Articles in section: 'Music'

Preserved in Desire

(Marking the death of Hurricane Carter, here’s a reprint of this piece from some years back reflecting on Bob Dylan’s songwriting around the time of his 1975 album, Desire.)

Bob Dylan DesireThanks to Jay for sending me links to two stories from NorthJersey.com (one and two) which ruminate on the case of Hurricane Carter, to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the shootings in Paterson, New Jersey.

Just past 2:30 a.m., June 17, 1966, Paterson police detective Jim Lawless enters Lafayette Bar & Grill, 428 E. 18th St. A half dozen other officers are on their way to the scene.

Behind the long wooden counter, bartender James Oliver, 51, lies in his own blood, his spine severed by a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. Dead.

Fred Nauyoks, 61, shot in the head, shot-gunned in the back, ice still melting in the drink in front of him, slumps onto the bar. Dead.

His friend, William Marins, shot in the head with a .32 caliber handgun, staggers around, blood flowing from his forehead and left eye. He dies in 1973, of unrelated causes.

Hazel Tanis, 51, hit in the left side with shotgun pellets and shot in the right breast, stomach, lower abdomen and genital area, has been rushed to a hospital. She lives, in severe pain in St. Joseph’s Hospital, for another month.

The articles take a fairly detailed and long view of the entire case, and are well worth reading if that interests you.

Relevant to Dylan’s famous song, there is this mention:

The New York Times features Carter in a front-page story in 1974, and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan brings out “Hurricane,” a decidedly one-sided account that includes the verse, “Here comes the story of the Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame, for somethin’ that he never done. Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been, the champion of the world.” It has at least one local side-effect: Patricia Valentine, a key witness, finds her dog dead outside her house. Someone puts a bullet through her front window.

It’s not clear how the direct link can be made between Dylan’s record and those attacks on Patricia Valentine, but there you go. There can be no doubt that “Miss Patty Valentine” felt oppressed at hearing her name pronounced on the airwaves in a very unflattering tone.

Certainly, “Hurricane” is a “one-sided account” of the controversy. And it would be hard to think of a ballad ever written to honor or defend someone that didn’t present a one-sided view. It would be strange indeed to hear a song with verse after verse of arguments presenting both the defense and prosecution cases, and ending with something like, “Now it’s up to you the listener to figure it out.” One would guess that Dylan himself hopes to this day that Rubin Carter was indeed innocent. Clearly he believed it at the time: “Hurricane” cannot be dismissed as merely an exercise in writing a very particular type of song (although I think it is also that); it was an unabashed joining of the battle to have him freed. It would be interesting to ask Dylan how he feels about it now. Of-course, he didn’t sit in the courtroom through all the trials and appeals, so he can’t be expected to deliver a detailed and balanced opinion. But the question would be what made him give himself over entirely to this particular cause (when he had most certainly been entreated in vain for the sake of many others) and does he feel any ambivalence about it all these decades later? He hasn’t performed the song publicly since 1975. [Read more →]

Neil Young’s Pono is Launched, and Fidelity in Digital Music Gets Debated

Pono Player Neil Young Digital MusicChampioned and promoted by Neil Young, Pono is here (at least for those willing to cough up the dough on the Kickstarter campaign).

Content for the PonoPlayer will be sold by the PonoMusic online store. The CEO of PonoMusic, John Hamm, promises “studio master-quality digital music … the way the artist recorded it.” Fundamentally, this means it will be capable of playing audio in the lossless FLAC format at 192 kHz and 24 bits, versus the 44.1 khz and 16 bit audio of CDs, and versus the MP3 and other compressed digital formats which strip data from those CD quality recordings to make the files more quickly downloadable and portable. However, the Pono player will still play those lower-resolution formats as well. [Read more →]

Coming Soon: Bob Dylan in the 80s

Bob Dylan in the 80sAn album to be released on March 25th will feature a curious plethora of artistes performing versions of various Bob Dylan songs which Dylan originally released between 1980 and 1990. It may seem an odd decade to be celebrated in this fashion, but I believe that’s also kind of the idea.

Personally, I’ve always had a special affection for Dylan’s work during the 1980s, quirks and all, but it is difficult for me to objectively discern whether this is due more to the music itself or to the timing: I came of age as a Bob Dylan fan during that decade. I was about 16 when Infidels was out, and I was becoming a fan with help from my friend Brendan and his older brothers’ stash of records. Empire Burlesque in 1985 was therefore the first Dylan album whose release I anticipated with spine-tingly excitement, rushing to the record store to buy. (Note to younger readers: “record stores” were box-like structures, just sitting on the street, with people inside them, where we would walk, barefoot at times, to obtain recorded music that had been scratched onto black vinyl discs or magnetically applied to ferrous tapes, in exchange for pieces of paper and coins that the people in the record store—and ultimately also the musicians—could then use to purchase food for themselves. This system worked quite well until Al Gore invented the MP3.) [Read more →]

A Merry Little Christmas with Hugh Martin and Mark Steyn

Hugh Martin Mark Steyn ChristmasI’m cognizant that it could be considered a little odd to pen an appreciation of an appreciation, but here I do so anyway (just in case, I suppose, someone might appreciate it).

