Tag Archives: My Morning Jacket

72ND TIME AROUND: HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOB DYLAN!

Today, May 24, 2013, Bob Dylan has turned 72! Despite the fact that this man (whom I’ve already confessed is considered by me to be a genius of his medium) has been featured numerous times in these pages, I wanted to post something in celebration of his seventy-second year. I would have preferred to present something more recent from his extensive catalog, perhaps something off of one of the five marvelous albums he’s released since 1997; however, due to simple time constraints, that’s just not possible. Instead, what follows is an excerpt from an upcoming post entitled El Ambiente Bien Babes Y Bean de Uruguay, which features a MixTape with that title as well. This excerpt concerns my thoughts on what I declare to be “one of the greatest songs of all time, [which] features one of the most captivating narrative structures ever attempted by a popular recording artist,”— “4th Time Around.” I hope you enjoy it and help Dylan ring in his 72nd by giving this tune a whirl or two.

On a side-note, I’m excited to say that this July I’ll be seeing Dylan in concert for what I believe will be the 5th time around. His current live shows have been receiving some of the best reviews I’ve ever read and this upcoming tour—The Americanarama Festival of Music—is set to feature opening performances by My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Ryan Bingham, and Beck! Dylan himself still puts on one a hell of a show—Happy Birthday!

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[Note: The following is a slightly altered excerpt from the post: El Ambiente Bien Babes Y Bean de Uruguay: Volume 1.]

Bob Dylan in 1966.

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A few drinks into an evening in our rented apartment in Punta Del Diablo, I recall listening to Bob Dylan’s double LP and masterpiece of 1966, Blonde on Blonde, and attempting to explain to my wife why “4th Time Around” is one of the greatest songs of all time and how it features one of the most captivating narrative structures ever attempted by a popular recording artist. While I might not recollect all that I said, I stand by those statements. One thing that has always fascinated me about this track is how simply, logically, and direct the unexpected turn in narrative is designed; particularly so on an album comprised of, albeit genius, but often oblique verse ingeniously stitched to free-floating phrases from, as Greil Marcus has expressed it, “The Old, Weird America.” Here, Dylan once more demonstrates how he is a true artist of the songwriting form.

With all of its miscommunication, jilted feelings, occasional hysterics, postures, one-liners, and silly rapport (as if Lewis Carroll and Groucho Marx had both just watched Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell brilliantly bounce off each other in Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday and got the idea that they should team-up to write the details of a tryst at its end), the moment that it is realized that the entire jumbled affair of an afternoon in a woman’s house has not been confided to you, the listener, but to the woman who is featured in a photograph seated in a wheelchair, a woman that he immediately paid a visit to after the conclusion of the related events—this moment elevates the entire song into a complex emotional and intellectual spectrum of interpersonal relationships rarely ever touched upon so elegantly before or since the day this song was recorded down in Nashville on February 14, 1966 by a twenty-four-year-old Dylan. To add yet another layer to this impressive narrative, the tale is not being told to this woman on the day that these events occurred, but in some distant present. Much like the circular tune from which this takes its inspiration—The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”—the song operates as a confession of an indiscretion.

Made indelible in popular memory by George Harrison’s innovative use of a sitar to double the main descending line—Lennon’s elusive narrative of “Norwegian Wood” was released on the brilliant Rubber Soul LP in December of 1965. This song is now generally recognized as a confession to his wife of an affair, however, at the time it was truly the product of The Beatles attempting to break new lyrical ground; particularly in the wake left by Bob Dylan’s stunning singles from earlier that same year: “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” As Ian MacDonald writes in Revolution in the Head, Lennon was quite aware of the inspirational debt he owed Dylan and actually grew to be quite troubled by what might be the songwriter’s reaction:

For his part, Lennon was uneasy about trespassing on Dylan’s

territory and when the latter, on his next album Blonde On

Blonde, produced an inscrutable parody of Norwegian Wood

called “4th Time Around,” the head Beatle was, as he later

admitted, “paranoid”: what did the title mean? Norwegian

Wood, I’m A Loser, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,

and…Baby’s In Black? Or was it the [peaked “Dylan”] cap

[Lennon wore]? And what was Dylan driving at in those closing

lines: “I never asked for your crutch/Now don’t ask for mine”…?

In the end, the matter was settled amicably when the two met—

for the fifth time—in London in April 1966. In truth, Dylan got

on reasonably well with Lennon, with whom he had a fair amount in common (2007).

This photo is a fake, but pretty cool regardless.

This one, however, is real—Lennon and Dylan, 5/27/66. “I just remember we were both in shades and both on fucking junk. … I was nervous as shit. I was on his territory, that’s why I was so nervous”—John Lennon to Rolling Stone in 1970 (Beuchamp & Shepard, 2012).

Whatever the inspiration for Dylan’s tune, it certainly surpasses Lennon’s for emotional complexity. It is the narrator coming clean and giving a complete account of what transpired that day he showed up on her doorstep with a shoe full of Jamaican Rum. However, this confession concludes with something other than a sentiment of remorse; it is more of a succinct summation of the dynamic of their particular relationship. It might be cold, but it is certainly not unfeeling:

And you, you took me in,

You loved me then,

You never wasted time.

And I, I never took much,

I never asked for your crutch,

Now don’t ask for mine.

The inside gatefold art for the first pressing of Blonde on Blonde, released May 16, 1966

Furthermore, it has always impressed me with what precision of language and time these narrative feats are accomplished. After all, it is still only a song, and one with the duration of just four minutes and thirty-five seconds. Other than perhaps a character or two’s affection, nothing here is wasted. With the economic exactitude of clockwork and the finest art the whirl of relatively candid words, delivered with cartoon dust in the throat, juvenile whimsy in the sinuses, and his flawless sense of emphasis are perfectly synchronized to an “archaic waltz” (Heylin, 2009) that is taken at a fast clip and put through its paces by the expert Nashville session men (such as Charlie McCoyKenneth Buttrey, and Joe South) Dylan employed to help him capture “that thin, that wild mercury sound” as he later described of the album in an interview with Ron Rosenbaum for Playboy in 1978.

Although both women featured in this tale might disagree, you the listener arrive at the final spirals of the song feeling much like the narrator: that there is nothing more that need be said. At a press conference given in San Francisco in December of 1965 Dylan stated, “All my songs basically say is Good luck. They all tail off at the end with good luck, hope you make it” (Gleason, 2006). With its final words spoken, with its final go-rounds of the spindly tune accompanied by the rapid tapping of percussion and harmonica trailing, it’s as if the narrator is walking off with an awkward smile that suggests: Hey, what more do you want from me?

Admittedly, I am a Dylan fanatic, but how can you not marvel at the mind that can create such things?

Bob Dylan in Liverpool, 1966. (Photo by Barry Feinstein). “Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches / I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages” from “Thunder On The Mountain” by Bob Dylan in 2006.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOB

FROM

—————————————-BOBBY CALERO————————-

REF:

Beauchamp, S., Shepard, A. (2012, Sept. 24)). Bob Dylan and John Lennon’s Weird, One-Sided Relationship. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/bob-dylan-and-john-lennons-weird-one-sided-relationship/262680/

Dylan, B. (1966). 4th Time Around. [Recorded by Bob Dylan] On Blonde On Blonde. Columbia Records, 1966.

Heylin, C. (2009). Revolution in the air : the songs of Bob Dylan 1957-1973. 1st ed Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press.

MacDonald, I. (2007). Revolution in the head: The Beatles’ records and the sixties (3rd ed.). Chicago, Ill: Chicago Review Press.

Rosenbaum, R. (1978, March). The Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan. Playboy.  p. 69.

LEVON HELM: MAY 26, 1940—APRIL 19, 2012; R.I.P.

…And we’re back! Due to moving into a new apartment and a mass amount of work to be done towards obtaining a Master’s Degree (and various other complexities and duties that all fall under the general rubric of that’s life) I simply have not been able to do what I wanted for this blog over the past month. However, I return today (most likely only to disappear again…at least for a little while) to pay my respects with a small tribute to Levon Helm, who passed away last Thursday on April 19, 2012, at 1:30 pm at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He was 71 years old.

Levon is perhaps best remembered for his distinctive drumming—that flesh-and-blood shuffle, the thick sod of his backbeat—as a member the outstanding group known simply as The Band, but he also contributed lead vocals (as well as mandolin and other string instruments) for some of their most memorable songs, such as “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Jim James, talented lead singer for Louisville, Kentucky-based rock band My Morning Jacket had this to say about Levon’s singing back in 2008 for a piece in Rolling Stone Magazine:

“There is something about Levon Helm’s voice that is contained in all of our voices. It is ageless, timeless and has no race. He can sing with such depth and emotion, but he can also convey a good-old funtime growl. […] There is a sense of deep country and family in Levon’s voice, a spirit that was there even before him, deep in the blood of all singers who have heard him, whether they know it or not.”

Raised on a cotton farm in Marvell, Arkansas, Levon Helm hooked up with another Arkansas native, hot-blooded rockabilly singer “Mr. DynamoRonnie Hawkins, who took the teenage Levon on tour in Canada to play drums for his band The Hawks.

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, ca. 1959.
Ronnie Hawkins, vocal, Jimmy Ray Paulman, guitar, Levon Helm, drums, and Willard Jones, piano

They soon had a hit with the song “Forty Days,” an appropriated spin on Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days”:

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Touring and promoting this hit, Levon stated that they played “places so tough, they make you puke twice and show your razor before they let you in the door” (Scott, 2000). While up in Toronto, Hawkins and Levon recruited the best sidemen they could find, sidemen who would eventually form the nucleus of The Band: Garth Hudson; Richard Manuel; Robbie Robertson; and Rick Danko. A few years later in the late summer of 1965, as The Hawks developed through a grueling tour schedule into a precision outfit with a psychic-like level of musical communication when on stage, Bob Dylan was looking for a backup band for his first U.S. “electric” tour and ended up recruiting this group, which would soon be known by the succinct moniker of The Band. (As a small aside, it should be noted that Hawkins, among many other achievements, went on to perform at the 1992 inaugural party for President Bill Clinton–him being a huge fan of The Hawks–and Hawkins has also performed for every Canadian prime minister since John Diefenbaker).

Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, and Levon Helm, 1965.

On October 5th, during Dylan’s extensive tours of 1965, Dylan took Levon and the rest of The Hawks into Colombia’s Studio A at 799 Seventh Avenue in New York, and attempted to flesh out several song-sketches that he had accrued in the two months since he was last in a studio. The majority of the “songs” from this session, such “Jet Pilot” and “Medicine Sunday” would remain little more than fragments, but they were able to record a complete take of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” a song Dylan had previously tried to record with little success during the Highway 61 Revisited sessions back in July. The version recorded with The Hawk’s was subsequently released as a single on December 21 of that year.

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Other than some particularly clever and corrosive lyrics, in my opinion “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is a less than stellar composition by Dylan, and it failed to replicate the success of Dylan’s previous two singles (although interestingly enough, with the prior two singles being “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street,” this song could be seen to complete a trilogy of vicious songs, all full of admonitory barbs delivered by a resolute tongue through a bitter sneer; or something to that effect).  Although I do think the band play the hell out of it despite its shortcomings, apparently Phil Ochs and I shared the opinion that “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” is not among Dylan’s best work from this period: Dylan played him the song when the two were riding in a limousine, and when Ochs expressed a lukewarm feeling about the song, he was kicked out of the car while Dylan yelled, “You’re not a folk singer. You’re a journalist” (Schumacher, 1996).  Again, in my opinion, with its mid-period Dylan sense of absurd wordplay written in a fevered minute and its mercurial whirl of all-around amphetamine fun, the standout recording from this particular session is the much more enjoyable, quasi-parody of the Beatles: “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

Dylan & The Hawks

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I Wanna Be Your Lover by Bob Dylan

Well, the Rainman comes with his magic wand

And the judge says, “Mona can’t have no bond”

And the walls collide, Mona cries

And the Rainman leaves in the Wolfman’s disguise

OOOooooooooooooooh

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Now, the undertaker in his midnight suit

Says to the mad man, “Ain’t you cute!”

