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Academics to dissect Bob Dylan at NY conference
NEW YORK (AP) - More than three decades have passed since Bob Dylan brought the plight of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter into the public consciousness: “Criminals in their coats and their ties are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise while Rubin sits like Buddha in a 10-foot cell, an innocent man in a living hell.”
Dylan championed the case of Carter, a former middleweight boxer convicted twice of a 1966 triple murder. And in the end, Carter was freed after 19 years in prison; a federal judge found that the conviction was tainted by racial bias and that Carter and his co-defendant were denied their civil rights.
Now, academics from around the country will examine the implications of that song and others during “Bob Dylan and the Law,” a conference presented by Fordham University’s law and ethics center and Touro Law School.
“We basically said to people who write and think about the law and who also happen to like Dylan’s music, `find a way to put them together; tell us how Dylan relates to your academic work or your thinking,’” said Fordham professor Bruce Green, one of the organizers.
An academic session on Tuesday follows a Monday night public panel discussion at Fordham in Manhattan.
“We think it’s important once in a while to have fun, and to free the scholarly imagination,” Green said. “Good scholarship and good teaching require it. … It’s a lens through which to look at the relationship between law, society and culture. We hope it leads some scholars to think things they haven’t thought before.”
Green has been a Dylan fan since high school. “My parents couldn’t stand it _ they liked Frank Sinatra. They thought Dylan was just whining, and that listening to him was a waste of time,” he wryly noted. “Now I am vindicated. I can say that, all along, I was setting the stage for future scholarship.”
Another conversation topic at the conference will be “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”
Zantzinger “killed poor Hattie Carroll with a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger at a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’ …,” sings Dylan. “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.”
The conference also offers intellectual counterpoints.
Dylan “wrote some very powerful songs about what happens to folks when the system, and when the law, fail them,” said Richard H. Underwood, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law. But while Dylan was inspired by real-life cases, Underwood said, he “was not necessarily concerned with true facts. He took a lot of poetic license.”
Though “beautiful,” she said, the Hattie Carroll ballad is “not exactly accurate.” Among other things, Dylan misstated the charge; and there was “reasonable argument that the cause of the death was not a blow to the head,” but Carroll’s poor health.
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