BOB DYLAN AND PHIL OCHS AT DEALEY PLAZA by William E. Kelly
Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan became entwined in the JFK assassination saga early on, when he began to write political songs like “Masters of War,” took an interest in Cuba and the Castro Revolution and supported the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), which got the government to take interest in him, as it did John Lennon and Phil Ochs.
Phil Ochs was a close friend of Dylan in the Greenwich Village beatnick and folk music scene in the early sixties, and their mutual respect for Castro and their support for the FPCC got them involved with the government’s focus on the public support and power such protest singers were garnering. And the FBI-CIA took operational interest in the FPCC, specially in New York City, where Oswald got his posters and leaflets and official FPFCC ID.
Phil Ochs had attended the exclusive Staunton military academy in Virginia with the son of Barry Goldwater, and was a US Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where his dormitory roomate Jim Glover, gave him a guitar and taught him how to play. Glover was an Army ROTC cadet while Ochs was Air Force, the same ROTC unit at the same college where US Air Force General Curtis LeMay received his first stripes.
Ochs was connected.
Ochs went to Ohio State to study journalism and developed an interest in politics, with a particular interest in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. At Ohio State he met Jim Glover, a fellow student who was a devotee of folk music. Glover introduced Ochs to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and The Weavers. Glover taught Ochs how to play guitar, and they debated politics. Ochs began writing newspaper articles, often on radical themes. When the student paper refused to publish some of his more radical articles, he started his own underground newspaper called The Word. His two main interests, politics and music, soon merged, and Ochs began writing topical political songs. Ochs and Glover formed a duet called "The Singing Socialists", later renamed "The Sundowners", but the duo broke up before their first professional performance and Glover went to New York City to become a folksinger.
After Glover dropped out of school and moved to New York City, marrying another folk singer, Ochs shortly thereafter joined them. Glover and his wife were the couple that allowed other folk singers to sleep on their couch, as they are portrayed in the move, “Inside Llewyn Davis” - which is based loosely by the story of Dave van Ronk, a star of the Greenwich Village folk scene around the time of Bob Dylan's arrival there in 1961. Dylan learned a lot from van Ronk.
Glover and Phil Ochs were also part of that Greenwich Village folk scene, playing the same clubs and recording together when Dylan showed up on the scene in 1961, when the government was taking an interest in their activities and began to monitor the situation. It especially became acute when the folk singers began to support the Castro revolution in Cuba and lead the protests of the war in Vietnam.
While Dylan wrote some emphatic protest songs, he said he claimed he wasn’t a protest singer, but Ochs out did him in writing protest songs about General Walker, Medgar Evers, and such political songs as, “Draft Dogger Rag,” “Talking Vietnam:” – “Talking Cuban Crisis” - “Ten Cents a Coup” - “United Fruit” - “Talkin’ Cuban Crisis” - “Santo Dominigo” - “Joe Hill,” - “I’m Not Marching Anymore” - “Ballad of Billie Sol” (Estes), - “Christine Keeler” – a women at the heart of the Profumo affair that involved JFK, “The Thresher” – About the USS Thresher (SSN-593) a nuclear powered attack submarine that sand by accident on April 10, 1963, and “Where Were You in Chicago” – “William Butler Yats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed,” inspired by the police riot that broke up protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
I actually knew Ochs from us being together on Eugene McCarthy’s 18th floor of the Conrad Hilton Hotel after the Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention had ended, and I sat on the floor across the hall from him as he played guitar and sang, shortly before the Chicago cops raided us, tear gassed and arrested us in what a Presidential Commission would later call a “Police Riot.”
Ochs also wrote “Crucifiction,” that’s described as: “About the rise and fall of a hero, and the public's role in creating, destroying, and deifying its heroes. The song usually is interpreted as an allegory likening the life and assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy to the career of Jesus, although the song may refer to other heroes as well.”
According to Jim Glover, Phil Ochs kept his connection with his Ohio State Air Force ROTC lieutenant and reported on his activities, especially those involving his support of Castro and the FPCC in New York, which received written communications with Oswald and sent him pamphlets and booklets.
Glover says that on the day of the assassination Phil was in Dallas, at Dealey Plaza, and that there is a photo of him standing by the Dal-Tex building on Houston Street, right where he said he was. Phil told Glover he was told to go there “as a national security observer,” and when he got home later that night, told his wife that he felt his life was in danger and he had a fear he was going to die.
