Discovering Donovan

Lori’s discovered the terrifically funny — all kinds of profane but terrifically funny — Catastrophe on Amazon, and the soundtrack has turned up more winners than one might expect. Most recently in our watching, Donovan’s Catch the Wind closes an episode. He nips the tune from Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom (and its Springsteen cover), but the song brings its own power. More on Donovan and Dylan.

‘They gave me the code for everything that’s fair game’

Bob Dylan’s speech last week is a fantastic read — fantastic for how he roots his songs, how he sees his work, how he takes aim at critics and seemingly random others, the reasons go on. The L.A. Times deserves a big thank-you for transcribing a recording of the speech. My favorite part is when Dylan talks about folk music and its repetition — truly learning musical antecedents — led him to new words and new songs.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I’d heard it just once.

If you sang “John Henry” as many times as me — “John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.”

If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written “How many roads must a man walk down?” too.

Folk hearts full of soul

My daily life has been almost all digital recently, which has been fun and worthwhile but also overwhelming and too far away from spirits of the holidays and cabin trips of just a few weeks back. So, moments that have reminded me of that kind of freedom of landscape  have been welcome. In the past week, two musical moments in particular have done the trick.

First, the preview of Marah’s coming Mountain Minstrelsy album. I’ve been excited for this album for a while — bringing old lumber-camp songs back to life — and preordered it right away. Cool, weird, sweet, likely great.

Second, AJ Lee’s cover of Dylan’s Tomorrow Is  a Long Time, via Cover Lay Down’s recent compilation of “New Artists, Old Songs.” Beautiful.

If today was not a crooked highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all

Pouring chords over the stress

Years back, what I needed to fall asleep some nights was finding the right song. Until I found that song, I was wired. But when the song turned up, my body and mind would start to relax, and that was the end of the day.

Friday night, at the end of a productive but overloaded week, I needed to find such a song and went hunting. The result? Three songs, all loud, but adding up to peacefulness. The first two came from a great New Yorker list of lost concert films now turning up on YouTube. The third was in the No Depression email. I slept deeply and woke up not thinking of my worries.

Dylan playing a rock-speed Shelter from the Storm.

The Ronettes singing Be My Baby and owning the room.

Black Joe Lewis, Come to My Party, via public radio, via No Depression.

The code it is a-changin’

I was listening to a lot of Dylan too late the other night and thinking too much about work. The combination makes one realize just how weird jobs are, in the scheme of things. So I tried to tire myself out and did a writing exercise, which was dumb and internal but kinda fun and got me to sleep.

Come gather round people, you’re all engineers
Play with the clay of the non-profiteers
Alphabet guessing games, they count time in the year
You know it’s almost now freezin’
The scrum master pleads, “Take it up and be clear”
For the code it is a-changin’

Come unresolved issues and stories begun
As you are somebody, you want something done
So that done-something can run on and on
Your pigs and your chickens need feedin’
To keep on the lights, metrics run by the ton
For the code it is a-changin’

Come all you responsive to the greater display
Don the buttons and berets of serendipity day
Penguins must die and for them must you pray
There’s always a sound you hear hummin’
The cycles they come for to take you away
For the code it is a-changin’

Who holds all the stakes and who puts in their skin
Who matters when subjects and experts begin
To confluence at ends, some fat and some thin
Your tables are soon to be meetin’
For a good Randall once is worth Randall again
And the code it is a-changin’

An old building dead, a new building born
All will be different, not a thread will be worn
You hope your editions will always be morn
Come down, your guests are arrivin’
Tiny desks round the walls and they all raise their horns
For the code it is a-changin’

Sometimes you need to see it written out

No Depression has a started a series where readers ask questions of famed musical people. Lots of pubs take questions from readers, but ND curates with greatness. This exchange with T Bone Burnett, asked about “the greatest lyric couplet of all time,” is bound to bring a smile.

In my view the best lyric couplet of all might be from this verse:

She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello” she said “You look like the silent type”
She opened up a book of poems and handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I’d take maybe:

“She opened up a book of poems and handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century”

Or the next couplet.

Then there is:

Long Tall Sally she’s built for speed
She got every thing that Uncle John need

Then he quotes lines from Cold, Cold Heart and others.

Keep the car running

Two games. First, the cover game. GloNo writes this week about Glen Campbell’s new greatest hits album. The release includes his cover of the Foo Fighters’ Times Like These, one of the few songs I really liked from last year’s Campbell cover album, and the GloNo link has the mp3. The rest of the GH is all more modern-sounding remixes of his hits, but they don’t sound off-puttingly different. I guess I’m writing about them and you’re reading about them now, so this move is obviously genius.

Meanwhile, Molly Knight blogs the Foo Fighters’ new cover of Keep the Car Running. Visit her link for a stream, or grab the mp3 and backstory at Stereogum. The Foos play it straight, which works. They don’t get credit for the originality Arcade Fire had in the creation, but it’s nice to hear the song and not think On the Dark Side for once. (Full disclosure: I love that song. ’83 Cafferty video is here and you know you have to watch it.) With Keep the Car Running, I like its excitement and peace.

I forget the other game, but it’s bound to come back. Tired. Last thing.

All of this makes up for My Chemical Romance’s cover of Desolation Row. They attack the Bob song appealingly, but they give up way too easy. Dylan does the song in 11:21. MCR now, for the Watchmen soundtrack, gives it 2:59. Of the 12 original verses, they complete three and a half. That’s disappointing. I say, if you’re gonna be 21st-century sorta-punk band worth your salt, you’ve gotta sing all 12 in those three minutes.