Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Kaatskill Serenade – Bob Dylan Bootleg of a David Bromberg Song

Kaatskill Serenade  

As performed by Bob Dylan, written by David Bromberg.

This article is written by Sean Dolan.

The version discussed here is a bootlegged Dylan performance from June 1992, easily accessible on YouTube (here is one video). The only officially released performance of the song is by Bromberg on his 1976 live album, How Late’ll Ya Play Till? (You can buy the Bromberg version for iTunes here.)

In the late winter of 1992, Bob Dylan and Neil Young (don’t you just love the image?) together attended a performance by David Bromberg, the exceptional multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and singer, later-to-be luthier and collector of vintage American violins, who had been performing roots music and Americana long before the terms were in common use, at the Bottom Line, the fabled, long-since-shuttered  music club (capacity: 400) on West 4th Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.  Dylan was at a creative impasse at the time; though he’d experienced the various musical epiphanies regarding guitar and singing techniques so vividly described in his memoir Chronicles and was utilizing them to revitalize his stage career (the so-called Neverending Tour was already well in progress), he wasn’t writing, and though he put up a bold front about it, one imagines that this fallow period must still have been some kind of torment, especially for one who’d been able for so long to draw on such a prodigious and seemingly indefatigable gift for writing words and music.  (The obvious pride he later took, when he began writing again, in the albums Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft, especially, would seem to support this conjecture.)  “The world doesn’t need any more songs,” Dylan said at this period. “They’ve got enough. They’ve got way too many. As a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer for it. Nobody cares. There’s enough songs for people to listen to if they want to listen to songs . . . unless someone’s gonna come along with a pure heart and have something to say. That’s a different story.”

But as an artist, Dylan has always been able to rely on more than just his ability with words.  People speak of a writer’s voice, and Dylan’s written work can certainly be approached and understood in this context.  But Dylan is also a singer, which means he literally, obviously, has a voice, which can, and, indeed, must be heard for any true appreciation of his work. People tend to chuckle (or even laugh) when recalling his youthful comment that he never knew for sure how he would fare as a songwriter but that he always knew he could make it as a singer. Opinion about this voice is manifold and inexhaustible, obviously, but whatever the judgment, the achievement of his work lies in the words and the voice — his voice — together.  The words can and do exist on their own, as beautiful, dynamic, innovative, and moving pieces of writing, pure poetry, despite the formal objections, but they were written, as he’s been careful to point out, specifically for him to sing.  It is as such that his work is most fully, truly alive; his singing encompasses his writing, as does his writing his singing.  They exist together, inextricably.  It’s why, no matter how beautifully rendered (and there are many such performances), cover versions of his songs (and singers of all stripe are fascinated by his compositions) inevitably feel as if there is something missing.  