Former college roommate Jim Glover says this is Phil Ochs at Dealey Plaza
Ochs later took on the name of John Train, the name of a real CIA official who worked out of New York City, whose offices were used by CIA agents to debrief George deMohrenschildt before he went to Haiti shortly before the assassination. Train has said he never heard of Phil Ochs or his use of his name.
Ochs, while using the John Train pseudonym and persona, hung himself.
DYLAN AND JFK
Meanwhile, Bob Dylan was deeply affected by the murder of JFK and often played a classical LP that he felt appropriate.
When Dylan received the Thomas Paine Award, he dedicated it to the students who were traveling to Cuba against US policy, and went out of his way to mention the assassination of the President, and was booed by the audience when he said he could sympathize with Oswald – much like music master Leonard Bernstein (who did the music for West Side Story) and was booed when he said that we know JFK was killed as a result of a conspiracy but don’t want to admit or acknowledge that.
Dylan told Kurt Loder in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview that Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers are spiritual icons who planted seeds that are still growing today. “I don’t know what people’s errors are: nobody’s perfect, for sure,” Dylan said. But I thought Kennedy, both Kennedys – I just liked them. And I liked Martin Luther King. I thought those people who were blessed and touched, you know? The fact that they all went out with bullets doesn’t change nothin’. Because thee good they do gets planted. And those seeds live on longer than that.”
And in his autobiographical Chronicals Dylan recounts how his mother told him she saw JFK when Kennedy visited Hibbing, Minnesota during a campaign tour, which led Dylan to say that he would have voted for JFK for just visiting his hometown. Dylan’s mother and father Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman, were in the audience when he performed at Carnegie Hall. Dylan had legally changed his name from Robert A. Zimmerman to Bob Dylan in 1962 and arranged for his parents to be in the audience for the Carnegie Hall show, a big step for him to go from playing coffee houses, cafes and nightclubs to performing solo at Carnegie Hall.
At the time of the assassination, “Dylan was on his way uptown to see (his manager Al) Grossman on the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas,” writes Dylan biographer Anthony Scaduto (Bob Dylan, New American Library, p. 186), who quotes Dylan as telling him, “I watched it at my manager’s office. The next night, Saturday, I had a concert upstate (New York) in Ithica or Buffalo. There was a really down feeling in the air. I had to go on stage, I couldn’t cancel. I went to the hall and to my amazement the hall was filled. Everybody turned out for the concert.”
“The song I was opening with was ‘The Times They Are a Changing” and I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me. That song was just too much for the day after the assassination. But I had to sing it. My whole concert takes off from there.”
“I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding that song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping or why I wrote that song even. I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”
According to Scaduto, “When he returned to the Village he, (girl fiend) Suze (Rotolo) and Carla sat and watched the national tragedy through the rest of the weekend and into the Monday morning funeral. Like so many across the nation, they were engrossed in the events unfolding before them: the murder of Oswald, the funeral, the continued replays of the death of Kennedy, the confirmation of a new president, the widow refusing to change her blood-soaked dress because she wanted the world to see her husband’s blood, to see what it had done. Through it all Dylan sat and watched and said little, just feeling the emotion of it. He drank a little wine, and played Berlioz’s Requiem over and over.”
“I didn’t feel it any more than anybody else,” Dylan said. “We were all sensitive to it. The assassination took more of the shape of a happening. I read about those things happening to Lincoln, to Garfield, and that it could happen in this day and age was not too far-fetched. It didn’t knock the wind out of me. Of course, I felt as rotten as everyone else. But if I was more sensitive about it than anyone else, I would have written a song about it, wouldn’t I? The whole thing about my reactions to the assassination is overplayed.”
“Yet, despite Bob’s denial,” says Scaduto, “the murder did have an enormous effect on him. He signaled that feeling to very close friends, and a couple of weeks after Kennedy’s death, Dylan gave a disastrous speech that indicated how much the assassination had troubled him. He went to the grand ballroom of the Hotel Americana in New York to accept the Tom Paine Award of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee for his work in the civil rights campaign.”
Dylan: “As soon as I get there I feel uptight. I began to drink. I looked down from the platform and saw a bunch of people who had nothing to do with my kind of politics. I looked down and I got scared. They were supposed to be on my side, but I didn’t feel any connection with them. Here were these people who had been all involved with the left in the Thirties, and now they were supporting civil rights drives. That’s groovy, but they were giving money out of guilt. I got up to leave and they followed me and caught me. They told me I had to accept the award. When I got up to make my speech I couldn’t say anything by that time but what was passing through my mind.”
