Hurricane: Bob's Best Vocal Performance

"Hurricane" tells the story of a New Jersey boxer, Rubin Hurricane Carter, who was framed for murder by dirty cops. I think this tune features one of the best vocal performances Bob has ever offered to tape. The picture below shows Bob posing for a shot with Mr. Carter. For dramatic effect, a steel curtain was pulled down to indicate the Hurricane's predicament. In many ways, this photograph symbolizes the drama that Bob builds in the song.


A note on the song:
There's plenty happening in this 1975 classic off the great album, Desire.  As an ominous A minor chord is strummed on the acoustic, it feels like the clouds have already gathered. Lightening might as well strike and rain pours as the band kicks in, complete with a melodic, haunting violin, fast moving drums, and bass. The starting gun has been fired.  In "Hurricane", it all works together to create a sound that truly feels like a moving unit.

As if to emphasize that the narrative of the song is going somewhere in the real world (right now, today), as the song burns along the band begins to sound like a  Winnebago running on the fumes of hard hitting snares, violin, Bob's acoustic, and his sheer will and determination to tell the story. Bob hadn't really written an "issue song" in a decade. Nevertheless, he's always seemed to have a spot in his heart for boxers. That emotive spot is revealed through Dylan's singing here, as Bob explores the ins and outs of the streets, the arc of the story, and rage it's injustice can build within.

A note on Dylan's Vocals:
Bob Dylan has always had the unique capacity to sing with so much presence and immediacy. He can manipulate his voice to fit a song, a word, or a feeling. In "Hurricane", he does no different, although I'm not sure he ever did it better. Here, Bob manages to not only rhyme two words with themselves: id-dent-ify and mur-der, but sings with so much emotion and subtlety as to amplify the meaning of the words themselves. For example, when he sings that "Rubin could take a man out with just one punch/but he never did like to brag about it all that much" he reserves his vocal output as to communicate the Rubin Carter's modesty. However, Bob flips the script when he wants to emphasize the injustice of the Rubin Carter's situation, singing that he "could help but feel ashamed/ to live in a land where justice is a gaaaammmmmeeeeeeee!" or that African Americans could "not show up on the street/ unless you want to draw the heeeaaaatttt!" due to the racist and crooked cops of Patterson, NJ.

Needless to say, listening to Bob's singing in this song is truly a joy. A roller coaster of emotions is played out immediately and in front of your ears.

The song is capped off by Bob's harmonica, putting a siren on the top of the Winnebago as it speeds off into the sunset.

For another great vocal performance from Bob, check out this video of him singing "What Can I do for You?". Well worth it.

Comments

  1. As most Dylan fans know, in the picture above the barier between Dylan and Hurricane is not prison bars, but rather a metal door. The prison Hurricane was in didn't have jail bars, so the photographer suggested using the roll down door as a substitute.

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  2. I did not know that, interesting information.

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  3. Yeah, nearly every time this picture is shown somewhere, the roll-down door is explained. I've seen it in many Dylan bios.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, I've updated the post to include this tidbit. Always appreciate new information!

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    2. After the transcripts were published, Dylan never played the song again.

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    3. Wasn't there some legal issues with the mentioning of specific names i.e Bradley etc? I do think the song fits in a certain Dylan tradition re: Hattie Carroll, but is much more cinematic/ Bob's singing is amazing.

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