Which brings us to another one of Dylan’s great gifts: his ears.  Put most simply, Dylan hears things in songs (his own, hence the constant reinterpretations, and others’) that others don’t.  He knows, through this gift of listening and a phenomenal ability of retention, an inordinate number of the songs the world has “way too many” of, and he’s able, often and consistently, to make singular, beautiful, new things of them.  He’s able to do so by bringing to bear his gifts of listening/hearing, his voice as a singer, and his unique sensibilities as a writer.  Again, these arguably disparate gifts are so intertwined in Dylan the artist as to be indistinguishable from one another.  Just as his singing informs his writing, and his writing informs his singing, his listening informs, and is informed by, both of the other gifts.  Writing, for Dylan, is a form of singing, and singing, a form of writing; at his best, when performing songs by others, he is creating them in the same way that he creates his own.  Check out for example, About the Songs (what they’re about) . . ., his liner notes for World Gone Wrong, his second album of all traditional and interpreted material from the early 1990s.  The notes are, frankly, to use a timeworn adjective, mind-blowing; one is astounded, almost to disbelief, to read that this is what he is hearing in those songs.  They sound like someone’s hallucinatory responses to his chains-of-flashing-images epics from his incandescent early period. Yet his take on things is so consistently and spectacularly singular, always has been, that there is no good reason to doubt what’s he’s saying about the songs (at least for himself); to do so is to doubt his achievement as an artist, and World Gone Wrong,  I would argue (at some other time), is inarguable.  These same creative gifts have always been at work, in total, in his approach to any song, whether it be one he has written, someone else has written, or has been handed down.  He is, among other things, a famous, inexhaustible, unrepentant, and brilliant magpie, but what he is seeing, hearing, and understanding in the act of retrieving and appropriating is so much his own as to constitute an act of creation. These things become his own, in a very real artistic sense.  Again, this magpie’s gift is so greatly informed by, and so greatly informs, his other gifts as to make it an inextricable part of his creative process and achievement.  He understands the world through song, perhaps as song, and interprets it as such.  In a sense, the songs write him as much as he writes them. In Dylan’s case, songs are both creator and created.  It’s in this sense that his interpretive work as a singer becomes as beautiful and moving as his work “purely” as a writer.  At their best, in his work, the two seemingly separate acts are really one.  The songs sing and write him and he sings and writes them; it makes for, especially in the folk tradition that he asserts in Chronicles to have always been consciously working in (the book itself is a conscious and brazen work of exactly that kind), not much of a distinction between what is yours and what is someone else’s, and I doubt if he makes much of a difference of it.  When the work is done with such artistic imagination, it is much less appropriation than creation, and more than fair use. Bob Dylan himself, the artist, is an act of imagination; the songs have created him as much he’s created them, and he’s always been forthright and insistent on the extent to which this is the case.

So when Dylan reached this particular impasse as a writer, he had a creative solution immediately at hand: return to the wellspring of songs, mostly traditional, but some otherwise, in which he’d always been so creatively suffused — “his Bible and his lexicon,” he called them — and use them, rather than his own compositions.  To that end, Neil Young, who by contrast has only extremely rarely performed other people’s work, suggested at the Bottom Line that Dylan work with Bromberg.

The idea made sense. Beside’s Bromberg’s extraordinary facility as a player of every form of traditional, rooted American music, he and Dylan had worked together on several occasions, albeit many years previous.  In the early 1970s, while getting his start as a professional musician and recording artist, Bromberg had played on Dylan’s albums Self-Portrait and New Morning; Dylan in turn had contributed harmonica to Bromberg’s eponymous second album.  At Bromberg’s invitation, they agreed to meet for work at Bromberg’s Chicago base of operations, Acme Studios.  

They convened there in early June, 1992, Dylan by his lonesome, Bromberg with his full band, which afforded a line-up, besides guitar, bass, and drums, of a full horn section as well as the multitude of string instruments that Bromberg and his band commanded. (Bromberg, who was essentially acting as the session’s producer, alone plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, and dobro, though at the time, onstage and in the studio, he often had band members filling those chairs). Working fast at Acme, as always in the studio, from June 3rd to the 5th Dylan laid down with Bromberg and the band approximately 30 tracks, the great majority of them traditional blues, country, and folk-rooted pieces.   

Apparently, Dylan thought the work had gone well, for he left Bromberg charged with the task of mixing the best cuts, presumably for use as Dylan’s next album release for Columbia.  But upon hearing Bromberg’s mixes, Dylan was taken aback; they were, he told Bromberg, “awful,” a judgment with which, upon reflection, Bromberg agreed.  “I think I did a bad job,” he’s since said, and he took Dylan’s advice and went back to listen again to the rough mixes, which Dylan, always looking for that more spontaneous, less polished something, thought contained more of the feel he was seeking.  Upon listening again, Bromberg thought he had found was Dylan was looking for, but Dylan, mercurial as always, had lost interest and moved on. (He would wind up recording, in his own garage studio by himself, alone on acoustic guitar, an album’s worth of traditional music, none of which he’d done in the Chicago sessions, which would be released in November 1992 on Columbia as Good as I’ve Been to You .)