As he put it that night, while reportedly quite drunk: “So, I accept this reward - not reward, (Laughter) award in behalf of Phillip Luce who led the group to Cuba which all people should go down to Cuba. I don't see why anybody can't go to Cuba. I don't see what's going to hurt by going any place. I don't know what's going to hurt anybody's eyes to see anything. On the other hand, Phillip is a friend of mine who went to Cuba.”
Dylan said: “I'll stand up and to get uncompromisable about it, which I have to be to be honest, I just got to be, as 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. I don't think it would have gone - I don't think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me - not to go that far and shoot. (Boos and hisses) You can boo but booing's got nothing to do with it. It's a - I just a - I've got to tell you, man, it's Bill of Rights is free speech and I just want to admit that I accept this Tom Paine Award in behalf of James Forman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and on behalf of the people who went to Cuba.” (Boos and Applause).
For full speech see: http://jfkcountercoup2.blogspot.com/2014/11/dylans-tom-paine-award.html
From the toast of the town to being booed and shunned by liberals, Dylan decided to hit the road, literally, and drove cross country to perform few college dates and visit a few new places, including New Orleans French Quarter, Oswald’s old neighborhood, and Dealey Plaza in Dallas where Kennedy was killed.
When Dylan was looking for Dealey Plaza and the first few Dallas pedestrians couldn’t direct him to the spot, Dylan was perplexed, and then finally found a pedestrian who directed them to the site and said, “You mean where they killed that son-of-a-bitch?”
In Dallas, as did the Beatles and David Crosby, Dylan went to Dealey Plaza to see where President Kennedy was killed. The Beatles ducked in the back of their limo as they drove past the Texas School Book Depository Building and Grassy Knoll and then retired to their rooms at the Dallas Cabana Hotel, where some of the witnesses and suspects had famously stayed on the weekend of the assassination.
Bob Dylan was impressed by those young American students who went to Cuba to support the Cuban Revolution despite the legal restrictions imposed by the government making such travel illegal. Dylan met some of them at a New York apartment, introduced to them by his girlfriend Suzie Rotolo.
Among those who Dylan met was Corliss Lamont, leftist radical writer and author of a pamphlet “Crime Against Cuba” that was distributed by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), copies of which were handed out by Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.
It has been alleged that the specific copies in Oswald’s possession were numbered copies that were in a batch that, according to Lamont’s records, sold and sent to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The Warren Report says Oswald got Lamont’s pamphlet from the New York City office of the FPCC, which was then being targeted by the FBI and CIA, as were the students who attempted to break the travel to Cuba embargo.
When Castro visited New York, stayed at a Harlem hotel and addressed the United Nations, CIA-Cuban G-2 Double Agent LICOZY-3 was ostensibly recruited and identified only as an American student from Philadelphia who went to Mexico City, and was later terminated as an agent by Phil Agee while he was still a faithful CIA officer.
Fifteen years later, when investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) requested specific CIA files, they were given practically everything they asked for, except the names of the Double-agents in Mexico City. Based on public records and recently records released under the JFK Act, some researchers suspect LICOZY-3 to be Steve Kenin, an American student from Philadelphia who was in New York when Castro was there, went to Cuba, met and was photographed with Fidel Castro and went to Mexico City.
Kenin and Castro in Cuba
Kenin also knew Suzie Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend who had introduced Dylan to the pro-Castro Cuban crowd in New York City, as she attended the same upstate New York summer camp as Steve Kenin and his twin brother Elliot, both of whom were aspiring folk musicians. The Kenin brothers owned a music store just around the corner from Rittenhouse Square.
Some other curious events stand out from the recently released records, including reports of Oswald’s sudden and inexplicable appearance handing out FPCC leaflets in Philadelphia at Rittenhouse Square in the summer of 1963 when the Quebec to Guantamano March passed through.
The same marchers had previously marched from Quebec to Moscow in the name of peace and nuclear disarmament, and passed through Minsk when Oswald lived there, but it’s not known if they met. A few weeks later, when they got to Washington D.C., one of the marchers, amateur boxer Ray Robinson got into a fistfight inside a parked car with former CIA officer Wilcox, who testified before the HSCA that he handled a secret fund for Oswald when he was stationed in the Marines in Japan.
After passing through New York City, where they met with FPCC activists, the marchers arrived in Philadelphia where they had a rally at Rittenhouse Square when Oswald was reported to have handed out his leaflets, and just around the corner from where Steve and Elliot Kenin ran the Guitar Workshop.
