Archive for April, 2010

Bob Dylan: The Rorschach Test Of His Generation?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

April 22nd, folk singer Joni Mitchell (born Roberta Joan Anderson in Canada) was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying “Bob [Dylan] is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

Today, author and LA Weekly contributor Jonny Whiteside amplified Ms. Mitchell’s charges, adding a dirty-laundry list of specific complaints, including:
* 16 year old Robert Zimmerman (the future Dylan) submitted an “original” poem for publication which was – in fact – a “thinly revised version” of Hank Snow’s song, Little Buddy.
* He cribbed from Civil War-era poet Henry Timrod, among many others.
* Dylan’s song Beyond The Horizon featured a “naked… melody heist” from “Red Sails In The Sunset.
* “…his vocal style was high-jacked, in its entirety, from long-dead bluegrass-country singer, Carter Stanley.”

In accusing and convicting Dylan of these and other musical high crimes and misdemeanors, Whiteside invited his readers to type “Bob Dylan plagiarism” into their favorite search engine. So I did. And what I found was both more and less than what Whiteside (and Joni Mitchell) may have intended.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess that I initially bought into Whiteside’s whole indictment. Part of this was due to his authoritative writing style, his many cited examples, and his stated willingness for us to look at the facts for ourselves. But a big part of my lack of impartiality was my long-held personal belief that Dylan is a moderately talented guy who was hyped as The Voice Of His Generation.

So I was open to what Joni and Jonny were selling. Unfortunately, some of their arguments are… well, arguable.

They’ve apparently got him dead to rights for swiping the Hank Snow lyrics – when he was 16. So they’re entitled to claim he committed that particular theft (even if the statute of limitations ran out it, 48 years ago!)

And the chord sequence in Beyond The Horizon (not the melody, as Whiteside stated) is about as close to Red Sails In The Sunset as you can get – as close, say, as My Sweet Lord was to He’s So Fine, and those guys collected, big time!

But the supposed plagiarism of the Civil War poet is – when looked at in context – a harder sell.

So is the claim that he appropriated Carter Stanley’s singing style as his own. Carter did indeed sing in a rural Southern accent (something not native to most kids from Hibbing, Minnesota). And he did have a nasally tenor. But, if you’ll go to YouTube and listen to Carter for yourself, I don’t think you’ll hear any of Dylan’s distinctive talk-singing. Nor did Carter’s pitch fall off at the end of phrases in the Dylan fashion.

Indeed, after investigating each of Whiteside’s claims, I concluded that Dylan was not clad in The Emperor’s New Clothes. Nor is he the Anti-Christ or Zelig (check it out) of pop music.

Perhaps what he really is, is a Rorschach Test in the eye and ear of every beholder – a moderately talented guy who isn’t The Voice Of His Generation. But then, who truly could be?

Musicians At Work: The Economy Must Be Improving!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

As a band leader, for over a year now I have had the pick of all the best musicians – not just in my town, but within a 100 miles in any direction!

Why? Two reasons. First, I’ve been lucky that my phone has kept ringing, even if at a somewhat reduced rate. And the second reason? That would be you. You, and others like you have been the ones calling for musical entertainment.

Throughout the current economic downturn, rarely have I had to call more than one – or, at the most, two – of my favorite players on any particular instrument to fill my bandstand. My clients and their guests have enjoyed the very best drummers, guitarists, vocalists, and horn virtuosos. For me – it’s been a slice of Heaven! These musicians are so professional in every way, and so gifted at their chosen specialties, that they’ve made me a hero to many event planners. Even folks who called at the last minute were always able to count on a superior musical experience.

But, just this past Saturday night, came the first glimmer that things are about to change. It wasn’t New Year’s Eve, but it must have felt like a Happy New Year to every sideman and leader in town. For some reason, everyone was working! I know this because my client made a last minute request for me to add a trombone to our ensemble, and it took me 4 tries to find one who was available. This would have been a shock even in December, but in April?

With trombonists in short supply, other leaders trying to assemble ensembles on short notice were really in a bind. One of them called me repeatedly, picking my brain for any drummer I had ever worked with – ever (because all the usual suspects were already working.)

In most respects, this is good news. When every musician is employed, it means that the economy is improving. But there is one way in which – for both you and me – it marks the end of our “lazy period.” Simply put, it looks like those easy days of finding and hiring a great band virtually any day of the week are coming to an end. You, as the party giver, are going to have to call your favorite music providers sooner to be sure of their availability. And leaders like me will no longer have the luxury of knowing that fantastic players are just sitting by their phones, hoping we will call. Both of us are going to have to get organized and to hustle a bit.

Meanwhile, stunned trombonists across the region celebrate the dawning of a new day!