To date, only five of the Chicago tracks are in circulation. “Miss the Mississippi (and You),” a Jimmie Rodgers tune, and Duncan and Brady, a traditional piece most often associated with Leadbelly, were released in 2008 as part of Tell Tale Signs, the “official” Bootleg Recordings, Volume  8.  Three others have been circulated widely, unofficially, as bootlegged recordings: “Sloppy Drunk,” another Jimmie Rodgers song; the traditional “Polly Vaughn,” and the sweet little gem “Kaatskill Serenade,” written by Bromberg.  

Though obviously not a traditional piece, in the traditional sense, “Kaatskill Serenade” is so steeped in history of different kinds that it essentially serves as one, and none of its resonances would have been lost on Dylan. Lauded, during his early incandescent peak, as the ultimate modern, Dylan has always been most fascinated by the past.  History would be another word for it, as expressed and contained in American traditional music. Folk music, Dylan would call the musical well from which he draws, for which he obviously has the most catholic of definitions. Speaking at a Kennedy Center Awards ceremony several months before these sessions, Gregory Peck spoke of how, as a “little kid,” he used to see “Civil War veterans marching down the main street” of his little California town, “kicking up the dust.”  From the first, he said, Dylan’s music had brought back that memory to him, that sense of a long-ago past that it was important to remember. Dylan’s voice and words, he said, go straight to the heart of America.  He thought of Dylan as a “Civil War type.”  And even as Dylan’s own work, inevitably, becomes history, it is interesting to see the ways in which that work is informed by his own historical sense, especially as a singer of other people’s  songs.  Even as an outright beginner, he didn’t want to sound new; he wanted to sound old, and he invented a past and mythology worthy of that name.  Take a listen, again, for example, to his recording of “I Was Young When I Left Home,” recorded as part of the so-called Minnesota Hotel Tapes in December1961 and released as a bonus single track with some of the first editions of 2001’s Love and Theft.

 In these senses, then, “Kaatskill Serenade” is a perfect vehicle for him, and he more than does it justice.  The song is Bromberg’s musical rendition of one of the earlier pieces of American literature, the short story “Rip van Winkle,” by one of the young United States’ first literary lions, Washington Irving. It was, at one time, a story that every American schoolchild was likely familiar with (I hesitate to make any pronouncements about what things every American schoolchild is familiar with today), even if first introduced to it, as I was, through the inspiring vehicle of a Mr. Magoo cartoon.  (The estimable Magoo likewise introduced me to Don Quixote and Ebenezer Scrooge.)  In brief, van Winkle, an amiable, kind-hearted but feckless ne’er-do-well descended from the original Dutch settlers of the Kaatskill (the original Dutch word for the range, which both Irving and Bromberg use; today they’re known as the Catskills) Mountains region of the Hudson River valley, still living, circa 1756, in one of the original Dutch settlements of the area, where he is persecuted and oppressed by a shrieking termagant (Irving’s word) of a wife, goes off to escape this domestic discord, as is his wont, deep into the mountains, where a mysterious encounter causes him to lose 20 years of his life in what he believes is simply a particularly deep one-night’s sleep, as he discovers when he returns to his village to find everything changed. (You can read the story for yourself here. )

The recording begins with some soft, tentative, peeping harmonica (another “voice” he uses) from Dylan over some simple introductory strums on his acoustic guitar.  The harmonica breaks off as Dylan’s guitar grows in confidence and some of the band, particularly an organ, comes in behind him. The circulating recording is somewhat rough, and it can be tough to pick out individual instruments at some points, but the effect serves to enhance the eerie timelessness of the performance.  Dylan begins to sing, quietly but assuredly, the chorus, which is where, somewhat unusually, Bromberg’s song begins.  As the song’s narrator, he is singing as Rip van Winkle, although that character’s name is never mentioned in the song.  Indeed, Bromberg obviously expects the listener to pick up on and recognize that the song is a reworking of Irving’s story, and for the listener to be familiar with at least the outlines of that tale. Indeed, the lyrics work best as a series of allusions to the story, not a retelling; without knowing the story, the song might be evocative for a listener but would hardly resonate in the same way.  In that way, Bromberg treats Irving’s story, nearly 200 years after its composition (it was first published in 1819 or 1820) as the kind  of well-known legend or folk tale, passed on and kept alive by oral tradition, that Irving’s story asserts it to be at the time of his putatively writing it down.  (Interestingly, Bromberg was born and raised in Tarrytown, the same Hudson River town where Irving famously made his home and used regionally as the setting for many of his stories.)

