Monthly Archives: January 2011

Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, and black keys

Thanks to Richard who e-mails that he’s been reading a book called A New Literary History of America, and came across this in an article by Philip Furia on Irving Berlin:

While he had started out as a lyricist, Berlin soon began composing music as well. He had taught himself to play on the Pelham Cafe piano, but he could only play in the key of F-sharp, which consists largely of black keys. Eventually he would purchase a transposing piano , which allowed him to play in a single key and then, with the flip of a lever, hear how a melody sounded in other keys.

Furia goes on to say that Berlin’s song Alexander’s Rag Time Band “redefined the nature of American popular songs.”

I searched around and found more Continue reading “Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, and black keys” »

Charlie Louvin, 1927 – 2011

Charlie Louvin, of the world-famous Louvin Brothers, has died at the age of 83. (His brother, Ira, died in a car accident back in 1965.) An article from Reuters is at this link. May he rest in peace.

Bob Dylan cited Christmas With The Louvin Brothers as his favorite album of the Yuletide season (with good reason, because it is absolutely killer). And there were a variety of other Dylan connections and mentions, some cited today by Harold Lepidus at the Bob Dylan Examiner.

As long it’s heard, the Louvins’ music will always be inspirational, and there’s no higher praise than that.

Fifty years: A Bob Dylan anniversary

I’m not big on anniversaries, but as is being observed in Rolling Stone and elsewhere, on this day exactly fifty years ago — January 24th, 1961 — Bob Dylan is believed to have arrived in New York City for the first time. Furthermore, it’s generally believed that he made his way immediately to Greenwich Village and played a couple of songs at the Cafe Wha?.

After that it gets sketchy. Some people say he played a couple of Woody Guthrie numbers. Others speculate that he gave them a blast of Ballad of a Thin Man and Obviously Five Believers, but based on the audience reaction, he decided to keep those songs in his back pocket for a while longer.

One thing you can’t really argue with is that it marks the beginning, in earnest, of Bob Dylan’s musical career. Fifty years. It is something to contemplate. All the more amazing when you consider how much success he’s had, with new and original material, in just these last ten years. Congrats to Bob, and thanks too, for, well, keeping it real.

Be My Baby

With the dearth of unofficial Bob Dylan content on YouTube, we have the pleasure of continuing to trawl for interesting cover versions of his songs. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight is a flawless piece of popular songwriting, I do think, quite up to standing without self-consciousness alongside the smooth and brilliantly-crafted tunes of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Kern, Berlin and ilk. It’s unpretentious; it says just what it needs to say, without overstatement, but rather with an air of effortlessness. You can’t do much better than that as a songwriter.

And Engelbert Humperdinck sure appreciated it.

In the notes to Biograph, Bob Dylan made a funny and charming observation about the tune, noting that it had occurred to him that the song “could have been written from a baby’s point of view.”

Indeed:

Kick your shoes off, do not fear,
Bring that bottle over here.
I’ll be your baby tonight.

Oddly tangential to this, in a Roe v Wade kind of way: Helpless in Philadelphia.

If it quacks like a duck

Thanks to Bob W. who tipped me to the fact that yesterday’s “Mallard Fillmore” cartoon strip features a Bob Dylan reference. If you go to this link it’s the top pane (at least today it is), the one titled “Mallard’s 2011 New Year Prediction #41.”

For those who don’t know, “Mallard Fillmore” is a syndicated comic strip which appears daily in a variety of U.S. newspapers. It has a distinct conservative tilt. Today’s strip is not too subtle: political correctness is in Mallard’s cross-hairs — a favorite target of his.

Mallard looks into his crystal ball and predicts “CBS will try Katie Couric’s suggestion and launch a Muslim-themed sitcom that will attract aging baby boomers … by using Bob Dylan’s “Everybody Must Get Stoned” as its theme song.”

Referring to the actual song title, Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35, would not have worked, as it wouldn’t have served well as the intended double-entendre to readers, evoking both the the affection for being stoned that is associated with the ’sixties generation and the fact that the penalty of death for crimes against Islam is still widely adhered to in the Muslim world. Continue reading “If it quacks like a duck” »

Six new books by Bob Dylan

Crain’s New York Business is reporting that Bob Dylan has signed a six-book deal with Simon & Schuster. Two of the books are said to be (long awaited) sequels to Chronicles: Volume One, and one other is said to be based on his line of patter from “Theme Time Radio Hour.” The other three books are not characterized. However, back in November, when the efforts of literary agent Andrew Wylie to get a big deal on Dylan’s behalf were first reported, it was also suggested that one book would be of poetry, and another would consist of background stories to some of Dylan’s songs.

Back then I made some relevant smart alecky comments in this space, and today I can see no reason why I shouldn’t make the same ones again:

The suggestion of this kind of literary fecundity might bemuse as well as tantalize Dylan’s fans. After all, he first started talking about Chronicles: Volume One in 2001, during interviews regarding “Love And Theft”. It sounded like he was well along in writing it. Yet, it didn’t come out until late in 2004 — and it was no War and Peace. (Of-course, with all the “references” to other works it’s been discovered to have inter-weaved in its pages by Scott Warmuth and others, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising it took so long to write.)

But when he’s in the mood, Bob’s always been able to be very prolific. Just look at how many paintings he’s managed to splash together in the last few years, despite his usual touring schedule, his Cadillac Escalade commercials and some new albums crammed in here and there. He seems to be in a race to qualify as the 21st century’s first bona-fide Renaissance Man, and I think that it would be reckless to bet on his failure.

Wanda on the Mountain

Wanda Jackson’s new album, The Party Ain’t Over, is about to be released, and there’s now a video to go with her great version of Bob Dylan’s song Thunder on the Mountain.

The audio quality is better here than the preview from some weeks ago — at least the one I heard.

Now, I don’t think that videos matter all that much in the scheme of things anymore — or that they ever did — but someone has to say it: Does the guitarist in this clip know whose record he’s playing on? Of-course the guitarist is Jack White, who is also the producer, but still. It’s Wanda Jackson’s record. Hmm. Maybe I’m just a crabby old fogy.

In any case, here’s hopin’ the tune and the album, which has a lot of other great tunes too, are big successes.


Drifting

In the Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home, Bob Dylan talks about what he describes as a kind of mystical moment in his boyhood, when he discovered a country music record on a record player in the house his family had just moved into. When he listened to it, it made him feel like he “was somebody else.” One gets the idea that from that day forward on some level he set about trying to become that somebody else. The song was Drifting Too Far from the Shore. In the interview segment aired, Bob doesn’t name the singer, although Scorsese uses Hank Williams’ venerable version as background to the segment. It seems like Bob would have said up front if it were Hank Williams, though, doesn’t it?

In any case, it’s safe to say that it was not the version below, but it’s a very nice version all the same. It’s Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, in what is said (by the person who uploaded it to YouTube) to have been their final duet. (The lovely and haunting song was written by Charles E. Moody.)

Addendum: Thanks to Andy who has this to add:

I think the record Bob is referring to must either be by The Monroe Brothers, who released the song in 1936 or Roy Acuff (1939).

The Hank Williams version(s) of the song was/were not available on commercial discs when Bob lived in Hibbing. Another version of the song by The Stanley Brothers – who otherwise would be obvious candidates – was recorded in 1956 but only came out on a commercial disc in the 2000s.

Adele, Bob Dylan, critics, etc.

It’s being reported around the place that British singer Adele has made comments regarding how lucky Bob Dylan is that she recorded his song, Make You Feel My Love (originally from Time Out of Mind), and no doubt she’s right. Contactmusic.com headlines it “Adele Blasts Dylan Cover Critics.” (Her words are supposed to have originally appeared in England’s slimy Sun, but I failed to locate them there myself.)

[Adele is reported to have said] “Someone told me the other day they read online that I killed Bob Dylan with Make You Feel My Love. I actually think I’ve saved him.

“He’s going to get $1 million out of that song. He’s going to get a big pay cheque at the end of the year. I reckon, with the amount it’s been played on the radio and the sales of about 400,000 since it was on The X Factor, it’s worth a lot to him.

“Maybe he’ll buy me a watch or something.”

Adele had a huge hit with the song in 2008, and then it had another big chart run in 2010 after being featured on the X Factor TV show. Continue reading “Adele, Bob Dylan, critics, etc.” »