"Hurricane" is a protest song by Bob Dylan co-written with Jacques Levy, about the imprisonment of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. It compiles alleged acts of racism and profiling against Carter, which Dylan describes as leading to a false trial and conviction.
- 1 Background
- 2 Controversy and re-recording
- 3 Benefit concert and new trial
- 4 Certifications
- 5 Cover versions
- 6 In popular culture
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Carter and a man named John Artis had been charged with a triple murder during a robbery at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966. Carter and Artis were found guilty of the murders, which were widely reported as racially motivated. In the years that followed, a substantial amount of controversy emerged over the case, ranging from allegations of faulty evidence and questionable eyewitness testimony to an unfair trial.
In his autobiography, Carter maintained his innocence, and this eventually led Dylan to visit him in Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey.
"Dylan had written topical ballads such as "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and Bob wasn't sure that he could write a song [about Carter]... He was just filled with all these feelings about Hurricane. He couldn't make the first step. I think the first step was putting the song in a total storytelling mode. I don't remember whose idea it was to do that. But really, the beginning of the song is like stage directions, like what you would read in a script: 'Pistol shots ring out in a barroom night.... Here comes the story of the Hurricane.' Boom! Titles. You know, Bob loves movies, and he can write these movies that take place in eight to ten minutes, yet seem as full or fuller than regular movies".
After meeting with Carter in prison and later with a group of his supporters, Dylan began to write "Hurricane". The song was one of his few "protest songs" during the 1970s and proved to be his fourth most successful single of the decade, reaching #33 on the Billboard chart.
Controversy and re-recording Edit
Dylan first recorded the song in July 1975; it featured Scarlet Rivera on violin and Vinnie Bell on Danelectro Bellzouki 12-string guitar. Dylan was forced to re-record the song, with altered lyrics, in October 1975, after concerns were raised by Columbia's lawyers that references to Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley as having "robbed the bodies" could result in a lawsuit. Neither Bello nor Bradley were ever accused of such acts. Because there was too much leakage on the multitracks to make a vocal "punch in," Dylan decided to re-record the entire song. At this time, Dylan was already rehearsing for his upcoming tour, and the musicians from the Rolling Thunder Revue were still at his disposal. Dylan took violinist Rivera, guitarist Steven Soles, bassist Rob Rothstein, drummer Howie Wyeth, and percussionist Luther Rix back into the studio, and a new, faster version of "Hurricane" was recorded with Don DeVito again producing, and Ronee Blakley providing a harmony vocal. (There is a noticeable mistake in the 8-minute recording at 4:02 where the backing singer (Blakley) gets her line wrong. She sings: "Remember you saw (said) you saw the getaway car.") The final version of the song, which runs over eight minutes, was spliced together from two separate October 24, 1975 takes.
Even though some offending lyrics were rewritten, the song still drew legal action, from eyewitness Patricia Graham Valentine. Her lawsuit was dismissed by a federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal. More generally, even with the revised lyrics, "Hurricane" raised controversy. The song included a description of Carter as the "number one contender"; according to the May 1966 issue of The Ring, he was ranked ninth around the time of his arrest and had never been ranked higher than third. Reporters for the Herald News, a New Jersey newspaper published not far from the scene of the crime, questioned Dylan's objectivity at the time of the song's release and accused him of excessive poetic license. Dylan biographer Howard Sounes praised the song but noted "there was no reference to his antagonistic rhetoric, criminal history, or violent temper."
Benefit concert and new trial Edit
The song was released on the album Desire in January 1976, making the Carter case known to a broad public. "Hurricane" is credited with harnessing popular support to Carter's defense.
During the fall tour preceding Desire's release, Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue played a benefit concert for Carter in New York City's Madison Square Garden, raising $100,000. The following year, they played another benefit at the Houston Astrodome. Dylan met with managers Richard Flanzer and Roy Silver, who provided Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Dr. John for the concert. After expenses were paid, however, the Houston event failed to raise any money.
Despite winning the right to a new trial, Carter and Artis were once again found guilty. On February 9, 1976, Carter was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Dylan, and the other high-profile supporters, did not attend the trial.
In 1985 Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial and set aside the conviction, commenting that the prosecution had been "based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure." In 1988, after the prosecution said they would not seek a third trial and filed a motion to dismiss, a Superior Court judge dropped all charges against Carter.
Cover versions Edit
The song has been covered by Ani DiFranco, Furthur, Middle Class Rut and the Milltown Brothers.
In popular culture Edit
The song is featured in the 1999 film The Hurricane about Carter's life. It is featured in the 1993 film Dazed and Confused, during the scene where the characters are entering the Emporium, a pool hall popular among the teenagers. The song is also featured in the Family Guy episode "McStroke", after Stewie is revealed to be a baby and says "I am who I am" while walking down the hallway.