Read Bob Dylan’s Speech And Follow-Up Letter Sympathizing With Lee Harvey Oswald

    A bizarre slice of history has floated to the top of the Internet today. In 1963, the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee honored legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan with its Tom Paine Award. Dylan accepted the award with a controversial speech in which he spoke about Lee Harvey Oswald. The December 13th ceremony came just three weeks after Oswald assassinated President Kennedy. After speaking about Cuba, Dylan noted, “I saw some of myself in [Oswald]…. I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me.”

    The folk star followed his speech with a letter stating that he did “not apologize for myself nor my fears … for any statement which led some to believe “oh my God! I think he’s the one that really shot the president” … for being me nor any part of me.” Look at transcripts of the speech and letter bellow. [Letters of Note]

    Bob Dylan’s speech:

    I haven’t got any guitar, I can talk though. I want to thank you for the Tom Paine award in behalf everybody that went down to Cuba. First of all because they’re all young and it’s took me a long time to get young and now I consider myself young. And I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I’m young. And I only wish that all you people who are sitting out here today or tonight weren’t here and I could see all kinds of faces with hair on their head, and everything like that, everything leading to youngness, celebrating the anniversary when we overthrew the House Un-American Activities just yesterday. Because you people should be at the beach. You should be out there and you should be swimming and you should be just relaxing in the time you have to relax. [Laughter] It is not an old peoples’ world. It is not an old peoples’ world. It has nothing to do with old people. Old people when their hair grows out, they should go out. [Laughter] And I look down to see the people that are governing me and making my rules, and they haven’t got any hair on their head — I get very uptight about it. [Laughter]

    And they talk about Negroes, and they talk about black and white. And they talk about colors of red and blue and yellow. Man, I just don’t see any colors at all when I look out. I don’t see any colors at all and if people have taught through the years to look at colors — I’ve read history books, I’ve never seen one history book that tells how anybody feels. I’ve found facts about our history, I’ve found out what people know about what goes on but I never found anything about anybody feels about anything happens. It’s all just plain facts. And it don’t help me one little bit to look back.

    I wish sometimes I could have come in here in the 1930’s like my first idol — used to have an idol, Woody Guthrie, who came in the 1930’s [Applause]. But it has sure changed in the time Woody’s been here and the time I’ve been here. It’s not that easy any more. People seem to have more fears.

    I get different presents from people that I play for and they bring presents to me backstage — very weird, weird presents; presents that I couldn’t buy. They buy — they bring me presents that… I’ve got George Lincoln Rockwell’s tie clip that somebody robbed for me. [Laughter] I have General Walker’s car trunk keys — keys to his trunk that somebody robbed for me. Now these are my presents. I have fallout shelter signs that people robbed for me from Philadelphia and these are the little signs. There’s no black and white, left and right to me anymore; there’s only up and down and down is very close to the ground. And I’m trying to go up without thinking about anything trivial such as politics. They has got nothing to do with it. I’m thinking about the general people and when they get hurt.

    I want to accept this award, the Tom Paine Award, from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. I want to accept it in my name but I’m not really accepting it in my name and I’m not accepting it in any kind of group’s name, any Negro group or any other kind of group. There are Negroes — I was on the march on Washington up on the platform and I looked around at all the Negroes there and I didn’t see any Negroes that looked like none of my friends. My friends don’t wear suits. My friends don’t have to wear suits. My friends don’t have to wear any kind of thing to prove that they’re respectable Negroes. My friends are my friends, and they’re kind, gentle people if they’re my friends. And I’m not going to try to push nothing over. So, I accept this reward — not reward [Laughter] — award on behalf of Phillip Luce who led the group to Cuba which all people should go down to Cuba. I don’t see why anybody can’t go to Cuba. I don’t see what’s going to hurt by going any place. I don’t know what’s going to hurt anybody’s eyes to see anything. On the other hand, Phillip is a friend of mine who went to Cuba. I’ll stand up and to get uncompromisable about it, which I have to be to be honest, I just got to be, as I got to admit that the man who shot President Kennedy, Lee Oswald, I don’t know exactly where — what he thought he was doing, but I got to admit honestly that I too — I saw some of myself in him. I don’t think it would have gone — I don’t think it could go that far. But I got to stand up and say I saw things that he felt, in me — not to go that far and shoot. [Boos and hisses] You can boo but booing’s got nothing to do with it. It’s a — I just a — I’ve got to tell you, man, its Bill of Rights is free speech and I just want to admit that I accept this Tom Paine Award in behalf of James Forman of the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and on behalf of the people who went to Cuba. [Boos and Applause]

    Bob Dylan’s letter:


    to anybody it may concern…
    mr lamont?
    countless faces I do not know
    an all fighters for good things that I can not see

    when I speak of bald heads, I mean bald minds
    when I speak of the seashore, I mean the restin shore
    I dont know why I mentioned either of them

    my life runs in a series of moods
    in private an in personal ways, sometimes,
    I, myself, can change the mood I’m in t the
    mood I’d like t be in. when I walked thru the
    doors of the americana hotel, I needed to change
    my mood… for reasons inside myself.

