The Ballad Of Bobby And Albert

November 30, 2007

The Ballad Of Bobby And Albert

by

R.E. Prindle

     For some reason the notion has grown that Folk music erupted in 1958 with the Kingston Trio’s version of Tom Dooley.  I don’t understand this.  We sang Folk and Old Timey all the way through grade school. Grade school ended for me in 1950.  Folk music was always a conscious part of my life.  I grew so tired of singing Go Tell Aunt Rhody and She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain that I shouted for joy upon hearing The Weaver’s sing On Top Of Old Smokey and Goodnight Irene.

     That was in the days of ‘Your Hit Parade’.  That show was a key program before TV wiped programmed radio off the Networks.  They thought radio was dead.  Didn’t think anyone would listen to music twenty-four hours a day.  We not only did that but we listened to the same four songs over and over in fifteen minute segments.  They called it Top Forty but I remember it more like the Top Four.  When one song wore out they plugged in another one and kept going.  Of course that was only temporary; things evolved fast.

     Folk and Folk related music was a strong stream all through the fifties.  Burl Ives was the rage for a while but you can only get so far on Jimmie Crack Corn And I Don’t Care and The Blue Tail Fly. Tennessee Ernie Ford and his Sixteen Tons was as close as you could get to Folk without actually stepping over the line.  Harry Belafonte occupied the mid-fifties as a Folksinger, academic quality, with his stupid Mark Twain.  In a more pop vein Mitch Miller churned out stuff like She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and The Bowery Grenadiers.  I didn’t care for it at the time but his sing along stuff is pretty good.

     Who can forget the greatest of them all with his fabulous hit tune The Rock Island Line in 1955.  The Great

The Great Lonnie Donegan

The Great Lonnie Donegan

Lonnie Donegan.  The song was played once every fifteen minutes around the clock on every station for a couple of weeks.  I once artfully shifted stations so that I got to hear the song seven times in a row.  Lonnie Donegan could sing circles around the entire Greenwich Village crowd including any number of Dylans.  He was very successful in combining a listenable approach to a trad style.  All the trad stuff done trad style was OK for the enthusiasts but had no commercial potential.  None of the Greenwich Village crowd had a future except Dylan.  Even the best of them, Fred Neil, fell flat.

     Fred Hellerman of the Weavers was musical advisor to the Kingstons who merely continued the Weavers’ tradition.  The music that Bob Dylan tuned into in 1959 had been an established fact for ten years or better.  His future manager Albert Grossman had established the premier folk venue, The Gate Of Horn in Chicago the year before while helping to establish the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 

     The trad folk types were running the Village by the time Dylan got there.  Some people liked the traditional style, they usually smoked pipes.  I can handle it but I don’t like those precious antiquarian stylists; I much prefer the pop styles of the Kingstons and the Chad Mitchell Trio.  Did you ever listen to Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders?  Pozo Seco Singers?

     It didn’t take Dylan long to understand that the way to success was through the pop style rather than the trad.  Thus Dylan as a folk act can be classed with the Kingstons, the Mitchell Trio and The New Christy Minstrels.

     His muse, however, spoke with a purer voice; the muse belonged to him, he said, or at least she shacked with him for a couple years before moving on.  As talented as Dylan was in those years he did not make it alone.  As he said, he wanted to sing to people on his own wavelength.  That was a small audience.

     While he was shifting the dial to the high numbers at the right hand side of the band he passed through the broad band.  In order to get to his own audience he had to appeal to a broader cross section; so he wrote stuff like Blowin’ In The Wind.

     As someone who was there at the time I had to roll my eyes at the song’s obviousness while Bob’s vocals drove me up the wall.  The sales figures for the first three or four albums bear me out.

     So how did Bob get from there to superstar?  Two words- Albert Grossman.  This article might be subtitled:  The Genius And The Promoter.  For that brief one or two year period Bob turned out generalized songs that caught the spirit of the g-g-generation.  It is questionable how far the songs would have gone had not the promotional genius of Albert Grossman seized the main chance.

     Grossman would be as fascinating a study as Bobby.  While Dylan has gotten all the credit his early career was in fact a fifty-fifty partnership with Albert.

     Bob had no business sense, still doesn’t; nor should any artist be expected to.  Everyone would have

The Manager

The Manager

stolen him blind.  It’s the music business.  The performers about him either professed to reject financial success because they couldn’t find the handle or may have been so purist that they actually despised the money.  Sorta hard to believe but that’s the way they talked.

