I’m all dressed up and it’s been an hour-and-a-half behind these crummy turkeys. I do something that even to this day, I’m sorry for doing. I’m driving right behind this mass of turkeys who are walking along with that funny looks on their faces, their eyeballs spinning, and their bills going, gwaglewaglewagl. Right up behind them I’m going, and I put my hand on the horn and go WHAAAAAAAAAAAA! I’ll tell you, have you ever hollered “FIRE” in the middle of the Saturday night feature down at the Bijou? These turkeys blew their corks! The air is full of turkeys! Flapping their wings and landing on the top of the Ford, they’re landing on my hood, gwaglewaglewagle gwaglewaglewagle! It’s a gigantic rain of turkeys.
This guy’s running around. He’s got his lantern and he’s hollering and if you ever heard a farmer swear—they know languages that stevedores don’t know!
I sit there. Oh, my god, these turkeys! What am I going to do? The turkeys won’t move now. They’re sitting on the fenders, they’re sitting on the running boards, there’s one turkey on the back seat crying.
The guy looks in my car window. “Well, alright, wise guy. Them turkeys, when they gets scared, they just won’t move. We’re gonna sit here all night until them turkeys decide they’ll start movin’ again. Now look what ya done did!”
I say, “I was trying to turn around and my elbow hit the horn.”
“Don’t give me none a that!”
More talking turkey to come.
In Bob Dylan’s Hands
• • • • • • • • •
A HARD RAIN—BOB DYLAN, BRYAN FERRY
I am a Bob Dylan enthusiast—especially of his early work such as “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Tambourine Man,” “Positively 4th Street.” I seldom encounter a cover of his work that I can tolerate. (Yes to some Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix.) So hearing Brian Ferry do “A Hard Rain,” I’m at war with myself in a knock-down-drag-out-dispute. Ambivalent. Confused. Conflicted.
I acknowledge that Dylan has been a play-actor in his own publicity and performance as the innocent folksy traveler, the vagabond. (Early in his professional career he had Pete Seeger and many others believing in his bogus biography.) But considering the straightforward nature of this situation, I believe his statements regarding his serious creative works as related to his artistic forebears. I do believe he meant what he created at that period in his career in such songs as “Blowin’ in the Wind.” At about that time he was living with Suze Rotolo, who, with her family, were said to be far-leftwing activists, and the country was engaged in a heartfelt folksong revival. He believed it and was preaching to the choir. He also saw which way the wind was blowin.’
In all his public performances I’ve seen in person and in videos, he presents no dancing and prancing and flashy floodlights—no such visual theatrics—he stands there, expresses his beliefs, and performs his creations like an old time folksinger. (The backdrop for the early video of him here is a corny setting that I’d like to blame on the TV production dept.) I find these Dylan songs poetic and filled with his own surrealistic version of truth—kind of like ancient epics.
In Dylan’s book, Chronicles—Volume One, he writes:
“Woody’s songs were having that big an effect on me, [In the late 1950s, early 60s] an influence on every move I made, what I ate and how I dressed, who I wanted to know…. [Lord] Buckley was the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels. No sulking Beat poet, he was a raging storyteller who did riffs on all kinds of things from supermarkets to bombs to crucifixion…He had a magical way of speaking.
For me, a couple of Dylan’s songs, such as “A Hard Rain,” have the classic purity and rightness of The Lord’s Prayer—you wouldn’t go changing words or doing pop-elaborations on it (except maybe if you were Lord Buckley). It has the straightforward, simple, classic, solemn power, the rightness of a traditional folk song. In Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech he wrote in part:
I wanted to know all about it [traditional folk] and play that kind of music….
I hadn’t left home yet, but I couldn’t wait to. I wanted to learn this music and meet the people who played it. Eventually, I did leave, and I did learn to play those songs. They were different than the radio songs that I’d been listening to all along. They were more vibrant and truthful to life….
I had all the vernacular down. I knew the rhetoric. [America’s traditional folk song content.] None of it went over my head – the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries – and I knew all the deserted roads that it traveled on, too. I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day. When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it….
Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days….
What is it that Bryan Ferry has done, and why? In the video, one sees an elegant stage performance, a short, punchy entertainment, that hasn’t, for me, a shred of appreciation/homage for the original. It demeans the genre in which the song was created–a simple, poetic folk-telling of universal truths–reinterpreted as an entertaining, glitzy stage production, getting maximum effect from a powerful surface without any social/philosophical base. The performance seems a put-down. It’s taken the raw moral and poetic meaning, the 1960s associations and contentions, stripped them bare to fleshless, soulless bones, and reformed the skeleton with newly energized, living flesh and flash. Should we expect some respect from a cover version of a song, a poem, a prayer, an anthem?
See upcoming ARTSY for my continuing conflicts regarding Ferry’s “Hard Rain.”