Grief ex­pressed in cor­ri­dos and ca­lypso

The Dallas Morning News - - ARTS & LIFE - By MICHAEL GRANBERRY Staff Writer [email protected]­las­

On the day that Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dal­las, Alan Gove­nar was 11, work­ing as a patrol boy near his school in Bos­ton, where Kennedy was revered. He heard the news from a nearby scan­ner as it blared from a po­lice patrol car.

He re­mem­bers the sud­den “height­ened sense of alert” and the grief that flooded through­out the world. Years later, do­ing grad­u­ate work at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, Gove­nar learned about a pro­ject a fel­low class­mate was


“He was writ­ing about th­ese Kennedy cor­ri­dos,” Gove­nar says. “There were many of them. He did a kind of anal­y­sis of them, and that struck a real chord for me. As time went on, I started col­lect­ing th­ese songs.”

They are songs about Kennedy, writ­ten in the af­ter­math of the as­sas­si­na­tion. Gove­nar has put to­gether a dozen and added a recorded eye­wit­ness ac­count from Dealey Plaza and made it an ex­hi­bi­tion com­mis­sioned by the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter of Pho­tog­ra­phy in New York. It is now on view in the C3 The­ater at the Dal­las Mu­seum of Art.

Gove­nar’s lineup in­cludes Mex­i­can cor­ri­dos, which stand as heart­felt trib­utes to the fallen pres­i­dent sung in the na­tive style, along with coun­try-Western bal­lads, one crooned by Tommy Cash, the brother of Johnny Cash. The Byrds also sing one, a sta­ple of Turn! Turn! Turn!, their clas­sic rock al­bum from 1965.

The sound-video in­stal­la­tion be­gins with an iconic por­trait of Kennedy and a song build­ing in the back- ground. The pic­ture dis­solves into a record label, then back to the im­age of Kennedy and on to the next song. The pre­sen­ta­tion plays in a mes­mer­iz­ing loop for 37 min­utes. Most of the songs Gove­nar picked were sin­gles, on 45 rpm vinyl discs. A few were LPs, played at 331⁄ rev­olu

3 tions per minute.

“Lis­ten­ing to th­ese songs evokes a range of emo­tions,” Gove­nar says, sit­ting in the DMA au­di­to­rium. “Each new record­ing builds a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion that is at once haunting and star­tling.”

A com­mon thread through­out the 12 he picked “is that Kennedy was a friend, even a sav­ior.” He was beloved in Latin Amer­ica, Gove­nar says, for be­ing one of the few U.S. pres­i­dents to go to Mex­ico and for be­ing the na­tion’s first Ro­man Catholic leader.

Gove­nar built his col­lec­tion over the decades “through a net­work of peo­ple and through the In­ter­net.” He found out about a Kennedy record­ing by The Mighty Spar­row, a gi­ant in the world of ca­lypso, through a fed­eral judge who lives in Alaska.

Gove­nar first came to Dal­las in 1975, ar­riv­ing by bus “at the Grey­hound sta­tion down­town.” He made his way to Dealey Plaza, where, at the time, “ev­ery­thing was boarded up. It was eerie, it was des­o­late, and then to walk over to that Philip John­son me­mo­rial, ev­ery­thing just felt cold and stark.”

He never imag­ined liv­ing here, but by 1980, he was a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Texas at Dal­las. He has re­mained ever since.

Here, he has built a rep­u­ta­tion as a film­maker, pho­tog­ra­pher and scholar, writ­ing about mu­sic, blues and folk in par­tic­u­lar. So he can say with some au­thor­ity that what th­ese songs re­flect is the feel­ing, as ex­pressed by The Mighty Spar­row, “that this was the most mourned per­son since the death of Christ.”

Kennedy, Gove­nar says, “sym­bol­ized a par­a­digm shift in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, and if you were swept into that, you had great hope for the fu­ture. And so, when this hap­pened, I think it just crushed a lot of peo­ple.”

As for the mu­sic he has put to­gether, what it re­veals, he says, is that “peo­ple were giv­ing voice to the voice­less through th­ese songs.”

Alan Gove­nar

“La­mento a Kennedy,” 45 rpm record, is su­per­im­posed over a por­trait of John F. Kennedy.

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