Mr. Tambourine Man

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Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by diegobueno » Thu Oct 13, 2016 10:04 pm

Our new Nobel Prize winner has impressed at least some people as having serious merit (I am not a tremendous fan of him). John Corigliano is either paying a compliment to Bob Dylan's words, or a slight to his music. Anyway, here is an alternative setting of some familiar words:


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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Thu Oct 13, 2016 10:20 pm

Interesting. I own the Naxos disc and recall reading that Corigliano said that he had never listened to Dylan's original songs, just set the texts to his own music. That intrigued me coming from an American composer.
John Corigliano wrote:A colleague suggested that I look into the poetry of the songs of Bob Dylan. Having not yet listened to the songs, I decided to send away for the texts only…and found many of them to be every bit as beautiful and as immediate as I had heard—and surprisingly well-suited to my own musical language…these would be in no way arrangements, or variations, or in any way derivations of the music of the original songs, which I decided to not hear before the cycle was complete…I intended to treat the Dylan lyrics as the poems I found them to be. Nor would their settings make any attempt at pop or rock writing. I wanted to take poetry I knew to be strongly associated with popular art and readdress it in terms of concert art—crossover in the opposite direction, one might say. Dylan granted his permission, and I set to work.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by diegobueno » Fri Oct 14, 2016 8:37 am

It's hard to imagine anyone could have lived through the 60s and not heard Mr. Tambourine Man or Blowin' in the Wind, but if he had heard them he couldn't have made his own settings. I'm not certain that these settings of Corigliano's are going to replace Dylan's tunes in my head either. Right now it's just interesting to see how someone else envisions these words.

Here's Corigliano's "Blowin' in the wind"


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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Fri Oct 14, 2016 9:35 am

Of course Dylan's lyrics would strike a composer as suitable for music. That's their main claim to fame. But greater composers than Corigliano have set lesser verses than Dylan's to music. Which does not confer greatness on the lyric retrospectively.

An example is Brahms's "Sonntag" (Sunday), to Johann Ludwig Uhland's verses:



So hab' ich doch die ganze Woche
Mein feines Liebchen nicht geseh'n,
Ich sah es an einem Sonntag
Wohl vor der Türe steh'n:
Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein,
Das tausendschöne Herzelein,
Wollte Gott, wollte Gott, ich wär' heute bei ihr!

So will mir doch die ganze Woche
Das Lachen nicht vergeh'n,
Ich sah es an einem Sonntag
Wohl in die Kirche geh'n:
Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein,
Das tausendschöne Herzelein,
Wollte Gott, wollte Gott, ich wär' heute bei ihr!

Translation: http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=16085

W.H. Auden, a great poet whom the Nobel jurors overlooked, once said that the most important thing about a libretto or a poem to be set to music is not its intrinsic quality but whether it inspires the composer. He knew from experience with composers from Britten to Stravinsky.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Sat Oct 15, 2016 6:27 am

Besides being inspired by Dylan's words to set them to music, Corigliano expressed at that time his opinion about their literary merits:
I decided to send away for the texts only … and found many of them to be every bit as beautiful and as immediate as I had heard.... the music of the original songs I decided to not hear before the cycle was complete … I intended to treat the Dylan lyrics as the poems I found them to be.
And this week when asked to react to the Nobel award, Corigliano left no doubt about what he thinks of Dylan's poetry:
When I wrote my seven-song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man, I had not heard the music to Bob Dylan’s songs; but I had purchased a large book of his lyrics and, on first reading, immediately recognized them for the poetry they are. These lyrics can evoke a Whitman-like grandeur, as in “Chimes of Freedom;” etch an Agee-like portrait of small town life, as in “Clothes Line,” or declaim a terrifying indictment of militarism (“Masters of War”). I can see why the Nobel committee awarded him the prize for literature. http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/cor ... l-lit-win/

