Dreamtime - Commentary Inspired By Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour: August 2009
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Episode 62 - Roots of Theme Time #2 - Hi-Fi Party with Eddie Gorodetsky

A few show notes on this one.  I'm trying out new open source scriptwriting software called Celtx, highly recommended to those interested in trying their hand at screenplays, podcasts, and even comic book scripts. The format isn't set up for on-line blog reading, so if you want to follow along, I recommend you download the script - in PDF format - from here. (click to open.  Right-click to download).

The "Hi-Fi Party" with Eddie Gorodetsky excerpts, although claimed as recorded in 1978, are probably from the Winter of 19 and 79.  Eddie mentions several times during the show how exceptionally cold his apartment is, as well as the fact that the WBCN deejays are out on strike.  Other clips are from WBCN, with Eddie Gorodetsky heard variously as "Dr. Claibourne" and in the background during the "Mattress Mishegas" segment.

I miss WBCN.


You can see the young Eddie G., still with most his hair, circa late `70s, in Charles Laquidara's parody of an Italian art film, "Nino, Nino, Nino" on YouTube.  Look for the guy break-dancing during the Big Italian Dinner as well as various other scenes in the film.

Have fun.  Enjoy the show.

Direct link to mp3.

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HI-FI PARTY WITH EDDIE GORODETSKY
(A RADIO PLAY)


By

FRED BALS

A TRUE STORY



Creative Commons Attribution Fred Bals 3.0
The Dreamtime blog and podcast
http://www.dreamtimepodcast.com

dreamtimepodcast@gmail.com


HI-FI PARTY WITH EDDIE GORODETSKY

Scene: 1

INTRO

VOICE: EDDIE GORODETSKY PROMO

JAIL BAIT JONES
It’s the Dreamtime podcast with your host, Fred Bals

MUSIC: TURN YOUR RADIO ON

FRED
Lights off, windows open to the summer night, half-asleep on the lounge chair, big old Maine Coon cat stretched across my body, radio on.

Radio on, and sometimes I dream.

I dream of a woman in red smoking a cigarette. She stands on a balcony and watches the city spread below her. Soon she’ll walk into the lobby of the Abernathy Building, take the elevator up to the 8th floor and go into Studio B.

Just close your eyes and you can see it as well as I can. Unchanged since the ‘50s, mike dangling down from the ceiling, peeling walls of sound insulation, two turntables framing the empty deejay’s chair.

Tex Carbone behind the glass, working at his sound panel. The lady in red in a separate sound booth, leaning into the microphone, huskily whispering out...

VOICE: ELLEN BARKIN
It’s Night in the Big City.

FRED
No, I’m wrong. That’s not what I see. That’s not what I hear.

SOUND: "BACK WHERE I COME FROM"

FRED
There’s a banty rooster of a young man who has come up to take the mike instead. He adjusts his guitar and begins playing "Dusty Ol' Dust."

As he launches into the refrain of "So long, it’s been good to know yah," an announcer steps up to a second microphone and reads...

VOICE: ANNOUNCER

"You’ve been listening to ’Back Where I Come From.’ Tonight’s theme has been "The Weather," with Woody Guthrie....

FRED
"Weather? But, that song was from the ’Goodbye’ show, wasn’t it?" I ask the oblivious cat.

He stares at me, examines a paw, begins to clean himself. The voice on the radio fades off, static crackling through the air again before Dylan’s cornhusker murmur finally resumes, talking about love and marriage.

VOICE: DYLAN FROM THE "WEDDING" EPISODE

VOICE: EDDIE GORODETSKY

EDDIE G.

(SMART-ASS EDDIE G.)
Ah, why a man would want to have one wife is a mystery.

Why he’d want to have two wives is a bigga mystery.

(DYLAN’S VOICE DISSOLVES INTO LAUGHTER)

FRED
"What?" I say, sitting up, cat bouncing off my lap to the floor. "Who?"

The voice continues on, getting more and more maniac.

VOICE: EDDIE GORODETSKY

EDDIE G.
This is going out to all our friends in Framingham, or as we like to say, Mahginmraf!

(THE DEEJAY’S VOICE SEEMS TO HAVE FORSAKEN ANY NEED FOR OXYGEN, WORDS TUMBLING OUT FASTER AND FASTER IN AN AVALANCHE OF ALLITERATION. )

VOICE: EDDIE GORODETSKY

EDDIE G.
Don’t forget to listen to Juke Box Saturday Night coming up at 11 o’clock, an eclectic pastiche of various musical idioms spanning the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and yes-sir-ree-bob, even the ‘70s. So stay tuned to Juke Box Saturday Night - 11 o’clock till 2 in the morning right here on the Rockin’ 88, WERS!

