008 – “King of France”

Episode 008 the unlistenable King of France,” (2:52) our first cut (and a deep one) from The Basement Tapes. Recorded in 1967, probably in Dylan’s living room – The Red Room.

As this is our first cut from The Basement Tapes, I try to provide some commentary and context on the endeavor (4:00 to 9:37) while trying to maintain (what I thought at the time before the Great Purge before Episode 014) some sense of mystery for all the episodes ahead. I go from Clinton Heylin in Revolutions in the Air

Most of the basement-tape songs defy analysis because of the way Dylan contorts imagery, indulging in lateral shifts from nonsense to clarity and back again. King of France’ defies analysis for a more straightforward reason the recording is hopelessly distorted.

‘King of France’ does at least fit Dylan’s 1978 description of the kind of song he was trying out that summer: At that time psychedelic rock was overtaking the universe and so we were singing these homespun ballads. . . . They said it was ahead of its time, but actually it was behind its time.”

to Robbie Robertson to Griel Marcus in Invisible Republic.

Beneath the easy rolling surface of The Basement Tapes, there is some serious business going on. What was taking shape, as Dylan and the Band fiddled with the tunes, was less a style than a spirit—a spirit that had to do with a delight in friendship and invention.

Kelly was much more determined to find a song underneath the haze (7:00) while I focused on other things. “King of France” proved to be a great foil to replace itself with all of the rest of the music I’d been neglecting. However, looking for a song or not, “King of France” is fucking annoying while trying to keep polite company.

But it was worth it (?) as Kelly unearthed the official lyrics (10:16) reprinted below. Please spread the word!

Everybody now punt Dubai / all down through history / but whenever he lay on the Black Foot Hills here he comes about his honeydew boat / They’ll be no more place for the King of France now that he knows what it’s all about / 

Well, when the King of France come up all tense, he came to the USA / He was boiled and bleeding. He was nobody else’s friend. Whenever he had something to say now he all but ten pounds when he’s wet / In the old world is wed to shows / he better stop on his way from razor lions and he knows what it’s all about

Let me tell you a story about the King of France when he comes to the USA / There was a hoe named Wiggle waiting for him, he said he had something to say / He opened his mouth and he wrote down what a hundred people did shout [WHOOPS – loud guitar noise!] He knew what it was all about.

Now his overkiller thought about running too far / Wazzol while I tell you so / down through the hill was a mighty mill running from [WHOOPS – chunky bass line] / lucky star, you’re something I wonder what it knows while I get a shower / Well, I’ll tell you both got rose again and he knows what’s it all about

I don’t want to hear about a butterball turkey / except for what, you wolves / when I’m here there’s something most of all well I’ll tell you who can bake in it all night full / Evil Queen, he just went down but nobody to kick out / what a time [WHOOPS – guitar] / Every while it’s all about

Heylin felt that Dylan could very well have been the King of France (13:45). The parallels are explored, such as the listener trying to hear Dylan, understand him, but not being able to. That reminded us of the perplexed audiences in No Direction Home who wanted only one version of Bob and couldn’t quite bring themselves over to him and the Hawks. (You can listen to that, our first in our Supplemental Series here.) Kelly asks if all of the rest of the Basement Tapes are like this? I tell her no, but know it’s not completely true. The seed of doubt has been implanted! 

This episode also gave us our first chance to talk about bootlegs and bootlegging (16:15). I discussed my first interactions to Bob’s bootlegs (outside the sanctioned Bootleg Series) while in college in Wise, Virginia where I was browsing at Dad’s CD’s (sadly long closed) and, we’ll call him Dad, would offer me one bootleg at a time for me to listen to (and burn for my own enjoyment forever). What does bootlegging look like today? Is it just recording a concert – even easier with iPhones to do the legwork? – or it outtakes and b-sides from a recording session – or is it leaking an album months before it’s supposed to be released? We verve from there to, guess who, Radiohead, who just played Portland the night before, to Kelly seeing and recording The Cure and Placebo in Prague. I talk about the video I have when seeing Tim Barry at the Doug Fir, all of us singing our heart out to “No News from North.” Kelly recounts copying albums for friends and her epic tale regarding George Sarah’s Adagio (22:15).

All that said, we discuss the inherent intractability of these old, deep or weirdly licensed cuts (25:25). We both use Spotify (this wasn’t on Spotify) but it ain’t on Apple or Tidal or YouTube either. The more we discussed the experience, the more I felt that something needed to be done to save anyone trying to listen casually along.

Kelly recommends (27:21) Amanda Palmer’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (“Runs in the Family” played) and Bonabo’s latest, Migration (“Migration” played).

Daniel recommends (30:00) the newest albums from The Smith Street Band (More Scared of You Than You Are of Me), The Flatliners (Inviting Light) and Cory Branan (Adios). “Suffer,” “No Roads” and “Walls, MS” played.

We randomly select what comes next (35:10). Or do we? I begin with a confessional: we picked “Three Angels” off New Morning but we weren’t recording. That’s fine. It’s fun to play around with random.org! We chose again. I kid you not: it’s “Blind Willie McTell” AGAIN (37:20). We breathe deep but I feel like we’re in a darker place. I keep digging and, sure enough. I never deleted “King of France” from the spreadsheet. I ambush Kelly the next morning. We choose “Huck’s Tune” (39:25) off The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs. We didn’t delete “King of France” again. We delete “King of France” and, finally, blessedly, we move away from the darkest timeline and choose “No Time to Think” off 1978’s Street Legal.

Published by Daniel

Occasional writer, persistent nomad; restless, moving, changing. Currently in Portland, Oregon.

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