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Sat Oct 15, 2016 1:27 pm

Obviously Corigliano likes of Dylan's lyrics since he set some of them to music. But so what? Many composers of songs, even the great ones, are literarily undiscriminating - Schubert, for example. Mahler's lyrics for "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" have no merit at all except that they provided him with the basis for some outstanding music. Let's say that while some readers think well of Dylan's lyrics independently of his songs and recordings, they are decidedly a minority among those who read and care about contemporary poetry. The Nobel Prize, with the prestige and money that go with it, should make sense to those readers, but this one doesn't. Set beside the poetry of other major poets in our lifetimes, such as W. H. Auden and Philip Larkin, neither of whom won the Nobel, Dylan's control of form and language are primitive - I'd say almost childish.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Sat Oct 15, 2016 1:59 pm

The fact that other composers may be "literarily undiscriminating" (huh?) does not convict Corigliano of it. He strikes me as the soul of discrimination. There are greater living poets than Dylan, I would mention Richard Wilbur, but so what? — that doesnt make Dylan's work "primitive" and "almost childish".

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Sat Oct 15, 2016 3:11 pm

jserraglio wrote:The fact that other composers may be "literarily undiscriminating" (huh?) does not convict Corigliano of it. He strikes me as the soul of discrimination. There are greater living poets than Dylan, I would mention Richard Wilbur, but so what? — that doesnt make Dylan's work "primitive" and "almost childish".
A certain Vulcan would say, "Illogical." :) On what grounds does Corigliano strike you as "the soul of discrimination" - literary discrimination, since that's what we're talking about? The choice of Bob Dylan lyrics for his one and only song cycle, almost the only songs he's composed in his long career, is certainly not an argument in his favor. If, like Brahms in the example I gave earlier, he found these words useful for writing songs, that's fine, but it isn't about literary excellence but something else.

I'll repeat in full what I've said: "Dylan's control of form and language are primitive - I'd say almost childish." In another forum, a member said, "I doubt you could find a contemporary poem any more powerful than "Desolation Row." I replied, "The writing is so awkward in places - apparently inadvertently - that I can't take it seriously as a poem." An example - there are many:

Cinderella, she seems so easy,
"It takes one to know one, " she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style

That's a rhyme? Having accepted the convention of rhyming verse, he must do way better than that. Or, in "Visions of Johanna,"

In the empty lot where the ladies play blindman’s bluff with the key chain
And the all-night girls they whisper of escapades out on the “D” train

Key chain / D train? That isn't poetry, it's rap.

Dylan's forced rhymes and non-rhymes are only the most obvious and easy to demonstrate of his inadequate control of form and language - which are the very qualities that distinguish poetry from non-poetry and, more broadly, literature from non-literature.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Sat Oct 15, 2016 3:33 pm

I trust my illogic has not engendered your own outburst of pretzel logic. :)

What in Corigliano's reaction to Dylan's award strikes you as "literarily undiscriminating"?
John Corigliano wrote: When I wrote my seven-song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man, I had not heard the music to Bob Dylan’s songs; but I had purchased a large book of his lyrics and, on first reading, immediately recognized them for the poetry they are. These lyrics can evoke a Whitman-like grandeur, as in “Chimes of Freedom;” etch an Agee-like portrait of small town life, as in “Clothes Line,” or declaim a terrifying indictment of militarism (“Masters of War”). I can see why the Nobel committee awarded him the prize for literature. http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/cor ... l-lit-win/
I have already defended Dylan's rhyming in "Johanna" in another thread. If interested, you will find a full-throated discussion of Dylan's rhymes in Ricks's excellent, though controversial book.

Sorry, outta time. gotta run. The Indians are leading the Blue Jays in game 2 of the ALCS. THAT's truly Nobel worthy!

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Sun Oct 16, 2016 6:29 am

Corigliano's literary judgment and discrimination lies not in how he justifies his choice of texts - obviously he likes Dylan's lyrics - but in the texts themselves, which are very poor stuff as poetry however well they may serve as verses to be sung.

My own literary judgment has been formed by the study literature in college, editing anthologies of poetry for college courses, and reading a lot of poetry and literary criticism because I enjoy it. My latest purchase in that line has been Clive James's "Poetry Notebook"; James, a poet as well as a critic and much else, is anything but an ivory-tower academic. This is the basis of my judgment that Dylan's song lyrics are poor stuff and therefore that Corigliano's praise of them lacks literary discrimination. Nothing illogical about that.