EDDIE G. (cont’d)
In the meantime, I’m your audio aesthetician, Eddie Gorodetsky, rockin’ and rollin’, boppin’ and strollin’, making it outta sight here on a Saturday night.

Won’t you stick around? 267-7281! Make a dedication! And I gotta tell you, ’Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was for Barbara and Ben Brown, and Lee and... Oh My God, I can’t... Lee and Flora and Grady and his girl... who are there listening to The Hi-Fi Party tonight!

And if you want to be a member of the radio parade of dedications, 267-7281, and we had a request for some Earl King!

MUSIC: EARL KING: "DARLING HONEY ANGEL CHILD"

SCENE: 2

("DARLING HONEY ANGEL CHILD" FADES OUT AS FRED’S VOICE COMES BACK ON)

FRED
Thirty-one years ago he didn’t sound at all like Pierre Mancini.

Boston has always been a good town for radio. Maybe not quite as good as New Orleans or San Francisco, but Boston does okay.

SOUND: WBCN AIRCHECK

FRED
WBCN - the commercial rock-n’roll giant that Eddie Gorodetsky also worked at for a short time - is gone now. But people who loved the Big Mattress, the Cosmic Muffin, Charles Laquidara and his alter-ego, Dwayne Ingalls Glasscock, would tell you that the real ’BCN was gone a long time ago.

WERS-FM, now in its 60th year of operation, was the first non-commercial radio station established in New England, and still serves as a live training ground for students at Boston’s Emerson College. One of those students during the late ‘70s was one Eddie Gorodetsky\ from Rhode Island.

In 1978 Eddie was broadcasting The Hi-Fi Party on Saturday nights from 7 to 11, later moving the show over to Sundays in 1979, and occasionally sat in as deejay on "Juke Box Saturday Night," the show we just heard Eddie promo.

FRED (cont’d)
Eddie was also working behind the counter at a varietyof record stores, including Cheap Thrills, a long-gone Boston record chain of the ‘60s and ’70s, at theirBoylston Street store across from the Prudential Center, home of WBCN.

SOUND: WNCN MATTRESS MISHEGAS
(LAQUIDARA AND SIEGAL WITH EDDIE GORODETSKY)

FRED
Maybe WBCN super-deejay Charles Laquidara walked into Cheap Thrills one day and struck up a conversation with the fast-talkin’ kid behind the counter. Maybe Eddie scammed his way into ’BCN. At the time it wouldn’t have been too hard, as the Rock of Boston was constantly attracting fresh young meat willing to sleep on studio couches and work for next to nothing as long as they could say they were working at ’BCN.

VOICE: DWAYNE AND DR. CLAIBOURNE

FRED
One way or the other, Eddie picked up a gig at ’BCN, writing sketches and jokes, and doing the occasional on-air turn, sometimes playing the frenetic Dwayne Glasscock’s physician, Doctor Claibourne. Dwayne returned the favor in his own fashion, recording a few promos for Eddie’s Saturday Night Hi-Fi Party, although he did keep referring to college station WERS as "bush radio."

VOICE: DWAYNE GLASSCOCK PROMO

FRED
From all reports, Eddie cut a dapper figure in thosedays, reportedly, "dressed to the nines in a zoot suit and carrying a metal suitcase full of 45s and vintage blues albums" wherever he went. He was reputed to be a pretty snazzy, jitter-buggin’ fool, too.

VOICE: EDDIE CLIP WITH MENTION OF THE SPEAKEASY

FRED
Dian Shonk, then a waitress at the Cambridge watering hole recalls Eddie on the Speakeasy dance floor,

"...swinging a lovely young girl in a flowing skirt. I turned around with a tray full of empties to see him do a very fancy move where she slid on the floor between his legs and then was [supposed to] shoot back up and continue dancing. Well [Eddie] stepped on her skirt and when she shot back up the skirt stayed on the floor! ... a moment etched into my mind forever."

SOUND: "THANK YOU" CLIP

FRED
Between the zoot suitin’ jitter-buggin’, deejaying, store clerking, record collecting, acting in Charles Laquidara’s awful parody of an Italian art movie, "Nino, Nino, Nino," and generally being a Man Around Beantown, it’s small wonder that Eddie reportedly dropped out of Emerson to pursue a full-time career in show biz.

