Pass it Around

"If I made records for my own pleasure, I would only record Charley Patton songs." - Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Seventy (Dollar Robbery) Who Else Would Be Turning Seventy? George Jackson Dylan The Black Panthers and Seventy by Jim Linderman

I know, Dylan is turning 70. That sucks. Who else would be turning 70 this year? George Jackson. Let us celebrate Dylan's birthday by remembering a message which meant so much to the artist, and which is often forgotten in the press in favor of more easily digested myths.

I used to have a blue vinyl, white sleeve bootleg record with handwritten titles. The boot was known as "Seventy Dollar Robbery" which was a phrase Dylan used in an unusual and important record he released about Soledad Brother and Black Panther George Jackson. Jackson was shot dead in a prison yard, an institutional murder. The song, while it did chart, is largely forgotten today as it was a non-lp release at the time, but also because, like Jackson himself, it was "just too real."
"Blood In My Eye" was the title of George Jackson's autobiography, a phrase Dylan has also used in song. Dylan's use comes from the The MIssissippi Sheiks, a group he admired enough to cover several times, but he had to be thinking of George Jackson again as he recorded his version of it. The Mississippi Sheiks, composed mostly of members of the Chatmon family, was one of the greatest musical groups in the 20th century, though they have been slighted and are long overdue a major retrospective, boxed celebration. Dylan also recorded their OTHER masterpiece "World Gone Wrong."

When I was young, The Black Panther Newspaper was sold in head shops next to underground newspapers like The Fifth Estate out of Detroit and Rolling Stone back when it was a large folded newspaper which no longer does. The Black Panther newspaper was something. The graphics, the message and more. So was the organization. Their "crime" was for the most part trying to organize the ghetto community, feeding hungry Black children and carrying weapons. Funny how you never read the NRA is supporting any African-American "Right to Bear Arms" isn't it? Well, the Panthers did...and they were literally taken out because of it.

At a certain point, the newspaper changed. It was no longer a record of organizational accomplishments, progress and was filled with desperate pleas for help and disturbing indications that the group was being eliminated, targeted and destroyed by forces larger than themselves.

Black Panther members were framed, shot and killed by our tax dollars. (Don't believe me? Search the term "COINTELPRO" on your favorite web browser) The FBI and their interlocking relationship with regional police forces murdered numerous Black Panthers. Fred Hampton, John Huggins, Bunchy Carter, Sylvester Bell and likely more.

Two brief passages from the wiki entry will suffice:

"In 1969 the FBI special agent in San Francisco wrote Hoover that his investigation of the Black Panther Party (BPP) revealed that in his city, at least, the Black nationalists were primarily feeding breakfast to children. Hoover fired back a memo implying the career ambitions of the agent were directly related to his supplying evidence to support Hoover's view that the BPP was "a violence-prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means". Hoover was willing to use false claims to attack his political enemies. In one memo he wrote: "Purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the Black Panther Party and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge."

"In order to eliminate black militant leaders whom they considered dangerous, the FBI conspired with local police departments to target specific individuals, accuse them of crimes they did not commit, suppress exculpatory evidence and falsely incarcerate them. One Black Panther Party leader was incarcerated for 27 years before a California Superior Court vacated his murder conviction, ultimately freeing him. Appearing before the court, an FBI agent testified that he believed Pratt had been framed because both the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department knew he had been out of the area at the time the murder occurred." can look this stuff up. Trust the excerpts above don't even scratch the surface. You don't see it discussed much in any context...our media is better at handing out harmless swill...but It was horrible and it is still.

Dylan, who had forsaken his early protest material for a larger world view was moved to release the single, with two versions (acoustic and big band) EIGHT DAYS after he recorded it, an urgency not seen since.
It remains one of his most moving songs, though probably ranking near the bottom of his "known" is a shame. It is notable not only for his "return" to protest after number of years, it was one of the first, if not the first, commercially released records with the word "shit" in it. The song was important enough for him to release it on both sides of the record in an acoustic version and a "big band" version.

It told a big story and one which is being forgotten. I would like to hear him perform it again on his birthday.

I woke up this morningThere were tears in my bedThey killed a man I really lovedShot him through the headLord, Lord, they cut George Jackson downLord, Lord, they laid him in the ground

Sent him off to prison

For a seventy dollar robbery

Closed the door behind him

And they threw away the key

Lord, Lord, they cut George Jackson down

Lord, Lord, they laid him in the ground

He wouldn't take shit from no one
He wouldn't bow down or kneel
Authorities, they hated him

Because he was just too real

Lord, Lord, they cut George Jackson down

Lord, Lord, they laid him in the ground

Prison guards, they cursed him

As they watched him from above

But they were frightened of his power

They were scared of his love

Lord, Lord, so they cut George Jackson down

Lord, Lord, they laid him in the ground

Sometimes I think this whole world
Is one big prison yard
Some of us are prisoners

The rest of us are guards

Copyright © 1971 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 1999 by Ram’s Horn Music

The Black Panther organization is well documented in the website "It's About Time"
which also provides the covers of every issue of the Black Panther Newspaper.

The Mississippi Sheiks are below.

George Jackson was killed August 21, 1971. Had he lived, he would have turned 70 this year.

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