Friday, February 14, 2014

Songs Dylan wrote, but didn't release (until much later)

I played a John Mellencamp CD today while I was in the car--Rough Harvest--and found myself singing along to "Farewell Angelina," one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs.  Written (or, at least, copyrighted) in 1965, he apparently didn't have room for it on Bringing It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited (both 1965) or Blonde on Blonde (1966).  It first appears on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 - 3 (1991).  Joan Baez recorded a version for her 1965 album, for which it was the title (and opening) track, which was where I first heard it.  (Lots of YouTube versions are available at this time.)

It's a beautiful--but very strange--song  As with many of Dylan's songs, I'm not sure I understand it, and I'm not sure I need to.

Farewell Angelina
The bells of the crown
Are being stolen by bandits
I must follow the sound
The triangle tingles
And the trumpets play slow
Farewell Angelina
The sky is on fire
And I must go

It's not exactly clear what the relationship between Angelina and the singer is, or why he has to follow or why the sky is on fire.  But apparently he's trying to persuade her not to be angry about it:

There’s no need for anger
There’s no need for blame
There’s nothing to prove
Ev’rything’s still the same
Just a table standing empty
By the edge of the sea
Farewell Angelina
The sky is trembling
And I must leave

Then things get even stranger (although I always thought this verse is a reference to Alice in Wonderland):

The jacks and the queens
Have forsaked the courtyard
Fifty-two gypsies
Now file past the guards
In the space where the deuce
And the ace once ran wild
Farewell Angelina
The sky is folding
I’ll see you in a while

 The next two verses don't make things any clearer, either:

See the cross-eyed pirates sitting
Perched in the sun
Shooting tin cans
With a sawed-off shotgun
And the neighbors they clap
And they cheer with each blast
Farewell Angelina
The sky’s changing color
And I must leave fast 

King Kong, little elves
On the rooftops they dance
Valentino-type tangos
While the makeup man’s hands
Shut the eyes of the dead
Not to embarrass anyone
Farewell Angelina
The sky is embarrassed
And I must be gone

And then we come to the end...

The machine guns are roaring
The puppets heave rocks
The fiends nail time bombs
To the hands of the clocks
Call me any name you like
I will never deny it
Farewell Angelina
The sky is erupting
I must go where it’s quiet

So the sky is the recurring image here.  It's successively "on fire," "trembling,"  "folding," "changing color," "embarrassed," and "erupting."  It's never calm or peaceful.  I think the sky must be the singer's metaphor for the state of his relationship with Angelina...which is clearly not a soothing one.  And eventually, he tells her not just that he's leaving, but where he must go, and, implicitly, why.  I think.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is it really possible to pick Springsteen's 10 best songs?

At his blog, Joe Posnanski has a poll asking people to vote for their choices for Bruce Springsteen's 10 best songs.  (Earlier, he asked for nominations, and received 203 different titles.)  He gives us a list of 27 songs:

Atlantic City
Born In the U.S.A.
Born to Run
Brilliant Disguise
Dancing in the Dark
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Glory Days
Growin’ Up
Hungry Heart
I’m On Fire
Incident on 57th Street
Land Of Hope And Dreams
No Surrender
The Promise
The Promised Land
Prove it All Night
Racing in the Street
The Rising
The River
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Spirit in the Night
Streets of Philadelphia
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
 Thunder Road

 The kicker is not just picking 10, but ranking them from 1 (the very best) to 10.

Without comment, here's my list (from #1 to #10):

Born to Run
Thunder Road
The Promised Land
Atlantic City
Brilliant Disguise
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Hungry Heart

No Surrender
The River
Spirit in the Night

Having voted, I realize that I might move "The River" up to #4.  Oh, well.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Day The Music Died

On February 3, 1957, the airplane carrying Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson), and 60+ others crashed.  No one survived.

On February 4, 1957 (my 9th birthday), we read about it in the newspapers and heard about it from our local djs.

On October 24, 1971, the album American Pie, by Don McLean was released.  The song "American Pie" is one of those songs that is somehow both a part of the time of its release and a part of the childhood of everyone around my age:

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

The entire song consists of codes for the passage of time from those deaths to the time that the singer has taken the stage.

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Bible tells you so?
Now do you believe in rock and roll
Can music save your mortal soul
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Well, I know that you're in love with him
'Cause I saw you dancin' in the gym
You both kicked off your shoes
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues

I was a lonely teenage broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died

Elvis and Don & Phil and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard...Eddie Cochran...

Now for ten years we've been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin' stone
But that's not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh, and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

And while Lenin read a book on Marx
A quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died
Bobby and Elvis again and John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter
Eight miles high and falling fast
It landed foul on the grass
The players tried for a forward pass
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast

Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

'Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

Mick and Keith and Roger McGuin and David Crosby and Chris Hillman.  And fifty thousand dead.

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

Janis.  Jimi.  Four dead in Ohio.  And John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King (or so it always seemed to me). 

This is, really, a song about deaths, actual and figurative and spiritual.

And they were singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin' "This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die"

 They were singin' bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
And singin' "This'll be the day that I die"
Good-bye to youth, to illusions.  Hello, reality.  Hello, death.