Monday, January 20, 2014

Music Monday ~ Lost in the '60s - again.... with a tambourine

Why have I gone back into that 1960s time slip I found myself in some days ago? Well, I noticed in a list of events for 20 January through the years that on this day in 1965 The Byrds recorded the master take of Bob Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man"....after hearing the first few bars of the song, once again I slipped back. Dylan's own version of the song, and that of The Byrds are posted at the end of this ramble.
Wikipedia: snips.
The master take of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was recorded on January 20, 1965, at Columbia Studios in Hollywood, prior to the release of Dylan's own version. The song's jangling, melodic guitar playing (performed by McGuinn on a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar) was immediately influential and has remained so to the present day.................
The single reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 1 on the UK Singles Chart, making it the first recording of a Dylan song to reach number 1 on any pop music chart.

Dylan began writing and composing "Mr. Tambourine Man" in February 1964, after attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans during a cross-country road trip with several friends, and completed it sometime between the middle of March and late April of that year after he had returned to New York. Nigel Williamson has suggested in The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan that the influence of Mardi Gras can be heard in the swirling and fanciful imagery of the song's lyrics

The song has a bright, expansive melody and has become famous in particular for its surrealistic imagery, influenced by artists as diverse as French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini.... Interpretations of the lyrics have included a paean to drugs such as LSD, a call to the singer's muse, a reflection of the audience's demands on the singer, and religious interpretations. Dylan sings the song in four verses, of which The Byrds used only the second for their recording.

Bob Dylan's lyrics:

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.
Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin'
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy .....etc.

Though you might hear laughin', spinnin' swingin' madly across the sun
It's not aimed at anyone, it's just escapin' on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin'
And if you hear vague traces of skippin' reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it's just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn't pay it any mind, it's just a shadow you're
Seein' that he's chasing.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy....etc.

Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Listeners decide for themselves meanings of any song lyrics - in the same way someone gazing at a painting in an art gallery decides what meaning, if any, there is for them in the piece of art under perusal. With this song, I'm quite happy just to float along in the haze of lovely imagery without attributing much meaning at all.

I found a long and interesting comment (dated 2006) on a website where an old discussion had been ongoing about the meaning of these lyrics - I though it worth hauling out, at least in part because the website was unstable, jumping around and hard to control - on my computer anyway. Let's give a clip from the comment some fresh air:

Part of long comment from "bluemeawayy" in 2006

First off, all of Dylan's songs are ambiguous. Ambiguity it what makes something art. For example, to say you're less pretty now that you are older is literal, however, to say "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May" is art. It is artful in its ambiguity. And do to this ambiguity there can certainly be many personal interpretations. But I assure you it is not simply a metaphor for drugs.

Dylan rarely commented on the meaning behind his lyrics in order to keep the ambiguity and ability for personal interpretation alive. However, he always insisted that this song was not about drugs and often was very offended by that assumption. In his most recent autobiography he states that this song was inspired by his experience at Mardi Gras.

For anyone that knows anything about Mardi Gras; it is the celebration that leads up to Ash Wednesday and Christian Holy day that marks the beginning of Lent. The party was historically intended to be one last blow out before basically giving up our bad habits for the forty days of Lent.

For anyone who has been to Mardi Gras, it is quite a strange scene come Tuesday night at midnight. At midnight, when Wednesday and lent technically begin the streets clear out. The bars however will remain open as long as there are customers. So for basically a week there is none stop parties in the street until all hours of the night/morning (basically they dont stop). On Tuesday, however, you can walk into a bar at 10:00 pm with Bourbon Street buzzing like crazy and walk out anytime after midnight and the street, once packed and crazy for an entire week, is empty, completely desolate. Rosary beads appear over all the grave stones in the cemeteries, everyone goes home for the beginning of the religious observance of Lent.

If you are not expecting this, this can come as quite a shock. And the scene is quite eerie. This is what happened to Dylan he walked into a pub with the street packed and walked out, surprised to find it completely empty, except for a costume (french quarter of New Orleans/Mardi Gras...the clown with the tambourine is actually literal) wearing musician with a tambourine........Tambourine (let alone anything) in such an eerie empty place.

As for the rest...

But as Dylan himself put it "I'm not going to write a fantasy song. Even a song like 'Mr. Tambourine Man' really isn't a fantasy. There's substance to the dream."

"Well, songs are just thoughts. For the moment they stop time. Songs are supposed to be heroic enough to give the illusion of stopping time. With just that thought. To hear a song is to hear someone's thought, no matter what they're describing. If you see something and you think it's important enough to describe, then that's your thought. You only think one thought at a time, so what you come up with is really what you're given. When you sit around and *imagine* things to do and to write and to think - that's fantasy. I've never been much into that."

So in a sense the rest of the song is merely his thoughts at the very moment that he experienced that very eerie scene.

"Mr. Tambourine Man," like the other material Dylan was developing in early 1964, was emblematic of his escape from the shackles of topical songwriting into more abstract imagery, often suggesting a search for liberation from both external and internal prisons.

"And for the sky there are no fences facing" -- he's longing for freedom and a break from the restraints imposed by the lull that popular music had fallen into. Artistic expression should have no fences around it.