What it comes down to is whether there is such a thing as literature, as qualitatively distinct from other kinds of writing and uses of language, and if so, what literature is. What do you think?
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Mon Oct 17, 2016 10:12 am

John F wrote:My own literary judgment has been formed by the study [of] literature in college, editing anthologies of poetry for college courses, and reading a lot of poetry and literary criticism because I enjoy it. ...What it comes down to is whether there is such a thing as literature, as qualitatively distinct from other kinds of writing and uses of language, and if so, what literature is. What do you think?
Different traditions. Dylan comes out of the Beat tradition as Sean Wilentz shows in this 2010 New Yorker essay:
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk ... gs-america

Now I had never thought much of the Beats. My idea of real poetry (BTW, being no critic, I havent a clue as to what literature is, as distinct from non-literature, though I suspect it may have a lot to do with the presence of the sort of cultural resonances Wilentz explores in his writing) runs to guys like Pound (to me, Pound is the greatest pure poet of all the moderns though he wrote lots of drivel too), Frost and Heaney (kindred spirits whose poetry I love), Empson, Auden, Larkin, Wilbur (Wilbur and Larkin both deserve a Nobel), Lowell, Kinnell, Bishop, and of course Eliot (whom I don't respond to as viscerally as I do the others). But in school I audited part of a course by literary historian Kevin Starr (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Starr). Starr took seriously the Beats (incl. Corso, Ferlinghetti) and the West Coast poets (Snyder, Lamantia, McClure, Patchen) and got me to at least give these guys a hearing. I'll never forget the delightful day Starr rode into the lecture hall on a motorcycle.

Another big influence, as you may have gathered, has been Christopher Ricks's criticism, not so much his brilliant stuff on Dylan but on the poets he values that I never gave a second thought to before -- the Victorians, Tennyson, Housman, Clough and James Henry (not Henry James). I thought they were a bit "primitive and childish", to quote a phrase, and not worth a second look before Ricks made their case. These were poets that spoke to their audiences, often large audiences, in an accessible language, not like most of the hermetically-sealed modernist poets I admired. Then there was Ricks's youthful, high-octane defense of Milton's poetry against the strictures of the formalists (including Eliot and Pound) -- Ricks exploded their contempt for Milton with finality (Milton's Grand Style). Milton was another poet like Tennyson and Eliot that spoke to a large audience, were masters of allusion, and wrote in a moral tradition running from Johnson thru Arnold to Eliot. There is an underlying pattern there, I think, which may explain Ricks's later espousal of the poetry of Bob Dylan.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Mon Oct 17, 2016 2:22 pm

Back in my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, I read quite a lot of Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gary Snyder (though I don't think he was really a Beat). I've never had any doubt that what they were writing is poetry, while I'm sure that Dylan's lyrics aren't, but only verse. And what does it mean to speak of the "Beat tradition"? Like many other episodes in modern poetry, it was a one-generation phenomenon, and while Ginsberg in particular did exert an identifiable influence on some of his contemporary non-Beats, I believe that was the extent of it.

For me, the difference between literature and non-literature is in large part, though not exclusively, to do with skill in the craft of writing, and in the case of poetry, of compression and technique. That doesn't mean regularity of meter, stanza form, and rhyme, but when a writer adopts those poetic conventions, he/she should have mastered them. I've shown in this and the other Dylan thread how he has failed in this respect, and I could have provided many more examples. As lyrics to be sung, no doubt Dylan's writing is a success; as statements, one may find them enlightening and persuasive, though I don't; as poetry without the music, no.

James Henry is a new name to me, but if Ricks puts him in the same class as Tennyson and Housman, I should check him out.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Mon Oct 17, 2016 5:55 pm

Well, I think that one other source of Ricks's interest in Henry (besides delighting in his discovery—Ricks found Henry's book pages uncut in the Cambridge U. library) may have been that Henry like Ricks was pretty much atheist. He edited Henry's selected poems.

