016 – “Hard Times in New York Town”

 

016. June 15, 2017. The Apartment. Rainier’s. Basically a double episode Hard Times in NY Town” and Bob Dylan’s Nobel speech. 

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To open (1:45), Kelly and I discuss the song. We listened to three versions on from The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3, one from The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964, and one from Folksinger’s Choice recorded in early 1962 with Cynthia Gooding. Daniel waxes poetic (3:00) about the chances, o the chances (or the desire for our brains to have order and meaning, especially after the black hole of Dylan & The Dead) that the attendant’s at the Tower of Song would pair one of Dylan’s earliest songs from Bonnie Beecher’s apartment during the holidays in 1961 with his Nobel Prize in Literature speech delivered on June 4, 2017. 

Kelly (4:40) loved the song and found herself singing it throughout the week. It’s simple, its short, the musicality prevails through the strong finger-picking. We try to determine (5:00) if we could hear the noted progression from his pre-New York self, his post-Columbia contract self, and his post-Bob Dylan self. Each version was unique in its own way but none more proficient than another. (Once we flesh out this period, give The Minnesota Hotel Tapes a proper listen, and maybe raise some money to get that dang Karen Wallace tape, we’ll speak more on the subject.) Kelly’s favorite was the slower Witmark version, which had an extra verse (7:35):

The weak and the strong and the rich and the poor

Gathered there together, ain’t room for no more

Crowded up above and crowded down below

When someone disappears, you never even know.

In David Pitacshe’s book, Song of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob Dylan, he notes (8:00) that New York is a town of the kickers and the kicked.” Dylan links the the kicked poor with the country while wealthy urbanites like Mr. Rockefeller’ and Mr. Empire’ sit silently on their comfortable perches” (pg. 28). Not to disparage lovely Iowa, but I compare the excising of the above line with the omission of, 

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me 

and

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God Blessed America for me

from “This Land Is Your Land” (and is similar  to what Dylan would encounter in a few months with Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”). Coca-Cola conceptions of America juxtaposed with a radical conception of freedom, liberty, private property. Why did Dylan keep country” in on of the versions he sang? (He’d swap it with city” in another.) Kelly felt it was country” in the macro sense, hard times in America, while Daniel kept in the Midwest and imagined New York Town” as somewhere the author was trying to conceptualize to fit into his ever-changing sense of scope. It’s the push and pull of being woke and contending with where you came from.

In the end, what always gave this song oomph was its finale When I leave New York, I’ll be standing on my feet. It just feels good to sing, good to dream on. So far, that and Dylan singing, Don’t ask me nothin about nothin / I just might tell you the truth in Outlaw Blues” are two of Kelly’s favorite Dylan moments.

History of New York (11:30): that was a big theme this week, go figure.” Daniel wants the beginnings of New York. What was once New York, er, is now New Amsterdam, or the other way around.” Henry Hudson, in 1609, found” the island of Manhattan, also known as Manna-hatta that was occupied by Algonquins. Hudson went to the Dutch king guy and said there’s some cool stuff in Manhattan and the Dutch king, Schure, creates West India Trading Company for beaver. In 1624, 30 Dutch families roll into Manhattan. In 1626, Dutch buy Manhattan. Urban legend of $24 is wrote. They paid (with the help of Mr. Minuit, in Dutch money (not shekels, gilders!) equivalent to about $1,000. We own Manhattan and the Lenape ain’t happy but they’re sellin their beaver, we’re sellin our beaver. There’s windmills. There’s 36 bars. Priorities.  This guy Jonas Bronck shows up and buys some land. Wilhelm Kiff, becomes leader of New Amsterdam, he builds a wall to keep out the savages” this becomes Wall Street. Peter Stuyvesant was peg-legged. People liked him: Everything is cool. He’s not obsessed with building walls. Everything is going great. We’re drinkin, we’re smokin…” Hold up!,” Stuyvesant shouts from the back. He wanted to keep people out of New Amsterdam not just drunks and criminals, but also Jews and Quakers… Everyone: Guess what, while you weren’t paying attention over the last 40 years, people here aren’t really Dutch anymore. We’re kinda from everywhere.” Enter: King Charles II. III? II. One of the Charles’s sends a fleet and is, like, Hey!” Not a single shot is fired as the English take control of New Amsterdam. Charles’ brother was the Duke of York. Yeah, you’re piecing this together! 

