Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Guest Post » Story Telling in Music


Greetings, all and sundry! Having been given some time to ponder within and outside the confines of The Box due to a wrist injury and the annoying effects of a recent flu shot. I’ve decided to delve into arenas that became guide posts for life’s journey. While offering ample opportunity to wax both poetic and nostalgic. To that end, allow me a few moments of your time to slosh around and focus some attention to a few artists. Certain pieces of their work, aural and visual that blithely encompass:

Story Telling in Music:

Being a child of the 1960s and The Cold War offered a unique opportunity to be on the periphery of being in the right place and the right time for music. A bit too young to catch the allure of The Beatles. Though something of a prodigy to follow the raw, early, up and coming, cover days of The Rolling Stones. I quickly developed an appreciation for lyrics.

Long. Often convoluted, clever or tangled. It didn’t matter. As long as the metering fit and a story or message was delivered. I was there. With much easier access to young upstarts taking their first steps into this realm. Premiere amongst them would be Bob Dylan. Though, where most were caught off guard with his early Subterranean Homesick Blues. I latched on six string troubadour Mr. Tambourine Man and its near trippy ode to a New Orleans Bourbon Street Mardi Gras parade. Yes, it is a bit repetitive and some chords stretch. But the inventive lyrics and tale told is so much better and colorful than The Byrds’ take on it a year later.

Which opened the doors wider with the inclusion of The Band for Highway 61 Revisited. With its siren rings, background kazoos and beat to death, off-key honky-tonk piano. Before stepping int the Big Leagues with Blood on the Tracks. A superlative homage to story telling. With A Simple Twist of Fate. Shelter from the Storm, Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go and Tangled Up in Blue leading the charge and deftly covering the flanks.

Offering a brief detour to delve into the works Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. As they were transitioning from their street corner, “busking” (Playing for pennies and change) days and intimate venues in the UK and just starting to make their name known here. And their very early album. Wednesday Morning: 3AM. And a tale that spoke to my teen angst and uncertainty of the future. I Am A Rock.

Revealing that Mr. Simon is a very decent and clever guitarist with its overlapped opening chords. And a more intellectual perspective than Dylan. Especially with his A Simple Desultory Philippic. A wondrously clever and scathing take on Mr. Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. And what passed for “Hip” in the 1960s.

And with the passage of time, original anger mellowed into whimsy and romanticism with For Emily (Wherever I May Find Her), Kathy’s Song, Flowers Never Bend In the Rainfall and the melancholy Sounds of Silence.

Which gave my pallet a chance to expand and wrap my head around an iconic “One Hit Wonder” from Barry McGuire. The Eve of Destruction. A raw and moody piece of cautionary lyrical protest. That flawlessly encapsulates the 1960s, its evolving culture opposite the onus, underlying fear and paranoia of Mutual Assured Destruction. Also notable in how little things have changed in the following half century.

Another artist who caught my attention with romantic and dramatic tales attached to compilations with great titles, like Tap Root Manuscript and Velvet Gloves and Spit has not managed to hold the bar high through the decades. From such beach head tunes as Holly Holy and many times covered, I’m a Believer. To Sweet Caroline, Solitary Man, Forever in Blue Jeans, and Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.

Troubadour, Balladeer, Sooth Sayer. Call him what you will. Mr. Neil Diamond has managed to assemble emotions and put them into words. Sometimes raw and unglossed, often crystal clear and eerily spot on. With the aid of a master’s presence and a glorious set of pipes. Put to excellent effect throughout his near flawless, definitive, live Hot August Night album.

Which brings back full circle. Touching on a seriously humorous, slowly building and powerful testament to the just scraping by days of busking. Regaled by a Demi God of and supreme talent spotter for what would be British Rock.

Long before finding the post “Skiffle” teenage talent of Paul McCartney, John Lennon of The Quarry Men. Mick Jagger, Graham Nash, Jimmy Page. The young talent of The Yard Birds, Kinks, The Hollies and a fledgling pianist at the Isle of Wight. Who would seek fame as Elton John.

I speak of none other than the late, great “Long” John Baldry. And his epic, yet oddly under rated: Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King of Rock and Roll.

