Here comes the story of the Hurricane

Bob Dylan tells the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

The song “Hurricane,” written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, is a narrative of a triple homicide that occurred in 1966, and the resulting false trial that led to middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s wrongful imprisonment of 19 years. Carter was found guilty on two separate occasions before a successful appeal in 1985 freed him from a New Jersey prison.

Dylan decided to write the song after visiting Carter at Rahway State Prison in 1975, and the song was released in November of that year. Dylan would pull no punches when talking about the man who once fought for the WBC middleweight title and the WBA World middleweight title, pointing fingers and naming names as he described the racist and unjust treatment that Carter received that would lead to his incarceration.

From his 1975 album Desire, Dylan’s unique voice belts out the chorus:
“Here comes the story of the Hurricane / The man the authorities came to blame / For something that he never done / Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been / The champion of the world.”

The song was Dylan’s fourth most successful single of the 70s, one of folk-singer’s lengthy protest pieces of the time, clocking in at 8:33.

The story of Rubin Carter was also made into a major motion picture called The Hurricane. The film carries the “based on a true story” claim and, while much of what is portrayed is factual, there are many aspects that stray from reality.

The movie portrays Carter’s title fight against Joey Giardello as being dominated by Carter and it was because of white racist judges that he was seemingly robbed of the middleweight titles. In reality, while Carter did put up a good fight, he was no match for Giardello who rightfully won, retaining his title. In a Feb. 5, 2000 interview with C-Span, Carter said, “Joey clearly outboxed me [ . . . ] and therefore I did not win the title.”

The film also creates an angry cop character that torments Carter throughout his life as part of a racist vendetta. No such man existed. The film paints Carter’s prior convictions as racist efforts by the fictitious villainous cop, and also ignores his dismissal from the Army after 21 months in which he was court-martialed four times.

While his portrayal in the film—which netted Denzel Washington an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor—is far rosier than reality, it has to be noted that Carter would face many undue hardships throughout his life that would make his prior convictions look just as suspicious as the ones he received in the homicide case.

In 2010, Carter visited the University of Manitoba on Jan. 29 to tell his story and talk about confronting personal powerlessness, something that greatly affected him during his prison sentence.