Given that his path would lead from "Saturday Night Live," to David Letterman, to "Dharma and Greg" and "Two-and-a-Half Men," and eventually to "Theme Time Radio Hour," "who could say he made the wrong decision?

Certainly not me.

But we’re not here to praise Eddie G., nor even to bury him. We’re here to take a closer look at another source of that tree with many roots that was Theme Time Radio Hour... its ancestor from the 1970s, Saturday Night Hi-Fi Party with Eddie Gorodetsky.

SOUND: HI-FI PARTY EXCERPT

SCENE: 3

SOUND: "4-H" CLIP

FRED
Mr. D. never did a promo for the 4-H Club as far as I know, but after listening to a few Hi-Fi Parties, you can sure tell a lot of the music for Theme Time Radio Hour was coming from a certain producer’s record collection.

"Zindy Lou," that doo-wopper with the great hook? Our Host played it on the "Women’s Names" show. Thirty years earlier Eddie G. was spinning The Chimes on a February Saturday night.

JB Lenoir’s "Mama, Talk To Your Daughter"? On the "Mothers" episode. And yep, on that episode of "Hi-Fi Party," too.
Howza ’bout "A Man’s Best Friend is His Bed?" Do I need to say it?

Artists like Junior Wells, Buddy and Ella Johnson, Jimmy Rushing?

An obsession with mentioning record labels?

A name-check of Syd Nathan, fast-talkin’ owner of King Records?

A taste for corny old jokes? We already heard Eddie G. crack wise on the subject of marriage. Later in the
same show he’d dryly point out that you’d never go hungry in the Gobi Desert, "because of the sand which
is there."

We pause for your groan.

SOUND: "POPEYE PLAYED FOR A SUCKER"

FRED
If you’re a fan of Theme Time Radio Hour, sooner or later you’ll ask the question...

"How much involvement did Bob Dylan actually have with the show?"

The answer is, "Probably not as much as the Sirius XM publicity machine would like you to think that he did..."

VOICE: SEINFELD CLIP

FRED
"... not that there’s anything wrong with that."

And there’s not.

While Mr. D. probably wasn’t scribbling out playlists or hunting through his record collection for "A Man’s Best Friend Is His Bed," the bottom line is that he still did record the commentary for 100 Theme Time Radio Hours.

At an average 20 minutes of talk for a Theme Time show, that’s well over 30 hours of narrative that Bob Dylan had to record, not even counting the time needed to do retakes. And this is a man who was also on tour for most of the show’s run, recorded at least one album, was painting and working on the second volume of Chronicles and - I hope - on The Hank Williams Project - and God knows what else.

The amazing thing about Theme Time Radio Hour is not that Bob Dylan did it, but that it got done at all.

And without Eddie Gorodetsky, it wouldn’t have gotten done.

FRED (cont’d)
So, let’s raise our glasses and look 30 years back to the fast-talkin’ young deejay of college radio station WERS-FM, host of "The Hi-Fi Party" who was at the start of a journey that would eventually lead to Theme Time Radio Hour.

SOUND: "THANK YOU" CLIP

SOUND: WERS SIGN-OFF

MUSIC: CLOSING THEME

***

You've been listening to the Dreamtime podcast – occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Dreamtime is researched and written by Fred Bals and is a Not Associated With production. As the name says, we're not associated with XM Radio, Bob Dylan, or much of anything else.

Some of the music on Dreamtime is provided via the Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at music.podshow.com.

Remember that the Dreamtime team loves to get email. You can write us at dreamtimepodcast@gmail.com

The Dreamtime top cats are Curly Lasagna and Shaggy Bear. Our announcers are the notorious honky-tonkin' sisters, Jailbait and Joyride.

Until next time, dream well.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Heartbreak Hotel" - Bob Dylan and The Cowboy Band



Apropos of yesterday's post. Bob Dylan with a fine cover of Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel", August 16th 2009, as a U.F.O. hovers over Lake Tahoe.

Kind of makes you wish for an "Elvis" project too, doesn't it?  Of course it'd be nice to have the Hank Williams Project sometime within this decade, too.

