On December 13, 1963, Corliss Lamont hosted the 172nd anniversary of the Bill of Rights in Washington D. C., and presented the Thomas Pain Award to . . . Bob Dylan.
Mr. Lamont was the son of a wealthy banker, a graduate of Phillips Academy, Harvard, Oxford, and Columbia. He had a PhD in Philosophy. He celebrated atheism. In 1932, he visited the Soviet Union and found a very promising, enlightened society. The secret police were “courteous and efficient and good natured“. There were hungry people begging for food, but “most of these beggars are people who are too lazy to work, since every Russian can get a job if he wants to“. He found “charming” the sight of head shaven, marching youth, “freed from their mothers and the bourgeoise ‘trip’ “. He led the Friends of the Soviet Union, to “Hail the glorious achievements of the workers and peasants of the USSR – where starvation and unemployment have been abolished.” He sided with North Korea, the Soviet denial of the Katyn Massacre, and with Fidel Castro. He was a personal friend of the father of Kathy Boudin, the Weatherman underground radical.
In New Orleans, in the Summer of 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was passing “Hands off Cuba” leaflets, with copy written by . . . Corliss Lamont.
Bob Dylan, awkward, new on the national stage, ambivalent about the self-celebrating, moral preening of Important People, not wanting to offend and yet not wanting to embrace, gave a disjointed, rambling speech. “It’s took me a long time to get young“. He spoke of their “bald heads“, and remarked that “I’ve never seen one history book that tells how anybody feels”. He then went on to say: “I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don’t know exactly where – what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too – I saw some of myself in him.” This did not go over well.
Remember that many people, already, were not thinking that Oswald was guilty. Framed perhaps, and young, and awkward, and arrogantly bold, and perilously sincere, and perhaps doomed to be forever misunderstood. Not unlike Mr. Dylan, . . .no?
Dylan wrote to “explain/not explain”:
“when I spoke of Lee Oswald, I was speakin of the times
I am not speaking of his deed if it was his deed
the deed speaks for itself
but I am sick
at hearin “we all share the blame”. . it is so easy t say ‘we’ an bow our heads together
I must say “I” alone an bow my head alone
when I speak of bald heads, I mean bald minds
for it is I alone who is living my life. . .nobody tells me how any of ‘m cries or laughs or kisses, I’m fed up with newspapers, radios, tv, an movies an the like t tell me. I want now t see an know for myself an I accepted the award for all others like me who want t see for themselves an who don’t want that God-given right taken away
out! out! brief candle life’s but an open window an I must jump back thru it now
respectfully and unrespectfully, Bob Dylan”.