Overall Consensus:

These performers basically created the foundation for my preferences in music. And appreciation of a simple groups of chords. From Dylan’s A Simple Twist of Fate that would grab my attention with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five and Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead’s melodious Ripple. And their splendid studio landmark, American Beauty.

Or that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s trumpet and brass rich, Somewhere They Can’t Find Me. And melancholy, stripped down, class envy, Richard Cory would create a nuance for the “Throw anything in front of the microphone” school of music pioneered by Jimi Hendrix throughout his all too brief career. And later toyed with and refined to an art form by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. Then polished to a high luster by Lowell George and Little Feat!

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37 Responses to “Guest Post » Story Telling in Music”

  1. ckckred

    Nice write-up. Prefer some classic artists myself. I love how directors like Scorsese still use their music to this day in their films.

    • jackdeth72

      Welcome, ck:

      Scorsese had me with his use of The Chips and their “Rubber Biscuit” during one of the later fights scenes in ‘Mean Streets’. And he hasn’t disappointed since. His use of ‘Rags to Riches’ explains and sets the groundwork for ‘Goodfellas’. And his use of ‘Layla’ as the NYPD start recovering what’s left of the Lufthansa heist crew is inspired!

      Classics will remain relevant as there is a tale to tell. And directors and streaming stations take advantage of their relevance yesterday and today.

      • jackdeth72

        Hi, Michael:

        Oh, for the days of Scorsese using the novelty tune ‘Transfusion’ by Nervous Norvis. As he did in ‘Boxcar Bertha’!

  2. Arlee Bird

    All great artists here and much of the music that shaped my realm of modern listening. The ones mentioned here are primarily more message than story. One of the best of the story teller songwriters is Steve Forbert. His songs are like mini-movies and the music cuts deep. Great stuff.

    Wrote By Rote

    • jackdeth72

      Hi, Arlee:

      Great catch with Mr. Forbert.

      I kind of wanted to stay away from extensively long pieces, like Harry Chapin’s ‘Taxi’. Or Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’. Stories that only need to be heard once.

      Though Mr. Forbert is a decent place to explore for a future post.

  3. Mark Walker

    Wonderful stuff. I’m a massive Dylan fan, with Tangled up in Blue being my all time favourite song. Nice to see a mention for Barry Maguire’s Eve Of Destruction too. Now, the only thing missing is a bit of Tom Waits.

    Man, I’m older than my actual years. ;)

  4. jackdeth72

    Thanks much, Mark:

    Long time Dylan fan. Probably one of the most prolific writers of music of the 20th century… Singing voice? Not so much.

    Agree that ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ is his beat piece of work. In an album replete with great pieces. There’s a young British talent named K.T. Tunstall who did a very decent cover for a ‘Blood On The Tracks’ anniversary concert.

    ‘Eve of Destruction’ was a given from the first time I heard its kettle drum, artillery intro.

    Tom Waits would be a good candidate for another post. Especially with ‘Goin’ to Kansas City’ and ‘There’s A Hole in Daddy’s Arm Where All the Money Goes’.

  5. ruth

    This is a wonderful personal post, Jack! It’s always great to learn people’s preference to certain music. My late mother was a huge influence on me so that’s why I’m so into classical music from all those years of listening to Richard Clayderman in the car, ahah. She was also into crooners like Sinatra, Andy Williams, Paul Anka, etc. Though I had a bout of classic metal in the 80s (Warrant, Guns ‘N Roses, etc.) now I practically only listen to classical stuff or soundtrack :D

    I hope you don’t hate me for this but I don’t quite *get* Dylan’s music. I know he’s such a celebrated artist and he’s from Minnesota so he’s obviously HUGE here, but his music just isn’t my cup of tea.

    • jackdeth72

      Hi, Ruth:

      Music is as personal as the color and cut of your hair and the clothes you wear.
      And classical suits you well.

      Many, many people don’t “get” Dylan. Of a certain place and time that allowed him to catch lightning in a bottle and not let go. First in coffee houses and later as the adopted voice of 1960s counter culture. Though, that could not have been further from the truth.

