Who Killed Davey Moore?
Below is a cover of one of my favorite Bob Dylan tunes, Who Killed Davey Moore, performed during a live looping show I did at The Red Herring Lounge in Duluth, Minnesota, on September 27th, 2014.
I first heard this song when I was a teenager, and although I didn’t know the historical context at the time, I was impacted by Bob Dylan’s lyrics which spoke to me about a culture of violence through the story of the final fight of a boxer named Davey Moore. I continue to be affected by Dylan’s words in the way they speak to me about the culpability of our society in sustaining a violent culture, both directly and indirectly, and in challenging individuals to ask of themselves the difficult question, “Why, and what’s the reason for?” when witnessing, and even reveling in acts of violence.
Before playing the song at a concert in 1964, Dylan said:
This a song about a boxer…
It’s got nothing to do with boxing, it’s just a song about a boxer really.
And, uh, it’s not even having to do with a boxer, really.
It’s got nothing to do with nothing.
But I fit all these words together…
It’s taken directly from the newspapers,
Nothing’s been changed…
Except for the words.
In and of itself, the fact that Davey Moore, American world featherweight champion, lost his life after a match against Cuban boxer, Sugar Ramos, is sad, but not surprising, considering the inherent violence of the sport and the goal of hitting an opponent long and hard enough to knock them out. What is more tragic, in my interpretation of Dylan’s song, is contemplating the boxing arena as the arena of war, the boxers as soldiers, managers as governments, spectators as citizens, gamblers as war profiteers, and the boxing writer as the press. Dylan originally wrote and performed the song in 1963, when the Cuban Missile Crisis and the escalation of the Vietnam War were weighing on the minds of most Americans. Today, unfortunately, the metaphor resonates louder and clearer, as denial of the causes and motivations for war seems to have a firm hold on the psyche of American culture.
I perform this song to the rhythmic sound of a gas stove igniting.