by carl wilson

Another Side of Another Bob Dylan Debate
Plus: One of the Worst Songs Ever

bfdylan24.jpg

I'm as primed to go wilding on the baby boomers as any member of the cheated generation formerly known as X, but this David Greenberg piece in Slate on the sixties-centrism of Dylanology is a case of firing the right arrow at the wrong target. (Thanks to Aaron for pointing the story out.) As Greenberg says in the piece, Dylan's output from 1965 to 1967 (I'd actually say 1964, and include Another Side of Bob Dylan) is his strongest. What he doesn't say is that those three or four years arguably constitute one of the strongest runs in all of pop-music history. Most of the pantheon of Greats consists of people who had various peaks and valleys through their careers, but Dylan had this comet-hot streak of brilliance and productivity that is almost difficult to believe: The triple-shot of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde took place in 1965 and 1966 alone! It's fucking ridiculous. And while I too would defend Dylan's later work, it's simply the case that from 1970 to 2000 he barely created as many good songs altogether as he did in those two years in the mid-sixties (when, just for the record, I was not yet born).

In addition, frankly, while the sixties are getting to the ancient-history level after 40 years, we are still wading through their cultural effluent, as the people now in power are individuals whose ideological lives were shaped by the conflicts of that decade and in reaction against it. The official self-congratulatory mythos is crap (the sixties weren't the death knell of the establishment but the renaissance of a consumer-media-complex establishment that anyone who listens to rock, for instance, has to cope with politically) - but the deeper history still reverberates, especially in the circa-sixties remodeling of gender relations and the family in the western world.

Anyway, what I really wanted to tell you about was the Scorsese-spinoff Scrapbook, which I received yesterday. While Greenberg's right that it would be nice if it covered his later years, and it certainly is not the place to go for counter-readings of the standard history (no doubt like Scorsese's doc), what is there is sumptuous. If I had a scanner, I'd scan 'em in the morning, I'd scan 'em in the evening ... Extraordinary care's gone into the reproductions of rare early photos, manuscript pages of lyrics, concert programs, ticket stubs, even Dylan's high-school yearbook-photo page. (Which says he was a member of the Latin and Social Studies clubs - geek!)

Among its less spectacular offerings, I was particularly taken with a Top 40 chart from Reviewer magazine in 1965 that's informative for those of us who weren't there, about just how Dylan's influence insinuated itself in musical culture. There's only one Dylan single on the chart, Like A Rolling Stone at No. 4, but a cover of It Ain't Me Babe by the Turtles is at No. 8 and versions of All I Really Want to Do by Cher and by the Byrds share the No. 40 spot. "So-and-so Sings Dylan" albums were everywhere. (Towards the end of the scrapbook there's an ad for Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 & 35 headlined "Nobody sings DYLAN like DYLAN.") More tellingly still, Dylan-alikes are all over the chart: Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction at No. 12, the Animals' rocked-up folk at No. 18, folk-revival-gone-pop group We Five is at No. 2 with You Were on My Mind (by Sylvia Tyson), Joan Baez is up there, Sonny & Cher are ubiq' (Sonny Bono was a bigger Dylanhead than you think), the Lovin' Spoonful, and Donovan's version of Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier is just hitting the chart at No. 71 with a bullet... well, not a bullet, I guess - a daisy?

The most amusing folk-rock artifact on the chart, though, is Dawn of Correction by the Spokesmen, perhaps the most goody-two-shoes answer song of all time. It was a soft-right-wing rebuttal to the Eve of Destruction, of course, which was in its turn kind of a Cold War/Vietnam-minded ripoff of Dylan's protest songs ("The eastern world, it is explodin’/ Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’/ You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’ ... "). The lyrics are outrageous: "The western world has a common dedication/ To keep free people from Red domination/ And maybe you can't vote, boy, but man your battle stations ..." But it gets better:

You missed all the good in your evaluation
What about the things that deserve commendation?
Where there once was no cure, there's vaccination
Where there once was a desert, there's vegetation
Self-government's replacing colonization
What about the Peace Corp. organization?
Don't forget the work of the United Nations

It's not the eve of destruction! It's the dawn of correction! And then comes the end of history! What about the things that deserve commendation?! In an early case of fake-fair-and-balanced, some stations actually required DJs to play this song if they played McGuire's hit. (Apparently Dawn's highest chart position was No. 36.) The Spokesmen were a one-off group, I think, related somehow to Danny and the Juniors, who did At the Hop. You can hear Dawn here. The over-the-top attempts by the squeaky-clean singer to sound "edgy" ("the buttons are theah to ensure ne-go-shee-eyy-shun!") are like ice cream on pie.

The writer of Eve of Destruction, PF Sloan (who also wrote, bizarrely, Secret Agent Man), tried several times to peddle sequels updated to new world crises such as the environment. The Spokesmen, as far as I know, let those go unanswered.

Of course, the real answer song to Eve of Destruction and to the Dylan-inspired mood in general was The Ballad of the Green Berets.

Personally, I really hope some right-wing pseudo-rap act records an answer song to George Bush Don't Like Black People. (Like, um, He Do, George Bush Do Like Black People or maybe Everybody Knows It's Liberals Who Don't Like Black People Because They Give Them Those Vicious Handouts!)

After all, if we're going to counter boomer nostalgic hegemony, we have to generate our own batshit-stupid pop history.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, September 29 at 03:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

COMMENTS

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Posted by Sylvain on October 23, 2005 08:05 AM

 

 

Good point, Michael. It was done by the Legendary K.O., who put the remix of that name together (see http://www.k-otix.com/). I imagine it was done to make the music flow more, but it does make the original point cruder, and missing the crucial disconnect between hate (which i don't think is GWB's crime) and indifference (which is).

Posted by zoilus on October 5, 2005 11:07 PM

 

 

How come Kanye's "George Bush doesn't care about black people" has become "GB don't like black people"? Who has ebonic-afied the original statement?

Posted by Michael on October 5, 2005 02:31 PM

 

 

much as i love Red from That 70s show, Haggard claims the song was inspired by a joke between band members while driving through Ohio. it's more of a satire of small town life than the clean living anthem it became. (apparently David Duke asked Merle Haggard to play a private party because of the song; Merle told Duke to "get fucked", to which i hope he added, "dumbass.")

but it's still goody two-shoes; the narrator isn't necessarily old, just massively conservative. trust me, they exist - if you like, i can introduce you to some 19-year-olds who rock the Tucker Carlson bow tie (and scary neocon agenda) on a daily basis.

Posted by Dave M. on September 30, 2005 02:46 PM

 

 

Great post, Carl. I'd never heard of Dawn of Correction.

I agree that '65 - '67 is Mr. D's peak, but I still can't get into almost half the songs. "For Halloween get her a trumpet and for Christmas, get her a drum" -- his love songs don't *move* me. He does sing that line about the drum with style, though.

Posted by John on September 30, 2005 12:14 AM

 

 

I knew Okie was gonna come up. Not goodie two-shoes because it's actually a lecture from Dad to the kids, not a kid-to-kid argument like the Spokesmen. Imagine it being sung by Red from That 70s Show.

Plus, Merle Haggard may not have smoked marijuana in Muskogee, but he sure did smoke it in California.

Posted by zoilus on September 29, 2005 10:55 PM

 

 

great as that one is, i have to respectfully disagree - most goody two-shoes song ever goes to Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee":

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.

(!!!)

Posted by Dave M. on September 29, 2005 09:45 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson