039 – “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread”

Episode 39. “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread.” The Basement Tapes. Bunker. Recorded November 30, 2017.

Context

Recorded in the summer of 1967 (and on the same reel as “Million Dollar Bash”) at Big Pink in two takes. Explaining the operation, Garth Hudson in 2002 said:

He would go in with us, play a new song only part way through. We wouldn’t much rehearse or much less play it all the way through to learn it. And he’d turn on the tape and we’d get it down in a first or second take. He just knew the material.

It was released in the 1975 version of The Basement Tapes and, both versions, on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11. It’s only been played live twice – November 11, 2002 at Madison Square Garden and November 25, 2003 at Brixton Academy in London.

Bread (6:15)

Because we like learning new things, Kelly walks us through the history of bread. They touch on discovery, the first flour being the roots of cattails, flatbreads and fluffy breads, levening, yeast, “grains of old,” Schlotzsky’s love, and the 1917 mechanized bread slicer.

Song Itself (20:00)

Daniel sees the song as more of a writing exercise than anything else. Kelly sees this a tour song, something where only the band is hanging out and writing silly songs filled with inside jokes.

The Band was always a step behind Dylan but it adds to the charm. The two versions are similar but have their distinctive personalities. Greil Marcus, who wrote the liner notes for the Bootleg Series release, sums up the two versions. Take 1:

Another bizarre tale filled with absurdist lyrics. Unlike “Quinn” and “Wheel’s on Fire,” “Yea! Heavy” never gained much traction as a publishing demo. Perhaps most recording artists were wary of singing the line, “Slap that drummer with a pie that smells.”

Take 2:

This is the version of the song that wound up on the 1975 album The Basement Tapes. The similarity in tempo to Take 1 is a testament to how well Dylan and The Band worked together. In that era, before the prevalence of click tracks and drum machines, there is very little variance in the tempo between these two takes. Here’s where the spirit of Hank Williams lives on in Dylan’s music. Not in the lyrics, not in the sound, but in the fact that so much rhythm can exist without a drummer. One interesting lyrical change, and a slight one, is the substitution of the phrase “nose full of puss” for “nose full of blood” on Take 2. If Dylan was trying to make these songs more commercial, that tiny lyrical change probably was not a step in the right direction.

They dive into the slang, the weird turns-of-phrase, and try to make sense of the exercise. They discuss the truer reason this was even recorded: demos for copyright and to be made for other artists. Who would record this song, you ask? The fact that it’s a Bob Dylan original had cache then (and still does now).

This is a surreal song that makes no sense but feels like it does, in those spaces inside our brains that we don’t exercise often enough. Or at the very least, these rehearsals on Basement Tapes are the “pleasure of getting an informal, insider’s view of Dylan’s method,” one foot in a Dali painting, the other in an unassuming house in Upstate New York.

Recommendations (36:00)

Kelly listened to White Reaper and watched Difficult People and You’re the Worst. Daniel listened to Sufjan Stevens’ The Greatest Gift Mixtape – Outtakes, Remixes, & Demos from Carrie & Lowell and the live album just released from Digable Planets.

Endings

It’s not “George Jackson” next week to close out Season 1, it’ll be “Ballad of Hollis Brown” off The Times They Are A-Changin’

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