    I am a restless soul
    perhaps wretched

    it is hard to hear someone you dont know, say
    “this is what he meant t say” about something
    you just said

    for no one can say what I meant t say
    absolutely no one
    at times I even cant
    that was one of those times

    my life is lived out daily in the places I feel
    most confortable in. these places are places where
    I am unknown an unstared at. I perform rarely, an
    when I do, there is a constant commotion burnin
    at my body an at my mind because of the attention
    aimed at me. instincts fight my emotions an fears
    fight my instincts…

    I do not claim t be smart by the standards set up
    I dont even claim to be normal by the standards
    set up
    an I do not claim to know any kind of truth

    but like an artist who puts his painting (after
    he’s painted it) in front of thousands of unknown
    eyes, I also put my song there that way
    (after I’ve made it)
    it is as easy an as simple as that

    I can not speak. I can not talk
    I can only write an I can only sing
    perhaps I should’ve sung a song
    but that wouldn’t a been right either
    for I was given an award not to sing
    but rather on what I have sung

    no what I should’ve said was
    “thank you very much ladies an gentlemen”
    yes that is what I should’ve said
    but unfortunatly… I didn’t
    an I didn’t because I did not know

    I thought something else was expected of me
    other than just sayin “thank you”
    an I did not know what it was
    it is a fierce heavy feeling
    thinkin something is expected of you
    but you dont know what exactly it is…
    it brings forth a wierd form of guilt

    I should’ve remembered
    “I am BOB DYLAN an I dont have t speak
    I dont have t say nothin if I dont wanna”
    I didn’t remember

    I constantly asked myself while eatin supper
    “what should I say? what should I tell ‘m?
    everybody else is gonna tell ‘m something”
    but I could not answer myself
    I even asked someone who was sittin nex t me
    an he couldn’t tell me neither. my mind blew
    up an needless t say I had t get it back in its
    rightful shape (whatever that might be) an so
    I escaped from the big room… only t hear my
    name being shouted an the words “git in here
    git in here” overlappin with the findin of my
    hand being pulled across hundreds of tables
    with the lights turned on strong… guidin me
    back t where I tried t escape from
    “what should I say? what should I say?”
    over an over again
    oh God, I’d a given anything not t be there
    “shut the lights off at least”
    people were coughin an my head was poundin
    an the sounds of mumble jumble sank deep in
    my skull from all sides of the room
    until I tore everything loose from my mind
    an said “just be honest, dylan, just be honest”

    an so I found myself in front of the plank
    like I found myself once in the path of a car
    an I jumped…
    jumped with all my bloody might
    just tryin t get out a the way
    but first screamin one last song

    when I spoke of Lee Oswald, I was speakin of the times
    I was not speakin of his deed if it was his deed.
    the deed speaks for itself
    but I am sick
    so sick
    at hearin “we all share the blame” for every
    church bombing, gun battle, mine disaster,
    poverty explosion, an president killing that
    comes about.
    it is so easy t say “we” an bow our heads together
    I must say “I” alone an bow my head alone
    for it is I alone who is livin my life
    I have beloved companions but they do not
    eat nor sleep for me
    an even they must say “I”
    yes if there’s violence in the times then
    there must be violence in me
    I am not a perfect mute.
    I hear the thunder an I cant avoid hearin it
    once this is straight between us, it’s then an
    only then that we can say “we” an really mean
    it… an go on from there t do something about

    When I spoke of Negroes
    I was speakin of my Negro friends
    from harlem
    an Jackson
    selma an birmingham
    atlanta pittsburg, an all points east
    west, north, south an wherever else they
    might happen t be.
    in rat filled rooms
    an dirt land farms
    schools, dimestores, factories
    pool halls an street corners
    the ones that dont own ties
    but know proudly they dont have to
    not one little bit
    they dont have t be like they naturally aint
    t get what they naturally own no more ‘n anybody
    else does
    it only gets things complicated
    an leads people into thinkin the wrong things
    black skin is black skin
    It cant be covered by clothes an made t seem
    acceptable, well liked an respectable…
    t teach that or t think that just tends the
    flames of another monster myth…
    it is naked black skin an nothin else
    if a Negro has t wear a tie t be a Negro
    then I must cut off all ties with who he has
    t do it for.
    I do not know why I wanted t say this that
    perhaps it was just one of the many things
    in my mind
    born from the confusion of my times