Well, the mad man he jumps up on the shelf

And he says, “You ain’t so bad yourself”

OOOooooooooooooooh yeah

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Well, Jumpin’ Judy can’t go no higher

She got bullets in her eyes, and they fire

Rasputin he’s so dignified

He touched the back of her head an’ he died

OOOooooooooooooooh

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

Well, Phaedra with her looking glass

When she lays upon the grass

She gets so messed up she faints –

That’s ’cause she’s so obvious and you ain’t

OOOooooooooooooooh

I wanna be your lover, baby, I wanna be your man

I wanna be your lover, baby

I don’t wanna be hers, I wanna be yours

            Eventually the tour with Dylan (and the vitriolic responses his electric performances provoked from the audience) took their toll and Helm left to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, Helm returned in time to participate in one of the most prolific periods for both Dylan and The Band: the informal recording sessions conducted while convalescing in the seclusion of the Woodstock area of New York during the latter half of 1967 and early 1968, which resulted in both what is known as The Basement Tapes as well as The Band’s 1968 debut album, Music from Big Pink. Just one of the numerous songs recorded at these sessions that concern themselves with “carnal bewilderment and helpless delight” (Marcus, 1975) is the rambunctious swagger that is the Levon Helm sung “Don’t Ya Tell Henry.”

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Dylan & The Band after the crash

For a year The Hawks had shown Dylan how to cut loose and rock out on stage; now, down in that basement in upstate New York the members of The Band received a one-of-a-kind education in music history and song craft from Dylan, just as they had once learned from Ronnie Hawkins, and soon they were applying this knowledge in creating a unique rustic sound that seemingly had antecedents so familiar, and yet what was produced was some strange, new thing; certainly much stranger than the psychedelic pop that had become the latest fashion.

The Band

"Down in the basement." 1969, Woodstock, NY– The Band — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis

At their best, these five guys could create a swirl of sound as if you were dancing drunk and sweaty atop an organ filled with dust, or they could communicate a shiver like fever in the marrow; either way they could make you feel something. For a band so rooted and adept within the entire spectrum of American music, it amazes me that Levon Helm was the only member to actually have been born and raised within this nation. It seems that because of that very fact exactly Helm was chosen to sing lead for one of my favorite The Band tunes: the bizarre tale of finding pleasure during desperate times that is the Music from Big Pink outtake: “Yazoo Street Scandal.”

The Band outside the "Big Pink."

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Yazoo Street Scandal by The Band (lyrics by Robbie Robertson)

Stranded out in the night,
Eliza took me down
To see the widow give
Rain to the town.
It’s against the law
To be a tonic man,
But the widow knows
She’s got the upper hand.
So I went on in
Feelin’ kinda wheezy.
You know she soothed my mind, boys,
She rocked me kinda slow and easy
All day and all night.

Pick a card before you go
It’s a long trip to Mexico.

Eliza wait by the door,
I can’t stay here anymore, no, no.

Then she took a pill
She washed her feet in the mud
She said “Look out son,
You know, I just ordered a flood
For forty days and forty nights.”

Then I dropped my shoes,
Eliza called my name.
She said it looked to her
Like it’s gonna rain.
Then the cotton king
Came in chokin’
And the widow laughed and said:
“I ain’t jokin’.
Take once for all”
She said “Now don’t ya tease me.
I just fell in love, boy,
So rock me kinda slow and kinda easy,
All day and all night.”

Sweet William said
With a drunken head:
“If I had a boat,
I’d help y’all float.”
Eliza stood there watching,
William in a trance,
As the widow did the St. Vitus dance.
But just then an old man
With a boat named “Breezy”
Said: “You can ride with Clyde, boys,
If you rock it kinda slow and easy,
All day and all night.”

            Robbie Robertson—The Band’s guitarist, and principal author for this song—once stated that it was based on an actual Yazoo Street in a town in Helm’s home state of Arkansas: “I thought, ‘Wow, they don’t have streets like that in Canada. There’s no streets up there called Yazoo!’ It was like, ‘Jesus, let me make up a little story here about stuff going on in this kind of almost red light district.’ Everything was lit in red in that song for me.” Because the song was set in the South, Robertson decided that Levon Helm would be a more appropriate singer, employing his “best redneck-wildcat yelp” (Hoskyns, 1993).