     Now, Albert not only saw the financial potential of the caterwauling Dylan but more importantly he foresaw that phonographs records would be the medium of expression for the entire generation.  Records were how the generation would communicate.  Rather than looking back at what the recording industry had been he looked foward to what it would be.

     Noting the song writing potential of the 1962-63 Dylan he determined to make Bob the keystone of his grab for the golden ring.  He succeeded in capturing Bob.  He had his keystone but he lacked the supports.  He’d already thought that out working at it from the time he founded the Gate of Horn.  Having gotten himself a fecund folk style songwriter he now needed a sweet singing Top 40 folk style group a la the Kingston Trio.  The latter was perhaps the easiest part of the equation.

     Secure in his source of material Albert organized the commercial sounding folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary, three former purists who opted for the cash.  Packaging a sound for his group was relatively easy.  Taking the songs of his keystone he had them set to pretty three part harmonies.  Presto!  Albert had dumped the harsh cacophony of Dylan and the songs shone.

     Parts one and two of his plan were complete.  He had partnered himself with Dylan and he owned Peter, Paul and Mary.  The rest fell into place.  The public was entranced by the songs of Bob Dylan; now they wanted to know who the writer was.  Essentially the singer-songwriter was called into existence by demand.  Albert put his publicity act in motion.  It is doubtful that he knew how Dylan would respond but Dylan’s mysterioso act was perfect for the times while being executed to perfection.  Albert’s keystone captured the imagination of the world.

     As a genius promoter Albert understood his contribution to the equation.  Albert engineered Bobby’s success while with an artist’s ego Dylan totally underestimated Albert’s contribution.  Nevertheless Albert Grossman wanted his fair share which he calculated as much higher than the established ten percent for perfunctuory management while probably going over the line of fair which a promoter’s ego will.

     The structure of the contemporary music business was in its formative stages.  Albert was a presage of the future.  He formed groups with an identity in which he took only fifty percent, but the groups were his creation he was entitled to it.  Later the artists would simply be put on salary.  By the end of the century when the music industry had evolved, his successors concceived a group concept from start to finish providing concept and songs while merely hiring some musical working stiffs, probably not all that musical, just stiffs.  The performers were interchangeable like members of a sports team.  Heck they didn’t even play or sing they just danced to records.  It didn’t matter whether one or more or the whole group was replaced.  The performers had no talent merely acrobatic skills.  Promotion had evolved since Albert.

Bob and Albert Out On Highway 61

Bob and Albert Out On Highway 61

     Albert understood the artistic ego but too well.  Two colossal ambitions came into collision.

     One of the first things Albert did when he captured Bobby was to buy back the publishing from M. Witmark.  He then set up a new publishing company, Dwarf Music, in which he gave himself a fifty percent interest.  At first glance fifty percent looks like he really took advantage of Bobby.

     Certainly he was underhanded.  Remember, this is only the record business and Albert was relatively honest.  He never explained himself to Bobby.  He did go to lengths to conceal the fifty-fifty split from Dylan.  Albert Grossman was after all a promoter.  The record industry itself will never get high marks for probity.  The equation for theft is when one group controls the money and the other group provides the product.

     The question here is not whether Albert stole from Bobby in the sense of juggling the accounting, you can be sure Albert took advantage of his position, but whether he cheated Bobby by taking a fifty percent interest in Dwarf is open to qestion.

     I don’t think so.

     It is hard to believe that Bob Dylan would have amounted to much if Albert Grossman hadn’t been a promotional genius who recognized the potential which no one else, in fact, could see.

     Of course, today, long after the fact, Dylan’s genius seems to have ensured success.  At the time that genius wasn’t quite so obvious, indeed, I’m not so sure it ever existed.

     I wasn’t Johnny on the Spot when it came to recognizing Dylan’s talent.  I didn’t hear of him until 1964 when my brother-in-law played the first couple records for me.  All I could hear was a guy thwacking away noisily on guitar punctuating his horrid screeching with cacophonous bursts on an harmonica.  It might as well have been an air raid.

     I was thoroughly repelled.  I wouldn’t have listened to Dylan again but my brother-in-law who had a curious ability to scent out the next big thing insisted I listen to what he was saying.  ‘The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.’  To be sure.  Well, I’m from the midwest too.  I recognized the catch phrases; Dylan uses a lot of midwest catch phrases.  I still wasn’t impressed.

