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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Howard Sounes has made a radio documentary about the true life story behind 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll', to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00 am (UK time), on Wednesday 5 May. It is a 30-minute programme, presented by Sounes, titled, er, 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll'. Sounes writes to tell me (and presumably many others): "Listeners will learn a lot of new information about the case. The show features newly discovered court evidence, the testimony of surviving witnesses from the ball, friends of Carroll and Zantzinger, and a recording of Zantzinger" talking to him about the case. He adds: "I even found the cane."


Blogger joe butler said...

presumably he didn't get to speak to Dylan?
Is the song a politico\sociological tract, a piece of poetry
or both?
I cant listen to it without getting a lump in my throat

well done Howard

8:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I wrote one article ("Lies the truth is black and white") and published another (from an American lawyer focussing on the case papers and transcripts)in "Judas!".

As I guess most readers of this blog know by now the song was based on a report in the Baltimore Sun (the paper that The Wire's creator wrote for and is the subject of series 5 where it fabricates a serial murder story) that was wildly inaccurate.

Phil Ochs also wrote a song on the case and again followed the sensationalist tabloid reporting. the police files include an inquiry as to the exact facts of the case from "a New York based folksinger" - presumably a worried Dylan or Ochs.

Among the many interesting proven facts are that Zanzinger (and his wife) were far more violent toward a white policeman during their drunken night than they were to anyone else. The autopsy reports that Hattie's body was completely unmarked and, perhaps most pertinently, her cause of death was nothing to do with being "slain by a cane" (it denies she was ever struck to any degree at all) but the result of an ongoing condition.
The to-ing and fro-ng re defence and prosecution and the medical examination is, as you'd imagine in such a dynamite case, a complex thing to boil down here. The judges' summing up and legal insights made soon after in interview are, however, calm and objective and make intensely interesting reading.

Anyway, I have rambled enough: the whole story is too long to go into here but the court records (that survived), the autopsy reports and the facts that were proven plus the (very contradictory) memories of witnesses all make fascinating reading. Rush back to your "Judas!" all of you who have them; Yes, both of you.

The case itself is far from Ochs and Dylan's source - the newspaper report which Dylan retells in his masterpiece of societal analysis in poetic, lyrical form. Ironic really to produce such a hard-hitting, truth revealing piece on general injustice from a source so far from the truth of the particular situation.

The cane discovery would be particularly interesting as the witnesses memories of it vary incredibly - to what kind of cane it was (was it a carnival toy or a real cane) what happened to it (did it break or not) and when it was taken off him (one witness's story involving another drunken incident with Zanzinger reports the cane being taken off him before he met up with Hattie.)

All of his raises interesting questions re reality in art and entertainment generally and that is what my article focussed on, The mainly fictional film, "Hurricane" (which manages to be even further from reality than the Dylan song) has a disclaimer at the very end of the credits in tiny writing alerting you to the fact that the characters and incidents in the film are often fictional. Like lawyer's "small print" this was missed by all reviewers, as it was clearly designed to be. Does this matter? Well that's what my article was about...I wonder what Mr. Sounes will do with it all.


2:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Was wondering what your view is of this whole spat:

4:11 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

I think Scott Warmuth has been writing very interesting stuff about Dylan, plagiarism and the mysteries of art for quite a while now, and I think this is a fine example of it.

But: he only takes the Joni Mitchell remarks as a starting point to discuss these topics again - he's disagreeing with Joni but he isn't dissing her. So while Joni's remark was probably made off the cuff when she was caught at a bad moment and certainly not intended to stand, it isn't a "spat" till Bobcats join in to say, very tediously, how infinitely superior and more wondrous Bob is than Joni and generally to dismiss her. They're wrong and silly, in my opinion. Anyone who's read my entry on Joni Mitchell in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia will know that I rate much of her work very highly.

The interesting comments in response to Scott's blog post are two: first, it's surely a fair point to say that Joni has probably grown tired of people calling her a female Dylan - and indeed of any comparisons at all. But the more challenging response is surely the one that doubts whether Dylan has plucked a phrase from the middle of a remark by Michael Stipe, and ends by saying not that Scott Warmuth is wrong but that he's not convinced he's right.

2:57 pm  
Anonymous likeatrain said...

Agreed - Scott Warmuth has been doing excellent work on intertextuality in Dylan's work. When he trained his sights on 'Chronicles,' it got particularly interesting. Quoting/borrowing in songs is something Dylan has done right from the start (although the practice seems to have intensified since 'Time out of Mind'). That he may have composed a prose work in a similarly collage-like fashion is perhaps more surprising - especially when one considers what an undetaking it must have been to produce a 200-odd page work in this fashion. I for one hope that Scott continues his illuminating work and eventually develops it into a full-length study of 'late-period' Dylan.

3:27 pm  
Blogger Nigel Smith said...

Howard Sounes has now written about the programme on the BBC Music Blog:

The Story Behind a Bob Dylan Classic

This is the link to the programme on the Radio 4 website:

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

4:07 pm  

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