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19:00 Bio of Cynthia Gooding! Kelly loved her voice and just wanted to know everything. She was born in Minnesota where Bob Dylan was born, see, I remembered!” and moved to New York City see, it’s all relevant!” Elekra Records president found her a folk party” (let that sink in) in Greenwich Village. She sings in Spanish, Italian and Turkish. She recorded La Bamba” years before Ricky Vallance did. Folksinger’s Choice on WBAI in NYC. First interview with Bob Dylan. We listened to the final song of the program. She moved to Spain to record flamenco music. Worked for the National Endowment of the Humanities. Died in 1988 in NJ. We talk about her in relation to Alan Lomax. And excerpt her talking with Dylan at the end where she asks if he’ll wear the hat when he’s rich and famous. He says he’ll never rich and famous. Can’t ask for a better segue into the present.

The Nobel Prize (23:45): It’s a lot to wrap your head around, especially if you haven’t been around for the entire ride. It was nice to hear more about his life (see The Supplemental Series 001: No Direction Home for more), especially with the piano underneath. The connection of American songwriting with him through Buddy Holly (who transferred his powers to him) onto Leadbelly and forward. From The New Yorker

“What he is saying is that he learned his consummate literary technique—how to wield metaphor and make simile sing, how to sew his songs with rhyme and spin a whole uncanny scene from a perfectly worded image—from the great vernacular tradition of American songwriting, a vast library stored not on shelves but in minds and chord-picking fingers.”

Dylan rhapsodizing (27:45) was one of the highlights for Daniel. Then… the book report (29:30)! Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey. Heylin notes, Dylan saw himself as part of this process as an interpreter of a hoary ol’ tradition of self-expression, not as an originator of new forms of song” (Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions 1961-1994, pg.2). While we aren’t under any kind of microscope that Dylan is under, we are all products of our time and culture and the myth of Dylan’s original sin is something that we also carry around as distraction from the truth that the love we project, the words we write, the proclamations we attest to are just sirens of our shared history writ large. Better to own that than try to explain your originality.

So what about all this plagiarizing? (32:00) Noisey’s headline: TFW the book report is due tomorrow morning and it’s midnight already. Importantly, they note: Dylan began (and will likely end) his career recording covers before he decided to toss Biblical archetypes and pop-culture references together and set them to electric folk-rock, so he’s a synthesist by nature.” Slate was out for blood but their interviews with academics was gold:

Longtime Dylan fan and George Washington University English professor Dan Moshenberg told me no alarm bells went off for him while reviewing the passages. Gwynn Dujardin, an English professor from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, had more issues with Dylan’s approach, noting the irony that Dylan is cribbing [from] a contemporary publication that is under copyright instead of from Moby-Dick itself, which is in the public domain.” A final reviewer, Juan Martinez, a literature professor at Northwestern University, said, If Dylan was in my class and he submitted an essay with these plagiarized bits, I’d fail him.

But it’s not up to them.

As The New Yorker put it, after Dylan claims to have read Don Quixote and A Tale of Two Cities in grammar school, Welcome to Dylan Self-Mythologizing 101.” To close with Dylan’s speech (34:00): 

That’s what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.

Dylan will die one day but these songs will live on. Who hasn’t gone for lists of Nobel, Man Booker, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winners to pick the next book, play, poem? Dylan will be unique on this hypothetical list for some hypothetical kid discovering him a hundred years from now. Hopefully he isn’t asking, What’s music?” or lamenting that guitars don’t work well under water, but if there is a world then, that person will be stumbling upon a treasure trove of people like us, in our so-far small way who devote time and resources to this artist. 

All of that and Kelly kept replaying the ending to Battletar Galactica. Typical! Then Daniel got all personal and macro about life beyond the podcast… though Kelly got stoked about a future space episode! (38:00) 

Recommendations: Kelly (41:20). DMX. Wu-Tang. Not Smashing Pumpkins (though she thinks she invented the phrase Chicago grunge”) and the podcast Throwing Shade.

Daniel (43:20): our Spotify playlist, Spotify’s Summer Rewind, and Titus Andronicus’ 2010 album, The Monitor (and an easter egg on the episode’s excerpt of The Battle of Hampton Roads”). 

Closings (46:00): I surprised Kelly with two drawings from random.org (who should just sponsor us at this point). First, we pick 3 numbers, 1 through 98, for Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, our next in The Supplemental Series. Kelly selected three incorrect numbers but chose Dreams.”

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Then, our OG list (49:30). 1 out of 527. Kelly guessed 493. It was 356. Could have been You’re Gonna Quit Me” but is Ring Them Bells,” one of Daniel’s personal favorites.