     To me Dylan sounded illiterate.  I ask you, what does ‘How many times can a man look up until he sees the sky?’  mean?  What does ‘How many seas must a white duck cross before it can sleep in the sand?’ mean?  Is there such a thing as a migrating white duck and do they ever sleep in the sand?  Am I supposed to let my heart bleed for white ducks who can’t sleep in the sand tonight?  The anwer to those questions, my friend, aren’t blowing in the wind.

     The guy just said whatever came into his head.  After his mind broke in 1966 and his muse left him he came up with ‘Shut the light, Shut the shade, you don’t have to be afraid.’  I mean, shade and fraid do rhyme.  I had problems understanding where the talent was.

     Protest singer?  What’s that to me?  I never did march anyway.

     If you listen to the 1963 Newport Folk Festival album Dylan’s singing of Blowin’ In The Wind is sandwiched between Joan Baez and the Freedom Singers.  Both back Bobby with a religious fervor the song doesn’t bear before launching into an even more religious shouting of We Shall Overcome…Someday.

     Masters of War?   You’ve got to be kidding?  This is a really puerile song.  Dylan just said what no one else wanted to put into words, although once said all those Sing Out types seemed to love it.  But, does anyone really believe that wars are promoted by a bunch of professional warriors sitting in a room trying to come up with ideas?  Before Bush I mean.  Is that a valid explanation of how politics work?  What happened to Bobby’s notions of ‘fixtures and forces.’

     I really couldn’t go with stuff like this.

     Impressed more by my brother-in-law’s unerring ability to spot the next big thing than Bobby I went out and bought the records but I didn’t listen to them although I was increasingly impressed by the number of cover versions that were appearing.  Albert Grossman was doing that work, not Bobby.

      And then Bringing It All Back Home with its vicious sounding title tuned into my wavelength down around 1600.  I was one of those confused, accused, misused, abused, strung out ones and worse.  I placed myself in the accused, abused and misused categories; A.J. Weberman obviously placed himself with the strung out ones and worse sorting through garbage cans.  But, here we have the spectrum of Bobby’s wavelength.

     It just keeps right on a hurtin’.

     By the time of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde  Bobby was like strong drink to me.  I became a bobaholic as he backed deeper and deeper into the inner recesses of his mind where a different logic prevailed in an attempt to narrow his audience as much as possible.  Strangely the more he found his own audience the greater his reputation grew.

     Even though I became absorbed in Bob Dylan’s ‘genius’ I always remembered those lovely cover versions of his early songs.  Don’t you think those Byrds’ covers are too beautiful?  I asked myself would I have stuck with Bobby if it hadn’t been for those.  I can’t say, but they homogenized Bobby’s quirky personality into a palatable product.  When you couldn’t handle Bobby’s Mr. Tambourine Man you could switch to that of the Byrds.

     Those cover versions Albert obtained are what made Bob Dylan successful.

     Bob wrote them but he had nothing to do with either their placement or production.  Bobby’s self appointed ‘partner’ Albert did.

     First he created Peter, Paul and Mary.  Grossman’s group was the key to Bob’s success.  It must be credited

Albert Grossman's Group

Albert Grossman's Group

to Grossman that he seized the moment.  This was his one chance for success and he caught the Golden Ring as it came around.  The rest of Grossman’s career was trying to replicate this golden moment and that he could not do although he did have a ‘critical’ success in establishing Bearsville Records.  The label turned out some nice stuff including the very lovely catalog of Jesse Winchester.

     However Grossman’s success was based on PP&M.   Albert cleverly recognized the quasi-religious spirt of the times.  While the catchword at the time was ‘God Is Dead’ Albert chose to name his group after three Christian saints.  This was mildly off-putting to those of us of the time.  Grossman, himself a Jew, had his private joke as these three ‘Christian’ saints were all Jews.

     His group started out singing stupid quasi-religious songs like If I Had A Hammer and This Land Is Your Land.  Guthrie Stuff.  Grossman was actually mired in the tastes of the fifties.  This material in itself was off-putting, even though popular, as being too overtly political.  PP&M really caught fire when Bobby, Albert’s ace in the hole, came up with Blowin’ In The Wind.  The song was still quasi-religious in tone but cleaner and more modern sounding while being, from my point of view, completely apolitical.