Thanks to Dreamtime pal John Caruth, and others for the links.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Giant Falls: Les Paul 1915-2009

The Wizard of Waukesha, Hot Rod Red, Rhubarb Red, Lester William Polsfuss, inventor extraordinaire and master musician, the man best known as Les Paul, has walked off the stage at age 94, a pretty damn good run. At various stages in his career, Paul played with or backed Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith, Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jeff Beck, His life essentially paralleled the development of American pop music over seven decades.

And of course, there was his collaboration with Mary Ford, née Collen Summers, whose name Paul changed by skimming through a telephone book after deciding that her birth name didn't scan correctly when billed with "Les Paul."

The Theme Time Radio Hour team missed several opportunities to play their hits. "Mockingbird Hill" would have been perfect for either of the "Bird" shows from Season 2 (maybe with two "Mockingbird" songs already on the "More Birds" playlist, a third was thought overkill), and "Vaya Con Dios" would have fit nicely into the final show. But we did get “How High the Moon,” featured in Season One's "Moon" show.



Les Paul's full obituary is here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock Slappy Redux

We try not to cannibalize ourselves too much here at Dreamtime. But the summer is slow, Theme Time is, as "ocgypsy" over at the ER forums succinctly put it, "becoming the 'I Love Lucy' of radio reruns," and we're contractually obligated to mention Woodstock at least three times this week.

So, here's a golden oldie we first posted this March, with some added material...

... an update to the classic Abbott and Costello Who's On First? routine, performed by the Animaniac's Slappy Squirrel and her nephew Skippy in Woodstock Slappy.



As older Dreamtimers know, the original skit was performed by the great comedy team, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. One of the funnier things I've read on the Web was a time-challenged commenter complaining that Who's On First was an obvious rip-off of Woodstock Slappy.



Who's On First was the most famous of many burlesque routines centered around word confusion. The earliest example may be a skit designed for a straight man and comic probably written at the start of the 20th century called "The Baker Scene," where the straight man relates that he's getting paid for loafing in a bakery.

Comic: I'd like to get a job in that bakery. Who's the boss?
Straight Man: Yes.
Comic: That's what I'm asking. Who's the boss?
SM: Yes.
C: Who's the guy you're working for?
SM: Exactly.
C: I'm asking you for the last time, what's the name of your boss?
SM: No, Watt's the name of the street.
And we're off. Abbott and Costello originally introduced Who's On First? in their stage act, and trotted it out to a larger audience during their run on The Kate Smith radio show in 19 and 38. By 19 and 44, the duo had had the routine copyrighted, and it became a staple of their radio and television appearances.

Who's On First Gets Psychedelicsized

The first rock'n-roll version seems to have been done by the L.A.-based comedy group, The Credibility Gap, in the mid-70s. Members of The Credibility Gap would later go on to greater fame as Lenny and Squiggy in the Laverne and Shirley sitcom (Micheal McKean and David Lander) and as members of Spinal Tap (Harry Shearer and the versatile Michael McKean again).

The Credibility Gap's routine centered around a music promoter trying to write a newspaper ad about a concert to feature The Who, The Guess Who, and Yes. Hilarity, as one could guess, ensued. You can hear the Credibility Gap update of Who's on First here, in obnoxious RealAudio format, I'm sorry to say.


Who's On First For Real


Although it took some 60-odd years, life finally imitated art in 2007 when the Los Angeles Dodgers added an infielder named Chin-Lung Hu. After Hu singled in a game against the San Diego Padres, Dodgers announcer Vin Scully solemnly remarked "And Hu's on first."

"I've waited my entire life to say that," Scully later added.

Woodstock Slappy - The Full Script


WOODSTOCK SLAPPY
----------------
Written by: JOHN P. McCANN & TOM RUEGGER
Director: AUDU PADEN
Animation: TOKYO MOVIE SHINSHA LTD.

CRONKITE-TYPE NARRATOR: 1969. As brave American soliders went to battle in Vietnam, back at home demonstrators protested the war. It was a time of flower power, pyschedelic music, student marches, and a nation divided. Which brings us to August 1969 and Slappy Squirrel.

{Going Up To The Country}

SINGER: Going up to the country
Gotta get away
Got to leave the city
Gotta get away
We might even leave the USA...

SLAPPY: Ah, here we go, summer in the country. Nothin' but rest and relaxation, right Skippy?
SKIPPY: Yeah, groovy, Aunt Slappy, man, groovy.
SLAPPY: Skippy, don't talk like that, people will think you had brain surgery.
SKIPPY: I can dig it, man, far out.
SLAPPY: *sigh*; I had to get him out of the city, away from all those bad influences.
SKIPPY: You mean like peace and love?
SLAPPY: Exactly. That stuff will warp ya!

