047 – “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”

Episode 47 
Bob Dylan. Gaslight Cafe 1962.
Bunker.
Recorded February 15, 2018.

Context and the song’s history (5:00)

Bob Dylan recorded this song on November 22, 1961 in 4 takes. He’s played this song three times: September 30, 1961 at Gerde’s Folk City, September 20, 1962 at Mac and Eve Mackenzie’s, and October 15, 1962 at the Gaslight Café. 

The original version was recorded Bling Lemon Jefferson in 1927 (who would die mysteriously in Chicago in 1929 from a heart attack or freezing to death) and speaks to the realities of black life in the early twentieth century.

After a life of hard toil…, of sweat and tears, death comes as a welcome release for many of the poorest Negroes… For years they may cherish the prospect of a splendid funeral… in which every sign of affluence and expense is evident, and in which the hearse is drawn by “white horses standing in line,” and the coffin is lowered on a chain of gold.

Paul Oliver, The Meaning of the Blues (1972)

In addition to Bling Lemon Jefferson, we listened to recent versions from Rachel Baiman (2014) and Mavis Staples (2015) as well as classics from B.B. King and, Kelly’s favorite, Dave Van Ronk. 

Graves and burial practices (20:45)

Kelly looked into the cost of dying. Wanna get embalmed? That’ll be $10,000. Want a concrete catacomb? Most vaults use enough materials to pave a two-lane highway across half the US. Steel structure? Enough metal is used in caskets to build the Golden Gate Bridge annually! What about wood?! A 10-acre cemetery has enough wood to build 40 homes (and enough toxic flormiline to fill a swimming pool). Daniel relates his recent trip to the cemetery in Deadwood where plots are generations old. 

In the end natural burials are the most beneficial to earth, though tough to do. You could also freeze your corpse in liquid-nitrogen and vibrate yourself into infinity as your molecules and heavy metals shake apart into a dust pile. 

Song Itself (32:00)

With a variety of ways to record this song, Dylan stays pretty traditional. It’s certainly the young man’s version of the song. His obsession with death at this time helps but the historical weight is certainly lost on the youngster. Musically, it’s fascinating. The picking during the interlude feels like a mistake but really brings out the anger and despair in Dylan’s voice. And while the studio version can feel rushed, the Gaslight cut is downright sludgy. All in all, go for the Minnesota Party Tape version because when Dylan sings There’s two white horses he hits the chords and stomps like horse hooves!

Recommendations

Kelly listened to Hovvdy Cranberry and rewatched Broad City. Daniel couldn’t stop listening to Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers.Daniel couldn’t stop listening to Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers.

Daniel couldn’t stop listening to Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers.

Daniel also finished How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt which, in the light of Florida this week where more children were sacrificed for a pedantic read on a paragraph written 230 years ago, feels more relevant than ever. They have a quote from E.B. White, of Charlotte’s Web fame, on just what democracy is:

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

Endings

Kelly guessed #263. That’s “Scarlet Town,” which would have been our second from Tempest. Nope. It’s #309. “What Good Am I?” Diving back into Oh, Mercy next week!

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