      • ruth

        Yeah I solely listen to classical music nowadays, radio is either on the Classic MPR or MPR news :D I also love easy listening stuff like Michael Bubble, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocceli, and Sarah Brightman. Yeah I guess my taste in music is quite *old school* he..he..

        • le0pard13

          Still one of my favorite operatic duets, and used wonderfully in the film ‘Ronin, too’:

          Love your taste, Ruth :-)

          • ruth

            Oh I LOVE this duet, thanks Michael, you’re a pal! You’ve inspired me to do a Music Break tomorrow, perfect timing to commemorate one of my fave screenwriter/director’s birthday ;)

  6. cindybruchman

    I adore your taste in music, Michael. These classics have such a strong influence in our collective memories. From films to commercials to personal “I was there” when the song came out, they have transcended….:)

    • jackdeth72

      Welcome, Cindy:

      Thanks so much!

      Classics will always remain classics. Though the way many of these writers and singers have arranged their works for infinite adaptation. Adding brass, wind and full blow orchestras to add depth.

      I had the great fortune to catch Simon & Garfunkel in an in intimate club in Washington, DC back in the very late 1960s. Just the performers, speakers and a guitar. Nothing since has come close to touching it.

      • cindybruchman

        Wow, Jack! I’m so jealous. That must have been amazing. Do you prefer Simon & Garfunkel over Hall & Oats? I would bet a fiver you also appreciate Jackson Browne and James Taylor. Voices smooth like fine brandy. Instant de-stressers.

        • jackdeth72

          Hi, Cindy:

          Simon & Garfunkel have it all over Hall & Oates when it comes to lyrics and harmony. Also like early Jackson Browne and James Taylor. Rich voices that reach to the back of the theater or venue without help.

          More than two voices?… The Beach Boys with ‘Sloop John B’, ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ and ‘Good Vibrations’.

          When I feel like classical, Rossini’s ‘The William Tell Overture’.

          • cindybruchman

            Sorry, I’m not much of a Beach Boys fan although I do appreciate their harmonies. Just small doses, please. For group harmonies, I’d rather listen to Yes or old Genesis. Classical? Rachmoninov is the man.

          • le0pard13

            Do as I did and pick up the ‘Pet Sounds’ album by the Beach Boys. Raised my appreciation. I grab the vinyl LP, though ;-)

            And another classical music fan found. We have to do something about that ;-). A collaboration, maybe?

          • le0pard13

            I’d agree that S&G had it over Hall & Oates lyrics-wise. But, H&O blue-eyed soul had it advantages, too ;-).

            Hmm…another classical music listener. There’s something we’ve to make of this, yes? ;-).

      • le0pard13

        That is something special, indeed! S&G in an intimate club in Washington, DC back in the very late 1960s? Wow. Simply wow.

  7. le0pard13

    What a great discourse this has generated, Kevin. Wonderful article that covered some distinct song of the day. Most notably ‘Eve of Destruction’. A haunting, melodically affecting bit of songwriting that recalled the era so well. And as you say, still relevant. Many thanks for bringing it here, my friend.

    • jackdeth72

      Hi, Michael:

      I’m very pleased with how this discussion is panning out. The mention and explanation of a few personal classics has harvested such delightful responses is much more than I could have asked or hoped for.

      Especially the revelation of such a following for Classical music!

      The tunes speak for themselves. And I had a ball putting it all together.

  8. Eric @ The Warning Sign

    Hi Jack, you have been busy lately! Really cool post here. I didn’t know you were such a big Dylan fan — Blood on the Tracks is one of my all-time favorite albums! I was fortunate enough to see him perform a couple years ago, and he still puts on a great show. One of the best in the business.

    • jackdeth72

      Greetings, Eric:

      Thrilled that you enjoyed my post.

      ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is Dylan’s best compilation of work. With ‘The Underground Tapes’ a very early precursor.

      Say what you will about Dylan. He is a consumate professional. Who understands that he’s being paid to put on a memorable show to the best of his abilities. And he consistently delivers.

      I’m sure you had a great time!


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