Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: When I was in high school, around 1970, I heard a song that has, in part, stuck in my head.

I think it is either sung by Bob Dylan, or it has his type of lyrics. The one line that has really stayed in my mind is “All the world is a prison. Some of us are prisons and some of us are guards.”

I know this isn't much to go on, but hopefully you are familiar with this tune. I would like to hear it in its entirety, no matter who sings it. Can you help me track this song?

Perhaps then it will stop popping up in my head.
—Marilyn Knasiak, Chicago, Ill.

DEAR MARILYN: The sound in your noggin is indeed Bob Dylan — both his voice and lyrics — that haunts you. Those impressionable lines you quote are from Dylan's 1971, Top 40 hit, “George Jackson” (Columbia 45516).

Though you are close, here is an actual transcription of the words: “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard. Some of us are prisoners, the rest of us are guards. Lord, Lord, They cut George Jackson down.”

The song is inspired by the true story of young George Jackson, serving time in San Quentin Prison for a seventy dollar robbery. While there, he became a best-selling writer (“Soledad Brother : The Prison Letters of George Jackson”) and a revolutionary hero to some countercultures.

On August 21, 1971, inmate George Jackson led the notorious San Quentin massacre. Armed with a pistol, Jackson launched a riot that ultimately resulted in his own death as well as that of five others.

Two months later, George's lawyer, Stephen Bingham was indicted on murder and conspiracy charges for allegedly smuggling that gun to Jackson. Bingham soon fled to Europe.

Besides Jackson's own writings in “Soledad Brother,” you can delve deeper into this fascinating story with “The Road to Hell : The True Story of George Jackson, Stephen Bingham and the San Quentin Massacre, by Paul Liberatore.

DEAR JERRY: I read the piece in one of your recent columns regarding the line in “The Ballad of John and Yoko” about “Fifty acorns tied in a sack.” Let me share with you and your readers a bit of background on that situation.

In the late 1960s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono took advantage of their comfortable financial situation and flew around the world, handing out peace as if it were a personal possession. They did this through the use of billboards, bed-ins, and, unbelievably enough, a program they called “plant an acorn for peace.”

They traveled the globe, giving acorns to all the world leaders they could find, in hopes of attaining world peace, which is what “fifty acorns in a sack” refers to.

It is probably safe to assume that John Lennon's drug use was at its peak during this acorn period.
—Jordan Michelman (

DEAR JORDAN: Thank you for the entertaining slice of background of an event that may be viewed by some as a nutty scheme.

What's it Worth? Get fast appraisals by e-mail!

IZ ZAT SO? Bob Dylan had about two dozen charted singles, all but one of which he wrote. The exception is his 1973 remake of “(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such I.” This country standard had previously been a huge hit for Hank Snow (1953) and for Elvis Presley (1959).

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page