Subterranean Homesick Blues


The Vietnam War capped a long period of turmoil in the United States. The confrontation of racial segregation in the 1950s and ‘60s brought violence and uncertainty to a country at war with its inner self. Out of this conflict emerged the Students for a Democratic Society in the mid-1960s. This was the beginning of The Weather Underground—a war protest group that held demonstrations and bombed buildings in the US in pursuit of their purpose.

The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was a society made up of left wing students who rejected the anti-communistic stance of the US government. The movement spread through universities and, in October of 1969, a faction called “The Weatherman” organized the “Days of Rage” demonstration in Chicago. Protesters ran through the streets of Chicago, breaking windows and destroying whatever they could. Several SDS members were shot by police during the event. After this riot, SDS and “The Weatherman” split ways, with the Weathermen taking on the more violent protests.

The purpose of the Weathermen was closely aligned with that of the “Black Panthers.” Both groups were calling for equal treatment of humanity at home and abroad. The Black Panthers objected to the government sending black soldiers to the front lines in Vietnam in an apparent attempt, as the Black Panthers saw it, to kill young black men. After Black Panther activist Fred Hampton was assassinated by the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the Weathermen took on more projects in an attempt to get the attention of the government and bring about change. Both groups objected to the war in Vietnam and opposed killing for the sake of oppressing communism.

COINTELPRO was an agency formed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to counter communist, women’s rights, civil rights, and other movements against US government. This group tracked the lives of activists Martin Luther King and members of the Black Panthers and Weatherman groups. COINTELPRO often used illegal methods to track and kill suspected activists without trial or arrest. This enraged the Weathermen, who counteracted by bombing public buildings across the US. President Nixon’s hesitant withdrawal from Vietnam sparked peace rallies in Washington and on college campuses country-wide. A failed attempt at bombing a retired police officers’ ball in New York City left several Weatherman leaders dead. Late 1969 brought new threats to US social security with a Hells Angel killing at a concert in California and the chaos brought about by the Charles Manson commune. Life was far from peaceful in the US; it seemed the revolutionaries might have successfully have brought the war home.

The revolutionaries had an odd type of success. During their reign, they had to commit some of the very crimes they were protesting. Their actions nipped at the heels of a nation at war, adding confusion and controversy to the national scene and undermining the integrity of the government. Many of the revolutionaries who escaped with their lives would not be convicted of crimes because of the illegal tactics used by the government to track them. We’re indebted to them for their self-sacrifice and for showing us that a revolution can occur if enough people believe. This story is far from over; people all over the world still struggle to find the perfect balance between communism and capitalism, self and others, war and peace.

*Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
In the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
*You only got ten

*Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
*To know which way the wind blows

*Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
*Watch the parkin’ meters

*Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
*’Cause the vandals took the handles

-Bob Dylan