Mudcat Café message #1333710 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #75651   Message #1333710
Posted By: PoppaGator
20-Nov-04 - 01:08 PM
Thread Name: Dylan: Rock Legend, Maybe Folk Legend?
Subject: RE: Dylan: Rock Legend, Maybe Folk Legend?
Dang, GUEST, are you *always* on line, lurking at Mudcat, or are you just always here at the same times I am? Did you put some kinda spyware in my computers (home & work both)? Soon as I open my virtual mouth, there you are again!

I had the same cynical thought about Bob's paean to folk music in "Chronicles," but I really felt as though he could only have formulated the thoughts he expressed if he had the requisite insights, if he had actually thought those thoughts himself. In other words, questioning his sincerity on this point is kinda moot. Of course, like all of us, I'm sure he has certainly entertained opposite points of view at different times.

I'll also concede that the Beatles' songbook probably includes more different numbers that will be long remembered by a wider public, but plenty of Dylan stuff will be immortal, too.

As far as Dylan being praiseworthy only as a lyricist, not as a tunesmith: Bob speaks directly to this in "Chronicles," asking "Why then am I getting so many royalties for instrumental versions of my songs [e.g., elevator music, etc.]? True, much of his earliest folk-era stuff used "borrowed" trad melodies, but he eventually became a truly complete songwriter.

One example -- just the other evening, I was listening to the drive-time "Jazz From the Park" program on WWOZ-FM on my way home from work, when I heard a young female jazz singer doing her version of "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." Hearing that song in a new and unfamilar arrangement made me realize more than ever before what a truly remarkable piece it is! Either the lyric or the melody by itself would be impressive, and the two go together seamlessly, of course. Way more sophisticated than anything the Beatles ever produced, I'd say -- and I'm a pretty enthusiastic fan of the Beatles. This is a song where Bob pretty much beats Cole Porter at his own game; I don't think I could say that about *anyone* else.

And one minor, almost-unrelated little argument: "Only Have Eyes" was/is an outstanding composition, of course, but the original arrangement and presentation had none of the strange and mysterious quality of the Flamingos' doo-wop masterpiece. The reinterpretation was even further from the original than was the Marvell's gloriously tongue-in-cheek "Blue Moon" (which my mother, of course, considered an absolute desecration of one of her generation's lovliest ballads).

I'd argue that there's *much* more difference between the original and later "Only Have Eyes"s even than there is between Bob's original "Watchtower" and Hendrix's memorable reinterpretation. (And that's a pretty big difference.)

In all three of these cases (and many others like them, I'm sure), the song as originally written always needs to have contained the "seed" for the remake, or at least to encompass enough complexity so that a fresh approach can find a wholly new mode of presentation. But, for my money, what the Flamingos made out of a 20-25 year old pop standard was so completely original, so one-of-a-kind, that it is in some sense a completely new piece, and the originator gets credit for only a relatively minor contribution to the end result -- this particular case is something completely different from the typical "cover version."