MAYBE BOB DYLAN REALLY WAS EVERYWHERE…(Found In The Connection: Rattling Loose End #28)

…In the sixties, I mean.

NASHVILLESKYLINEIMAGE

Nashville Skyline, which Dylan released in 1969, was the first album from him that could have been mistaken for being disengaged from the times. Not only is there nothing like an obvious protest song–in either topical or abstract form–the singing and playing are literally old-fashioned to a fault, a move that’s emphasized by a lead track that’s a duet with Johnny Cash in his best vocal equivalent of blank-verse.

But, while Skyline was superficially treated at the time (and for the most part since) as a version of “country rock”–or, having been recorded in Nashville itself with truly modest arrangements–just “country” that happened to be recorded by a rock star, it was really rooted in a musical value system that was more akin to nineteenth century parlor music.

Beyond the superficial, I don’t know if this comes as news to anybody but me. I’ll confess I’m not really up on whatever deep scholarship might exist concerning this album. And, to tell the truth, I’ve never really listened to it much outside of two tracks which happened to be on one of those old two-fer-one oldies’ forty-fives that record companies used to put out in the seventies and early eighties. I bought the 45 (long before I even knew there was an album called Nashville Skyline) for the A-side (“Lay Lady Lay”) and started listening to the B-side (“I Threw It All Away”) a few years later, after I read Greil Marcus’ famous “Presliad” essay in Mystery Train, where, in 1974, he had imagined it as something like Elvis Presley’s epitaph several years before Elvis’ death.

As I’ve been gradually striving for some sort of Dylan completism on CD in recent years, I ordered Nashville Skyline (which finishes the sixties!) on disc and it showed up in the mail yesterday, then found its way to my automobile’s good old-fashioned CD player (so-o-o-o twentieth century) last evening, when I had to drive in to work to figure out why my twenty-first century computer wasn’t linking the office (construction messing with the internet btw, and no telling when it will be fixed, so if you think I’ve been doing some slow posting here lately, don’t worry, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!).

Forced to be alone with the entire record and give it my full attention for once, I might not have found much more in it than I ever found before. Except that, in context, a throwaway ditty called “Peggy Day” sounded so exactly like a man who wasn’t much of a singer trying to woo a sweetheart in 1905 somewhere in an Indiana living room with hardwood floors gleaming and Booth Tarkington taking notes for a short story, that I found it irresistibly charming and even–for 1969–a bit daring and even visionary.

Mind you, I say that is how it sounded. I got no notion, merely from listening to that sound, as to what the song might be about, though I’d be surprised to learn it was about much.

What the pure sound of the thing did, however, was haul the track that came before it (which happened to be “I Threw It All Away”) and the track that came after (which happened to be “Lay Lady Lay”) into a new kind of light.

“Lay Lady Lay” (rather like Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “(Leaving On A) Jet Plane”–which hit #1 not long after Dylan’s record hit the Top Ten, but which had been recorded and released as an album track three years earlier and which I could easily imagine having informed Dylan’s increasingly laid back vocal approach throughout the late sixties) suddenly sounded like a search for peace among terrible turmoil.

And, while I didn’t hit the track search and go back to “I Threw It All Away,” it lingered in my mind until after midnight, when I was home again and found myself glued to CNN’s episode from its series on The Sixties, which was either about Martin Luther King or the Civil Rights Movement in general (having missed the intro, I couldn’t tell).

And, amidst the street-level tumult and mountain-top shouting, I found that: “Once I had mountains, in the palm of my hand, and rivers that ran through every day/I must have been mad, I never knew what I had…until, I threw it all away” no longer had anything to do with Elvis Presley or Bob Dylan’s lost lover, and had become irrevocably about, well, 1969.

And all of us.

So much for being disengaged.

 

CNN SENDS ME OFF TO A DARK AND DREARY PLACE WHERE I THEN HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO CHEER MYSELF UP….AND ME AND THE BANGLES AND SUSAN COWSILL SOMEHOW MANAGE…WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THE REAL ELVIS (Found In the Connection: Rattling Loose End #22)

CNN kicked off its series on “The Sixties” tonight with an hour on the British Invasion. Despite the presence of some fine music clips (which apparently couldn’t be helped) and a single, spirited, un-sourced moment from the period that had Graham Nash and Peter Noone debating whether pop music had the power to prevent World War Three (Nash in favor of the motion, Noone opposing) it was dreadful.

Maybe at some point I’ll acquire it and re-visit it long enough to dwell on all the reasons why. Depends on how firmly it stays stuck in my craw. The best I can say for it right now is that they didn’t actually come up with any new falsehoods–though they sure did string the existing, fossilized notions together fast and furiously, after the manner of warding off evil spirits.

For now, suffice it to say they did not attribute the Beatles’ smashing success to their combination of real musical genius and their special position of being–unlike virtually every other major pop star reigning over the American charts at their moment of arrival–neither black nor hillbilly nor urban immigrant nor (gasp) female. Or that the curious hold they have had on the intelligentsia from their moment of arrival (a hold completely unacknowledged in the special, which portrays them as “outsiders” facing the same kind of across-the-establishment-board opprobrium as the first generation rockers who inspired them) is surely as much due to this fact as to their undoubted musical genius.

Not that I was holding my breath or anything, but it would have been nice to have at least one countervailing, or merely skeptical, voice!

