Sunday, October 05, 2008

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" - Bob Dylan

On February 9th 1963, a 51 year old black barmaid named Hattie Carroll was murdered at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland by Billy Zantzinger, a young wealthy white tobacco farmer from Charles County. Billy had used a cane to assault Hattie who died 8 hours after the assault possibly from a brain hemorrhage. Billy was eventually found guilty of manslaughter (not murder) and sentenced to 6 months in jail.

It was in the backdrop of this deep injustice that Bob Dylan wrote "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", considered one of his best songs in a repertory consisting of countless brilliant ones. It was released as part of the 1964 album, "The Times They Are A-Changin". This song is widely admired by critics and Christopher Ricks, the Boston University Professor of Humanities, devotes an entire chapter in his book "Dylan's Vision of Sin" to this song in his chapter on Justice. In an interview on NPR, Ricks described the song as "perfect".

Here's the best version that I found on YouTube:

Below are the complete lyrics of this song. Listen to the song while reading the lyrics and a chill runs down your spine. Also, notice the brilliant repetition of "now ain't the time for your tears" until the very end. Throughout the song, the heartrending images of Hattie's difficult life and the murder itself arouse deep moral indignation but also a simultaneous will to fight for justice. It is only at the end when the struggle for justice for Hattie Carroll is lost that it is "time for your tears".

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath'rin'
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the government of Maryland
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and hauled out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even speak to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag most deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears.


Anonymous said...

1/3/09 Billy Zanzinger is DEAD!!

Anonymous said...

Seems appropriate that in the quest for money, this U-Tube video cannot been seen.
Our hearts have been replaced by a Money vault.