    when I spoke about the people that went t Cuba
    I was speakin of the free right t travel
    I am not afraid t see things
    I challenge seein things
    I am insulted t the depths of my soul
    when someone I dont know commands that I
    cant see this an gives me mysterious reasons
    why I’ll get hurt if I do see it… tellin me
    at the same time about goodness an badness in
    people that again I dont know…
    I’ve been told about people all my life
    about niggers, kikes, wops, bohunks, spicks, chinks,
    an I been told how they eat, dress, walk, talk,
    steal, rob, an kill but nobody tells me how any
    of ‘m feels… nobody tells me how any of ‘m cries
    or laughs or kisses. I’m fed up with most newspapers,
    radios, tv an movies an the like t tell me. I want
    now t see an know for myself…
    an I accepted that award for all others like me
    who want t see for themselves… an who dont want
    that God-given right taken away
    stolen away
    or snuck out from beneath them
    yes a travel ban in the south would protect
    Americans more, I’m sure, than the one t Cuba
    but in all honesty I would want t crash that
    one too
    do you understand?
    do you really understand?
    I mean I want t see. I want t see all I can
    everyplace there is t see it
    my life carries eyes
    an they’re there for one reason
    the reason t see thru them

    my country is the Minnesota-North Dakota territory
    that’s where I was born an learned how t walk an
    it’s where I was raised an went t school… my
    youth was spent wildly among the snowy hills an
    sky blue lakes, willow fields an abandoned open
    pit mines. contrary t rumors, I am very proud of
    where I’m from an also of the many blood streams that
    run in my roots. but I would not be doing what
    I’m doing today if I hadn’t come t New York. I was
    given my direction from new york. I was fed in
    new york. I was beaten down by new york an I was
    picked up by new york. I was made t keep going on
    by new york. I’m speakin now of the people I’ve met
    who were strugglin for their lives an other peoples’
    lives in the thirties an forties an the fifties
    an I look t their times
    I reach out t their times
    an, in a sense, am jealous of their times
    t think I have no use for “old” people is a betrayin thought
    those that know me know otherwise
    those that dont, probably’re baffled
    like a friend of mine, jack elliott, who says he
    was reborn in Oklahoma, I say I was reborn in
    New York…
    there is no age limit stuck on it
    an no one is more conscious of it than I

    yes it is a fierce feeling, knowin something you
    dont know about’s expected of you. but it’s worse
    if you blindly try t follow with explodin words
    (for that’s all they can do is explode)
    an the explodin words’re misunderstood
    I’ve heard I was misunderstood

    I do not apologize for myself nor my fears
    I do not apologize for any statement which led
    some t believe “oh my God! I think he’s the one
    that really shot the president”

    I am a writer an a singer of the words I write
    I am no speaker nor any politician
    an my songs speak for me because I write them
    in the confinement of my own mind an have t cope
    with no one except my own self. I dont have t face
    anyone with them until long after they’re done

    no I do not apologize for being me nor any part of me

    but I can return what is rightfully yours at any
    given time. I have stared at it for a long while
    now. it is a beautiful award. there is a kindness
    t Mr Paine’s face an there is almost a sadness in
    his smile. his trials show thru his eyes. I know
    really not much about him but somehow I would like
    t sing for him. there is a gentleness t his way.
    yes thru all my flounderin wildness, I am, when it
    comes down to it, very proud that you have given this
    t me. I would hang it high, an let my friends see in
    it what I see, but I also would give it back if
    you wish. There is no sense in keepin it if you’ve
    made a mistake in givin it. for it means more’n any
    store bought thing an it’d only be cheatin t keep it

    also I did not know that the dinner was a donation
    dinner. I did not know you were gonna ask anyone
    for money. an I understand you lost money on the
    masterful way I expressed myself… then I am in debt t you
    not a money debt but rather a moral debt
    if you’d a sold me something, then it’d be a money debt
    but you sold nothin, so it is a moral debt
    an moral debts’re worse ‘n money debts
    for they have t be paid back in whatever is missin
    an in this case, it’s money

    please send me my bill
    an I shall pay it
    no matter what the sum
    I have a hatred of debts an want t be even in
    the best way I can
    you needn’t think about this, for money means
    very little t me

    so then

    I’ll return once again t the road

    I cant tell you why other people write, but I
    write in order to keep from going insane.
    my head, I expect’d turn inside out if my hands
    were t leave me.

    but I hardly ever talk about why I write. an I
    scarcely ever think about it. the thought of it is
    too alarmin

    an I never ever talk about why I speak
    but that’s because I never do it. this is the
    first time I am talkin about it… an I pray
    the last
    the thought of doing it again is too scary

    ha! it’s a scary world
    but only once in a while huh?

    I love you all up there an the ones I dont love,
    it’s only because I do not know them an have not
    seen them… God it’s so hard hatin. it’s so
    tiresome… an after hatin something to death,
    it’s never worth the bother an trouble

    out! out! brief candle
    life’s but an open window
    an I must jump back thru it now

    see yuh
    respectfully an unrespectfully

    (signed, ‘bob dylan’)