Anyway, the one sort of compelling bit for me was a handful of brief interview snippets with Susanna Hoffs, lead singer of the Bangles.

Like everyone else, she lacked for anything very interesting to say…But I realized it was the first time I had ever really heard her speak at length and I was struck by how disconnected her speaking voice is from her singing voice.

This isn’t at all common. Most really good singers, like most really good actors, carry the essence of their performing style in their every day voice and, much as I love Hoffs’ music, I might not have pursued it any further or thought of it as anything but a quirky anomaly…except…

Except that ever since I had my Cowsills’ kick a few months back, I’ve been working on a tantalizing theory (okay, tantalizing for me if not for anyone else) that, in the early eighties, when Vicki Peterson went looking for a lead voice for the Bangles, she might have, at least subconsciously, been looking for a replacement for her best friend at the time…

Who happened to be (and still is) Susan Cowsill.

Who also happened to be in all likelihood unavailable herself because she was then Dwight Twilley’s significant other and a member of his road band…Unlikely to quit her day job in other words.

There’s probably never going to be a way to prove my little theory, but I do know that the first time I pulled up this–Susan’s first solo single, recorded when she was seventeen and released in 1977 (or thereabouts)–I was immediately struck by how much she sounded like a slightly more laid-back, seventies-era version of Susanna Hoffs.

Or, to be more accurate, I was struck by how much a slightly revved-up, eighties-era version of Susanna Hoffs, adjusting for the full weight of the Bangles’ hair-raising harmonies behind her, sounded like Susan Cowsill.

This time, after I played Susan’s song a few times, I started searching around for some of Hoffs’ vocals (just to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself) and found the expected evidence (proof enough to my ear anyway, not that I really needed it…I’ve had enough Bangles’ kicks in my life to know I wasn’t imagining things).

And that led me to this, a slightly altered, knockout arrangement of “Eternal Flame” which I’m posting not so much because it proves a little part of my theory (there are plenty of examples that do it better) as because I like it so much…and because I now really wish they had used this stripped down arrangement on the record (which I love anyway…but from now on I’ll always hear what might have been):

And, lovely as all that is, I still might not have posted anything….

Except that chasing Bangles’ videos led me to a lengthy interview with Hoffs, which is worth hearing in any case, but which I’m linking especially for my Elvis fans…because the way she lights up when she briefly talks about Graceland between the 6:30 and 7:30 marks says as much about why the flame won’t die as any thousand scholarly essays ever will (you can fast forward to that segment if you don’t want to listen to the rest…Hope you’ll get as big a kick out of it as I did).

I’ll definitely write more about the Cowsills in the future…at very least a review of the documentary about them which came out a couple of years ago. I’m a sucker for “might have been” stories and few people have a better one. And, as I’ve said before, Susan Cowsill has led an epic American life, in which little asides like possibly inspiring the revolution’s last really great vocal group are basically par for the course.

Maybe this will get me fired up for that little project again.

Then at least I’ll have something to thank CNN for…Well, besides leading me to all this.

 

I NORMALLY DON’T DO POLITICS…(WHY I NEED ROCK AND ROLL, Session #6)

…But it’s an amazing day in America when a million people (in this case in Watertown, MA and surrounding environs) are told–absent a declaration of martial law or any evidence of properly obtained search warrants–to first stay inside and then get out of their homes, one by one, while “law enforcement” storms through.

So far as I know, no one has objected.

Of course, I just spent the night flipping between CNN, FoxNews and MSNBC, desperately searching for signs of journalism–or at least the absence of brain death.

Came up empty, alas.

So if martial law has been declared, or search warrants have been obtained, or someone is objecting, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know.

Because, to a man and woman, every television reporter on the scene knows the real reason for the excitement is their own presence.

And to think just a week or two back I was on the very tip of becoming really, really concerned because one of them (it happened to be Wolf Blitzer, back then, but no sense picking on him as it could have been anyone) got all shivery over the prospect of North Korea launching some nukes because–and I think I have this quote exact–“it would certainly be an interesting story!”

Yes, Wolf, nuclear war would be interesting! Even more interesting than a couple of mad bombers getting spooked when the FBI–ever vigilant–releases their photographs and they end up panicking and murdering a police officer (who’d a thunk it?…not us, the FBI assured everyone, using NBC’s Pete Williams as the conduit for covering their incompetence just as though he, or anyone else involved, would ever have thought to question it–let us not say that secret police forces lack cunning!).

Pretty good stuff.

Nuclear war, though….That’s a whole other level.

You would get mad screen time!

And a chance to cover really interesting stories. Like what can happen if somebody does object:

The Isley Brothers “Ohio/Machine Gun” (Studio Recording)

[NOTE: Part of me wishes I had transcribed the truly vile manner in which CNN’s Jake Tapper and one of his cohorts whose name I’ve blissfully forgotten trivialized the police officer’s murder on the way to breathlessly discussing, ad nauseum, the truly “big deal” of the subsequent man-hunt. Another part of me is glad I turned away….to Fox News, where some other titan whose name I’ve forgotten, managed a “shot a police officer, who, tragically, died” in the midst of a five minute monologue about his own feelings as he was covering this really awesome event!…Whew! For a minute there, I thought the bottom had been reached. This summer I hear the drumming indeed. Goodbye us.]