Friday, November 22, 2013

The Byrds: He Was A Friend of Mine

Fifty years ago today, we lost a president – the fourth to have his life taken at the hands of an assassin. I remember hearing that word for the first time in November 1963. At the time, I was in the third grade at Green Valley Elementary School in North Versailles, PA. Once the news broke, the principal, Mr. Butler, assembled the entire school into the gymacafatorium to watch the news coverage on the TV that they wheeled into the room.

Watching important events on TV was not unusual for students at Green Valley, as we had watched most of the Mercury launches in the same location. Here again, history was unfolding right before our young eyes.

Was Kennedy the greatest president? Probably not, but he was symbolically beatified by Americans following his tragic death. Even today we as a nation tend to remember the good – we are challenged to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He may not have been the best president, but he will always be part of the revered pantheon of the Oval Office.

America lost its innocence with the killing of our president. It changed us forever and it hit the youth of America especially hard. The night of Kennedy’s assassination, Jim (now Roger) McGuinn sat down and rewrote the words to a traditional song originally known as “Shorty George.” In the original version, the singer lamented a death of a friend and McGuinn used that motif for his connection to JFK.

Two years later in 1965, “He was a Friend of Mine” appeared on The Byrds’ second LP “Turn! Turn! Turn!” While not commercially issued as a single, Columbia tested the waters by releasing a promotional copy to radio stations, but the lack of airplay failed to generate a commercial release.

He was a friend of mine;
He was a friend of mine;
His killin’ had no purpose’
No reason, or rhyme;
He was a friend of mine.

He was in Dallas town;
He was in Dallas town;
From a sixth floor window,
A gunner shot him down;
He died in Dallas town.

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.

A leader of a nation,
For such a precious time;
He was a friend of mine.

“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” – John F. Kennedy

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