From The Simon Archives: In The New Yorker, Wire Creator Remembers The Late William Zantzinger

What do you do after co-creating a television series so critically praised, Slate’s then-editor Jacob Weisberg called it "the best show on television and which prompted The New York Times editorial page’s Nicholas Kulish to write, "If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch ‘The Wire,’ unless, that is, he was already writing for it"?

Well, you can write a Talk of the Town for The New Yorker, which is what David Simon, Baltimore Sun reporter–turned–executive producer of The Wire and Generation Kill, did this week.

Mr. Simon’s A Lonesome Death takes the recent passing of William Zantzinger, whose conviction for manslaughter and assault in the death of a hotel barmaid named Hattie Carroll inspired Bob Dylan’s 1963 song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," as an opportunity to look back at an interview he attempted to hold with Mr. Zantzinger 25 years after the incident.

Mr. Simon found Mr. Zantzinger to be "a disappointing lump of a man, with small dark eyes and black hair thinning from behind." Furthermore, Mr. Zantzinger didn’t prove the easiest interview subject: he mostly told Mr. Simon that "The song was a lie. Just a damned lie" and spoke of his respect for Ms. Carroll’s 11 children. But Mr. Simon did bring one interesting detail to the meeting that piqued his interviewee’s interest:

I told Zantzinger about a note I had found in the old homicide file: ‘Attached is correspondence from . . . a folksinger in New York who seeks information about the aforementioned case, which was investigated by your agency.’ But Dylan’s letter wasn’t attached—snatched, perhaps, as a souvenir, from the police files. But the cover sheet, dated months after the release of ‘Hattie Carroll,’ was telling. Dylan was apparently writing too late to improve his song’s accuracy; his letter was the reaction of a worried young man.

Zantzinger enjoyed that immensely