The multifaceted writer Mark Steyn recently reposted on his website an audio tribute he made to the late songwriter Hugh Martin (who died in 2011). Martin is the composer of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” surely one of the most poignant popular songs of Christmas. That was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, and for which Martin also wrote “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song.” [Read more →]

It’s All Good: Bob Dylan and Saint Augustine

[Adapted from a version originally published in 2010]

Bob Dylan Augustine It's All GoodWhen, not very many years ago, I first read the great work, Confessions, by Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), I recall being a little inwardly nonplussed at the fact that while reading it I was persistently put in mind of Bob Dylan. It often seemed as if Augustine were subtly echoing Dylan, or as if the lines in Confessions were ever-so-close to flowing right into one of his songs. I thought: Is this what it’s come to? Am I so deranged now, on account of listening so much to this old warbler from Hibbing, that I can’t even read a great piece of literature, completely unrelated to him, without his songs flitting in and out of my head?

And unquestionably I am so deranged, but, with hindsight, it’s perhaps not so hard to understand why my mind was making the kinds of connections it was. [Read more →]

Morrissey’s Seminal Influence

Morrissey Autobiography InfluenceThere’s nothing quite like the pleasure of a great EUREKA! moment, and yours truly experienced it today while reading a review of the new autobiography from Morrissey, the achingly-literate British pop-singer and songwriter and former front-man of the Smiths.

Apparently, in an aside while writing about his pop-cultural likes and dislikes during his teenage years in the 1960s, Morrissey refers to the television show “Lost in Space,” and specifically to the wonderfully-dastardly character Dr. Zachary Smith. Watching Dr. Smith’s interplay with Major West and Commander Robinson seemingly led him to the following conclusion: “Effeminate men are very witty, whereas macho men are duller than death.” [Read more →]

New Video for “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

New video for Like a Rolling Stone Bob DylanWhat’s this about? A “new video” for Bob Dylan’s 1965 masterpiece “Like a Rolling Stone” is to debut on BobDylan.com tomorrow (Tuesday, 11/19/13). The Associated Press reports:

The video will allow viewers to switch between 16 different story lines that mimic television channels. The actors and hosts on each of these channels lip-sync the lyrics to the song and viewers can move from one to another during the song seamlessly. There is a Dylan channel as well that features vintage footage.

It is part of the promotion for the new Complete Album Collection Volume 1. [Read more →]

Lou Reed 1942 – 2013

Lou Reed, R.I.P.It was something of a shock seeing the announcement today of Lou Reed’s death. Although chronologically he was 71 years-old, and although it was known he’d been having health problems, Lou Reed seemed more ageless than most. It’s hard to recall when he might have been young. He was just … Lou Reed. Never overexposed, but popping up from the periphery with reassuring regularity.

Despite his orneriness and his sometimes arrogant persona, and despite his tendency (at least in my opinion) towards self-indulgence in his work, there was something very likeable about Lou. He didn’t just have a unique singing voice; he was a unique voice. Although his music was intensely simple, he was one of the few true stylists of the whole rock & roll circus of the last fifty years, a seminal influence to countless other performers and one who never lost his creative spark. [Read more →]

I Love to Tell the Story

I Love to Tell the StoryThe lyric to “I Love to Tell the Story,” a much beloved hymn, was derived from a poem written by an Englishwoman named Arabella Katherine Hankey in 1866, when she was convalescing from an illness at the age of 32. The full poem has 100 verses, and is divided into two parts, “The Story Wanted” and “The Story Told.” In the first part someone “weak and weary” is pleading to hear the “old, old story” of Jesus. In the second part, another voice tells the story, beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve and then jumping quickly to Bethlehem. Both parts inspired hymns; the first inspired “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” with a tune by Willam Howard Doane. Both are beautiful and have been popular for around 150 years now, but I suspect the second one, “I Love to Tell the Story,” with a tune by William G. Fischer, is somewhat better-known and loved at this stage. Instead of a tone of pleading, it offers one of uplift, which we all can do with, and the soft and subtly-mournful melody is a counterpoint which ensures that the song evades any hint of smugness.

Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded both songs, and so currently affords an easy side-by-side comparison via YouTube at these links: “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” and “I Love to Tell the Story.” [Read more →]

Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)

Paul Simon with Mark SteynRecently contributed by someone to YouTube is a one-hour TV interview with Paul Simon, conducted by Mark Steyn in the 1980s (embedded below). Some of us who are fans of Mark Steyn’s sharp-witted topical commentary are amused by the references he occasionally makes to his apparently glamorous former life as a globe-trotting hob-knobber with musical luminati. “As Paul Simon once said to me,” he’ll insert as an aside in some piece on how utterly depraved and beyond-hope the Western world has become; on other occasions it might be: “as I once said to Frank Sinatra …”

Well, there’s now at least video evidence of his proximity to Paul Simon at one particular time, and an extended time at that, talking to him at his home on Long Island and driving around Queens with him visiting Simon’s childhood haunts. And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.

But you don’t see very much of Mark Steyn, because the show is actually focused on Paul Simon, who, judging by the conversation, had most recently released the Graceland album. Although about twenty-five years have passed since this interview, it is a superbly intimate portrait of Simon the artist. Steyn knows music and the art of song in particular, and he is a perceptive and sensitive interviewer. I especially appreciate the time spent on songs from the Hearts & Bones album as I harbor a special love for that record and believe that “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” likely still stands as Simon’s most perfect song and recording. And I say that as a serious fan who believes that every Paul Simon album (post-Simon & Garfunkel) contains multiple doozies. [Read more →]

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