  

Jesse At The Time

Jesse At The Time

   After a couple successful covers by PP&M the Byrds came in with really stunning contemporary versions of Bobby’s songs.  Within a year or two of that whole albums were issued trying to cash in on Bobby as a songwriter.  Barry McGuire ex of the New Christy Minstrels for Chrissakes.  Even that embarrassing Sinatra clone, Trini Lopez.

     So Albert had turned Bobby’s catalog gold.  Not a trick to be despised.

     Bobby’s star rose as his reputation as a songwriter rose.

He's On His Way

He's On His Way

     Albert pushed the envelope to secure as large a portion of the revenues for himself and Bobby as he could.  Columbia had conned Dylan into a disadvantageous  contract so Albert forced a change.  He secured twenty-five percent of the revenues from Bobby’s records for himself which was far in advance of practice.  However Albert had been right.  Pop album sales which had been miniscule in 1960 burgeoned into a mult-billion dollar segment by the end of the decade.  Albert had positioned Bobby to benefit from this huge market.

     Albert had bullied Columbia Records, Bobby’s label, into giving him producers who would make the most of his talents.  His unusual terroristic tactics threw the fear of god into Columbia’s executives.  If Bobby hadn’t signed a new contract, a fairly generous contract, behind Albert’s back Albert probably would have secured an even richer contract.  Remember Albert had the incentive of twenty-five percent of Dylan’s record revenues.

     One must accept the fact that Albert Grossman managed Bob Dylan’s career to perfection.  One must accept the fact tht Dylan would have been worth much less financially, perhaps, worthless without the aid and support of Albert Grossman.

     But then, Bob discovered that Albert had, and this is improtant, given himself fifty percent of Dwarf Music not only without telling Bobby but actively preventing his knowing.

     Bobby saw only his own genius while ignoring Albert’s.  Without thinking it out he chose to feel betrayed.  Albert traded on Bobby’s trust but I do not believe Albert betrayed him.  I think Albert was the best friend Bobby ever had.

     I believe that Albert was entitled to fifty percent of Bobby’s earnings in perpetuity.  I’d have to say that Bobby played the churl in not recognizing Albert’s contribution to his success.

     Still, Bobby is the artist, Bob Dylan, while Albert is only the promoter, Albert Grossman.  Which is the tail and which is the dog?  Did you ever see a dog run round and round chasing its tail?    

 

I Ate The Whole Thing

I Ate The Whole Thing

                                                            

                                                                            The End.

14 Responses to “The Ballad Of Bobby And Albert”

  1. Warren Peace Says:

    ” I ask you, what does ‘How many times can a man look up until he sees the sky?’ mean? What does ‘How many seas must a white duck cross before it can sleep in the sand?’”

    Really? Well, the first line is about how we often fail to recognize the obvious, even when it’s right in front (or above) us. In the second, the duck is “white” in the sense of “righteous.” Despite this righteousness, it still has to cross a seemingly endless distance, which Dylan implies is unfair. As for the actual sleeping habits ducks, I must admit I never found it to be important. Exceedingly literal thinkers have always had a problem with Dylan.

    In turn, I would ask you, WHAT does “And then Bringing It All Back Home with its vicious sounding title tuned into my wavelength down around 1600” mean? The record’s name refers to bringing rock music back to it’s origins (America)… do you consider that to be a curse against the British!? Bob liked the Beatles!

    A lot of good points on Grossman. I have to think, though, if it were up to the manager, would Dylan have ever “gone electric” (and secured the greatest success of his career)? Flipping the bird to your folkie fanbase doesn’t seem like good business.

  2. Stan Denski Says:

    Dylan generates enough articles about his life and his music to fill a library wing. It’s become rather rare to find something that explores a less familiar direction. After reading this I think I’d like to read an entire book about Albert. Excellent article, thanks.

  3. John Stillar Says:

    Dylan’s lyric is as follows:

    Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white DOVE sail
    Before she sleeps in the sand?

    Going on about “ducks”, white or otherwise, reveals extra layers of “illiteracy.”

  4. Shawn Says:

    Read Mansion on the Hill for the stuff about Grossman..

    Other than the Grossman material why does a guy this clueless take the time to write an article about Dylan?

    Byrd’s versions of Dylan’s songs better than the original?

    Alot of this article seems to have a present day historical perspective where we already know what happened. Bob and Al didn’t know EVERYTHING. This sounds almost conspiratorial..