{Humouresque (Slappy's theme)}

SLAPPY: There it is. Our summer cottage.
SKIPPY: Outta sight, man.
SLAPPY: Make yourself at home, kiddo.
SKIPPY: I can dig it.
SLAPPY: *sigh; I'll have him speakin' English again in no time.

{guitar riff...}

SLAPPY: Knock it off with the Bing Crosby, Stills, and Nash, will ya'?
SKIPPY: Why?

{Slappy's Theme}

SLAPPY: 'Cause the only tune I want to hear is "The Sound of Silence", can you dig that?
SKIPPY: I hear ya.
SLAPPY: Good. Now let's rest up for tomorrow.
SKIPPY: Why? What are we doing tomorrow?
SLAPPY: Napping all day if I have anything to say about it. Ah, rest and relaxation at last.

{Beautiful Dreamer}

M.C.: There is 300,000 of us here today, man! And now Miss Janis Joplin!

(screaming Joplin parody)


SLAPPY: Oops. Somebody just ran over a dog!
For the love of Kaopectate, what's going on?
SKIPPY: Something's happening here, What it is, ain't exactly clear.
SLAPPY: Well, thank you for that. Hey, you kids, what are you doin'?! Go on, get away from my tree!
HIPPIE1:Like, mellow out, you running-dog squirrel.
HIPPIE2:Hey, we're here for the Woodstock concert, man.
HIPPIE1:Three days of rock from groups like Jefferson Airplane, The Band, The Who, The Grateful Dead...
SLAPPY: I'd be grateful, too, if I didn't have to listen to this noise. Now clear out all of ya, go home! Scat!

{Animaniacs' theme}

SKIPPY: Aunt Slappy, be cool. Let's just go with the flow.
SLAPPY: I'm not goin' anywhere with Flo! I want some peace and quiet.
SKIPPY: But, Aunt Slappy, man, we're witnessing history. Woodstock. A single event pulling together a whole generation.
SLAPPY: A bowl full of prunes would have the same effect.

(Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag parody}

COUNTRY JOE McDONALD: And it's two, four, six
What am I singing for?
Don't ask me; I don't give a hoot
Just pay me with lots of loot!
And it's eight, ten, twelve
I'm just killing time
My contract says to sing a song
Yee haw! I need a rhyme!

SLAPPY: All right, all of ya', hit the road! Party's over! Go on, shoo!
SKIPPY: They're not listening, Aunt Slappy, man, they're tuned into the music!
SLAPPY: Well, we'll see about that. Come on.
SKIPPY: Where are we going?
SLAPPY: To the stage, to put a stop to this. I came to the country forsome peace and quiet and I'm gonna get it.

{Brand New Key parody }

MELANINE: Who's got a box of brand-new crackers?
I've got some brand-new cheese!

{With A Little Help From My Friends parody }
JOE COCKER: Would you still cheer if I had a tin ear?
Would you throw a tomato at me?
SLAPPY: Yes!
SKIPPY: Chill out, Aunt Slappy, man.

{Feel Me parody}

ROGER DALTRY: Can you watch me?
Can you listen to me?
Can you smell me?
Can you hear me?
SLAPPY: Unfortunately, yes! Skippy, what is the name of that group playing on stage?
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the group.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The group on stage.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The group playing on stage.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: You're starting to sound like an owl, Skippy.
SKIPPY: Who is on stage!
SLAPPY: That is what I'm askin' ya', who is on stage?
SKIPPY: That's what I said.
SLAPPY: You said who?
SKIPPY: I sure did.
SLAPPY: So tell me the name.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the group.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The group on stage.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the band on stage!
SKIPPY: Who!
SLAPPY: You're doing that owl thing again, Skippy!
SKIPPY: I'm not, Aunt Slappy, I'm telling you Who is on stage.
SLAPPY: So tell me.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: So tell me.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the group.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The group on stage!
SKIPPY: Who!
SLAPPY: That's what I'm asking you!
SKIPPY: And I'm telling you the answer.
SLAPPY: Wait, Skippy, let's start over. Is there a band on stage?
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: Does that band have a name?
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: Do you know the name of that band?
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: Then tell me the name of the band on stage.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the band!
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The band, playing on stage!
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: That's what I want to know!
SKIPPY: I'm telling you!
SLAPPY: Who is on stage.
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: Who is?
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: Oh. So the name of the band is Yes.
SKIPPY: No, Aunt Slappy, Yes is not even at this concert.
SLAPPY: Then who is on stage?
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: Who is?
SKIPPY: Yes.
SLAPPY: That's just what I said, Yes is on stage.
SKIPPY: No, Yes is not here. Who is on stage.
SLAPPY: Whaddya askin' me for?
SKIPPY: I'm not!
SLAPPY: Wait, let's try this again. Do you see the band on stage?
SKIPPY: No I don't see The Band, that's a different group entirely.
SLAPPY: On stage, Skippy. Look, see the band?
SKIPPY: No I don't.
SLAPPY: Get rid of those John Lennon glasses and look! There, there's the band!
SKIPPY: No, that's not The Band. The Band is performing later on. Who's on stage.
SLAPPY: You tell me.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the group on stage.
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of the group!
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The group on stage!
SKIPPY: Who.
SLAPPY: The band!
SKIPPY: No, The Band is performing later. Right now, we're listening to Who.
SLAPPY: That's what I wanna know!!

