024 – “Dear Landlord”

Episode 24. Dear Landlord.” John Wesley Harding. August 10, 2017. The Bunker. Rainier.

The song was recorded November 29, 1967, the final one of the main thrust of John Wesley Harding (“Down Along the Cove” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” came later). The majority of the songs on JWH were written without music, and “Dear Landlord” is no different. The song was first played live in Providence, Rhode Island in 1992 (!) and only six times after, it’s final time (as of recording) in 2003.

Landlords, right?! Kelly decided to delve into landlords (4:30) but butted up against ole fashioned Eurocentrism! They discuss if landlords are specific to cultures or if the idea of owning something and allowing others to use it, for a price, is intrinsically human. Kelly, in her approved photo of the week, is a landlord from the Eastern Han Dynasty riding a chariot in 25-200 CE.

Before she zigzagged around Chinese history, they established that landlords acted as protection for peasants and serfs during the Middle Ages. The most of information we have comes from Europe but, in Kelly fashion, she hard transitions into the Han Dynasty – Hanzong, Han River, the Second Imperial Dynasty, Lou Bang inspiring Drake, the coolness of Emperor Wu, silk roads, old paper, and negative numbers. In conclusion: landlords ain’t unique to a time and place – where there is power, there will those to wield it and what’s easier than making the powerless pay for the privilege of living on your” land.

Kelly and Daniel have had different experiences with landlords over the years (12:00).

The song (14:15) isn’t even about landlords, that much is clear. Kelly noted that she found the song “plodding,” but in a good way, almost like a dirge. Dirge is an interesting take because “Dirge” from Planet Waves is a great example of Dylan’s piano work that also features on this song, which wasn’t as common then as it is now.

So what’s it about? There’s hints that it could be about Dylan’s former manager Albert Grossman, which I understand wanting to reject because it trivializes the song. Dylan told Cameron Crowe that the opening lines – Dear landlord, please don’t put a price on my soul – were interesting and he wanted to see where it would go. Naturally, some see the landlord as God or Jesus, but I’m going to let that ride because I can’t do this every week.

Kelly tried to take the song at face-value but it didn’t make sense. It’s important to ask, what is a landlord? Someone that collects something for you as payment, someone you owe a debt to, a debt that is collected early, paid before services are rendered. Daniel walks the song through its paces: each verse containing a new degree of pleading, the acknowledgement that the “landlord,” the one hearing the plea, must accept the plea but neither party knows how the other is going to react. The song is essentially about a social interaction – with a significant other, a lover, a friend, a family member, a podcast co-host – where one party asks something of the other, something that will potentially change the dynamic.

Kelly notes, I would imagine calling the person they’re speaking to ‘the landlord’ implies some kind of power. They’re in a situation where they’re less than and they’re trying to convey that they’re more than.” That’s absolutely right. The unknown fourth verse would contain the landlord’s response, or lack of one. 

Recommendations (28:00): Kelly spent the week with Kali Uich – Por Vida and SBTRKT – Save Yourself

Daniel had Dear Landlord’s 2009 Dream Home and Glen Campbell on his mind.

Mixed Up Confusion: Listen to the playlist above as Daniel and Kelly delve into it and into all their recommendations. In our Game of Thrones episode, we talk about our disappointment in “Eastwatch.”

Endings: We’re down to 518 songs! Kelly guessed #62, which would have been Lord, Protect My Child.” It was actually #74, I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” our second in a row from John Wesley Harding! And it’ll be our 25th episode! 

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