015 – Dylan & The Dead

015 Dylan & The Dead. June 8, 2017. The Apartment (sans monster flies and bees).

Where are Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead at time of his unholy union? While Kelly ate Little Big Burger (and refuses to endorse Camden’s ketchup, though I guess we just did!), we talk where Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead were in 1987, July, the year of Daniel’s birth, to have this all come together (1:40). Robert Hunter, of the Grateful Dead, helped with lyrics on what became, recorded over a few years, 1988’s dreadful Down in the Groove. As Clinton Heylin notes, these were lyrics even the Dead had passed on.” In May of 1987, after years of legal wrangling we’ll explore at some other date, Dylan settled with his former manager, Albert Grossman (well, he died before this concluded…) for around $3 million dollars but retained the rights to all his works, including the Witmark catalog (see The Bootleg Series, Volume 9). Following this, Dylan agreed to playing six shows with the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia wanted this and didn’t care how much it cost. Good for Dylan, who insisted on a 70-30 split. From Heylin:

To place this in context, Dylan was committing himself to six stadium shows, to average audiences of seventy-five thousand, at a time when he would have struggled to sell out medium-sized arenas on his own. He would be backed by a band who, by 1987, could sell out multiple nights in stadiums at will, and who would be expected to play their own two-hour set in addition to their role as Bob’s backing band. What was smart business, though, smacked of someone artistically bankrupt. It may have been just half a dozen shows, but Dylan was tying himself to a band who had all the ambition of one of the great Coltrane quartets but the technical ability of the Buzzcocks. The person who, under Grossman, had never been known to make a foolish move was now more interested in shekels than a strategy for rebuilding a career that came from nowhere and looked to be heading straight back there.

Ian Bell agrees: The Grateful Dead playing… On a good day, that was pedestrian, sometimes achieving the heights of tiresome. On a bad day, what with the drugs, the Dead were inept, relentlessly so.

In this period the artist had at least one vice in common with his new colleagues. They had always been relaxed in their attitude towards what was good enough for the public, apparently believing that if they were entranced by their ramshackle efforts the customers would feel the same way. A faith that, some of the time at least, things would somehow come together’ on stage was part of the price audiences were expected to pay. By 1987, Dylan had acquired the same view.

For what it’s worth, the set lists were exploratory: Stuck Inside of Mobile,’ Queen Jane Approximately,’ Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,’ The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,’ Pledging My Time,’ Watching the River Flow,’ The Wicked Messenger,’ If Not for You,’ and even a couple of songs Dylan only ever demoed for Witmark, Walkin’ Down the Line’ and John Brown.”

Bob Weir said Dylan was, difficult to work with, inasmuch as he wouldn’t want to rehearse a song more than two times, three at the most. And so we rehearsed maybe a hundred songs two or three times … This is sorta a standard critique of the way he works.”

As Heylin notes, Still, Dylan could happily bank another coupla million and chalk it up to experience. After all, only the few thousand Dylan fans prepared to brave a sea of tie dye…”  

In keeping with Dylan, he apparently pulled the Dead’s suggested versions of Wicked Messenger,’ in NJ, Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’ in Eugene, OR and Chimes of Freedom’ in Anaheim, CA for vapid, over-represented Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and All Along the Watchtower.”  This would be a shift, again to Heylin:

If the Dead’s Deadhead devotees thought their’ band invented ever-changing sets and interchangeable arrangements, the real lessons Dylan took from the shows included how not to tour, what audiences to avoid, and who not to play with. To get to the spirit of the songs,’ Dylan needed to return to a band who knew how to listen and learn.” The Never-Ending Tour would embark soon after.


 

What do we know about the Grateful Dead? (7:00) Cherry Garcia is an ice cream flavor. Kelly has heard the song Touch of Gray.” Directly to blame for Phish/all jam bands. Skull lightning logo and frightening bears (which are reminiscent of the Snuggles bear, which is too long a story to get into here…). Hippies love them. Jerry Garcia had epic hair and beard. Jim Brewer had Jerry Garcia in a pouch in Half Baked.

What did Kelly learn about the Grateful Dead? (8:12) Part of Jerry Garcia was thrown into the Ganges after death. His first wife was not allowed to attend the event, or funeral. And Jimmy Buffett had a plane shot at by Jamaican police and made a song (not album) called Jamaica Mistacia” 

Daniel? (10:05) We’re at the 50th anniversary of their first record and there’s a new 4-hour long documentary streaming on Amazon Prime called Long, Strange Trip to check out. I got acquainted with the band via a Pitchfork curated list (see here, and some of my favorite cuts in our Dylan & the Dead” playlist). I look at the following songs (11:00). [Quote Pitchfork for the evolution of the band.] My preconceptions were quietly smashed while not my thing, I do see the shades of variance. (Sometimes I can’t, which reinforces that this is all just to get high to.) Overall: if a song was 10 mins it needed to 7, 30 mins it needed to be 23. Take 30% and cut it off. 

Dylan and the Dead (17:12) Kelly mistakenly hit repeat” thinking it would be a song but instead was the album, over and over and over and over. LOST (18:25). Kelly let us know she didn’t listen to any of the originals – which is probably for the best. We went song-by-bloody-song, in overheard quotes.

