Georgetown professor Abbe Smith hadn’t set out to defend William Zantzinger, but after analyzing the man’s portrayal in Bob Dylan’s “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” she found she couldn’t help herself. It was a travesty. She’d brought slides that said so.
“It’s not that I think he was a good guy, but I don’t think he meant to kill her,” she said at the “Bob Dylan and the Law” conference Monday.
“I’m a defense lawyer by trade,” she added to laughter, “and by temperament.”
The “informal, freewheelin’ panel,” at Fordham Law School, was part of a two-day event celebrating Mr. Dylan’s music and its occasional forays into matters of jurisprudence (among them, “Hattie Carroll,” “Hurricane” and “Percy’s Song”). Panelist David Hajdu, a New Republic music critic and Columbia professor, said they were among Mr. Dylan’s weakest songs for being “hamstrung” by details.
“There was Abbe’s point about ‘Oh, he neglected to mention Zantzinger had hypertension,’” Professor Hajdu remarked after the discussion. “I mean, how can you rhyme ‘hypertension?’”
After the panel, folk singer Pete Kennedy delivered an acoustic performance of the songs that seemed to leave some attendees cold (“‘Hurricane,’ I guess, has gotta be done by Bob Dylan,” said a visiting CUNY law student). But Fordham professor George Conk enjoyed the performance. He said he had been working on a case related to the Rubin Carter trial when the song was released.
His take? “I thought the song was better than the facts,” Professor Conk said. “If you’re involved in things like that, you know that life’s more ambiguous. But I accept the basic truth of the song.” -Dan Duray