Who killed summertime? How do we trace the complex roots of responsibility?
Shining a light on an evil killer is easy and satisfying. It drives the script of the tales in which we absorb ourselves as we retreat from a world become too much
When I was growing up, one of my parents’ favourite albums was a live recording of a Pete Seeger concert called We Shall Overcome. On it was his rendition of a Bob Dylan song called Who Killed Davey Moore. Pete’s voice imploring an answer to that question would ring out from the record player in the living room and across the house.
The song explores the question of who bore responsibility for the death of an African American boxer who was killed in the ring when he was just 30 years old. Each verse begins with the refrain, “Who killed Davey Moore?” In the verse that follows, some group or individual associated with his life and death – the coach, the crowd, the manager, the gambling man, the boxing writer, the other fighter – gives their answer. Each, in turn, responds “Not I”, and explains that they cannot rightfully be accused of killing Davey Moore. They were just doing what it is that they do: going to the fight, organising the fight, writing about the fight, throwing the punches, and so on. And, of course, they are each telling the truth. Or a truth of sorts.