Murrow Turning Over in His Grave


Written by L. Buckingham

All the saints and sinners They pay handsomely MSCAE they make the weapons And they run the prisons And they sell the justice 'Cause being guilty is just good business Well, we're standing on the borderline Ain’t no one here going to stop it now Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Ed Murrow had a child The damn thing went wild Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Ed Murrow had a child The damn thing went wild Half-closed eyes and unconscious death Do you feel the ooze as your brain drains out From the pneumatic drills and sharpened knives? Blood in the sky, are you dead or alive? All the restless people and the bitter green Well, it takes this gold, make the spirit mean Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Ed Murrow had a child The damn thing went wild Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Murrow’s turnin’ over in his grave Ed Murrow had a child The damn thing went wild


WEBMISTRESS speculates:

He's obviously referring to Edward R. Murrow, a famous journalist who accomplished many things...however, I think Lindsey probably has in mind Murrow's stance against McCarthyism. Murrow criticized Senator McCarthy's persecution of people who were Communist, or who knew a Communist, or who said/wrote something that sounded like it was advocating a Communist-sounding get the picture. The story's here if you care to know more. At any rate, Murrow went up against McCarthy because he felt that the senator's actions were making people afraid to speak their minds, because dissenting opinions could bring down on one's head the label of "Commie."

Therefore, if this is indeed what Lindsey is referring to, he may feel like the United States had once again degenerated into a nation where dissenting opinions are punished. Why does he think this? It seems he has problems with the justice system, but the references to prisons and guilt could just be illustrative of the idea of persecution instead of a literal complaint. (Can anyone tell me what the heck MSCAE is an acronym for?)

Apparently, from the gruesome imagery of the second verse, he feels America's in pretty dire straits! Geez, oozing brains?! What the...?! A graphic representation of losing the ability to think for oneself, perhaps? Whatever it stands for, it's profoundly distrubing!

What excactly does "Murrow's child" represent? Murrow was considered a prime figure in freedom of speech in journalistic reporting. I doubt Lindsey meant that the idea of free speech has gotten out of control - he was talking about how Eminem is "doing something important" because people were trying to censor him. That makes him suddenly worthy of respect, I guess. Whatever.

I also doubt he's complaining about the personal intrusiveness of the press. He only has to deal with them once every five years! So, what's getting out of control then, that was the offspring of Edward R. Murrow? From recent comments, it seems Lindsey feels that the media has been taken over and manipulated by agenda-driven corporations.

There's also what sounds like newscasts in the background of the guitar solo...used to comment on how many problems the "world today" has?

Like What's the World Coming To, I think this is inspired by Lindsey being somewhat jaded about the "corporate" mentality that was shutting him out, not just in the industry but across the general populace.


JESSICA speculates:

This quote could probably explain that MSNBC=MSCAE thing: "Murrow gave that famous parting speech when he left CBS, warning what would happen if we didn't take responsibility for TV and use it in the right way," Buckingham explains. "Obviously, we haven't. So 'Murrow' is just a song about how the media gets abused and how it is used for propaganda. Even the fact that somebody like GE would own NBC. That whole connection - down to the agendas that go into what you see on NBC, because it is owned by a weapons maker. It's just kind of weird and not very good. Not good for the kids. It diverts and deludes."

[Edited May 9, 2003] And here's the latest on that [from Performing Songwriter]:
"It was inspired by watching TV and seeing what it's become, how horrendous it's become as a tool to do exactly what Edward R. Murrow warned against when he gave his famous speech. He said if TV is allowed to distract and delude people, then there will be a large, large price to pay down the line. And we're seeing that coming true on so many levels. Especially in the world today, where all the media is basically owned and controlled and edited to a certain point of view, in the name of objective news, by all the same people who are tied in with another company. A good example would be GE owning NBC. Murrow would be turning over in his grave if he were to see all of this. Not just the propaganda that passes for news, but the trivialization of so many things, and the intent to distract and delude that he was talking about."

The fact that he keeps bringing up NBC makes it almost for sure that MSCAE is MSNBC...

[Edited May 28, 2003] More from LB:
"Edward R. Murrow was around when there was some standard for reporting on television. When he retired, he gave this speech about how TV was being used to distract and amuse and not particularly educate anyone. He said if the people responsible for what was on TV didn’t strike a balance, “history would take its revenge.” I wrote that song during the OJ Simpson trial. In some ways, that was the beginning of a new low, with Court TV popping up out of the blue and all that stuff which pretends to be objective news reportage, [but] is completely opportunistic."

From VH1...


VEE speculates:

I was watching Blow, with Johnny Depp (love him) last night and something freaked me out for a minute. There is a scene with Johnny depp walking through the airport and the song playing is "Black Betty" by , I think Ram Jam or something. Well it is clearly related to LB's Murrow Turning Over. The chorus is -whoa Black Betty (da na da na da na da) whoa Black Betty (repeat) Black Betty had a child, the damn thing went wild. The chorus sounded JUST like Murrow! I still think lindsey is the sun, moon and stars, but it freaked me out that another song sounds like that. I know I don't keep up with most of you on some things, but did anyone ever mention these extreme similarities or any kind of influence?


