The Paranoid Style in American Music

Google wishes Dizzy Gillespie a happy 93rd

The current issue of New Yorker has a fascinating tracing of the paranoid, anti-government strain of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck cohort to its roots in 1950s anti-communist paranoia, especially the infamous John Birch Society. A highly suggested read.

But, pathetically, what most caught my imagination was not the historical or political import, but this tidbit: “Trumpeter [Dizzy Gillespie], whose actual name was John Birks Gillespie, made a humorous run for the Presidency in 1964, organizing John Birks Societies in twenty-five states.” According to Indiana Public Media,

[Gillespie] said that he would rename the White House “the Blues House” and proposed a presidential cabinet with Duke Ellington as minister of state, Max Roach as minister of defense, Charles Mingus as minister of peace (“because he’ll take a piece of your head faster than anyone I know”), Peggy Lee as minister of labor, and Miles Davis as the director of the CIA. He also suggested having racist Mississippi governor Ross Barnett serve as U.S. Information Agency director in the Congo and earmarked Alabama governor George Wallace for deportation to Vietnam. Black Muslim leader Malcolm X was to be appointed as Attorney General, “because he’s one cat we definitely want to have on our side.”

Sounds pretty good to me, at least better than Goldwater. As does his campaign song, “Vote Dizzy,” a remake of the classic “Hot Peanuts,” with vocals by Jon Hendricks, from the 1963 Newport live disc, Dizzy for President. Especially fitting that this would all come together today, on what would be Dizzy’s 93rd birthday. Google Doodle and all.

Dizzy Gillespie, “Vote Dizzy (Salt Peanuts”) [Buy]

Bob Dylan, communist co-conspirator

Bob Dylan also joined the anti-Birch wagon, producing a somewhat middling song called “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” “Talkin’” was an improvisational blues style developed by Woody Guthrie (see “Talking Fish Blues“), that Dylan used in other songs to better effect (“Talking World War III Blues,” “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre”). But “John Birch” itself has an interesting back story. Originally slated for release on Dylan’s sophomore effort, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, CBS objected, possibly as a response to Dylan attempting to play it on Ed Sullivan. “John Birch” and three other songs (including the fallout shelter themed “Let Me Die In My Footsteps”) were dropped from the record. Dylan, although crushed, instead included “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, “Talkin’ World War III Blues”, and “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” Given that the first two are undeniable and major classic (see NoiseNarcs’ take on Jim Hall and Bill Frissel’s version of “Masters of War”) and that the other two are excellent, we at Noise Narcs are forced to take a Birchian view and conclude that CBS colluded with Dylan under the guise of censorship to further his communist plot of changing popular music forever. Very clever, you communist pinkos, very clever. Not so clever is the way they tip their hand with this week’s release of Dylan’s The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964, which reveals their plot by including “Talkin’ John Birch Blues” and a slew of early Dylan demos.

Bob Dylan, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” [Buy]

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2 Responses to The Paranoid Style in American Music

  1. Neil Cake says:

    So “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”is on Bootleg Series 1 and 8? Or are “Talking John Birch Blues” and “Talkins John Birch Paranoid Blues” different songs?

    • David G says:

      Neil, it’s the same song, although Dylan uses different lyrics. The version from Bootleg 1 is live, as is the version from Volume 6 (Live at Philharmonic Hall). I actually prefer the live version: the humor comes through much better.