(applause)

ROGER DALTRY: Hey, you squirrels are funny, man. Come on up here and takea bow.
SKIPPY: Yeah! Far out!
SLAPPY: Oh brother....

{Humouresque}

SLAPPY: Yeah, yeah, OK. Thank you. Now everybody go home! Including you guys, what's your name?
ROGER: Who.
SLAPPY: The name of your band.
ROGER: Who.
SLAPPY: Don't start with me! Just get off the stage! The rest of you, go!

SLAPPY: Why aren't they leaving?
SKIPPY: They dig you, Aunt Slappy, man.
SLAPPY: Oh yeah? We'll see about that. I said leave!
[Smashes Hendrix's guitar]
ROGER: Oh, very groovy, mates, isn't it, totally!
PETE TOWNSHEND: Totally groovy.
ROGER: We are The Who!
[Smashing insturments]
ROGER: erg...

(applause)

SLAPPY: Yeesh! These kids would applaud my laundry! Why won't they take a hike?
SKIPPY: They want more music.
SLAPPY: All right, then. They can have more music!

{Slappy's theme}

SLAPPY: Hey everybody! Let's polka!

"Uncle Yasha lost his shoe
It fell in a bog; he did too.
Uncle Schmeeda grabbed his foot
He jumped in the bog and went kaput."

[audience runs]

{Beethoven's 6th Symphony}

SLAPPY: Ah. Peace and quiet at last!

{Star Spangled Banner}

In the land of the free,
Now that's comedy!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"The last time I saw Donald Armstrong" - The Bob Dylan/James Dickey Connection

I've been dipping into Chronicles: Volume One again while talking with Scott Warmuth over various discoveries we've made in the text. Scott, as you already know if you follow Dreamtime, found evidence that a 1961 issue of TIME magazine was the reference source for at least one section in Chronicles. During our correspondence Scott mentioned another discovery he had made, which I'll let him reveal publicly himself when he's ready. But his remark had me opening Chronicles again, and as I was skimming through the text, I stopped on what I always thought was one of the stranger passages in the book..

I gazed around the room, got up and nervously paced around a few times, watching the clock on the wall--it seemed to be running backwards.  I sat back down feeling lines plowing into my face and the whites of my eyes turning yellow. Al Kooper was clowning around, telling shaggy dog stories. I was listening to Daniels practicing scales on the fiddle, thumbing through some magazines that were left on the table, Collier's, Billboard, and Look magazine. Running across an article in Male magazine about a guy, James Lally, a radio man in World War II who had crashed with his pilot in the Philippines.  I got sidetracked for a second.  It was a gut crunching article, unfiltered.  Armstrong, the pilot, was killed in the crash, but Lally was taken prisoner by the Japanese, who took him to a camp and beheaded him with a samurai sword and then used his head for bayonet practice.  I pushed the magazine away.  Russ Kunkel, the drummer on the sessions, was siting on the couch was his eyes halfway shut, tapping two sticks together-- gazing through the glass darkly. I couldn't stop thinking about Lally and felt like moaning in the wind.~ Chronicles: Volume One, Pages 139-140
There's something weird - weird in the full Shakespearian sense - about this paragraph.  There's a thread of unspoken dread running throughout the passage that doesn't seem warranted. Dylan has "lines plowing into my face" and relates that the whites of his eyes are turning yellow.  The wall clock is running backwards. He feels like "moaning in the wind" and paraphrases 1 Corinthians 13:12, noting that drummer Russ Kunkel is "gazing through the glass darkly." All these allusions seem to make even less sense when read in context. Before and after the passage, Dylan is thinking about what was constantly on his mind; trying to figure out how to "freeze-frame" his image and "suggest only shadows of my possible self."  On a separate note, he's also deciding what to call the album which he would eventually title New Morning.