Steve attended Temple University where one of his professors had relocated to Cuba to teach at Havana University during the revolution, after which he traveled to Cuba, met and had his picture taken with Castro, and wrote about his experiences for the Temple student newspaper.
Steve Kenin also edited the program for the first Philadelphia Folk Festival and did the same for the Newport Folk Festival the following year when Dylan famously performed. So Kenin knew Suzie Rotolo from summer camp, personally knew Dylan from Newport, and named his son Dylan.
Among the songs Dylan wrote around that time was, “Goen’ to Acapulco.”
In 1963 Steve Kenin took off on his motorcycle to ride around Mexico and wrote an article about his adventures for Motorcycle Magazine and visited Acopolco and Mexico City where he reportedly met Lee Harvey Oswald.
In Mexico City Steve Kenin stayed at a Quaker hostel “Cassa d’Amego,” which is owned and supported by Philadelphia Quakers, and he hung out at a Mexican restaurant near the American embassy that was popular with other Americans, including Oswald. According to a Mexican lawyer who was there, he last saw Kenin ride off on his motorcycle with Lee Oswald on the back, heading for the Cuban embassy to try to get visas to Cuba.
Oswald did go to the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in a failed attempt to get a visa to Cuba, and at the Cuban embassy he dealt with a Syliva Duran.
Shortly thereafter two other young Americans in Mexico City also contacted Sylvia Duran in an attempt to get visas to Cuba, and while there, reportedly attended a Twist Party at Duran’s apartment, a party also attended by Lee Harvey Oswald. This is the subject of a book, "A Cruel and Shocking Act" by Phil Shennon, who tries to use the Twist Party as a means of falsely linking Oswald and Castro, an active CIA disinformation campaign that continues today (via Shennon, Bob Baer, Gus Russo, Max Holland, et al).
While Shennon didn't learn the identities of the two "gringos" who were also reportedly at the party and were scene with Oswald the next day, I did.
Of the other two Americans, one was recognized as a movie actor Richard Beymer - the star of the then popular West Side Story, which includes the music of Leonard Bernstein, who was also profoundly impacted by JFK’s murder.
Beymer was accompanied by a friend, the owner of a Manhattan bar that featured live music who also knew Bob Dylan. Tracked down and questioned about the CIA records that mention him and the Twist Party, Beymer was quite surprised by the whole thing, not having been questioned by anyone before.
Yes, he went to Mexico City and Acapulco in 1963 with his friend, the owner of a Manhattan bar, and yes, they were young and footloose and fancy free and may have attended a Twist Party at a private apartment, but no, he didn’t remember Sylvia Duran or Lee Harvey Oswald. When the CIA's records of Cuban embassy phone intercepts were released under the JFK Act, one of them mentions that Beymer did call and asked specifically for Duran shortly after the assassination, and asked if she was all right, apparently aware she was violently interrogated by the Mexican police. Beymer apparently knew Duran much better than he let on to me.
Beymer's friend, Bradley Pierce, owned a Manhattan bar, where Dylan and Ochs and other musicians socialized. Pierce became a Catholic priest, Father Brad, and recalled to me, shortly before he died, that they were in Mexico on November 22, 1963 when the assassination occurred, and since they were only there for a few weeks they couldn’t have been in Mexico in late September and early October when Oswald was there.
As for Steve Kenin, he doesn't remember Oswald or giving him a ride to the Cuban Embassy on his motorcycle, though he did try to get a visa to go back to Cuba, but had probably left Mexico before Oswald arrived.
He is a bit perplexed however, by what the CIA records say about him and the accounts of witnesses implicate him with Oswald and Castro, as well as the photo of him and Castro together that was published in his college paper. It makes one wonder what would have happened if the story came out shortly after the assassination, even if it wasn’t true, that Kenin had given Oswald a ride to the Cuban Embassy and then the photo of him and Castro further connected Oswald and Castro?
Could that have been a psyops ploy to link Oswald, Kenin and Castro, and what would it mean? I still don’t know what it all means.
I think that the US government intelligence community - there are 17 federal intelligence agencies, targeted politically leaning folk singers, song writer and musicians like Dylan, Ochs and John Lennon, as they were considered a threat to our national security, especially with the massive protests that they inspired and participated in against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights.
And Dylan’s new song only brings these issues back to the table, where we have to digest and decipher them, at a time of national calamity.
I still don’t know what it all means, but am trying to figure it out.
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And many thanks for those who have, both big and small, as you are keeping me going.