“Where are the men that I used to sport with?” Dylan wonderingly and softly sings, as befits the confused and insignificant Rip on his return to town.  “What has become of my beautiful town?”  Though a lowly figure, Rip was well-liked in the village, by everyone but his wife, and he had an accepted place in the community (though we know this only if we’ve read, or are familiar with Irving’s story; Bromberg doesn’t mention it.) “Wolf, my old friend, even you don’t know me,” Dylan as Rip laments (Wolf is Rip’s dog, his truest and most faithful friend, who had accompanied him into the mountains but was gone when Rip woke up; another detail that Irving, but not Bromberg, provides), his voice as old, ragged, and rough as the mountains where Rip was waylaid, full of nooks and crannies, before concluding that “this must be the end” because, in a glorious archaism that Dylan obviously revels in, “My house is tumbled down.” The whole recording has a fitting, tumbled-down quality to it, from the tentative instrumental opening to the fading in-and-out of Bromberg’s band in places, to the point where you can almost hear the ghost of an echo at points (like the ghostly echoes Rip hears in the mountains in Irving’s telling.)

The first verse begins with Rip ruing the missteps that have brought him to this pass, with Dylan beginning to tear into the lyrics without decorum or formality, the way he does with a song he loves and understands, sure that the song will bear and even benefit from such treatment, his song evoking the rags, ruin, and poverty of Rip’s life even before his long sleep.  “My land it was rich, but I wouldn’t work it,” he admits (as a descendant of the original Dutch settlers  of the region, we know from Irving, Rip still lives on the family land, which makes him gentry, actually, though he has long since let it go and decay into grotesque disrepair); “I guess I made a shrew of my wife,” and it’s worth the cost of admission to hear Dylan pronounce this line. “My duty clear, I could always find some way to shirk it” follows, with a quintessential and perfect Dylan emphasis on the word “shirk.”  And Rip is, as Irving tells us, a shirker, but only of his own responsibilities; he is always maddeningly ready to pitch in to help others.  “I dreamed away the best years of my life.”  There are prolonged Dylan emphases on the words “shrew,” “shirk,” and “dreamed,” which are at the essence of the dilemma Rip finds himself in.

Now Rip begins to ponder what has happened to him, and Dylan’s voice rises in intensity as the band increases its tempo and volume, the horns for the first time now fully audible. “Seems like only this morning I went up into the mountains” (actually it was yesterday morning, but you can’t blame Rip for being muddled, can you?), “No word of warning, just her usual curse” (the wife’s, that is). followed by another admission: “I hated the house, with all ther nagging and shouting,” Dylan, diverging slightly from Bromberg’s lyrics, sounding wearily, sorrowfully, and defeatedly henpecked but forced to admit “But to live in this strange world is a thousand times worse.”  That perfect chorus follows with its nostalgic, universal lament (how many times have we had reason to wonder, for whatever reason, where the men that we used to sport with have gotten to), succeeded by a longer, sadder, melancholy harmonica break, against Dylan’s and Bromberg’s guitars and the pronounced, unvarying tock-tock of the drums.  

