012 – "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues"
This podcast is a part of the Pumpkin Papers!
This song first appeared in Broadside, his first. Famously, he was scheduled to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1962 — which had just broke Elvis and would later break the Beatles. He auditioned the song, people loved it, but when it came down to the show, he was told he couldn’t perform because it could be a “libel” against the John Birch Society. He refused to change the song and walked off the set. National attention followed. Sullivan supported him saying the John Birchers shouldn’t be above criticism.
Stodgy Columbia, learning this was scheduled for Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, pulled the song off the record (less than 300 copies of the album went out). Dylan relented and also pulled “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie”and “Rocks and Gravel.” He replaced them with “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” “Girl From the North Country” and “Masters of War.” John Hammond said, quoted in Shelton’s No Direction Home:
The CBS lawyers, not Columbia Records, decided that the reference to Hitler involved every single member of the John Birch Society, therefore it was libelous, or some crap like that. I get away with much worse material with Seeger than was ever on a Dylan album.
I couldn’t find the Freewheelin’ version of the song for this recording but we did listen to the 1963 demo (released officially on TBLS Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos) and the Halloween 1964 performance at the Philharmonic Hall (released on TBLS Vol. 6) in addition to the de facto version off TBLS Vol. 1-3.
The song is a classic and still finds resonance today. “Reds,” of course were one in a long line of boogeymen the United States has sought to make the Other. The Birchers are the real threats to freedom of speech when everything uttered is “communist.”
The song is our first rendition of the “talking blues,” which he’d use often in this period with “Talkin’ New York,” “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues,” Talkin’ World War III Blues” and “I Shall Be Free” to name a few (to say nothing of less-talky “T.V. Talkin' Song” off Under the Red Sky.
To Dave Glover
Before going into the history of the John Birch Society, Daniel read Dylan’s 1963 open letter to his friend Dave Glover:
I keep rememberin the songs we used t sing an play The songs written thirty fifty years ago The dirt farm songs – the dust bowl songs The depression songs – the down and out songs The ol blues and ballads I think a Woody’s songs I think a Woody’s day “This land I’ll defend with my life if it be” An I say t myself “Yeah that’s right” “Hitler’s on the march” “I don’t wan”m takin my ground” “I don’t wan”m livin on my land” An I see two side man I see two roads to pick yer route The American way or the Fascist way When there was a strike there’s only two kind of views An two kinds of tales t tell the news Thru the unions eyes or thru the bosses eyes An yuh could stand on a line an look at yer friends An stand on that same line an see yer foes It was that easy “Which Side’re You On” ain’t phony words An they ain’t from a phony song An that was Woody’s day man Two sides I don know what happened cause I wasn’t aroun but somewhere along the line a that used t be day things got messed up More kinds a sides come int’ the story Folks I guess started switchin sides an makin up their own sides There got t be so many sides that no eyes could could see the eyes facin’m There got t be so many sides that all of’m started lookin’ like each other I don pretend to know what happened man, but somehow all sides lost their purpose an folks forgot about other folks I mean they must a all started goin against each other not for the good a their side but for the good a jes their own selves An them two simple sides that was so easy t tell apart bashed an boomed an exploded so hard an heavy that t’day all’ts left and made for us is the one big rockin rollin COMPLICATED CIRCLE Nowadays folk’s brains’re bamboozled an bowled over by categories labels an slogans an advertisements that could send anybody’s head in a spin It’s hard t believe anybody’s tellin the truth for what that is I swear it’s true that in some parts a the country folks believe the finger-pointers more’n the President It’s the time a the flag wavin shotgun carryin John Birchers It’s the time a the killer dogs an killer sprays It’s the time a the billbord sign super flyin highways It’s the time a the pushbutton foods an five minute fads It’s the time a the white collar shirt an the white sheeted hood and the white man’s sun tan lotion It’s time a guns and grenades an bombs bigger’n any time’s ever seen It’s the time a Liz Taylor fans – sports fans and electric fans It’s the time when a twenty year ol colored boy with his head bloody don get too much thought from the seventy year ol senator who wants t bomb Cuba I don’t know who the people were man that let it get this way but they got what they wanted out a their lives an left me an you facin a scared raped world
John Birch Society today
JBS, somehow, still lives on today. It’s main activity in the 1960s, according to Rick Perlstein, “comprised monthly meetings to watch a film by Welch, followed by writing postcards or letters to government officials linking specific policies to the Communist menace” (kind of like watching cable news and then tweeting at perceived menaces!)
It’s stances are incredible, mainly for being on the wrong side of history on nearly every issue across decades: Against Civil Rights Act of 1964. Against Equal Rights Amendment. Obsessed with the 10th Amendment. Against all free-trade agreements/globalization. Anti-interventionist. Believes fluoride is a communist conspiracy – which they deny but, come on. Thought Eisenhower was a communist. Against OSHA. Against diplomatic ties to China. Against transferring Panama Canal over to Panamanians because, you know, communists.
But it’s interesting: Antisemitic, racist, anti-Mormon, anti-Masonic groups criticized the organization’s acceptance of Jews, non-whites, Masons, and Mormons as members. And in a bitterly ironic twist, given today’s world where the Right still worships Ayn Rand, in a 1964 Playboy interview, she said,
I consider the Birch Society futile, because they are not for capitalism but merely against communism … I gather they believe that the disastrous state of today’s world is caused by a communist conspiracy. This is childishly naïve and superficial. No country can be destroyed by a mere conspiracy, it can be destroyed only by ideas.
Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center lists the society as a “‘Patriot’ Group. It believes a “one world government” is coming so it pushes the US to get out of the United Nations. They still want to dismantle the Federal Reserve. It’s currently led by Ray Clark, who has a fake degree from Donsbaugh University School of Nutrition in Huntington Beach, California – and he puts nutrional supplements in every photo of JBS literature. And, if you want a trip, go to their Twitter to see how hard they’re trying to #hashtag their way into the hearts of the youth.
THE EPISODE’S BOOKLET & PLAYLIST
Recommendations. Kelly recommended Nick Drake and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 while Daniel listened to Chris Stapleton From A Room: Volume 1.
Only 653 songs left.
Kelly guessed #319, which would have been “Bourbon Street” off The Basement Tapes.
It was #642, "God Knows," off 1990's Under the Red Sky.
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