  • “Slow Train” (20:00)
    • “Is that a real train whistle?”
    • Okay…
    • “It set the tempo for what it could have been but never paid it off.”
    • “tootley.”
    • “Sounds familiar.”
  • “I Want You” (21:20)
    • “1/10. Won’t listen again.”
    • “How is this fun?”
    • If you don’t want to sing this song, why should I want to listen to it.”person with folded hands
  • “Gotta Serve Somebody” (23:44)
    • Whoops, almost solo’d without permission!”
    • groovy,”
    • a rough and tumble” 70s song.
  • “Queen Jane Approximately” (26:35)
    • “abomination.”
    • Slow, boring, formulaic.”
    • “Isn’t the appeal of the Dead for them to not be a generic backing band?”
    • “reminds me of a small town gay bar… the scene in Boys Don’t Cry where she’s singing Bluest Eyes in Texas,” but not really, because that’s a better song.”
  • “Joey” (30:30)
    • Nooooey”
    • quite the impression of a cat in heat” 
    • Lynard Skynard”
    • I don’t know who is more bored me or Bob Dylan?”
    • too loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong”
  • “All Along” and Knockin’ (39:00)
    • “Sounds like Santana, which isn’t bad”
    • “Dylan makes me sleepy but the guitar echo sounds fun.”
    • How many times do these two songs have to be on a live album?”

Kelly recommendations: (44:45) not a lot of music except Dylan & The Dead; A Perfect Circle’s 13th Step and Red Rocks.

Daniel recommendations: (49:20) Live/Dead; books 1861 and The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson and the Americans / also Buffalo Springfield, Public Enemy and Skee-Lo.

The end (50:40) The Grateful Dead’s alright,” Kelly. Pre-recommendation: Smashing Pumpkins. Added George Jackson.” 1 out of 528 so NO CHANGE. Kelly picked 504. It’s’ 306. Could have been Farewell, Angelina.” But instead is Hard Times in New York Town.” (It was actually recorded in 1961) 

014 – “Wallflower”

“Just a sad pod. One of those pathetic situations in life that can be so overwhelming at times.”

This is the 14th iteration of the podcast entitled Sign on the Window. This week we discuss 1971’s “Wallflower,” explore photosynthesis and wonder if showing up to work in a makeshift sling is a good idea or not. Join us won’t you! Here, at sotwpod.com (for full show notes), or @sotwpod everywhere!

Recorded 1971

Context

  • “Known studio recordings: Studio B, NY, November 4, 1971 [TBS tk.4].
  • Evidently recorded as a potential B side to the George Jackson’ single, nothing perhaps exemplifies the dearth of inspiration that now ensnared Dylan than the reemergence of Wallflower’ the following October, as a half-hearted duet with Doug Sahm at sessions for a Sahm Band album on Atlantic.  That Dylan should even remember such an insignificant song a year after he wrote it demonstrates someone largely working from a tabula rasa when it came to his songwriting. Reminded about the song during a radio special to promote the first Bootleg Series on which it features Dylan described it as just a sad song . . . one of those pathetic situations in life that can be so overwhelming at times.” (Heylin, Revolution in the Air)
  • The Doug Sahm affair was a ploy by Atlantic to get Dylan to sign but nope

Thoughts

  • Lovely, if weak
  • Did Jakob Dylan get the title from this song? Couldn’t find a cover… What does Bob think of his son?

Covers

  • Talk about all the songs God Only Knows,” Touche Amore (as a contrast to the sweetness of Wallflower”) , Muppets, Soundgarden, Cake (heard the pink flowers” line, referencing death see Touche but the song waltzes like Wallflower” too)
  • Doug Sahm
  • Diana Krall
  • Ironweed
  • David Bromberg Quartet
  • The Holmes Brothers

Recommendations: Justin Townes Earle / all of the Mountain Goats

012 – “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”

This podcast is a part of the Pumpkin Papers!

Join us for the 12th episode of Sign on the Window! We talk Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” the Red Scare in America, its resonance today and try to make some jokes to feel better about it all.

Full show notes at sotwpod.com and @sotwpod everywhere!

The Supplemental Series 001 – No Direction Home

Welcome to the FIRST EVER episode of what we’re calling The Supplemental Series.” In this inaugural episode, we’re watching 2005’s Martin Scorsese directed “No Direction Home.”

We talk about our show’s philosophy after ten episodes. We create contexts around the timeframe of the movie and Kelly shares her thoughts about who she’d been listening to – or thought she’d been – and who she was listening to now.

Full show notes at sotwpod.com and/or @sotwpod everywhere!