Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The crown-bound brows of the Bard of Hibbing (expanded)


Well I recall, in 1965, listening to the new album “Highway 61 Revisited” in my parents’ basement;  thinking:  This is the real deal.   Unlike much of the pop music my generation has enjoyed, this will last;  people will still be listening to it,  fifty years from now.

Then the decades went by, his career veered into less interesting avenues, and his voice lost some of its timbre and zing; I no longer followed his activities.

Yet lo -- Who would have predicted that, half a century from 1965, not only would people still be listening,  but the old codger would still be touring.  A lot.  Amazing.

And now the Nobel Prize.   Kind of out of left field, but one of the committee members made the valid point:  that, going back as far as Homer, poetry has been meant to be performed, even sung.  And this, in many different cultures.

The rustic troubadour, in a lyrical mood

So:  A tip of the stetson to you, old man.


~  [The genre now shifts  from memoir  to sotie] ~

It is not for us to add any groat’s-worth of comment to his abundantly documented biography.   Yet we do take comfort in having been, apparently, the only HRNS [highly-respected news site] to document Ibn-Guthrie’s  brilliant but little-known 1965 concert in Oslo:


[Footnote] I just checked the link for this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuxWYEw4prQ
Remarkably, it is still available -- most songs by the Prairie Skald  have been deleted or disabled on YouTube by the Copyright Police.   The Norwegian lyrics of this one  apparently protected it -- de minimis non curat Attila.   If this trend continues, by 2076, all Internet content will be in the Norwegian language.


~

Meanwhile, the snarky, fairly brainy site Boulevard Voltaire, is underwhelmed:

Nobel de littérature : aujourd’hui Bob Dylan, demain un « twittérateur »

They offer a political décryptage for the Committee’s choice, which I leave to your perusal.  That the choice might be politically motivated is not out of the question:  certainly this year’s choice for the (always highly politicized) Peace Prize makes no sense at all aside from such a perspective.  (And it’s not the obvious one -- nothing to do with the FARC really.  But my keyboard is running out of pixels, so you’ll have to figure it out for yourselves.)


~

Back to the blind bard of the Achaeans.
Whatever might have been their origin in oral performance, some folks have felt that such hit ditties as “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” read pretty well on paper too.  Whereas Zimmerman’s lyrics, so displayed, are thin stuff.  He himself took them seriously as poetry; the lyrics were printed in full on the backs of his albums of circa 1965. 
I recall in the late ‘sixties, when (excellent) bootleg albums  were appearing (like the Basement Tapes), a book of poems came out, Tarantula.    Still very much a fan, I almost bought a copy, but, glancing at it first, was obliged to toss it aside.  (Lennon’s In his own Write was actually amusing by comparison.  Heck, I even enjoyed Ono’s Grapefruit -- now there’s a collecter’s item.)

It is no knock on his song-lyrics as lyrics  to say that they fail to impress on the printed page.   One of the finest lines of all time, from the world of music, goes:

Bom ba-bom bom,  ba-dang ba-dang dang,
ba-ding ba-dong ding   BLUE MOON.

No seriously, it’s great;  but you have to hear it, not read it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eMkH0s3Vpc

Okay, that said:  We could still defend the Committee’s decision on the grounds that it recognizes the oeuvre, not sub specie printed poetry, like that of the modern eye-poets, but as a Gesamtkunstwerk, the music no more abstractable from than lyrics  than flesh from bones, or “The Godfather” from its soundtrack.


In any event, the Nobel committee was not the first to consider pop lyrics an integral part of the poetic canon, next to T.S. Eliot  and all the rest.  For, the anthology of American poetry published in 2000 by the prestigious Library of America, includes ditties from Tin Pan Alley (Ira Gerschwin, Lorenz Hart) and Delta Blues (Blind Lemon Jefferson  et alia).   And indeed, as I near the end of reading through both volumes, it may be affirmed that those offerings, while hardly standouts, are at least entertaining and worth reading  -- an evaluation that I would deny to (alas) a great deal that made it into these volumes, and that from  famous pens.


[Update 26 March 2017]  A judicious and enjoyable survey of the state of affairs, by David Orr, may be savored here:

 

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