Now Dylan-Rip attempts to explain the episode in the mountains, but Bromberg’s lyrics, splendidly, are much more evocative than explanatory.  Again, without foreknowledge of Irving’s tale, we would have only the most murky understanding of what has befallen Rip.  “He called me by name, he bought me that cheaply,” Dylan craggily explains, “He called me by name, I didn’t know what to think/I watched their loud games, and oh I drank deeply/Though no one ever asked me to drink.” But the drinking has a price, Dylan-Rip learns, though he still can’t help exulting in the memory and taste of that fateful carouse: “And oh that stolen liquor was sweeter than whiskey,” he zestfully sings before, reluctantly, chastened, the horns blaringly, admonishingly driving the point home, he admits that it was “also many times quicker to put me to sleep. And, again sadly, realizes that “my sleep it was long, it was 20 years deep.”  Another chorus follows, with all the players immediately dropping out after “my house is tumbled down” and Dylan bringing the song to an end, where it began, with a long, plaintive instrumental interlude on his guitar and harmonica.  

But what has happened in this last verse? Some kind of extremely sketchy drinking bout in the mountains, with disastrous results, but with whom, where, why, and how?  Bromberg and Dylan don’t have to explain any more than that, because they are counting on us to be familiar with the original legend, as Irving has told it, in the guise of his own narrator, his famous fictional historian and folklorist of Old New York, Diedrich Knickerbocker, who himself claims to have gotten it directly from people who knew Van Winkle in the flesh.  In that version, van Winkle, while atop one of the highest Catskills peaks, hears a mysterious voice echoingly calling out his name and, following the sound, encounters a strange little man, dressed in the garb of the long-ago Dutch settlers, carrying a keg of liquor on his back. Face-to-face the man says nothing to Rip, but he, always ready for any venture that promises to be more engaging than the drudgery of working his own land, immediately sets off with the man, helping him carry the keg over ravines and promontories, until at last they reach a secluded dale, where they meet many more of the strange, Dutch-clad fellows,  playing at nine-pins, the sounds of which resound like thunder over the mountains.  No one says a word to Rip; or to another; they only gape at him queerly, tap the keg, and begin drinking deeply from huge flagons. Uninvited but ignored, Rip helps himself to the drink, which he finds marvelously and refreshingly sweet but in short time drops him into his lengthy slumber. He awakes on what he thinks is the next morning, still deep in the mountains, his mysterious companions gone, his rifle rusted, his beard grown to a foot’s length, and faithful Wolf run off.  He returns to town to discover with a shock that he’s been gone almost 20 years and almost forgotten. In Irving’s denouement, we learn that he’s been drinking with the revenants of Henry Hudson and his crew of the Half-Moon, the Dutch ship in which, sailing for the Dutch East India Company he became,  in September 1609, the first to “discover” and explore the Hudson River, as far north as present-day Albany.  In doing so, he laid the groundwork for the Dutch foundation of New York, which by Rip van Winkle’s day had long since been lost to the British. According to legend, Irving tells us, Hudson and his men still haunt the Catskills at regular intervals.  

So what do we have here, in “Kaatskill Serenade”?  At its simplest, and there is no need necessarily to get any more complicated than this, a beautiful, little, obscure performance, with charm and pathos, of a beautiful little song. Dylan was certainly content to let it remain obscure, taking no steps to provide its wider release (but he’s done that with a lot of valuable work), and the recording certainly has a ramshackle, unfinished feel to it, which for me only adds to its truthfulness and rightness; the house is tumbled down. But a “song has to be heroic enough to stop time,” Dylan once said, and this one certainly meets that test. How does it do that?  

By holding some 400 years of American folklore, tradition, history, literature, “roots’” in its present day grasp.  Consider what we have here: a contemporary song that works partly, best, as a kind of dialogue with a nearly 200-year-old short  story, one of the foundation stones of a distinctly American literature, that presents itself (the literary work) as a recounting of a piece of folklore that reaches, in its furthest resonances, even 200 years farther back. Look how much time — lost time — has been stopped, gathered, held, and regained.  If a song has to be heroic enough to stop time, “Kaatskill Serenade,” as rendered here, is heroic indeed.   

This question of stopping time, of lost time, is important to much of Dylan’s work, particularly and not surprisingly, as he grows older, as there is more and more “time out of mind.”  It’s a common enough artistic concern: Proust spent his entire artistic life in search of lost time, with finding a method that would allow him to regain (and thereby stop) it, and to creating a work (his own kind of song) heroic enough to stop it.  Faulkner devoted his artistry to showing all the ways in which the “past is not gone; it’s not even past.”  