As for the "Beat Tradition," there's the proof, I am no lit critic. Re-word it as the "Beat Movement". Back to Ricks, I think the sins and virtues that scaffold Visions of Sin, rather than being exclusively theological, may have been influenced by the historically and culturally rooted moral philosophy of Sir Bernard Williams, whom I think Ricks must have known at Oxford. I recall reading that Sir Bernard, legendary for his own quickness, called Ricks the "cleverest" mind at Oxford—also recall hearing Ricks state in an online interview that his one regret was not attending J. L. Austin's Oxford lectures on moral philosophy. Anyway, Ricks's analysis of Dylan's rhymes in Visions is detailed, condensed, penetrating and persuasive, fourteen pages on "Hattie Carroll" alone. The brilliance of his exegesis makes my head spin. The book as a whole is a tour de force.

"Key chain / D train? That isn't poetry, it's rap." That ain't no rap, man. It mockingly alludes to Prufrock's iconic Michelangelo couplet, and the tongue-in-cheek rhyme is meant to sound bathetic, as does Eliot's. If one must insist on its being a bad rhyme, then it would be no worse than Eliot's. But bad it's not, it's poetry.

"easy/smiles/pockets/style": the double perspective found in this stanza, one male, one female, hath begotten an alternation between the two-syllable "feminine" line endings (lines 1 & 3) and the monosyllabic "masculine" endings in 2 & 4. The real interest, however, lies in the rhythm/gender associations being inverted: female endings in lines 1 & 3 being associated with the male POV, and vice versa. Because the world as we know it hath been turned upside down. Inside out. Desolation Row. The Waste Land.

I don't know what literature is, but for me it has less to do with style (though style is important) than it does with the written word giving voice to its embedded history and culture—Sean Wilentz shows this skillfully and lucidly—how Dylan's language emerged from the Beats. In our history, Hamilton vs. Jefferson. In our literature, Dickinson vs. Whitman. Compared to Dickinson, Whitman lacks "style," though he too produced great literature.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Tue Oct 18, 2016 4:46 am

This thread has been getting more interesting. Thanks.
jserraglio wrote:"Key chain / D train? That isn't poetry, it's rap." That ain't no rap, man. It mockingly alludes to Prufrock's iconic Michelangelo couplet, and the tongue-in-cheek rhyme is meant to sound bathetic, as does Eliot's.
Say what? Never in his life did Eliot try to pass off anything like key chain / D train as a rhyme, as Dylan does. The Michelangelo couplet rhymes; Dylan's faux couplet does not. When Eliot wants a multisyllabic rhyme, essentially a comic effect (cf. W. S. Gilbert), he doesn't cheat; "meticulous" does indeed rhyme with "ridiculous." And apart from both referring to women, I see no meaningful connection between the two - certainly nothing near an allusion or a verbal echo. If Dylan's "all-night girls" imitating a movie star actually does point to anything in Eliot - and you or Ricks would have a hard time making that case - it's not the culturally pretentious socialites in "Prufrock" who diminish the titanic Michelangelo to bourgeois cocktail chatter. As for Dylan's false rhyme being rap (before the fact), it is exactly what rappers do all the time. For example:
Snoop Doggy Dogg wrote:But um, back to the lecture at hand
Perfection is perfected, so I'ma let 'em understand
From a young G's perspective
And before me dig out a bitch I have to find a contraceptive
http://genius.com/Dr-dre-nuthin-but-a-g-thang-lyrics
jserraglio wrote:"easy/smiles/pockets/style": the double perspective found in this stanza, one male, one female, hath begotten an alternation between the two-syllable "feminine" line endings (lines 1 & 3) and the monosyllabic "masculine" endings in 2 & 4. etc.
Even if all this were actually in the lyric and not a forced interpretation superimposed on it - the actual quatrain just doesn't support what you've said - that doesn't explain away Dylan's technical failure to find a true rhyme expressing what he wants to say.

There is, of course, such a thing as off-rhyme, in which the vowels in the end-words don't match. Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting" is an example. But he doesn't resort to it as a short-cut to get around a local problem in an otherwise rhyming lyric; it's a convention maintained throughout the poem.
Wilfred Owen wrote:It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
When Owen sets out to write a sonnet, there's no cheating with the rhymes, as in "Futility":
Wilfred Owen wrote:What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Owen may not have been a great poet, but at least he really was a poet, with the will and skill to integrate what he has to say tightly with the form and sound of how he says it - a simple description of what poetry us. Dylan: not.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Tue Oct 18, 2016 5:17 am

You asked for an answer. You were answered.

