In the spirit of this week’s episode on songs inspired by the Kennedy’s, we thought we would take the time to write this companion piece taking a deeper dive into a song not mentioned on the episode, “Brain of J”, by Pearl Jam. Released as the opening track on their 1998 album, Yield, The song opens with the line “Who’s got the brain of JFK? What’s it mean to us now?”.
The question in the song is one that has perplexed people for years. It all begins with the autopsy of JFK, which took place after being transported to Maryland, rather than on-site in Dallas. The doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas compiled evidence from JFK’s head wound that suggested JFK had been shot from the front. Upon completion of the autopsy in Maryland, however, it was concluded that JFK had been shot from the back of the head. Critics have been quick to note that the manner in which the autopsy was performed prevent any conclusive evidence being formed. Indeed, the only way to truly learn where the bullet impacted the head is to dissect the brain, and this was not done. The autopsy report states, “in the interests of preserving the specimen, coronal sections are not made.”
After the autopsy was completed, the brain, along with other artifacts from JFK’s presidency, took a short residency in the secret service. However, it was soon moved to the National Archives, where Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s secretary, was responsible for organizing presidential documents and artifacts. In 1966 it was discovered the brain, along with other materials from the autopsy had gone missing. A subsequent investigation proved unsuccessful in locating the materials.
The story continues nearly 30 years later, when Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, an act that “mandated that all assassination-related material be housed in a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).” As the government mobilized the plan to collect all of the information associated with the assasination, they discovered that even before the theft of the brain, Kennedy’s brain had been substituted for another. The pictures of the brain taken at the autopsy show a brain that lost half of its mass in the trauma. However, the photos taken afterwards show a brain that is much more intact.
There’s still much mystery surrounding the brain of JFK, and this is ultimately what Pearl Jam questions in their opening line of “Brain of J”. (As a side note, the documentary about the making of the album is entitled, “Single Video Theory ”, a play on words of the “single bullet theory” in the JFK assassination.) There are many theories as to who stole the brain, and what their motives may have been. What’s your theory? Tell us in the comments below!