50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was an event that shook the entire nation and his progressive politics are something we still need to incorporate in our society today. Every person I have come in contact with from the baby boom era remembers where they were were when they found out he was assassinated and how they felt like they lost a family member that day. In remembrance, here are some songs from the 60’s to present time that commemorate his lasting memory for a more peaceful world.
1. “The Sound Of Silence” – Simon and Garfunkel (1964)
While not entirely obvious, Simon and Garfunkel wrote this song in response to JFK’s assassination. The lyrics are quite ambiguous and can be applied to different situations. But a line such as, “When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light”, is alluding to the gun shot. Also, “And in the naked light I saw / Ten thousand people, maybe more / People talking without speaking” is about the thousands of people that went to his funeral and showed support, at a loss for words.
2. “The Day John Kennedy Died” – Lou Reed (1982)
A kind of eerie song listening to it now with the death of Lou Reed, but not entirely so. It’s a soft yet striking ballad in tribute to JFK’s longing for a more harmonious United States. A key lyric pertaining to that exact thought, “I dreamed I replaced ignorance, stupidity and hate / I dreamed the perfect union and a perfect law, undenied”.
3. “He Was A Friend Of Mine” – The Byrds (1965)
This short and sweet song embodies the feeling that so many felt when Kennedy was shot, as though they were losing a close friend or beloved family member. The voice of their generation was suddenly gone, and no one knew how to deal with the void in their lives and in their country. “He never knew my name / He never knew my name / Though I never met him /I knew him just the same / Oh, he was a friend of mine.”
4. “Sleeping In” – The Postal Service (2003)
Written ten years ago, The Postal Service takes a more modern assessment and gets right to the point in the opening lyrics: “Last week I had the strangest dream / Where everything was exactly how it seemed / Where there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy”. It captures the displacement felt in today’s skeptical, conspiracy obsessed climate and a yearning for less complication.
5. “Sympathy For The Devil” – The Rolling Stones (1968)
A kind of cautionary tale urging listeners to be aware that there’s evil in everyone. Mick Jagger’s theories suppose that all of these tragedies are the result of a human being, not just the “Devil”, from the crucifixion of Jesus to the murder of JFK. “I shouted out / Who killed the Kennedys? / When after all / It was you and me”. The “devil” exists, and when we think he doesn’t, he makes himself known.
6. “The Brain Of J” – Pearl Jam (1998)
The title is pretty self explanatory. A howling track with metal tinged riffs, it gives an aggressive, interrogating point of view on Eddie Vedder’s thoughts on the ordeal 35 years prior. It’s mostly about the random and disturbing disappearance of JFK’s brain. Vedder has my thoughts exactly…who steals a brain, honestly? “Who’s got the brain of JFK? / What’s it mean to us now?”
7. “Civil War” – Guns N’ Roses (1990)
Probably one of my favorite songs of all time, an epic 7-minute protest song of sorts, referencing various assassinations. “And in my first memories / They shot Kennedy / And I went numb when I learned to see” – hardly a sight to forget, according to Axl Rose. Most of the people Rose is referencing to were committed to spreading the idea of peace and justice, but he also profiles those who can’t handle it and go berserk.
8. “Public Enemy #1” – Eminem (2006)
One of the most recent allusions, Eminem is telling the trials and tribulations of being in the public eye. Once you’re famous, you inevitably become a target, not only to backlash and nasty articles written about you, but also more dire attacks. The idea of celebrity in any profession is terrifying. People know your every move and think they know you to the point of wanting to be you. “Like the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in broad day / By a crazed lunatic with a gun / Who just happened to work on the same block in a library book depository / Where the President would go for a little Friday stroll / Shots fired from the grassy knoll”
Post any additional songs you’d like to add to this list in the comments!