I didn't borrow any specific analysis from Mr. Ricks: whatever faults that exist are mine. I respect your opinions though, and I'm in a forgiving mood this morning after the Cleveland Indians, having lost pitchers #2, 3 & 4 of the their starting rotation to injury, defeated the Toronto Blue Jays last night to come within one win of advancing to the World Series. Nobody, NOBODY picked them.

If you haven't already, you should consider reading Ricks on Dylan's masculine and feminine line endings and non-rhymes where one expects a rhyme—there you will encounter the best possible case to be made for Dylan as poet. Gotta go to work now. Sorry to run.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Nov 02, 2016 9:56 pm

Bob Dylan has the worst 'wet fish' handshake in the world, but I was not put off.

We once had a conversation about the academics who study his work.

John F's reply reminded me of it.

"Hey man, i'm always looking for something to break, musically or poetically, you got any rules?"
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Thu Nov 03, 2016 7:10 am

Chalkperson wrote:"Hey man, i'm always looking for something to break, musically or poetically, you got any rules?"
Genius is as genius does. Thanks for sharing the anecdote. Never heard Dylan live. Coulda. Shoulda.
Chalkperson wrote:Bob Dylan has the worst 'wet fish' handshake in the world, but I was not put off. We once had a conversation about the academics who study his work.
Roundtable discussion on Dylan with Profs. Sean Wilentz and Christopher Ricks

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Thu Nov 03, 2016 8:51 am

jserraglio wrote:If you haven't already, you should consider reading Ricks on Dylan's masculine and feminine line endings and non-rhymes where one expects a rhyme—there you will encounter the best possible case to be made for Dylan as poet. Gotta go to work now. Sorry to run.
I've already spent more time on Dylan than he's worth, and now you want me to read a thick book about him? Sorry, I do my own critical reading and need no help from Dr. Ricks. One thick book I have read is Clive James's "Cultural Literacy: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts." In its 850 pages and over 100 essays it contains exactly one indexed reference to Bob Dylan - in a piece on Miles Davis: "Preceding Bob Dylan in his readiness to ignore the audience if he felt like it, he differed in his capacity, when talking offstage, to say something both brief and funny at the same time."
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Nov 03, 2016 3:12 pm

I should add that Bob is nuttier than a fruit cake, seriously.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Thu Nov 03, 2016 3:47 pm

Chalkperson wrote:I should add that Bob is nuttier than a fruit cake, seriously.
Intriguing. He joins several other great American mad poets.

Waking In The Blue
by Robert Lowell

The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the "mentally ill.")

What use is my sense of humour?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbert and ginger ale--
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's;
the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie,"
Porcellian '29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig--
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.

These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.

In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. rooster of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.
Last edited by jserraglio on Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Sat Nov 05, 2016 12:30 pm

John F wrote:I've already spent more time on Dylan than he's worth, and now you want me to read a thick book about him? Sorry, I do my own critical reading and need no help from Dr. Ricks. One thick book I have read is Clive James's "Cultural Literacy: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts." In its 850 pages and over 100 essays it contains exactly one indexed reference to Bob Dylan - in a piece on Miles Davis: "Preceding Bob Dylan in his readiness to ignore the audience if he felt like it, he differed in his capacity, when talking offstage, to say something both brief and funny at the same time."
'Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Tue Dec 27, 2016 9:50 am

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-t ... ture-is-d/

Christopher Ricks
The Telegraph
14 OCTOBER 2016 • 4:54PM
This week, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Literary critic and former Oxford Professor of Poetry Sir Christopher Ricks explains why his art goes beyond words.

Today, the happiest of turmoils all over the world. Rightly a tribute to the art even more than to the artist, the Nobel triumph – like the art itself – will endure. For the triumph of genius does the heart good, and not only the heart.

