Home > Campus, Events > I Fought the Law and the Law Strummed—Fordham Law School Presents Panel on Bob Dylan and the Law

I Fought the Law and the Law Strummed—Fordham Law School Presents Panel on Bob Dylan and the Law

Mike Madden, assistant arts and features editor

Bob Dylan might be a musician, but he has spent plenty of time in the legal eye, commenting on, protesting or defending the law, depending on the situation. But this is only a fraction of what makes Dylan a true American legend.

His legendary status was reinforced further with a panel discussion that took place in the McNally Amphitheater of the Fordham Law School, dissecting the ins and outs of the influence of the American judicial system and its laws in Dylan’s songs. The panel consisted of five “Dylan scholars:” Alex Long, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Abbe Smith, professor and director of the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinicat Georgetown Law, David Hajdu, music critic for the New Republic and professor of arts journalism at Columbia, and musician Peter Kennedy. The panel was mediated by Fordham Law graduate and WFUV DJ Corny O’Connell.

The discussion attempted to explain why Dylan’s interest in the law has been so prominent. From Dylan’s childhood fascination with outlaws and influences of real life rebels like James Dean, Hank Williams, and Marlon Brando, to the cacophony that was the social justice-seeking Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s, Dylan’s molding as a lyricist and civil commentator captured the attention of lawyers and judges everywhere.

Long explained, “Lawyers and judges are drawn to him because they are also storytellers. Narratives are a good way of trying to make a point. The judges that cite Dylan now were just coming of age at the time of Dylan’s career,” he added.
The panel focused on the classic ballads “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “Hurricane.” Both songs were about actual individuals and court cases that demonstrated racial inequality. Distinguishing between the two, the panel discussed the ambiguous positions Dylan took on the law. In “Hattie Caroll,” Dylan criticizes the judicial system, saying the sentence for the man that killed Hattie Carroll was not harsh enough. In “Hurricane,” Dylan wishes for the laws to be more relaxed and fair in order for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to get a fair trial.

After the discussion, musician Peter Kennedy serenaded attendees with performances of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Hurricane,” and “Percy’s Song,” and showed the contrast between the actual stories and Dylan’s storytelling.

Categories: Campus, Events
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  1. April 6, 2011 at 2:02 am

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