So what to make of the story of Lally and Armstrong that is the foundation of the passage? Are we to believe the article impressed Bob Dylan so much in 1970 that he introduced it as a strange non sequitur into Chronicles thirty years later?

You'd be unlikely to find a copy of Collier's in a 1970 recording studio, unless Bob Dylan brought it in himself.  The magazine stopped publishing in 19 and 57.  Leaving that aside, the other three magazines could have been on the table, including Male, a he-man "men's adventure" magazine specializing in lurid war tales and still being published into the `70s. It's also possible that there was an article about James Lally in some edition of Male, as his actual death at the hands of the Japaneses fit all the requirements for one of their patented stories, especially given the grisly details. According to one report Lally's body, as well as the body of the already deceased Armstrong, had been buried to their shoulders and their heads used for bayonet practice, as Dylan tells us the article relates. The war-crimes trial of Lally's executioners was also one of the first of its kind, making it even better fodder for a Male article.

Without an index of Male, we'll never know whether Dylan read the story in that magazine or not.  Perhaps the overall gruesomeness of Lally's death or some specific imagery caught his attention. Maybe it ended up in his commonplace book to be unearthed and used some three decades later when he was looking for some background material about the making of New Morning.

That's possible.  It's also possible that Dylan was well aware of another source reporting the death of Donald Armstrong, James Dickey's poem, "The Performance."
The last time I saw Donald Armstrong
He was staggering oddly off into the sun,
Going down, off the Philippine Islands.
I let my shovel fall, and put that hand
Above my eyes, and moved some way to one side
That his body might pass through the sun,

And I saw how well he was not
Standing there on his hands,
On his spindle-shanked forearms balanced,
Unbalanced, with his big feet looming and waving
In the great, untrustworthy air
He flew in each night, when it darkened. from "The Performance," 1959
 In March 1945, James Dickey had volunteered to become the historian for the 418th Air Squadron, and recorded the following on March 15th:
A most unexpected and tragic occurrence befell the Squadron when 2nd Lt. DONALD H. ARMSTRONG ... and his observer F/O JAMES J. LALLY ...high-speed-stalled close to the ground over the Jap strip at St. Jose,Panay, and crashed northwest of the field. ... [The plane] was found to be almost completely demolished except for a small portion of the crew nacelle. The entire Squadron awaited apprehensively the guerrilla radio operating near San Jose, for the plane had gone down between Japanese and Filipino-held positions. Finally the guerrillas informed us that Armstrong had been killed and Lally, badly injured, was in the hands of the enemy. There has been no further news to date.
The event resonated with Dickey for the rest of his life, becoming the basis for essays, short stories, and eventually two poems about Armstrong and Lally, "Between Two Prisoners" and "The Performance." One of James Dickey's most-anthologized poems, "The Performance" was not without its share of  Dylanesque controversy. Dickey changed many of the facts, ignoring Lally altogether and making Armstrong, who had died in the plane crash, "a mythical hero executed by sadistic enemies," as Henry Hart wrote in The Southern Review.  Dickey, a man who liked to mythologize his own life, claimed "almost every word of `The Performance' is literally true," and at various other times said he had been close friends with Donald Armstrong, wrote that Armstrong was a daredevil hero who had taken it upon himself to bomb an enemy field, and that he had seen Armstrong practicing showy handstands as reported in "The Performace."

In fact, none of it was true, but more grist for the re-invention that James Dickey created for his own life. "Dickey revises Armstrong's life by re-envisioning it," Hart writes, and goes on to theorize that "Armstrong provided Dickey with a mirror in which he could see himself in larger-than-life proportions."

James Dickey famously growled in a 1969 symposium about the "debased kind of music Bob Dylan and these people play."  If you read the line in context, Dickey was more complaining about the decline of traditional southern country and folk music, an opinion that Dylan would likely have agreed with then and now.  But whether James Dickey was a fan of Bob Dylan or not, it's probable that Dylan was a fan of his.

