“John Brown” makes a fitting Memorial Day song, one to come after we sweep up from the parades and put away the speakers’ microphones, to remind of us of the deeply personal sacrifice made when our young go off to fight. And a song to make us think before asking one more soldier to pick up a weapon overseas.
Archive for the ‘Bob Dylan’ Category
Early next month, a group of lawyers will gather at Fordham Law School for a symposium on Bob Dylan and the Law. There’s a certain irony to this confab since Dylan’s so deeply wary of all institutions, especially powerful ones that wield the law. In Dylan’s songs, the legal system does not meet out justice; instead, it becomes a corrupt, often blind instrument of oppression designed to prop up the powerful and the wealthy. At the same time, a conference on Dylan and the law makes sense since it is a recurring theme in his songs ad appropriate as with each passing day corporate interests seem to gain at the expense of the individual.
And then came Neil Young, fuzzy guitar and wavering voice bringing a song that had all but stagnated into a museum piece back to life, a song that did nothing but ask questions, a song that made it possible to challenge, to dare. Standing in the darkness, he made it possible to wonder why and that song provided the common text around which 20,000 people could unite and know we were not alone. As the crowd cheered, we did so in appreciation of what the artist had just done for us. We stood in a collective sign of relief and empowerment, no longer alone, but connected in an experience that only certain art can provide.
Last February 22, Bob Dylan performed at the White House. He sang “The Times They Are a Changin’,” a perfect song to sing when invited to such an august performance. Turns out that President Obama had a good sense of humor (and history) about the event. Here’s what the President told Rolling Stone magazine about the occasion:
Girl from the North Country
Written by Bob Dylan
A Dylan staple for over 45 years and covered by others “Girl from the North Country” can first seem like nothing more than a romantic remembrance of a past love, one told with great affection and telling detail. Yet this song is not as simple as it seems; it skirts the edge of sentimentality to resonate with a potent mix of desire, loss and longing not for a past love, but for meaning. It is not an easy song, refusing to wallow in the past and refusing to deny the loss of the love and a younger self. Nor does the song take the easy way out, refusing to conclude with familiar bromides or clichéd resolves. Instead, the song ends with an uneasy sense of how our present depends upon the past.
Rock and Roll
Performed and written by the Velvet Underground.
Some songs document moments, but the best create moments. So it goes with “Rock and Roll,” the Velvet’s wall of sound coursing through us as if the band plugged not into amps, but directly to us, Moe Tucker’s drum beat becoming our pulse. The song sweeps us up and as an earlier New York author wrote, “Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth.” It’s not the idea of rock and roll; it is rock and roll.
Falling in love, a simple and powerful idea, yet those words have been so overused that they’re stripped of meaning. From the opening mariachi horns, Johnny Cash wakes us up to the meaning of falling in love, of falling into that “ring of fire.” His voice, at once tough and desperate, conveys the truth of the experience, makes us understand that “love is a burning thing.”
Falling in love is not a deliberate act, not one we can pre-plan or guide. The heart goes and we follow. It’s a helpless feeling to want someone so much. In that early love, we don’t know what will happen, we don’t k now if the other loves us back or can ever feel the way we do about them. It is less a letting go, then a falling. No rational person would make that choice, and yet we can’t help ourselves. Johnny sings in that hard voice:
Songs for Independence Day and the Fourth of July
It’s the Fourth of July and here’s a pack of songs you might want to check out. You can find the patriotic songs elsewhere and the songs perfect for your backyard BBQ abound on the web. This list includes songs that make a direct reference to the 4th of July or Independence Day or speak about an Independence Day. Some do both.
As performed by Bob Dylan, written by David Bromberg. This article is written by Sean Dolan.
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.”
Gimme Some Truth
Performed and written by John Lennon.
I took a long drive with my eldest son, Patrick, a few weeks ago and along the way, we found ourselves listening to this song and some other of what I call John Lennon’s primal scream music. The raw, angry sound caught Paddy off-guard cause he knew the Beatles music – even at age 20 with a preference for hip-hop, one can’t avoid the Beatles – but he did not know John Lennon’s solo work.
The song and others – “Working Class Hero,” “God,” “I Found Out” – certainly demand that you pay attention. Paddy laughed when I told him about Richard Nixon putting John Lennon on his Enemies List, serious stuff that seems beyond buffoonish now. Lennon crams so many words into his lines and spits them out with a venom that continues to strike a chord. While arising from a specific time and place, the conviction and sentiments remain strong enough that Vin Scelsa took to playing “Gimme Some Truth” on every show during the “Imperial Presidency” as he called George W.’s term. Folks like Travis, Sam Phillips and Pearl Jam have made more recent covers in their effort to respond to the kaleidoscope of world events.
In a funny way, the song shares some unlikely sentiments with so many Tea Baggers who vent their anger at today’s version of “uptight-short sighted- narrow minded hypocritics” and “neurotic-psychotic-pig headed politicians.” Of course, no self-respecting Tea Bagger would align him or herself with a long, haired freak like John Lennon calling Richard Nixon “tricky dick.”
Released on the Imagine album in 1971, the song had its origins back in 1969 while the Beatles recorded what became their Let it Be album. I first came across the song in the summer of 1973, summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, a time when I was ripe for change and a few musical bolts by John Lennon and Bob Dylan did the trick. Picture those reenactments of Earth’s primordial goo that lightening strikes and brings forth the first forms of life.