Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend

One of the surest ways to achieve immortality, for better or for worse, is to have a song written about you; and one of the best genres for the purpose is the protest song. It is largely thanks to Tom Paxton that we remember the names of the three civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in 1964 (Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney); Woody Guthrie immortalised the Los Gatos plane crash victims (though their anonymity other than to their loved ones was the point of the song); and to Brits of a certain age at least mention of the Peabody Mining Company recalls John Prine's barbed nostalgia in Paradise.

So the obituary of William Devereux Zantzinger a few days ago was rather interesting. He's the villain of the piece in Bob Dylan's song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll:

Even though Dylan spelled his name wrongly I still recognised it straight away. What I thought was especially interesting was that the facts of the case are not exactly as related by Dylan. While there is no doubt Zantzinger was an unpleasant boor, and that he assaulted Hattie Carroll, it seems clear not only that he didn't intend to kill her but that if the assault caused her death it did so only indirectly. His "high office connections" seem to have been overstated as well. (Also, Carroll's children were rounded down from eleven to ten for poetic purposes.)

It's hardly surprising that Zantzinger didn't much care for Dylan, though he never attempted to stop him performing the song.


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