  5. Warren Peace Says:

    Ah yes! I thought something about that was off, and I’ve heard the song how many dozens of times? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ ’round the bend…

  6. reprindle Says:

    ‘Warren Peace’ and John Stillar:

    Literal mindedness has nothing to do with it. If a metaphor or simile is to work it must be apt. Dylan asks a bunch of rhetorical questions in this song most of which are silly.

    According to bobdylan.ocm the actual quote is ‘Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?’ I have always heard ‘duck’ even though PPM use dove. I thought they changed it to make more sense but dove doesn’t make it any better. Ducks at least migrate and so they must at least cross a sea. Ducks migrate North to South and vice versa so in the Americas they must cross the Caribbean while in Europe the Mediterranean. It doesn’t seem necessary for Asian ducks to cross any seas at all.

    In the printed version Dylan doesn’t say cross he says sail. Doves don’t migrate so one has to ask why do they ‘sail’ the seas endlessly? Neither ducks nor doves ‘sail’, they fly. If you’ve ever watched migrating ducks flying it looks like hard work. Keeping five or six pounds of duck in the sky isn’t easy.

    So, in the attmpt to make sense of the line what can Dyan be thinking of? Bob was a C&W aficionado so he must have been familiar with the wonderful Ferlin Husky song: ‘On the wings of a snow white dove, God sends down his pure sweet love…’ He was also familiar with the Biblical story of Noah in which that intrepid sailor sends a dove in search of dry land. The dove returns without sighting land. So, perhaps how many times (seas) does she have to search before she finds a strip of exposed sand on which to sleep? No matter how you cut it, ducks, doves, they don’t sail seas endlessly and neither one sleeps in the sand. So, the line is just well sounding nonsense.

    Another amazing line is ‘Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?’ The answer is never because it is impossible for too many people to die. Everyone ever born must die and there is nothing anyone can do about it so why worry about it?

    Bob asked ‘how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re for ever banned?’ Another dumb question that Bob cryptically answers. His answer is that it is blowing in the wind. That’s safe because no one is ever going to hear it or see it. That’s what blowin’ in the wind means. Go chase yourself, in other words.

    ‘How many years can a mountain exist before it’s washed to the sea?’ This is not a rhetorical question; there is a definite scientific calculation that can answer that question so it misses the point and the answer isn’t blowin’ in the wind.

    Bob should have thought his song out. Nice melody though.

    Anyway duck or dove doesn’t matter.

    Now, Warren Peace, (War and Peace) what you say Dylan meant is true and fairly obvious but not demonstrated from the lyrics.

    Quote:
    In turn I would ask WHAT does ‘And then Bringing It All Back Home with its vicious sounding title tuned into my wavelength down around 1600’ mean?
    Unquote.

    Your explanation of the title’s meaning has plausibility and can be so construed. But Dylan said that his songs were intended for a minority of people who experienced life as he had. (Tuned to his wavelength.) So, where is Home? Home is back to the people who injured his feelings and that was back home in Hibbing. So he is in essence saying Take This as he did in another song ‘Nothing was delivered and I tell this truth to you.. now, you must provide some answers…etc.

    The attitude, of course, aroused an answering response in my breast as I felt I had the same grievances in my home town. 1600 refers to the AM radio band that begins at sixty, if I remember right, on the left hand side of the dial and descends to 1600 on the right. The most desirable bands are in the middle where they are fairly broad and easy to tune in. They were usually middle of the road stations. The bands around 1600 were narrow and had to be tuned precisely, which wasn’t easy, and they still drifted away. The rebels with an agenda were down there. So Dylan’s designated audience was a fairly narrow one- the abused, misused etc.

    As far as Grossman’s objection to the electricity, perhaps, but he couldn’t control Bob on that score. At the same time the evolution was into electric folk rock so the chance would have to be taken. Grossman kept PPM pure folk until it was too late so that when they did try to transit to rock it couldn’t be done. His band was obsolete.

    As has been pointed out Bob already had Like A Rolling Stone on the charts at the time while Paul Butterfield and his electric blues band was on the bill. The direction was quite clear while Like A Rolling Stone made it clear that Bob would make the transition. If Grossman mainly considered Bob a songwriter that wouldn’t have made much of a difference to him if he didn’t.

