"But if they did, they wouldn't name it," said Bob Dylan, after noting the names of a couple of defunct electric chairs, Old Sparky and Gruesome Gertie. Wikipedia lists a few more electric chair names: Sizzlin' Sally, Old Smokey, Yellow Mama. These days, execution is by lethal injection, and I don't suppose they name the needles, either, do they? There's something wrong with naming the deadly device, isn't there? We're supposed to be serious and somber about manipulating the machinery of death. But it's the prisoners that get the nicknaming going, isn't it? They're the ones who need to laugh at death. Do we really think these folks will ease up on the morbid humor? Somewhere, someone is calling the lethal injection Little Pricky.
Anyway, the theme of this week's "Theme Time Radio with Bob Dylan" was prison, but Bob branched out to some prison-related things like chain gangs ("Back on the Chain Gang" by the Pretenders) and electric chairs (Bessie Smith doing "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair"). The last song -- I forget the title and artist -- was about a guy told he couldn't be executed until they'd brought him his last meal and if they didn't have the ingredients on had they'd go out and get them. The song is a list of items like dinosaur steak and crocodile tears. Most predictable song: "Folsom Prison Blues." He played that first, so you didn't have to think about when he would play it. Bob tells us Cash came up with the line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" after deciding he wanted the worst reason to kill somebody -- and it didn't take long to think of that reason. The singer who impressed me the most: Wanda Jackson ("There's a Riot Going On"). What a voice!
What was Bob's attitude toward prison? I kept trying to discern it, but he was his usual enigmatic self. There was no preachiness about injustice. He was mostly matter of fact. People commit crimes, and then they go to prison, and it's bad. He didn't seem too sympathetic, nor was he channeling society's vindictiveness -- though at one point he seemed to approve of the chain gang. They're out there by the side of the road, and you can point them out and say don't let that happen to you. Mostly, as on all the shows, you can hear how much he loves all the singers.