Some reminders, since one of Dylan’s powers is that of a great reminder:

First, that every artist, insofar as he or she is great as well as original, has had the task of creating the taste by which the art is to be enjoyed (Wordsworth’s conviction). Second, that the art of song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more “important”: the voice, or the music, or the words? (Which is more important in water, the oxygen or the hydrogen?) And that therefore there is a danger, even while we are very grateful this time to the Nobel Committee, if we simply allocate Dylan’s art of song to literature or Literature, of our privileging the words, as though song were not a triangle and often an equilateral triangle.

This danger is one that those of us who have written in praise of Dylan’s greatness with words – or have edited The Lyrics, complete with sung variants (as Lisa and Julie Nemrow and I have done) – have not been able to escape, have even had to court. A danger, and a deficiency, all the same and all the time. For literature is best thought of — most of the time — as the art of a single medium, language. Nothing grudging about this, but a reminder that there are a great many profound achievements for which there is no Nobel prize. Music, for a start. Or the performing art that is acting, for another, Dylan being a great vocal actor and enactor.

A performer of genius, Dylan is necessarily in the business (and the game) of playing his timing against his rhyming. The cadences, the voicing, the rhythmical draping and shaping don’t make a song superior to a poem, but they do change the hiding places of its powers. Or rather, they add to the number of its hiding places. I’d not have written a book about Dylan, to stand alongside books on Milton and Keats, Tennyson and TS Eliot, if I didn’t think Dylan a genius of and with language.

But let’s not forget, in the delight of this moment (of great moment), those other aspects, not strictly Literary, of his genius, sharing in the constitution of his art. When Eliot wrote the line “To the drift of the sea and the drifting wreckage”, it was a creation of words only (though not merely). When Dylan sings “condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting”, he compounds it all, with voice and music joining with words within a different drift and drive. And his drive?

In 1966, Playboy magazine asked him: Why are you doing what you’re doing?

“Because I don’t know anything else to do. I’m good at it.”

How would you describe “it”?

“I’m an artist. I try to create art.”

More than try. The Nobel citation speaks of Dylan as “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition". More, even, than that.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by lennygoran » Tue Dec 27, 2016 10:09 am

jserraglio wrote:'Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
I'll take a wild stab at it: Alexander Pope

Regards, Len [fleeing] :lol:

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 28, 2016 5:19 am

John F wrote:Of course Dylan's lyrics would strike a composer as suitable for music. That's their main claim to fame. But greater composers than Corigliano have set lesser verses than Dylan's to music. Which does not confer greatness on the lyric retrospectively.

An example is Brahms's "Sonntag" (Sunday), to Johann Ludwig Uhland's verses:



So hab' ich doch die ganze Woche
Mein feines Liebchen nicht geseh'n,
Ich sah es an einem Sonntag
Wohl vor der Türe steh'n:
Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein,
Das tausendschöne Herzelein,
Wollte Gott, wollte Gott, ich wär' heute bei ihr!

So will mir doch die ganze Woche
Das Lachen nicht vergeh'n,
Ich sah es an einem Sonntag
Wohl in die Kirche geh'n:
Das tausendschöne Jungfräulein,
Das tausendschöne Herzelein,
Wollte Gott, wollte Gott, ich wär' heute bei ihr!

Translation: http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=16085

W.H. Auden, a great poet whom the Nobel jurors overlooked, once said that the most important thing about a libretto or a poem to be set to music is not its intrinsic quality but whether it inspires the composer. He knew from experience with composers from Britten to Stravinsky.
The composition of great music to lesser words is not to be compared to Bob Dylan, who is excrement from beginning to end. Surely you know that.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Wed Dec 28, 2016 8:39 am

I never suggested otherwise. My point is that song lyrics often don't count for much as poetry, or literature, even if the songs are great. The Swedish Academy felt otherwise, it seems.
John Francis

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Wed Dec 28, 2016 8:40 am

jbuck919 wrote:The composition of great music to lesser words is not to be compared to Bob Dylan, who is excrement from beginning to end . . . .
Not many other varieties of envy can rival that of the axe-grinder. In that context, Greil Marcus's open-handed, balanced assessment of Dylan's achievement is refreshing.