    I don’t think it probable that Grossman fully realized how important Bob would get as a performer or how long he would last. Presley had broken the ground for super stardom while the Beatles were astounding the world but Dylan sort of led the way for the ‘serious’ acts that followed along behind him. On the other hand the Dead and the Airplane were leading into it with the Acid tests and SF scene in ’64 and ’65. They would have done that anyway although Dylan may have prepared the ground for their easier acceptance. But probably not. SF was happening. The transition from the Beau Brummels to the Charlatans to the Airplane was happening anyway. The San Francisco scene was pretty much an independent occurrence.

    Dylan did become the leader and spokesman for the generation whether he wanted to or not.

  7. reprindle Says:

    Shawn: I must have inadvertantly clicked your email off. Sorry. I’ve read Mansion On The Hill, have the book. I’ll check into it again. Thanks for the tip.

    A guy so clueless as myself writes on Dylan because he doesn’t consider himself clueless.

    Perhaps more later when I check the email to make sure of what you said.

  8. reprindle Says:

    Warren: My stuff seems out of sequence here. I presume your second comment refers to my answer even though it is placed in front of mine. They both have the same time so I suppose you are one quick and ready fellow.

    Another good parody was done by Bob’s fellow folk singers: The answer my friend is blowin’ out your end.

    For me the song is difficult to follow.

  9. reprindle Says:

    Shawn: Your email was also out of sequence so I didn’t notice it was posted.

    Yeah, the Byrd’s versions are a heck of a lot better than the originals. Anytime.

    ‘Bob and Al didn’t know everything.’ I understand your objection and you’re right. They had to feeling their way but they did make the right decisions so there direction was fine.

    However at the time there was no question in our minds that Bob was Bob and was the ‘spokesman’ for his generation. He seemed at the time to know the answers and was accepted as a virtual oracle.

    That he couldn’t sustain the role wasn’t the point. As I say elsewhere when he broke after Blonde On Blonde many of us deserted.

    Besides everything is a conspiracy. I thought you knew that.

  10. Shawn Says:

    Although I’m not certain where you are going with the “after Blonde on Blonde..deserted” comment, I will say my dad quit Dylan after that album (except for the GH’s packages). But dad was becoming more adult-like (ahem), working more, and had been with Dylan since Freewheelin’. Just like him, my dad moved on to country, but didn’t pick up on the fact that Dylan had as well. I don’t remember making a statement about Dylan’s sustainability.

    The Byrd’s thing is just not deep enough to be “better than the original.” Of course, it is all personal taste, but that won’t matter to the future. Dylan’s sound, meaning vocal and guitar, are straight out of the American myth and some of its reality.

    Dylan, Guthrie, The Carter Family are representative of some kind of American Sound of the 20th century. When the final history is written of pop culture and/or the history of our time, Dylan will be mentioned by the second page. Perhaps the first if they quote him at the beginning of the book.

    I see I didn’t have my full email address entered.

  11. Warren Peace Says:

    Well, The Birds version is certainly smoother, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. There’s a subtle desperation in the original that’s lost in the remake… I think they viewed in primarily as a “pot song” and sang it as such.

    You dispute the idea that you’re coming at the song too literally, and then proceed to heap even MORE literalness upon it! The world of “definite scientific calculation” that you’re imposing on it is not a world that Dylan’s ever been a part of. The actual habits of natural ducks is irrelevant since the song’s not about them. You imply that I’m presumptuous, but you’re imposing a few assumptions yourself: why does migration have to come into it at all? “Sleep” could be “die,” maybe the [winged, feathery creature] isn’t flying because it’s on the edge of death… heading towards a (“sand”y) shore. All that is in the song and it isn’t.

    ” ‘Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?’”

    Your answer is a valid one, but not the only. “He” in this instance represents those Masters of War who have cast human life so callously into the dirt. When will it be enough? The likely answer, here too, is “never.”

    “‘how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re for ever banned?’”

    See above… and why is your conclusion a bad one for the song to make? We’ll be flying those cannon balls until there’s no one left to toss them.

    “‘How many years can a mountain exist before it’s washed to the sea?’ This is not a rhetorical question; there is a definite scientific calculation that can…”

    Literal, literal, literal! “How many years can a country/way of thought/institution stand before it’s cast off?” That’s what he’s asking. How fast does Rome burn? These questions aren’t rhetorical so much as unknowable.

