Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking)

By Peter Vernezze; Carl J. Porter | Go to book overview

10
The Free Will in Bob Dylan

MARTIN VAN HEES

Davey Moore was a professional boxer who died after a fight against Sugar Ramos on March 21st, 1963. A few weeks after the match, Bob Dylan performed the song “Who Killed Davey Moore?” The song doesn't give a direct answer to the question its title poses. Rather, it lets those involved in the boxing match explain why they think they can't be held responsible for the young boxer's death. Take the referee, for instance. He argues that he was under pressure to continue the bout due to the interests at stake. The crowd only wanted to see a good fight. The manager claimed he didn't know that Moore wasn't physically up to the fight. The sports journalist and the gambler also deny any responsibility—the journalist thinks that boxing is a respectable American institution while the gambler argues that betting on the outcome of a match isn't the same as being responsible for what happens in it. So the referee, the public, the manager, the gambler, and the journalist all claim, “It wasn't me that made him fall.”

So was it Sugar Ramos, Moore's opponent, who should be held responsible for the death? After all, Moore died from his punches. At the end of the song, Moore's opponent declares that he can't be held responsible, either. He was only doing his job: “I hit him, yes, it's true / But that's what I'm paid to do.” And he adds, “Don't say 'murder,' don't say 'kill' / It was destiny, it was God's will.”

“Who Killed Davey Moore?” is often taken as one of Dylan's early protest songs. It doesn't condemn boxing explicitly but

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