Ballads are the music of the common people. They tell stories that provide entertainment for everyone. Generally, common folk wrote them with a plot that benefits the poor person, or portrays the rich man as being too arrogant. By listening to the events in these musical stories, one can determine what society was like when the song was written. For example, “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan demonstrates several issues that were present in the culture from which it came, specifically violence, racism, and corruption within the legal system.
The very opening of the song is a murder within a bar. Three people were killed and the bar was robbed. One of the robbers was still in the bar when the bodies were discovered, however he claimed he didn’t do it. The dead victims were lying in a pool of blood as a result of being shot with a pistol. This was not the only crime that the guilty men committed. They had a history of multiple crimes both before and after. The fact that several treacherous events such as this have occurred, it clearly shows that society during this time period had to deal with violence.
In addition to violence, there was also an enormous racism problem. Poor Rubin Carter was a black middleweight fighting champion. Unfortunately, he is who would be blamed for the murder and robbery simply because, “If you’re black you might as well not shown up on the street. ‘Less you wanna draw the heat.” In other words, black people were severely prejudiced against, and they couldn’t go out without being suspected of doing no good. The color of Rubin’s skin gave the white, guilty men and the lazy, prejudiced cops a reason to convict him of the crime he did not do. Because the white convicts were already in trouble with previous crimes, the police wanted to give them a break and had them testify against Rubin so they wouldn’t be in trouble for the murders as well as their other crimes. He concocted this plan confidently, knowing that Rubin stood no chance up against a white man. He was of course found guilty and sentenced to jail. His whole life and fighting career ruined all because of the color of his skin.
Rubin’s life may not have been ruined, however, if justice was given where it was due. He would have been found innocent had the trial been fairly run. The votes were cast before the trial even began, not to mention the fact that the jury was all white drunkards from the slums. There was no evidence whatsoever against Rubin, but everyone seemed to just know that he was the one who pulled the trigger. Now, an innocent man who had a whole career and life ahead of him is suffering from an unjust trial while the real criminals are free to keep committing crimes. It seemed that what was convenient was taken over anything else, and real justice was not given. Society during this time obviously had corruption in its legal system.
Ballads such as this are excellent examples of windows into the society from which they come. All these issue that were faced in the ballad “Hurricane” could be seen undoubtedly just by listening to the lyrics. Initially, ballads are written for fun, to tell a story, or to teach a lesson. They are about topics and events that are known in the era they originated in. Listening to ballads from any time period is an excellent tool in deciphering what was important, and what life was like for the people of that time.