Showing posts with label Dylan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dylan. Show all posts

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Love & Theft: Dylan, Harrison, Cave, Calloway, The Doors, Tchaikovsky, etc.


Musicians rely on each other for inspiration
(image © RwHarwood -- with thanks to
Albert Gliezes for his inspiration.
)
On May 12, 2020 NPR published an article by Tom Moon titled, "Trickster Treat: Bob Dylan's New Song Sounds Awfully Old ... And Familiar." The article describes the musical similarities between Dylan's 2020 song, "False Prophet," on the CD Rough and Rowdy Ways, and Billy "The Kid" Emerson's 1954 song, "If Lovin' Is Believing," illustrated with sound files and an analysis of how the musical structures between the songs are both alike and different.

Moon concludes:
"These specific instances might be defined as thievery only by the narrowest definition. In a fundamental sense, popular music is an ongoing conversation between the creators of the present and those who came before -- a circuit of inspiration to which successive artists contribute some kernel of truth, some new way of looking at an enduring element of human nature."

Nick Cave in his April 20, 2020 edition of The Red Hand Files, receiving a question about "originality in music," responded (in part):

"The great beauty of contemporary music, and what gives it its edge and vitality, is its devil-may-care attitude toward appropriation -- everybody is grabbing stuff from everybody else, all the time. It's a feeding frenzy of borrowed ideas that goes toward the advancement of rock music -- the great artistic experiment of our era.
"Plagiarism is an ugly word for what, in rock and roll, is a natural and necessary - even admirable - tendency, and that is to steal ... to advance an idea is to steal something from someone and make it so cool and covetable that someone then steals it from you. In this way, modern music progresses, collecting ideas, and mutating and transforming as it goes.
"... We musicians all stand on the shoulders of each other, our pirate pockets rattling with booty, our heads exploding with repurposed ideas."

Cave asked his collaborator, composer Warren Ellis, how much he has stolen: "Everything, absolutely everything."

From a site called "hitchr" here are a couple of samples:
Abba's "Waterloo" next to The Foundations "Build Me Up Buttercup."
Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" next to Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down."

Ray Manzarek explains how his band, The Doors, adapted "Ghost Riders In The Sky" to create "Riders On The Storm":



There are thousands of examples: Radiohead "Karma Police" vs The Beatles "Sexie Sadie." One Direction "One Thing" vs The Clash "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." R.E.M. "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" vs Bob Dylan "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Bob Dylan "Hard Times In New York Town" vs Traditional "Penny's Farm."

The Carter Family are famous for having copyrighted songs from the musical traditions of Appalachia after minimally modifying them, sometimes only changing a few words.

In 1931 Cab Calloway had a major hit with "Minnie the Moocher," the song by which he is best remembered today. Cab Calloway, Irving Mills, and Clarence Gaskill cobbled the song together with bailing twine. Its orchestration and melody were from Cab's earlier recording of "St. James Infirmary;" its lyrical content from a turn-of-the-century song about a chimney-sweep and his drug-induced dreams, "Willie the Weeper." ("Minnie the Moocher" told the story of a woman and her drug-induced dreams.)

Famously, George Harrison was found guilty of appropriating The Chiffons "He's So Fine" when writing "My Sweet Lord." Copyright lawyer Charles Cronin has a remarkable website detailing song copyright arguments. A small part of the final decision said:

"What happened? I conclude that the composer in seeking musical materials to clothe his thoughts, was working with various possibilities. As he tried this possibility and that, there came to the surface of his mind a particular combination that pleased him ... in other words, that this combination of sounds would work. Why? Because his subconscious knew it had already worked in a song and his conscious mind did not remember."

Nevertheless, in a judgement that remains controversial, Harrison was found guilty of infringing copyright law. He probably was not helped by his former band mate, John Lennon, saying:

"He must have known, you know. He's smarter than that ... George could have changed a few bars in that song and nobody could have even touched him ..."

"Could have changed a few bars ..."


It's not just popular music. Tchaikovsky based the opening theme of his piano concerto in B-flat major on the songs of blind beggars he'd heard in the Russian village of Kalemko. Vaughan Williams and Antonin Dvorak and Bela Bartok scoured the countryside as song collectors, incorporating borrowed melodies into their own compositions. An Alexander Borodin melody from his opera "Prince Igor" became the Tin Pan Alley tune "Stranger in Paradise."

In a 1916 edition of Green Book magazine (1909-1921) songwriter Irving Berlin wrote: "There has been a standing offer in Vienna, holding a large prize, to anyone who can write eight bars of original music. The offer has been up for over twenty-five years. Thousands of compositions have been submitted, but all of them have been traced back to some other melody."

Berlin continued, "Our work is to connect the old (musical) phrases in a new way ..."

Anything we create is built upon something previous. The initial aim of copyright law was to give people an incentive to create, and then to return that creation to the common ground for others to build upon. Everything is based on something that went before, and so everything belongs to our commonality. Creative people will create. That's the nature of things. Copyright is useful in providing them with income. Extend copyright restrictions too long, though, and it can stultify the creative process. (Present copyright laws are responses to corporate, not individual or public, needs.)

Which brings us back to the beginning of this entry. That someone found a link between a song Bob Dylan recorded and another song ... well, that's music. That's love and theft.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Original Lyrics for "I Wish I Was in Dixie" (you might be surprised)

The lower half of page 29 of the Atlanta Constitution
newspaper, Sunday, July 14, 1895.
I wish I was in Dixie; Hooray hooray!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand
To live and die in Dixie
Away, away. away down south in Dixie


"Dixie" was a Confederate battlecry in the march against the Union. It had not been composed as a battle song, though.

Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) premiered this song for a minstrel show a couple of years before the American Civil War broke out. As I documented in I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, while he was not the first blackface minstrel, Dan Emmett created the minstrel show (with his Virginia Minstrels) around 1841. At that time he wrote what is probably the United States' first homegrown popular hit, "Old Dan Tucker."

 Audiences usually assumed that minstrel songs were either original "negro songs," or written in the "negro style." Really, most were probably modified Irish ballads and jigs. The lyrics were printed in a sort of vernacular, to reflect speech patterns of the slaves. For instance, "I wish I was in the land of cotton / Old times there are not forgotten ..." was written as, "I wish I was in de lan ob cotton / Ole times dar am not forgotten ..."

Emmett's Virginia Minstrels toured Europe (to great reviews) but were short-lived, and by 1859 Daniel Emmett was working with Bryant's Minstrels as songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. For a rousing close to their show the Bryant's asked him for a stirring melody, "a regular whopper that would wake things up." Emmett quickly composed "Dixie" (aka "Dixie's Land," "I Wish I Was In Dixie," etc.).

Two years after its composition, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter and the Civil War was underway. The song, already popular, caught on like wildfire. Confederate soldiers, inspired by the thrilling strains of the chorus, rushed into battle "to live and die in Dixie."

Much of the lyric had changed in those two years. Racial references were erased, four-line stanzas became two-line stanzas, and the song's comic patter became racially indiscriminate.  It had migrated from a "comic" minstrel stage performance into a folk song.

Regarding this, the July 14, 1895 edition of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper explained that, "the words of the song have undergone many additions and modifications during the thirty-six years of its existence, but a pencil copy in the author's own hand gives the following as the original version, as sung in New York in 1859."

And so we read, in one of the original verses, "In Dixie lan' de darkies grow / 'Ef  white fo'kes only plants der toe / Dey wet the groun' wid 'backer smoke / An' up de darkie's head will poke / I wish I was in Dixie, etc."

Incredibly (a sad comment on the times they lived in) the article praised the lyrics as having considerable value: "Those who seek for literary excellence in the homely rhymes will be disappointed, but recognition of the author's design gives the key to their merit, and one sees in them unsurpassed reproduction of negro thought and versification."

"Unsurpassed reproduction of negro thought and versification." How could anyone, reading the lyrics, have even thought that, much less published it in a newspaper??

Although Emmett could be an absurdist (as illustrated by these lines from "Old Dan Tucker:" "Old Dan Tucker was a mighty man / Washed his face in a frying pan / Combed his hair with a wagon wheel / Died with a toothache in his heel"), his lyrics were often uncommonly denigrating (again, from "Old Dan Tucker": "Tucker on de wood pile - can't count 'lebben / Put in a fedder bed - him gwine to hebben / His nose so flat, his face so full / De top of his head like a bag ob wool").

Here, as reproduced by the Atlanta Constitution newspaper in 1895, are those original lyrics to "Dixie."

I wish I was in de lan’ ob cotton;
Ole times dar am not forgotten —
In Dixie lan’ where I was bawn in,
Early orn ne frosty mawin.’

I wish I was in Dixie — Away! away!
In Dixie Lan’ I’ll take my stan’,
To lib an’ die in Dixie.
Away! away! away down souph in Dixie!
Away! away! away down souph in Dixie!

In Dixie lan’ de darkies grow,
Ef white fo’kes only plants der toe;
Dey wet de groun’ wid’ ’backer smoke,
An’ up de darkey’s head will poke.

I wish I was in Dixie, etc.

’Dey hoe an’ rake and dig de lan’
An’ plant de cotton seed by han’;
When master’s gone dey down will sit,
De young folks dey git up an’ git.

I wish I was in Dixie, etc.

You court de gals right on de squar’
An’ smoove de wool in deir curly hair;
Dey am not drunk, dey am not sober —
Dey try to faint, but dey fall cl’ar ober.

I wish I was in Dixie, etc.

Ole Missis marry Will, de weaber;
William was a gay deceaber;
When he put is arm aroun’ ’er,
He looks as fierce as a forty-poun’er.

I wish I was in Dixie, etc.

When Missis libbed she libbed in clobber;
When she died she died all ober.
Here’s a health to the nex’ old Missis,
An’ all de gals dat want to kiss us.

I wish I was in Dixie, etc.

_____________________________________________
Here are two contemporary (and necessarily sanitized) versions of the two songs mentioned here. First, Bob Dylan, from his film Masked and Anonymous:



And Bruce Springsteen, from a 2006 tour:



In each case, double-click to receive the full-frame video.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

3 Favourite Bob Dylan Songs


Bob Dylan was a central figure in the writing of my book I Went Down to St. James Infirmary; it was his "Blind Willie McTell" that set the ball rolling ("I'm gazing out the window of the St. James Hotel ...").  Here are three of my favourite Dylan songs. What would you include?

1. When the Deal Goes Down. 2006. In this song I imagine the singer at the bedside of a dying spouse, lover, holding her/his hand, and maybe whispering closely. ("I owe my heart to you, and that's sayin' it true, I'll be with you when the deal goes down.")

2. Red River Shore. 1997. In which the girl on the Red River Shore represents a youthful ideal - say, a struggle towards understanding, or a religious striving, a Gurdjieffien goal, perhaps. But this is now lost to the aged singer. ("The dream dried up a long time ago; don't know where it is anymore ...")

3. Stormy Weather. 2017 - well, it was written in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. When Dylan sings, "I'm weary all the time," you can feel it in your bones.

Inquiries into the early years of SJI