Secret Service investigates student performance of anti-war song at Colorado High School

When Bob Dylan penned the lines, “And I hope that you die; And your death’ll come soon” in 1963, he galvanized thousands of anti-war protesters.

When four Boulder High School students read the lines during a Nov. 11 rehearsal for the school talent show, they galvanized the Secret Service.

Students and parents became alarmed when rumors arose that the four Boulder students, members of a band called the Coalition of the Willing, were referring to President Bush in their revival of Bob Dylan’s anti-war song, “Masters of War.” Some students alleged that a bandmember shouted, “Kill the president!” But bandmember Brian Martens said none of the lyrics were changed to refer to President Bush or convey a threat.

“We were just reading the straight lyrics,” the 16-year-old saxophone player said.

Martens said phone calls were made to local radio talk shows after the rumor broke. Lon Garner, the special agent in charge of the Denver branch of the Secret Service, said his office received several calls from members of the community who were concerned about the song’s lyrics. He declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation, but Boulder High Principal Ron Cabrera said Secret Service agents did visit the school to look into the matter.

“They explained that they had gotten a couple different complaints, from radio talk shows that had suggested there had been a threat to the president,” Cabrera said. “After about 20 minutes they seemed to be satisfied that there was no basis for the complaints.”

Martens said he and his fellow band members did mean for Dylan’s message to reach members of the community – but not in a violent way.

“It’s a controversial song, it’s a political song,” Martens said. “But we never meant ‘kill the president’. Not at all.”

Cabrera said the incident did not spur school officials to rethink policies on student expression.

“I think our kids are bright kids who are beginning to develop their own sense of opinion,” Cabrera said. “Whether the talent show is a vehicle for it – as long as it’s artistic and in good taste, then that has typically been acceptable for our talent show.”

And in the end, Boulder High managed to put on an “outstanding” talent show, Cabrera said – despite the uproar.

“One might say there was much ado about nothing,” he said.

SPLC View: As Bob Dylan sings in another song, “the times they are a-changin