Never been a Miley Cyrus fan, but I love this version of Bob Dylan’s classic, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome.
Remember when you used to sit and listen to music with your headphones on, the 12″ x 12″ album cover in your hands as you went track to track? You’d be mesmerized by the cover art. You’d study the liner notes. You’d follow along if the lyrics were printed on the cover. After a few days, you’d know every song by heart.
No. Most of you don’t remember because that was before your time.
But back to our story.
The festival was over. The boys were planning for a fall.
Something’s up. Then we’re introduced to the ringleader.
He was standing in the doorway, looking like the Jack of Hearts.
Back in the golden age of vinyl, songs didn’t have be under three minutes. And everyone knew that serious music, serious songs, ran at least five minutes. Those were the songs you never wanted to end. American Pie comes to mind. Chicago’s Ballet for a Girl from Buchannon ran a glorious thirteen minutes.
Backstage the girls were playing five card stud by the stairs.
Lily drew two queens, she was hoping for a third to match her pair.
It was always best if you were alone. Total absorption into the music.
Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine.
If you wanted to hear a track again, you’d have to wait. You can’t (or shouldn’t) pick up the tone arm and place the stylus in the same groove that had just played. You’d risk distorting the vinyl and degrading the sound quality. You had to let the grooves cool.
Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town.
You had to let the grooves cool.
You couldn’t wait to play the song again, but you had to. Made you want to hear it that much more.
The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined.
The drilling in the wall kept up, but no one seemed to pay it any mind.
And those songs would tell a story as good as anything you ever read in a book. No music videos, you had to paint the scene in your head. You were the casting agent, the set and costume designer, the director. It was all yours. You just had to follow along.
The story I’ve been telling is a Bob Dylan classic, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, more than eight minutes long. It had hidden in my memory until it came up on my Pandora station during a four-hour trip yesterday. It’s a great driving song.
I won’t tell you what happens. If you want to know, click the link below. But wait until you can listen without distraction. It’s just better that way.
She was thinking about her father, who she very rarely saw.
She was thinking about Rosemary, she was thinking about the law.
But most of all, she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts.
In the early 1960s Bob Dylan heard Robert Johnson for the first time.
“From the first note the vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up. The stabbing sounds from the guitar could almost break a window. When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor.”
In his book, Chronicles, Volume One, Dylan comes across not as a musical genius, but as a man who was always doubting, always searching, always trying, always learning. When the music of Robert Johnson shook his soul, he needed to know why. Dylan had this to say:
“I started meditating on the construction of the verses, seeing how different they were from Woody’s [folksinger Woody Guthrie]. Johnson’s words made my nerves quiver like piano wires.”
Of course there is some measure of genius in Dylan, but it wouldn’t have come forth had he just sat back and waited for inspiration. But he didn’t have to be told that creativity involves hard work, because part of the reward of being creative, is in the toil it takes to create.
“I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction – themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease.”
“I didn’t have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them.”
And look where it took him.
Someone once told me that he had broken up with his girlfriend and he was having a hard time getting over it. Except he said it like this:
Most of the time
I’m clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path
I can read the sign
Stay right with it when the road unwinds
I can handle whatever
I stumble upon
I don’t even notice she’s gone
Most of the time.
That’s from Bob Dylan. His song, Most of the Time.
Larry Ellis had this to say about poets:
“A poet is a maker. A poet is someone who attempts to convey meaning and emotion through the creative use of language. A poet employs metaphor to spark the imagination and meter and rhyme to trigger the memory. Would we have understood – would we have “gotten” – the meaning of the Vietnam war – as the songwriters wanted us to get it – without the music and rhythm and rhyme of, for example Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”
It’s part of an essay that he wrote making the case that the prophets of old interpreted and proclaimed the meaning of events, and did so in a poetic language that would drive home their message (or God’s message) and be remembered. You can read the entire piece here.
Such a poet doesn’t look to the clouds to find inspiration in the ether. The poet has something to say and is deliberate in the choosing and placement of words.
The poet says, much like Bob Dylan or John Fogerty or Jeremiah:
“Listen. I have something you need to hear.”
Listening to the music of the Wonder to escape
Digging words and stories cause he always tell it straight
Life be scarred and dogs bite hard, to that I can relate
Soulful grooves, the spirit moves, tells me it ain’t too late
Driving horns lay down the tune, I’m hearing now the Tears
David Clayton Thomas sings, it’s not the dying that he fears
Spin the wheel, cut the deal, find wisdom in the years
Blues sung hard, and hope stands guard, a triumph for the ears
Singing with a nasal twang and tangled up in blue
The poet tells his story ‘bout the people that he knew
Stars are crossed and loves are lost, his heart we see straight through
A simple song to sing along, to change our point of view
A banjo picks the intro with a groovin’ upright bass
A nice and easy song of love, till the breakdown sets the pace
Toes are tapping, hands are clapping, the cello plays like grace
They sing of love and God above, our worries are erased
I play the C, I play the G, play the A chord in the minor
I write the words, scratch out a tune, plan it out like a designer
Find the truth, a touch of youth, up the beat to make it finer
But truth is cold, cause it ain’t gold, I know I ain’t no rhymer
Thank God for voice and stories told and those who came to play
The soft piano soothes the soul and carries us away
They give the beat and words complete, to speak what we can’t say
Turn it up and fill my cup, play the music of my day.
Copyright 2017, Joseph E Bird
another musical discovery, boze naigle, the alt hip hop artist on the west coast. this video is a low-key, black and white production to create that retro feel. and i like the casual use of the cue cards, just enough self-conscious to throw the timing off, like he really doesn’t care. that’s the essence of boze. cool urban poet.
nah. i’m just kidding about all that. it’s robert zimmerman, of course. 50 years ahead of his time.
sometimes I hear a guitar player like Tommy Emmanuel or Stevie Ray and I think, what’s the use?
i came across this article about Robert Zimmerman’s songwriting. you know, the guy who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. and i’ve come to the conclusion that i’m no more than a monkey at a keyboard.
cool stuff in the article, if you’re into great writing and poetry, anyway.