That it is the matter of lost time that is at the crux of the performance here is tellingly revealed by what “Kaatskill Serenade” specifically does not do by way of contrast with Washington Irving’s original work.  “Kaatskill Serenade” concerns itself solely with Van Winkle’s understandable psychic discomposure upon discovering that he has woken to 20 years of lost time.  That emphasis is made clear right from the outset, as the song begins, unusually, as it ends, with the chorus, which is Dylan/van Winkle lament for the most immediate and obvious manifestations of that loss — missing companions (the men he used to sport with, his dog), the almost unrecognizably altered home town, the tumbled-down house.  Lost time of course, no matter how passed, brings us closer to death, and Rip concludes that “this must be the end.”  His awakening, in “Kaatskill Serenade,” is to an elementary recognition that we would almost universally prefer to avoid: time is passing, a lot of it is already gone, and we’re closer to the end. At the end of “Kaatskill Serenade,” Rip is a frightened, confused, lonely, and broken man, and we’ve been told a truly sad and melancholy tale.  There’s a terrible human truth here, and that’s where “Kaatskill Serenade,” on the page and in performance, ends.

But again, the song takes on an even deeper resonance by its engagement (and ours, too) with Irving’s short story.  For Irving does what “Kaatskill Serenade” consciously and conspicuously avoids: he tells us what becomes of Rip after his awakening, and the old reprobate actually experiences a happy ending. His period of psychic dislocation is mercifully brief — he is able to figure out, with the help of the townspeople, what has happened to him, and he becomes, as a result of his eerie experience, something of a hometown marvel.  Most of his sporting cronies are in fact still alive, if longer in tooth, and he is reunited in antiquated idleness with them, as he is with a daughter and son, the latter of whom has grown up to be much like dear old Dad.  He is even reunited and reconciled with what must be a phenomenally superannuated Wolf (by the story’s logic, the beast must be well more than 20 years old.) The only significant personal loss he has suffered is the death of his shrew of a wife, for which in fact he is grateful, if not ecstatic. Though the tale of Rip van Winkle is often remembered in popular (or “folk”) memory as a moral lesson in the perils of fecklessness or sloth, Rip himself experiences no such chastening lesson.  He essentially lives happily ever after — in fact, more happily than ever because of the death of his wife.  In Irving’s telling, Rip’s character makes him somewhat culpable for his strange encounter, but his fate ultimately is benign, if not beneficent.  

By avoiding telling us anything at all about what Rip experiences and learns about his bewitchment beyond his initial discovery that he has lost 20 years, “Kaatskill Serenade” puts the song’s emphasis squarely and solely on this matter of time. By leaving out so many telling details, ‘Kaatskill Serenade” increases the listener’s own experience of the psychic dislocation of its protagonist (‘hey, what the hell is going on here” we might well ask, hearing only the song’s recitation of the events.)  At the same time, by expecting us to be familiar with Irving’s telling, “Kaatskill Serenade” alerts us that its main concern is with the phenomenon of lost time. It works both ways In so doing, it reimagines, perhaps deepens, certainly re-creates Irving’s story, which is Dylan’s great achievement in working with found and traditional material — this is his way of stopping time.  (In this case he is equaled by Bromberg, for “Kaatskill Serenade” is a magnificent piece of writing; Dylan’s achievement, here as elsewhere, is his ability as an artist and performer is to recognize and somehow plumb all these depths.)

