Saturday, January 10, 2009

William Zantzinger finally meets his Maker

William Zantzinger has died.

He is infamously (and probably immortally) remembered in one of Bob Dylan's earliest masterpieces, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

Rolling Stone reports that "in 1963, a 24-year-old Zantzinger was at a Baltimore hotel when he struck Hattie Carroll — a 51-year-old black barmaid — in the head and shoulders with a toy cane. Details of the attack vary, but most claim he was enraged she wasn’t serving him quickly enough. A distraught Carroll, who suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, returned to the kitchen where she complained to a co-worker about Zantzinger — and quickly collapsed and died."

Dylan read about the incident in the newspaper and wrote the song.

Boston University's literary critic and scholar Christopher Ricks has done a remarkable analysis (available at iTunes for free) of what makes this particular song brilliant - even alone making Dylan one of the great American poets.

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath'rin'.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain't the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain't the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain't the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'.
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears.

B. Dylan 1964

And now the real William Zanzinger is dead. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone all have obits on this now immortalized and pernicious fellow.

And what did William Zanzinger have to say in the past about Bob Dylan? Apparently, he called him a "no-account [expletive-deleted]" and said, according to a Dylan biographer, "I should have sued him and put him in jail."

Which probably would have only sardonically elicited the adding of five more stanzas to the song.

Performance from 1964. Tip of the Tinfoil to fellow Dylan fan, Doug LeBlanc. Thanks, Doug!


TLF+ said...

Great lyrics indeed - it hits like Nathan confronting David or the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Anglican Beach Party said...

That was one of the first Dylan tunes I ever heard (after Blowin' In The Wind and a few others) and its impact has never left me.

Craig Goodrich said...

Look outside the window, there's a woman bein' grabbed --
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's bein' stabbed.
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain,
But Monopoly is so much fun I'd hate to spoil the game --
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest
Outside of a small circle of friends...

-- Phil Ochs, ca. 1967