Zenon, Zanzinger, And Zimmerman In The North Country


by Larry Fyffe

After the privately-owned American Columbia Broadcasting System prohibits Bob Dylan from singing Woody Gruthie/Paul Robeson-inspired anti-fascist songs on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’, the young singer-songwriter ‘flees’ across the border to record a number of songs on Saturday, February 1, 1964, at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV studios in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

To avoid the out-of-doors, lip-synced method of producing music videos like those in CBC’s ‘Singalong Jubilee’ that feature Anne Murray, the Toronto studio constructs a set resembling a wood-heated lodge, supposedly isolated amidst trees – equipped with electric lights, table and chairs, playing cards, magazines to read, and bunks on which to lie – with pin-ups of gals on the walls.

Seemingly just for his fellow companions-in-exile (most of whom are plaid-shirted like working lumbermen or vacationing fishermen; in this particular video ‘silent movie’ stars be they all), Dylan plays acoustic guitar and sings:

Well, if you’re travellin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the border line
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
(Bob Dylan: Girl From The North Country)

The song above is a variation on a traditional English ballad (as we shall see, ‘rosemary’ gets around):

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
(Scarborough Fair)

Sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette and writing in a notebook is Michael Zenon, a Canadian actor who plays a ‘half-breed’ guide – ‘Joe Two Rivers’ – in the CBC series “The Forest Rangers”. However, in reality, Ukraine-born is he. Another actor on the set – supposedly with a missing hand replaced by a hook – is a ‘Long John Silver’/’Captain Ahab’-like character.

Missing the dadaist/surrealist point of the video/movie, dylanologist Heylin Clinton calls the TV setting ‘incongruous’ with ‘workers pretending to pay attention’ (Clinton – Bob Dylan: Life In Stolen Moments).

In the CBC art piece, the young singer-songwriter performs – in the wake of the killing of civil rights advocate US President Kennedy – a serious song protesting racist violence in the US; on a secondary level it’s a veiled critique of Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist / anti-Robeson hearings, and of the CBS with its ‘high office relations’ swinging their silver canes at free speech:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
(Bob Dylan: The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll)

A stock Dylanesque character is the man with the silver cane:

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s
only diamond mind
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy
and so fine
With his body guards and silver cane, and every
hair in place
He took whatever he wanted, and he laid it all
to waste
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

In Toronto, with his faithful companion Tonto, the Lone Forest Ranger, Robert Zimmerman, sticks with his arrows:

But if the arrow is straight
And the point is slick
It can pierce through dust no matter how thick
So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give damn
(Bob Dylan: Restless Farewell)

Humour, Dylan is not without:

Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto
They are ridin’ down the line
Fixin’ everybody’s troubles
Everybody’s except mine
Somebody musta told them that I was doin’ fine
(Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan Blues)

During the theatrical performance of an anti-nuclear war song, Dylan turns to ironical black-humour:

Down the corner I seen another man
Turnin’ around at the hot dog stand
I said, ‘Howdy friend, I guess there’s just us two’
He screamed, down the road he flew
Scared – he thought I was a Communist
(Bob Dylan: Talkin’ World War III Blues)

Dylan, to this day, attempts to remain hopeful in spite of human nature that, looked as a whole, appears very slow to change:

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions
Are they lost or are they found
Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they are gonna have to abandon?
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

Words that can be taken as giving worldly advice or interpreted as strict religious doctrine if one is so inclined.

What else is on the site

1: Over 460 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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