New York Times
Bob Dylan, Master of Change
By GREIL MARCUS
Oct. 13, 2016
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/14/opini ... hange.html

The hero of Don DeLillo’s 1973 novel, “Great Jones Street,” Bucky Wunderlick, is a wildly famous musician so transparently inspired by Bob Dylan that it is a wonder the author was able to make the figure into his own character. Bucky — part prophet, part fraud — is hounded into seclusion by fans, hustlers, gangsters and the world at large. I had a hunch Mr. DeLillo would win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year; he can’t be surprised Bob Dylan did.

“I’m a poet, I know it, hope I don’t blow it,” Mr. Dylan sang 52 years ago in “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” a hilarious bit of doggerel from his fourth album, “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” He hasn’t blown it; the words on “Tempest,” his most recent album of original songs, from 2012, are as expansive and blazingly ambitious — especially on “Early Roman Kings” and “Long and Wasted Years” — as anything you could hear anywhere.

Hear. What gave each of his words in those tunes their full body was his performance of the songs. When he took the new songs onstage, putting his own body behind theirs, the songs got bigger, until they almost seemed to burst the buildings that enclosed them. But whether Mr. Dylan is a poet — yes, he is being compared right now to Sappho, Homer, the great bards who sang — has never been an interesting question.

Mr. Dylan has put his words out into the world in vessels with too many dimensions to be broken down into elements: as songs. Think of a song as thrillingly alive with the furies of creation, discovery and experiment, with the resolution of each verse reaching a pitch of such insistence, humor and force that the next has to push further or die.

Think of “Highway 61 Revisited,” from 1965 — a song that Mr. Dylan performed last week at the Desert Trip festival in Indio, Calif. There is no way to tell if the words incited the music; if the music, playing in the songwriter’s head or in the studio as the song came together, incited the words; if a certain run on Michael Bloomfield’s guitar or Al Kooper’s electric piano put the feeling of a rubber band snapping back in your face as Dylan sang the line “Now the fifth daughter on the 12th night”; or if the words incited the musical phrases that made the words seem less written than preordained, facts outside time or intention.

Or was it the way the words came out of Mr. Dylan’s mouth? Or the way the engineer on the recording session made it seem as if he’d put Mr. Dylan inside his own microphone, so when the musicians listened to a playback of an early take of the song they could hear where the song itself wanted to go? The song may have reached its most intense pitch in a performance with the Band in Oakland, Calif., in 1974, when a broken riff from the guitarist Robbie Robertson between verses shot Mr. Dylan’s attack for the final stanza — about staging the next world war between bleachers set up on Highway 61, the road that now runs from Minnesota to New Orleans — into a realm of vehemence, of Watch out! that the song had never known before.

I once asked Mr. Robertson where that brilliant riff came from. It was the heat of the moment, he said, when he thought he’d lost the song: “a moment of panic.”

Songs move through time, seeking their final form. What happens on that path is only partly up to the writer, the singer, the musicians. It may be partly up to the audience hearing the songs, watching them as they are performed, with the response of the audience, even of a single member of the audience, coming back to the performers and, in ways that can be felt but never determined, reshaping the song. That is why, perhaps, it is the fact of Bob Dylan’s songs moving through time, and the way they have taken on elements of those times as they moved through them, that matters most on this interesting occasion.

In 1954, Vernon Green, the singer and songwriter of a Los Angeles doo-wop group called the Medallions, wrote a song called “Buick 59.” The idea, he explained much later, was to postdate the song so it would stay on the radio, and make more money, and give the group something it could perform for years to come. It worked: The record was a hit in 1954 and a local hit again in 1959.

Bob Dylan first performed “Masters of War” in February 1963; it appeared that May on his second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” It was, at least on its face, a song about arms merchants; the idea, Mr. Dylan has said, came from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address. The song went out of Mr. Dylan’s performing repertoire after 1965, until he started playing it again in the late 1970s. But it has come back with a special vengeance in this century, especially on election night. Mr. Dylan sang it in Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota on Nov. 4, the night Barack Obama was elected, in a wistful, almost elegiac manner — with no hint of the fury he put into the song at the Kolf Sports Center in Oshkosh, Wis., on Nov. 2, 2004, when John Kerry was defeated.

It is not an elegant song. The words are overstated. They search too hard for metaphors and similes; you can hear the writer pressing. But it has held its shape because it has changed shape — and because the world has not run out of wars. Mr. Dylan has performed it in a circle of musicians playing acoustic instruments, like a coven; he has thrown it out to crowds like a grenade.