That quest was quite apparent in another of the songs he worked on during his journey, "Chimes of Freedom," its call for the abolition of repression not tethered to any specific political or social movement. "Mr. Tambourine Man" went yet further, evoking not just escape from bondage but an altered state of perception, with its plea for transportation through mystical ships and corridors of time to a land of diamond-studded skies. A use for music not previously conceived of. Remember this is before the psychedelic movement really. None of the music of the time could really transport you to an altered reality to escape the despondence of the one you currently were living in.

Inspired by the faint happy jingle jangles of a ragged clown playing a tambourine in the middle of a deserted Bourbon Street, while feeling nearly sick with exhaustion Dylan thought about escaping, past the frozen leaves and crazy sorrow to a place with diamond skies, a place where you could dance with one arm waving free, where all your memories and the unfortunate fate of your life was out of sight.


mike said...

Well, I think that commenter must have been Dylan, himself! The commenter certainly proffered a vicarious observation of Dylan's sentiments and rationale for the lyrics.

I think the commenter overstated when saying, "None of the music of the time could really transport you to an altered reality to escape the despondence of the one you currently were living in." The music of Peter, Paul, and Mary was much along those lines of supplying metaphors for the concerns of daily life..."Puff, the Magic Dragon" was one of their hits from 1963. "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals in 1964...etc.

Here's The New Christy Minstrels lyrics to "Today", which was another 1964 hit:

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine

A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today

I'll be a dandy and I'll be a rover
You'll know who I am by the song that I sing
I'll feast at your table, I'll sleep in your clover

Who cares what the 'morrow shall bring?

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine

I can't be contented with yesterdays glory
I can't live on promises winter to spring

Today is my moment and now is my story

I'll laugh and I'll cry and I'll sing

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today

Twilight said...

mike ~ The comment quoted had to be from someone "in the know" - it was well-written too. Maybe from an old friend or associate of Dylan, or a music journalist who had interviewed him at some time.

I agree that some other songs of the time - and of years before - and in fact always, have been able to transport a listener to an altered reality. So saying "a use for music not previously conceived of" was over the top.

Dylan, being a poet at heart, was good at imagery, when he was in the mood. In other moods he'd get right to the painful point" Masters of War
John Wesley Harding etc.

You mentioned House of the Rising Sun - that was originally an old traditional blues song, brought back to life by The Animals. Not exactly a feel good ditty, but certainly transporting one to a different reality.

What about much older songs like Stardust, Begin the Beguine, La Mer (Beyond the Sea) just to mention 3 off the top of my head. There must be hundreds of 'em.

Music has always had the ability to transport us to an altered reality.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing/posting this. I've enjoyed going back in time tonight. I do wonder if Dylan was the commenter; I hope so. Would love to know where you found the comment.
I found a link on You Tube with Bob Dylan and the Byrds singing Mr. Tambourine Man in 1990 at a tribute concert for Roy Orbison that aired on Showtime.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~ Glad you enjoyed it! :-)
If you click on the link above the comment in my post it takes you to a lyrics site; under the lyrics there are multiple pages of comments and discussion. This comment is among them, but the website is really unstable - at least on my computer.
I went back a few mins. ago to try to pinpoint the page the comment appears on - and was meaning to see whether clicking on the commenter's name might take me to his website or profile, but I couldn't get the comments pages to steady long enough to find the was even worse than it was when I visited before.
Maybe it's my old Windows XP.
If you have Win 7 or 8 or Mac it might be worth a try.

DC said...

That post was awesome as well as entirely nostalgic for me personally....but let me digress a bit....I want to humbly remind you of something that this post of yours reminded me of....and that is the rich history of Oklahoman musicians....which btw I have been, by sheer coincidence looking at closely lately.
I'll keep it brief but will however mention my favourites from my most loved down.....i.e. Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, Merle Haggard (not actually born in OK but his parents were from there...he was born in Bakersfield I think), Woody Guthrie, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Patti Page, Carl Radle....the list goes on. Here's a link that I referenced here...and although you may or may not have paid tribute to some or all of them on your blog at one time or another...I thought it was just worth a mention when it came to to the music genre that I know I love so well. every one of these Oklahomans I would consider heroic...IMO.

Twilight said...

DC ~ Glad you enjoyed it. :-)

Ah yes, Oklahoma musicians - well, Oklahoma has to be good for something, its senators, politicians and politics in general stink to high heaven!

I'm a fan of Leon Russell (saw him once at our local theatre a few years ago), I'm a huge and longtime fan of Merle Haggard and Garth Brooks, from before I even knew where Oklahoma was on the map!

Woody Guthrie was iconic and will be spinning in his grave if he can see present day Oklahoma.

The rest you name are familiar names but not particular favourites of mine. Cannot deny that the state has spawned more than its share of good uns!

In more modern times the Flaming Lips originated in Oklahoma City (not sure if all members born here though), and I remember them only for that peculiar but addictive Yoshimi & Pink Robots song.

Thanks for giving them all a shout-out.

anyjazz said...

Well, I can’t pass up a chance to add in some of my favorites.

What Oklahoma most certainly lacks in quality political leaders it makes up for in its substantial collection of unique and influential musicians. There’s Roger Miller, Kay Starr, Tom Paxton and Jimmy Rushing for singer/songwriters. And guitars? There’s Roy Clark, Barney Kessel and Charlie Christian. (Christian was born in Bonham, TX, but grew up in Oklahoma.)

And there are others.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Thanks for the additional names. There must be something musical in the Oklahoma air....when the wind comes sweepin' down the plain....