What It All Means

I first encountered Bob Dylan in 1964 when I was asked to perform Blowin’ In The Wind at an Elks dinner in Ballard, California. I was a tender 12 at the time and I’d actually been asked to perform two songs that night. The other was If I Had A Hammer. I’d heard that song the year before on the popular TV show, Hootenanny! but I’d never heard Blowin’. I loved that show. I’d watched Sing Along With Mitch and played albums by Joe and Eddie, the Kingston TrioOdetta and many others since I was a kid so when Hootenanny! aired, I was hooked. It was in fact the popular single, Walk Right In by the Rooftop Singers that fired my obsession with the 12-string guitar so I guess you can say I’m a folkie from way back.

Someone pointed me to Bob Dylan so that I could learn Blowin’ In The Wind for that gig, but I think I learned it from the cover by Peter, Paul & Mary. I liked the song. I thought it was pretty, but it was the lyrics that grabbed me. It sounded like an anthem. It was saying something important, a message I’d heard many times before, but this time it was delivered in a way that was like a bullet in the brain. I had to find the original recording.

When I brought home The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and tore off the cellophane wrapping, I had no idea my life was about to change and that it would continue to change and evolve for the entire time I’d walk this planet. I think I’d been prepared, though. I think all of those folksingers before had been leading me up that path, some gently—the Kingston Trio, for instance—and some not so gently, like Odetta. On that afternoon Dylan became a lifelong mentor. Oh, he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t even know I exist, but his work affected me like it has affected so many other songwriters. It’s safe to say I don’t where the hell I’d be musically if he hadn’t happened. I don’t know where music would be.

This Photoshopped image, taken from Dylan’s 1965 Subterranean Homesick Blues video, has always pissed me off. How many people have I spoken to about Dylan whose first reaction was, “He can’t sing”? There are a lot of popular artists—always have been—who can’t sing. Most popular music through the years hasn’t been moored to an ability to croon like Sinatra or Caruso so why have these people assigned Dylan as their poster child?

Something else threatens them. It’s not that he can’t sing, it’s that they don’t understand what he’s singing about and why he sings like he does, and they don’t want to investigate, even passively, by simply listening. Taking time to understand anything is nothing but work for lazy thinkers. When they run into something they don’t get any deeper than the surface level, instead of exploring it, they attack it. They mock and ridicule because it’s easy. At a very young age I learned that when someone made fun of something or someone, they were only revealing their lack of curiosity. And if intelligence is anything, it’s curiosity. If they sat down, turned off their phones and listened to Dylan they’d discover he was performing rap back when their grandparents were dancing to the music of Motown, Surf, and the British Invasion.

This being said, I already know that many of you won’t take the time to listen to the video below. That’s ok. I’m not trying to make converts, I’m sharing something with the curious, the active thinkers, the people who like to understand things. Even those of you who stay might be tempted to stop listening when Dylan starts talking about Moby Dick, but I urge to you hang in there. It’s a trip worth taking and in true Dylan fashion, his voice with its unique rhythms and meters becomes almost hypnotic. Please, please, turn off the TV, silence your phone and get rid of possible distractions. This is not background, this is not passive listening. You will have to listen and think.

P.S. The title of this post will mean nothing to you unless you listen to the video.

Many thanks to Wade Johnson and Pat Flynn for introducing me to this.

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You Might Be Cool, But…

You’ll never be as cool as…

Brian Jones wearing earrings on his lapels
…Brian Jones wearing earrings on his lapels,
donovan-posing-with-jennifer-juniper
…Donovan posing with Jennifer Juniper,
dylan-playing-chess-in-woodstock
…Bob Dylan playing chess in Woodstock,
jimi-brushing-his-fro
…Jimi Hendrix brushing his fro,
jimi-hendrix-drinking-wine-on-this-bed
…Or drinking wine on his Boho bed,
john-lennon-not-knowing-where-the-fook-he-is
…John Lennon not knowing where the fook he is,
john-not-caring-that-his-flys-open
…Or swaggering along not caring that his fly is open,
keith-richards-doing-a-fan-dance
…Keith Richards doing a fan dance,
paul-george-taking-a-stroll-through-the-park
…Paul McCartney and George Harrison strolling through the park,
pre-glam-bowie
…Pre-Glam Bowie,
robert-plants-arse
…Robert Plant’s arse,
salvador-dali-trying-to-look-one-third-his-actual-age
…Salvador Dali trying to look one-third his actual age,
the-strawberry-alarm-clock-striking-the-chicken-arm-pose
…The Strawberry Alarm Clock striking the ‘Chicken Arm’ pose,
this-chick-period
…This chick. Period.
this-collection-of-trousers
…This collection of trousers,

 

whoevers-wearing-this-coat-and-hat
…And whoever’s wearing this coat and hat.
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Out Takes – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1970
Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1970

While designing my album’s cover, I’ve taken a closer look at the covers that have supplied me with years of pondering, consideration, study and entertainment. By this I mean that I still really look at a cover whenever I pick it up. In the 1960s and ’70s a lot of covers had secrets or in-jokes embedded on them and we’d spend a lot of time trying to analyze them. This was taken to ridiculous lengths with the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover on which some obsessed fans found meanings that didn’t even exist. One of my favorite covers in this regard is that of the Crosby, Stills & Nash eponymous debut album, a cover that perfectly typifies the era as it was in southern California. Laid back, unconcerned with material possessions and down home in a rock and roll sort of way. There weren’t any heavy secrets in the photo, but there was a bit to see.

I remember the first time I heard this album. I’d driven to Topanga Canyon to visit some friends who lived in a quasi-commune and, as we sat smoking a little grass, talking and having fun, one of the guys who lived there put the album on the stereo. I was blown away. This group blew everyone away when they appeared out of seeming nowhere. Looking the cover over in my grass addled state I wondered, Who’s who? The guy on the far right is David Crosby, but who are the other two? What are their first names? Where was this photo taken? Why such ratty furniture, who’s the guy looking out the door and why is he on the back cover? I knew that Crosby was David Crosby of the Byrds fame, but I didn’t know that Stills was Steven Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Nash was Graham Nash of the Hollies. And I had absolutely no clue about the guy in the door. Since the music was obviously sung by a vocal trio, I figured he must be a friend or a session musician. It was only later that all these things came to light.

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This is the front of the album’s now iconic front cover as we all know it.  At the time of the photo shoot, which was done by the incomparable Henry Diltz, the trio hadn’t settled on a name so they didn’t consider in what order to sit on the couch, which is, from left to right: Nash, Stills and Crosby. A few days later they decided on Crosby, Stills & Nash as their official name, but when they went back to reshoot the photo, sitting in that order to avoid record buyers’ confusion, the old railroad workers house had been torn. Oh, and the guy peering out the door on the back cover was the group’s drummer, Dallas Taylor.

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In 2007 this out take was made the cover of a European compilation CD. I wish I could see Henry Diltz’s originals of this photo session, but alI I have are what I could find on the web. Still, It’s interesting to see the photos that were rejected.

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Their label, Atlantic Records, asked the team of photographer Diltz and art director Gary Burden to create the cover. On the day before the shoot, Gary and Graham drove through Hollywood and West Hollywood looking for a suitable location that would convey what the group wanted to say about themselves as well as match their music, a site that was, according to David Crosby, “down home and comfortable”.

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They decided on a little abandoned house with a couch outside.

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 It was on Palm Avenue, a small side street near an Orange Julius stand
on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.

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No Dallas Taylor in these shots.

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 This is the location as it is today and below is a map.

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Many thanks to Bob Egan at PopShots. All photos (except map) © by Henry Diltz.

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