SNWRITER speculates:

In answer to VEE about "Murrow":

"Black Betty" is an old Leadbelly (the blues folk pioneer) song. Ram Jam and Lindsey are just experimenting with what has become an almost traditional tune down through the decades. Usually, as with Lindsey, these "antique" sources go uncredited in the new compositions. Led Zeppelin did this quite a few times.


JULES speculates:

I read in a review of Say You Will that Black Betty was in fact an old bluesy standard. Ram Jams 70's version was given a dance beat in the 90's. But yes, Lindsey can't deny "borrowing" textures from the song. Black Betty had a child ram a lam a damn thing ran wild = Ed Murrow had a child... damn thing ran wild. I sort of recognized the sound, but a friend who was familiar with the Ram Jam version pointed it out very clearly. Also, there seems to be some similarities between Paul Simon's Chorus in Kodachrome (Gives us such nice bright colors brings us the greens of summer) and the chorus in Peacekeeper (Peacekeeper take your time... Wait for the dark of night)


LIZABETH speculates:

That Black Betty song is very well known, and especially that line. I would feel sure that LB is "quoting" it.


ERIC speculates:

I'm glad to inform you that MSCAE (MscAE) is a diploma:

Master of Science in Automotive Engineering.
"They make the weapons..."

It says a lot doesn't it...


TIM speculates:

Re: MSCAE in "Murrow Turning Over in His Grave" - could it be "Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering?" I did a search on google, using all possible types of search (Web, Images, etc.) and the only thing that turned up was a Master of Science Engineering program in Germany. They DO seem to be associated with many companies, including automotive, e.g. Daimler-Chrysler and Porsche. (I believe Daimler started as a weapons manufacturer...)


RICH speculates:

I too am curious about the acronym. Perhaps someone should go to the source.

I am currently finishing A.M. Sperber's definitive bio of Ed Murrow, and I believe Buckingham's line (very obviously quoting Black Betty, therefore requiring no further credit...) refers to Murrow's huge personal contribution to the birth and early development of television broadcast journalism. There were of course many pioneers in the field, but Murrow's titanic stature was unmatched.

His reputation rested on the rock-solid foundation of his radio reporting from London during the blitz (1940-41). His reports were so frank, simple, direct and honest that by the end of WW2, he was a household name across the US and much of Europe. When he returned to the states, he was by default the most important single employee of CBS, and was soon earning more than the Chair, William Paley. Invited onto the board of CBS, he quit after a year, quickly recognizing the impossibility of simultaneously being an objective journalist and a manager of the corporation selling the news he produced.

Murrow's March 9, 1954 episode of his popular show See It Now was titled A REPORT ON SENATOR JOSEPH R. McCARTHY. It was a quiet but effective direct exposure of Joseph McCarthy's self-contradictory demogoguery and concluded with Murrow's brief, forthright denunciation of what it was doing to the country. That 30-minute TV broadcast is widely credited with ending one of the ugliest chapters of rightwing political hysteria in US history. Even President Eisenhower lacked the guts to stand up to McCarthy, though he had plenty of opportunities to do so, and would have been taking far less personal and professional risk than Murrow did. So Murrow deserves a lot of credit, beyond any doubt. Few individuals of such integrity make it into the upper eschelons of the power structure.

What Buckingham's lyrics express is an echo of Murrow's repeated warning that television was becoming something dangerous to the political health of the country. Here's a tidbit from Murrow's frontal attack on the broadcasting industry in 1958, as it was beginning the long slide which started with the popular Quiz Shows:

"It may be that the present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late."


The tragedy of Ed Murrow is the tragedy of US liberalism generally. He believed in self government, free speech and association, etc... All the fine enlightenment sentiments memorialized in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But he inevitably deferred in the end to the rights and opinions of the owner-operators of the system. Hence, although initially skeptical of the so-called Truman Doctrine--blueprint for the Cold War, war without end, and profit without end for the biggest US corporations--he eventually accepted it with mild reservations. Murrow even lost his political self-respect and independence so far as to join the Committee on the Present Danger, a secretive ruling-class body which formulated the basic ideas and strategy of Cold War doctrine, of which Joe McCarthy was nothing more than one of the predictable, even if unintended, by-products. At the end of his life, in his ultimate capitulation to rightwing corporate power, he accepted JFK's nomination as head of the US Information Agency, making him Minister of International Propaganda for the United States. He died of lung cancer within a couple of years.

As for TV becoming a naked instrument of corporate propaganda, the current war in Iraq is a direct result. The damn thing definitely went wild, and Murrow certainly should be turning over in his grave--not only because he foresaw the misuses of the medium, but because he did not see them clearly enough.

Want to speculate about "Murrow Turning Over in His Grave"? E-mail me and I'll post your comments.

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