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This Day In History: A Jack Ruby Playlist

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot down by Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being driven through the streets of Dallas. Two days later, Oswald himself was killed at the hands of nightclub operator Jack Ruby as he was being transferred to a county jail.

There have been dozens of reasons put forth as to why Ruby suddenly decided to kill Oswald. Conspiracy theorists propose the idea that it was all part of a plot to kill Oswald before a more far-reaching plot could be uncovered. Ruby himself stated that he had done it to redeem Dallas and to spare the Kennedy family the pain of returning for a trial.

This was probably a legal ploy. The whole thing may honestly have just been a sudden, violent whim for a man with a history of mental illness and with phenmetrazine running through his system.

Whatever the cause, Ruby was convicted of Oswald's murder on March 14, 1964, and sentenced to die for the crime. He later appealed for a new trial, but succumbed to lung cancer before it could take place. He left behind him a murky, nebulous chapter of American history, and that influence stretches to the realm of song. Our playlist this week is dedicated to him.

Loudon Wainwright III, "Bicentennial" On the occasion of America's turning 200 years old, Loudon Wainwright decided that old Columbia needed a tune to celebrate. The result is "Bicentennial," in which he pays tribute to heroes like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and even Jack Ruby. There's a certain sarcastic bite in the line, "Wasn't Jack wonderful? Oh, you know he certainly was," but overall the love of good old violent America still comes through.

Billy Bragg, "Wishing the Days Away" If you own no other Billy Bragg album, then you should at least give 1986's album Talking With the Taxman About Poetry a spin. It's an endlessly delightful series of good strumming songs with incredible turns of phrase that stay with you long after the track is over. Take "Now a man can spend a lot of time wondering what was on Jack Ruby's mind" as a great example. Poetic, memorable and a dead-on-balls-accurate statement of the kind of conspiracy musings that can preoccupy a lonely person avoiding his or her own problems.

 

This Day In History: A Jack Ruby Playlist

The Lilac Time, "Rockland" Tracking down this gem from The Lilac Time was no easy task, but you'll be glad I did. Stephen Duffy is one of the great underground songwriters, and "Rockland," from the first Lilac Time album, is a real treasure. It's a lament to loss of morality that mentions Ruby by name, bitterly remarking that the "winner rewrites history / the napalm lights his vanity."

Deep Purple, "Jack Ruby" Most songs that deal with Ruby tend to either focus on the conspiracy theories that swirled around the Kennedy assassination or seek to make a statement on violence in general. Not Deep Purple. They went with the most likely explanation, that Ruby was a little crazy and shot Oswald on impulse. That attitude forms the backbone of a hell of an unapologetic rock track.

Fiskadoro, "Dubai" Let's go out with some locals, techno-noise heroes Fiskadoro! I interviewed Richard Kimball in 2012 about "Dubai" and its creepy chant of "And I knew Jack Ruby." He said...

When Jen [Kimball] and I moved to Texas, multiple people told us not to do it 'because they killed Kennedy.' The JFK assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby etc. -- it seems to be to be a metaphor for the start of all the madness around us.


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