The inherent danger in exploring anything Bob Dylan writes or says is that sometimes the cigar is probably just a cigar, and maybe this anecdote of his idly thumbing through an issue of Male is just what it is. On the other hand, we're dealing with a man whose 1991 Grammy Acceptance Speech sounded, on first listen, to be embarrassed, semi-coherent rambling...
"Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say, son, he said..." (pause) "He said, you know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways."
... which turned out to be a allusion to Psalms 27:10.and a near-direct quote from the commentary of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch...
"Even if I were so depraved that my own mother and father would abandon me to my own devices, God would still gather me up and believe in my ability to mend my ways."


Saturday, August 01, 2009

This TIME It Is For Reference

Even Dreamtime isn't immune from using the occasional obligatory headline.

Our internet pal and correspondent Scott Warmuth was the man who first broke the news that several lines in the songs of Modern Times were based - sometimes borrowed from - the poet laureate of the Confederacy, Henry Timrod. Scott went on to discover fragments from Ovid, Chaucer and James Joyce in the lyrics of the Together Through Life songs, and has recently looked into Chronicles to see what he could find.

Scott noticed that a phrase in Chronicles referring to Hanoi as the, "brothel-studded Paris of the orient" appeared in quotation marks and wondered where it had been sourced. A little digging uncovered the Friday, March 31, 1961 edition of TIME magazine:

Chronicles, page 87:
"They had turned Hanoi, the capital city, into the 'brothel-studded Paris of the orient.'...The press reported Hanoi was grubby and cheerless, that the people dressed in Chinese shapeless jackets"

TIME, Friday, Mar. 31, 1961
North Viet Nam: Poor Neighbor
"Hanoi, long the brothel-studded 'Paris of the Orient,' is now grubby and cheerless..."

Interesting, but as Scott started to go through that issue of TIME (which can be found on-line here), it got even more interesting. He discovered that Dylan had apparently used that specific issue of the magazine as a reference source for a complete section of Chronicles. Among other things he mentions a glossary of phobias in that issue, "..."There'd be articles about things like new modern-day phobias, all with fancy Latin names...", paraphrases an article titled The Anatomy of Angst, and refers to people and events all covered in that edition of TIME, including Jackie Kennedy and the Cuban Revolutionary Council meeting at the Biltmore Hotel.

You can find a complete list of Scott's discoveries over at Expecting Rain, although I should warn you that as is usual with these cases, there's a turgid and occasionally nasty ongoing battle between those who feel Bob Dylan should be drawn-and-quartered for plagiarism, those who feel that way about Scott for reporting his discovery, and those with a more pragmatic view. I'm on the third side, if it matters. Any careful reading of the section in question shows that either Dylan or his editor very carefully mentions "articles" and "reported in the press," and the line about Hanoi as "brothel-studded" is enclosed in quotes, indeed the very clue that sent Scott off on his research. And I know Scott. His motivations are neither evil nor mercenary. He's simply interested in Dylan's sources, who, God knows, obliges with providing them.

There are many other lines in Chronicles that are better ammo for the "Dylan as magpie" crowd, including phrases that appear borrowed from such sources as Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe, Raised on Radio by Gerald Nachman, Daily Life in Civil War America by Dorothy and James Volo, as well as works by Jack London, and even potboilers by Sax Rohmer. Ed Cook, over in Washington, D.C., recently noted the parallels between the story Chronicles tells about Sonny Boy Williamson and the story Blues with a Feeling: the Little Walter Story relates about the first Sonny Boy.

Take any random descriptive phrase in Chronicles, run it through Google Books, and the chances are pretty good you'll get a match.

Some might find this awful, some might find it disappointing. Me, I find it interesting, just as I find it interesting that one of the weirder elements of Modern Times, Dylan's shout-out to Alicia Keyes in Thunder on the Mountain, is based on a 19 and 40 Memphis Minnie song found on Queen of the Delta Blues, Vol. 2, Ma Rainey.
I was thinking about Ma Rainey
Wonderin' where Ma Rainey could be


I was thinking about Ma Rainey
Wonderin' where Ma Rainey could be

I've been looking for her
Even been to Tennessee
There are numerous stories of Bob Dylan's "box of words," his apparent equivalent of a commonplace book, a storage bin for lines, phrases, stories, anecdotes that have caught his eye and ear. Thanks to the work of people like Scott, we get a peek inside that box occasionally, and are the richer for it, I think.