‘Hurricane,’ Bob Dylan

The cover of Bob Dylan's single, "Hurricane."

The cover of Bob Dylan’s single, “Hurricane.”

In 1975, Bob Dylan returned to protest music and had the second-to-last Top 40 single of his career (the last was “Gotta Serve Somebody,” four years later) with “Hurricane.” Co-written with Jacques Levy, the song tells the tale of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the Clifton-born boxer who had been found guilty of murder in an incident that occurred at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson “on a hot New Jersey night,” as Dylan sings.

Dylan, who had read Carter’s autobiography and accepted his account, believed that the arrest and conviction were racially motivated. “In Paterson that’s just the way things go,” he sang. “If you’re black, you might as well not show up on the street/’less you wanna draw the heat.”

Dylan performed benefit concerts for Carter in 1975 and 1976, and the money helped Carter obtain a retrial, which he lost. Still, in 1985, a federal judge ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial, and he was freed. For many years, he led the Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, but he died in 2014, at the age of 76.

I’m not going to speculate on whether Carter really committed the crime, or assess the accuracy of Dylan and Levy’s account. Plenty of other people have done that. Let’s just say that it’s a powerful song, with a vocal performance of impressively sustained intensity, and that it brought a gritty tale of urban Jersey injustice, whether true or not, to the attention of the world.

New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.


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