And lost time, regaining lost time by what Dylan calls a song’s heroism in stopping time is what is at stake at here.  By eschewing so many details, which it is simultaneously confident we are aware of, “Kaatskill Serenade” moves the song from the individual to the universal in a way that makes it much more than a mere retelling of an old, perhaps by now overly familiar American legend. In doing so, It asks us to consider not so much the ways that Rip’s time was lost but the ways in which ours might be.  We need not worry so much about enchantment by spirits in “fairy mountains,” as Irving calls his Kaatskills, but we probably would benefit by working our own land — indeed, Rip has a rightful place among many a landsmen in Dylan’s work who know not what their inheritance is worth. (Old Rip van Winkle is, in a way, in ‘Kaatskill Serenade,” a Dylanesque “thin man” — he knows something has happened to him, but he doesn’t know what it is.)  Rip’s experience is singular and occult, but the ways in which we lose time are myriad and universal.  Indeed, Dylan points the way to one that is very common with the compelling urgency with which he advises that “drinking with strangers can be very risky.”  Addiction, abuse — pretty common ways to lose time.  Our imaginations and experiences can provide countless others; “Kaatskill Serenade” suggests but a few — inattention to a marriage, for one. Some are within our control, some are not; we will age, like Rip, whether we want to or not; we will inevitably forget and be forgotten.  Time passes — it is lost –merely by our living, and the reality of death is inescapable; we approach the end, and our house tumbles down.  What is to be done?  Dylan’s artistic solution is to stop time by engaging creatively with it, as has been done here, to capture in song all that time and territory.  Does it matter?  Maybe, maybe not. Time rolls on, and “there won’t be songs like these anymore,” Dylan tell us in About the Songs (what they’re about); “factually there aren’t any now” and “nobody cares,” although the existence of this recording of “Kaatskill Serenade,” to me, suggests otherwise. And that’s a heroic thing.  

Finally, as a coda, there’s one more resonance to “Rip van Winkle” and “Kaatskill Serenade” that I find interesting to think about in regard to Dylan’s work as a whole, although it is probably unnecessary to any specific appreciation of “Kaatskill Serenade” on its own. In Irving’s story, as has been mentioned, Rip actually emerges remarkably unscathed, in his own appreciation and understanding; his own sense of loss, after the initial discomposure, is minimal.  However, one huge event Rip has missed, Irving lets us know through a number of seemingly passing references and allusions, is nothing less than the birth of the new nation — the United States — which Irving was consciously one of those striving to create a new national literature for. As such, he surely intended the careful reader to take note; that reader can’t avoid recognizing that the years of Rip’s sleep are more or less (it is never made specific) from 1756 to 1776, during which England and France first fought a great war against one another to determine, they thought, the future of colonial North America, followed, of course, by the successful rebellion of the 13 colonies against their British masters and the establishment of the new American nation. So what Irving presents is a United States, already, literally at the moment of its inception, haunted by the ghosts of its first discoverers, explorers, and settlers, a theme whose ramifications have preoccupied American artists, some of them in song, some not, Dylan certainly among them, ever since.

THis article written by Sean Dolan. Copyright 2010 .

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4 Responses to “Kaatskill Serenade – Bob Dylan Bootleg of a David Bromberg Song”

  1. Great insights about a great song and performance of it

  2. It is indeed an achingly beautiful performance. You really bring out the nuances of the song and performance here. Thank you.

  3. In the late 90’s I was fortunate enough to see David at the Tarrytown Music hall, in Tarrytown NY (David’s home town). He was a “special guest” at WHite Cloud Productioins 20th anniversary concert. As an encore, he performed Kaatskill Serenade. Mid-way through the song .. he forgot the words, so as he continued to softly play the melody .. he told the story of how he came to write the song. He said everyone picks up on the Rip Van Winkle reference .. but that the song was actually about coming home after being on the road for a concert tour. He saw changes happening to Tarrytown … (one town up from Irvington … named after Washington Irving… and one town down from North Tarrytown, now known was Sleepy Hollow). He said he hoped Tarrytown would not succumb to tourist as Nyack (across the Hudson) had. He said he could have written about coming home to his girlfriend like everyone else does .. but instead decided to write about the village he loved. After relaying this story, he finished singing the song.

    Kaatskill Serenade was, and continues to be my favorite song…

  4. […] Around, never officially released in MP3 form. You can find the complete story of this recording at the Nightly Song blog (“Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight”). The clever proprietor of the Haiku […]


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