012 – “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”


Episode 12. “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” The Apartment. May 18, 2017. Rainier.




  • Appeared in Broadside his first; influential zine that you can still read, in full, glorious pdfs at Sing Out
  • Famously, he was scheduled to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1962 which had just broke Elvis and would later break the Beatles. He auditioned the song, people loved it, but when it came down to the show, he was told he couldn’t perform because it could be a libel” against the John Birch Society. He refused to change the song and walked off the set. National attention followed. Sullivan supported him saying the John Birchers shouldn’t be above criticism. Stodgy Columbia, learning this was scheduled for Freewheelin’, they pulled the song off the record (less than 300 copies of the album went out). Dylan relented and also pulled Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie” (which was sampled two weeks ago in our Days of 49” episode) and Rocks and Gravel.” He replaced them with Bob Dylan’s Dream,” Talkin’ World War III Blues,” Girl from the North Country,” and Masters of War.”
    • John Hammond: The CBS lawyers, not Columbia Records, decided that the reference to Hitler involved every single member of the John Birch Society, therefore it was libelous, or some crap like that. I get away with much worse material with Seeger than was ever on a Dylan album.” (Shelton, No Direction Home”)
  • There is the 1962 version recorded for Freewheelin’ (which, to my knowledge, hasn’t seen the light of day, or at least my light of day). A 1963 demo recorded for Witmark, part of TBLS Volume 9. The October 26, 1963 performance at Carnegie Hall was my first listen to the song, on TBLS Vol. 1-3. Also, the Halloween performance in 1964 from TBLS Vol. 6.


  • Context
    • “Reds,” of course, is one in a long line of boogeymen the US has sought to make the Other.” A version of this song now would center on immigrants and Muslims.
    • Obviously, Birchers (and their present ilk) are threats to free speech as everything uttered is communist.” 
    • Hootenanny was a popular show that blacklisted Pete Seeger and the Weavers, which is where the joke comes from
    • George Lincoln Rockwell is an actual Nazi head of the American Nazi Party, a hero for Birchers
  • “Talking blues” song which he’d use in Talkin’ New York,” Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues” and Talkin’ World War III Blues” I Shall Be Free” (so say nothing of less-talky TV Talkin’ Song” off Under the Red Moon…) 
  • Versions
    • Vol. 1-3
      • “There ain’t wrong with this song!”
      • Picketed the movie Exodus
    • Witmark Demo
      • Meant to be recorded plain, so they could use to market these songs (the Bootleg has demos of all the classics of the era from 1962-1964)
      • Differences from the Vol. 1-3 is the line about killing jews
      • Verse on book burning is on the nose / Al Grossman line
    • Brandeis 1963
      • “I’m a real John Bircher now, look out!”
    • Halloween 1964
      • In control of the song at this point, besides his substances that night
      • This song is better live
  • The end is almost ironic because none of these people actually have any sense of self-reflection or intellectual 
  • Dylan’s 1963 open letter to his friend Dave Glover, for your enjoyment
I keep rememberin the songs we used t sing an play
The songs written thirty fifty years ago
The dirt farm songs the dust bowl songs
The depression songs the down and out songs
The ol blues and ballads
I think a Woody’s songs
I think a Woody’s day
“This land I’ll defend with my life if it be”
An I say t myself Yeah that’s right”
“Hitler’s on the march”
“I don’t wan”m takin my ground”
“I don’t wan”m livin on my land”
An I see two side man
I see two roads to pick yer route
The American way or the Fascist way
When there was a strike there’s only two kind of views
An two kinds of tales t tell the news
Thru the unions eyes or thru the bosses eyes
An yuh could stand on a line an look at yer friends
An stand on that same line an see yer foes
It was that easy
“Which Side’re You On” ain’t phony words
An they ain’t from a phony song
An that was Woody’s day man
Two sides
I don know what happened cause I wasn’t aroun but somewhere along
the line a that used t be day things got messed up
More kinds a sides come int’ the story
Folks I guess started switchin sides an makin up their own sides
There got t be so many sides that no eyes could could see the eyes facin’m
There got t be so many sides that all of’m started lookin’ like each other
I don pretend to know what happened man, but somehow all sides lost their
purpose an folks forgot about other folks
I mean they must a all started goin against each other not for the good
a their side but for the good a jes their own selves
An them two simple sides that was so easy t tell apart bashed an
boomed an exploded so hard an heavy that t’day all’ts left and
made for us is the one big rockin rollin
Nowadays folk’s brains’re bamboozled an bowled over by categories
labels an slogans an advertisements that could send anybody’s
head in a spin
It’s hard t believe anybody’s tellin the truth for what that is
I swear it’s true that in some parts a the country folks believe the
finger-pointers more’n the President
It’s the time a the flag wavin shotgun carryin John Birchers
It’s the time a the killer dogs an killer sprays
It’s the time a the billbord sign super flyin highways
It’s the time a the pushbutton foods an five minute fads
It’s the time a the white collar shirt an the white sheeted hood and the
white man’s sun tan lotion
It’s time a guns and grenades an bombs bigger’n any time’s ever seen
It’s the time a Liz Taylor fans sports fans and electric fans
It’s the time when a twenty year ol colored boy with his head bloody
don get too much thought from the seventy year ol senator who
wants t bomb Cuba
I don’t know who the people were man that let it get this way but they
got what they wanted out a their lives an left me an you facin a
scared raped world


  • Before
    • Its main activity in the 1960s, said Rick Perlstein, comprised monthly meetings to watch a film by Welch, followed by writing postcards or letters to government officials linking specific policies to the Communist menace” (kind of like watching cable news and then tweeting at perceived menaces!)
  • Stances
    • Against Civil Rights Act of 1964. Against Equal Rights Amendment. Obsessed with the 10th Amendment. Against all free-trade agreements/globalization. Anti-interventionist. Believes fluoride is a communist conspiracy which they deny but, come on. Thought Eisenhower was a communist. Against OSHA. Against diplomatic ties to China. Against tranferring Panama Canal over to Panamanians because, you know, communists. 
    • But it’s interesting: Antisemitic, racist, anti-Mormon, anti-Masonic groups criticized the organization’s acceptance of Jews, non-whites, Masons, and Mormons as members.
    • In a bitterly ironic twist, given today’s world, and the Right’s still worship of Ayn Rand: in a 1964 Playboy interview, she said, I consider the Birch Society futile, because they are not for capitalism but merely against communism … I gather they believe that the disastrous state of today’s world is caused by a communist conspiracy. This is childishly naïve and superficial. No country can be destroyed by a mere conspiracy, it can be destroyed only by ideas.”
  • Today
    • JBS is still around. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, lists the society as a ‘Patriot’ Group. 
    • Believes a one world government” is coming, or North American Union. Still pushing to US to get out of the United Nations (cause our not joining the League of Nations after WWI was a success!). Dismantling the Federal Reserve. Strict originalists to the Constitution, which seeks to keep this country back in 1789.
    • It’s led by Ray Clark, who has a fake degree from Donsbaugh University School of Nutrition in Huntington Beach, California and he puts nutrional supplements in every photo of JBS literature
    • You want a trip go to their Twitter, it’s hashtag galore, a way to convert the youth to good ole fascism! 


  • Recommendations: Chris Stapleton From A Room: Volume 1, 
  • Announcing my trip to Virginia and Supplemental #1 No Direction Home

Recommendations: Wavves You’re Welcome and Daniel Romano Modern Pressure


Kelly: #319 – “Bourbon Street” from Basement Tapes

Real: #642 – “God Knows”

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