    Before I wrap this up, I do agree that Grossman’s place in Bob’s history is grossly misrepresented. In Bob’s defense, though, it should be said that he did it all again more than forty years later when he sold the most records for a… gentleman of a certain age (old guy). He wasn’t starting out from zero, but it’s something.

    I probably shouldn’t tell you about the “curfew gull” in “Gates of Eden” — that song would probably kill you!

  12. reprindle Says:

    Shawn: I don’t know how old you are but from your age viewpoint yu’re looking at Dylan more from a historical viewpoint. He’s always been around to your memory.

    For your father and I he appeared on the scene fresh. The ’64-’66 period, only, created an emotional response in your father and I. Without those three records Dylan is just another performer. His whole career depends on them. After Blonde On Blonde that rapport, that connection was destroyed by John Wesley Harding. Whatever new issues Dylan was introducing held no interest for me and I presume for your father.

    As to Dylan and country. Dylan was raised on C&W as was I. We were both influenced by the same songs from the 40s and 50s. Probably your dad was too as he went back to or moved on to country as you say.

    As such neither Dylan nor I, possibly your father, needed any Harry Smith Anthology to introduce us to a few old Hillbilly tunes. the Carters were mainstream country as was Roy Acuff and a host of others. All those old songs weren’t that hard to find on the radio. Wheeling, West Virginia, WCKY, Cincinatti, Ohio, Waterloo, Iowa, The Grand Old Opry, Louisiana Hayride, Del Rio, Texas were very easy to pick up on the radio and a cornucopia of the new, old and unusual. Dylan had hours and hours of time during those long winter nights to listen in. All the current C&W artists visited Hibbing so as Dylan said: The country music station plays soft; there’s nothing, really nothing, to turn off.

    Dylan’s current Slim Whitman, Ernest Tubb, etc. persona reflects this country heritage.

    How does he compare to the Country greats? Not all that well. Definitely of the epigoni.

    Of course the difference between the Byrds and Dylan is a matter of taste but also of musicality. Have you ever heard the Sebastian Cabot record where he does a theatrical reading of Dylan songs? It gets stranger and stranger.

    Is Dylan going to hold up that well when his never ending tour comes to a close? I don’t know but I don’t think so. Of course the Faithful may gather down by the river and then who knows? A new religion?

  13. Warren Peace Says:

    And I’m a guy who thinks Dylan’s best work came POST 1968! I love the older tunes but there’s a wealth of material for anyone who’s willing to put the 60’s behind them… “Wedding Song”, “Dirge”, “Sara”, “You’re A Big Girl Now”, “Where Are You Tonight?”, “Shot of Love”, “I and I”, “Blind Willie McTell”, “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” … I could go on. Oh man, could I ever.

    “Nashville Skyline” is one of the best entries in that sub-genre of country. People say that Dylan should’ve been doing something better than working in that style (and they may be right), but still. That element has always been in Dylan’s recordings, just pushed back from time to time.

    I don’t know how anybody can say that Dylan’s place in music history will recede after he’s no longer playing. You can argue that the place is undeserved, but saying it won’t be there is just ignoring reality. They’ll be releasing “The Bootleg Series” long after everyone here is dead.

  14. reprindle Says:

    Well, Warren, I’m not dogmatic about Dylan’s possible place. I just don’t see the substance in his work to put him there. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen. When you say I’m stuck in the sixties as regards Dylan’s work I suppose that is true but the lyrics just aren’t that strong after his first productive period and the musical background is commonplace.

    That Dylan was musically bankrupt is clear from his association with Tom Petty and sometime association with the Grateful Dead. His long depression in the eighties that he records in his memoir shows him destitute of ideas.

    Such a stale period is to be expected from time to time in anybody’s work. Productive periods are nearly always followed by periods of exhaustion and recuperation. That’s the way I see it.

    If the period from the seventies on is satisfying to you I don’t want to attack the stuff and, quite truthfully, I don’t think it’s worth the energy. If you think it’s great that’s OK with me. I haven’t listened to it so any comments I have to make on Dylan’s later career won’t be based on the songs.

    While I’m here, if you want to read some interesting interpretation’s on Dylan you might visit my posts Conversations With Robin and Lipstick Traces Part IX. A woman going by RM has some very interesting interpretations of Dylan and his songs. She’s as enthusiatic as you on the later stuff too. Drop on by and see if you want to add a thought or two. Wonderful stuff. You’re welcome to join in if you want to.

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