, his main target was Michael Jackson. Davis and Jackson were extremely close; when Jackson was just in his twenties, he would often show up at Davis’s house unannounced to immerse himself in the archives, a room downstairs that contained videos of Davis’s performances over the years.

“Michael Jackson is more than a friend," Davis—who was born on this day in 1925—explained, while also alluding to the fact that the King of Pop borrowed some dance moves from him. "He’s like a son.” And then he launched into this impression:

Jackson returned the favor during a special on February 4, 1990, in which Hollywood’s biggest stars gathered to honor Davis, who was celebrating six decades in show business:

Sadly, the anniversary show was the last time Davis would perform in public. Though throat cancer had mostly stolen his voice by this point, Davis let his tap shoes do the talking. He died on May 16, 1990—just three months after the tribute aired.

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