When he used the song to close his performance at Desert Trip last week, the song took on a shape, a voice, a face, that it might have never taken on before. Dylan sang the song as if it were by someone else, as if it were a poem he’d first read in high school, or an anonymous British street ballad from 300 years ago, something he’d been reading, or listening to, all his life — and as if its full force had only now, that night, revealed itself. “How much do I know / to talk out of turn,” the song goes. “You might say that I’m young / You might say I’m unlearned.”

When Mr. Dylan sang those lines this month, he might have smiled to himself, but there was no irony in his voice: For all of his power as an artist, as a factor in the world equation Bob Dylan has no more power today than he had in 1963. So he sang “Masters of War” not as a threat, as he did at the start, but as a reckoning — as a judgment you could feel coming down on those who deserved it. The moment hung in the air. The song will move on.

Greil Marcus is the author of several books, and a co-editor, with Werner Sollors, of “A New Literary History of America.”

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by John F » Wed Dec 28, 2016 10:38 am

Greil Marcus wrote:whether Mr. Dylan is a poet — yes, he is being compared right now to Sappho, Homer, the great bards who sang — has never been an interesting question.
Sez Marcus, ducking and running. "Never" ended when the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now it's the only question.
John Francis

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 28, 2016 11:58 am

At the last Academic Bowl session I wrote a question about who before Dylan was the last American to win the Nobel for literature. The answer of course is Toni Morrison, but no one in any game got it. Even Beloved is not read anymore in high school.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Wed Dec 28, 2016 12:44 pm

jbuck919 wrote:Even Beloved is not read anymore in high school.
Beloved appeared on the AP Lit Exam open response question in the following years: 1990, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Morrison's novels, in her native Ohio at least, are often targeted by right wingers for removal from school curriculum lists. These folks would be delighted to learn that her novels are not being read anymore. On the other hand, the same folks might regard any widespread failure to answer correctly a trivia question about the Nobel Prize as evidence of their schools' eagerly anticipated decline.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 28, 2016 10:56 pm

jserraglio wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Even Beloved is not read anymore in high school.
Beloved appeared on the AP Lit Exam open response question in the following years: 1990, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Morrison's novels, in her native Ohio at least, are often targeted by right wingers for removal from school curriculum lists. These folks would be delighted to learn that her novels are not being read anymore. On the other hand, the same folks might regard any widespread failure to answer correctly a trivia question about the Nobel Prize as evidence of their schools' eagerly anticipated decline.
She was famous when I was a full-time teacher at a Catholic school in Maryland, and of course she ended up being a professor at my own alma mater. She was also a horrid reverse racist. In a world where such as Wallace Stevens was never even considered for the Nobel Prize, there is no figuring these things out.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Thu Dec 29, 2016 12:10 am

I teach Toni Morrison every year as does a colleague, different novel and course, so her novels are alive and well at our school. Students seem to enjoy reading Morrison. Her work, by no means easy, has an element of whimsy about it that engages them.

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 29, 2016 5:38 pm

jserraglio wrote:I teach Toni Morrison every year as does a colleague, different novel and course, so her novels are alive and well at our school. Students seem to enjoy reading Morrison. Her work, by no means easy, has an element of whimsy about it that engages them.
Look at it from my point of view. The New York English curriculum is all over the place even if one refers to the Regents standards. The English teachers who are coaches will criticize me for choosing a specific category and then criticize me for leaving literature out. A couple of years ago I noticed that they were once again reading Julius Caesar, so I wrote a category on it. I have a preternatual memory of that play dating back to high school. Hopeless. I can't win for losing.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Mr. Tambourine Man

Post by jserraglio » Fri Dec 30, 2016 5:14 am

jbuck919 wrote:A couple of years ago I noticed that they were once again reading Julius Caesar, so I wrote a category on it. I have a preternatual memory of that play dating back to high school.
Well, Julius Caesar is an ineffable masterpiece, as proven by the fact that not even the American high school has been able to kill the thing off. I once taught it to a class of academic bottom-feeders--turned out to be their favorite work.

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