Levon Helm in 1968. (Photograph: Elliott Landy/Redferns)

Yazoo Street Scandal” remains perhaps my favorite of Levon Helm sung tracks by The Band. Not because I believe it to be the “best” by any means, in terms of performance, sentiment, or composition, but simply because it’s so much damn fun to listen to. Fun being roughly 50% of what The Band’s music is about for me; the other percentage chiefly concerns empathy.

After The Band dissolved, Helm dabbled in acting, most notably playing Loretta Lynn’s father in the 1980 American biographical film Coal Miner’s Daughter. Later on in life Helm released the acclaimed solo albums Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt, and hosted the “Midnight Ramble,” a regular concert series featuring numerous guest performers at his home studio in Woodstock, N.Y. This is something I’ve always intended to attend but never got around to justifying the time or the money for. Now I regret that.

But to bid an appropriate farewell for Levon Helm, I have chosen to conclude with The Band’s Martin Scorsese documented farewell concert of November of 1976, The Last Waltz.

The Last Waltz

At this show not only did they get to play alongside both their influences and those they influenced themselves, but they were reunited with their former mentors.

First, with Ronnie Hawkins,

Rick Danko and Ronnie Hawkins perform during the Last Waltz performance on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. — Image by © Neal Preston/CORBIS

and later with Bob Dylan, who had just completed the second leg of his  Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the end of that May.

Dylan backstage at The Last Waltz, 1976

One of the most gratifying moments of Dylan’s performance that evening was when The Band assisted him through an impassioned, yet immediate rendition of “Forever Young,” a song that they had all recorded together back in May of 1973 for Dylan’s Planet Waves. This sort of emotional transmission is what The Band could do best:

The Band and friends perform in The Last Waltz (left to right: Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, and Robbie Robertson); credit: Neal Preston/Corbis

However, always a personal highlight for me was to watch Levon, along with the rest of The Band, perform with The Staple Singers (being perhaps the most direct influence on The Band’s approach to vocals—the chain reaction of each voice coming in as a separate layer and playing its own unique part, as opposed to the popular method of multiple voices attempting to reach a harmonious and simultaneous neutral). So here it is:

REST IN PEACE

——————————BOBBY CALERO

Ref:

The Band and Martin Scorsese (1978) (Creators). Watanokuni (Poster) (2009, April 17).

The Band, The Weight [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjCw3-YTffo

Bob Dylan, The Band, and Martin Scorsese (1978) (Creators). Mysyougetu (Poster)

(2011, Aug. 9). Forever Young [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUKUMmM89IQ&feature=fvwrel

Dylan, B. (1965). Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? [recorded by Bob Dylan]

On Biograph. [CD] Sony. (1997)

Dylan, B. (1967). Don’t Ya Tell Henry [recorded by Bob Dylan and The Band] On The

Basement Tapes. [CD] Columbia. (1975). Sony Legacy. (2009)

Dylan, B. (1965). I Wanna Be Your Lover [recorded by Bob Dylan] On Biograph. [CD]

Sony. (1997)

Hoskyns, B. (1993). Across The Great Divide: The Band and America. U.S.: Hal Leonard

Books.

James, J. (2008). Levon Helm. Rolling Stone,1066, p106. Retrieved April 24th, 2012

from Academic Search Complete

Magill, J. & Hawkins, R. (1959). Forty Days [recorded by Ronnie Hawkins and the

Hawks] On Ronnie Hawkins/Mr. Dynamo. [CD] Ais. (2011)

Marcus, G. (1975). The Basement Tapes (p. 6) [CD liner notes]. Columbia Records

Robertson, R. (1968). Yazoo Street Scandal [recorded by The Band] On Music From Big Pink [Extra tracks, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered]  [CD] Capitol. (2000)

Schumacher, M. (1996). There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York:

Hyperion.

Spencer, S. (2000). Levon Helm’s Next Waltz. Rolling Stone, 839, p46. Retrieved April

24th, 2012 from Academic Search Complete