Songs about Dylan part 3: The comedians – Paul Simon, Loudon Wainwright

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Comic songs are ten a dozen, but good comic songs are incredibly rare.  The point is of course that music is intended to be heard over and over; those of us who have been around from the start of Dylan’s career (and who are thus obviously now reaching an advanced age) may still choose to play Dylan records even though we know them off by heart, in order to enjoy that original sound, and maybe remember the days when we played the LPs on equipment which if seen anywhere these days is likely to be in a museum (if in good condition) or a second hand junk shop.

But comedy is different.   Jokes don’t need to be heard over and over – if they are, they quickly stop being funny.  Generally humour has to be new to be enjoyed, or at least be reinterpreted to make it funny once more.  Only a few comic films, radio shows, TV shows or novels last the test of time.    And that’s not because they were not genuinely funny in their day, but because they often rely on the context of the day.  I can still enjoy the movies of Will Hay, the Marx Brothers, WC Fields etc, and the Goon Show radio programmes (a very English type of humour which I suspect never travelled far beyond my country) as I can the more recent Monty Python shows and movies – but not as often as I can go back and listen to the music of days gone by.

So it might be thought that anyone writing comic songs has a greater chance of longevity than those who make funny films or radio shows.  But no, normally the comedy is too much to the fore, and the music is simply there as background.

Paul Simon’s “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Lyndon Johnson’d Into Submission)” survives the test of time because he was and is a sublime composer of both lyrics and music, and a great performer.  Plus it turns out he has a great sense of humour combined with his neat turn of phrase.

The way he manages to get every name into the song, and find something amusing within it really makes the song work.   And of course Dylan gets a very special mention, for while other people are mentioned in passing, Dylan is worthy of a whole section…

I knew a man his brain so small
He couldn't think of nothin' at all
He's not the same as you and me
He doesn't dig poetry, he's so unhip that
When you say Dylan, he thinks you're talkin' about Dylan Thomas
Whoever he is
The man ain't got no culture
But its alright, Ma, everybody must get stoned

This was first released on his first solo album The Paul Simon Songbook in 1965 and then rewritten and re-recorded for S&Gs third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Maybe Simon is saying, “look I can do this too, it’s not that hard, I’m just as good”. Do you get that too?  Aaron prefers the solo version as being more Dylanesque, Tony likes the re-write more.

Tony’s thought: I’m not going to say that this is a great Paul Simon song in the way that You can call me Al is (for me at least) but it is far.   And it gives me an excuse to put up You can call me Al, just in case you’ve forgotten it.

So let’s move on to Loudon Waitwright.

Larry on Wainwright:

As far as the Wainwright song I have a little bit of history here… and it appears on his 1992 album History…I actually saw him do this live. He had his own TV show in 1994, filmed at the Glasgow Old Fruitmarket venue, called Loudon And Co. I went along to the filming of one episode as James Taylor was performing and I’m a big JT fan. Loudon performed this song (this was before I was even a Dylan fan). Then later when the show was broadcast on tv I recorded it to vhs and watched it many many times over the years. I grew to know and love the song and still laugh at all the jokes, especially as my love and knowledge of Dylan grew. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the TV show on YouTube but did find other clips from the show including Taylor’s set. Not sure if you are a fan but here is Taylor’s set along with LWs Mr Guilty from the same night.

I still love the “your dumb ass kid brothers” line.

 

It’s lovely to think that 17 year old me is in the crowd listening to these performances (probably with a lager in hand, bought by my 3 years older big brother!). I didn’t shout the request for You’ve Got A Friend but I certainly joined in the singing toward the end! Happy days!

And finally, just as we were polishing this little piece off, we came across.  Maybe not everyone will find it funny, but both of us laughed and enjoyed this.

At the age of nineteen, I was young, I was keen,
and I had just one burning ambition:
to be a folk-singer, a dope-smokin’ swinger,
singin’ songs that were steeped in tradition.
So I bought a guitar and I practised real hard;
I wasn’t much good but I was willin’.
Till, to my chagrin, my girlfriend came in
and she said «Can you sing any Dylan?».
I said «No! No! A thousand times no,
I’d rather see my life blood spillin’.
I’ll sing anything, even ‟God Save the King”,
but I just won’t sing any Bob Dylan.».
And with my guitar I travelled real far,
trying to gain recognition.
I sang ‟The Wild Rover” from Dundee to Dover,2
in pubs, clubs and in Seamens’ Missions.3
I travelled the road for seven long years,
the pace, it really was killin’.
But everywhere I went, from Gwydir to Gwent,4
they would say «Can you sing any Dylan?».
I’d say «No! No! A thousand times no,
I’d rather see my life blood spillin’.
I’ll sing anything, even ‟God Save the King”,
but I just won’t sing any Bob Dylan.».
I struggled on, but the magic was gone,
I only had a deep sense of failure;
I though, then I’d blow to where all failures go,
so I boarded a ship for Australia.
When I landed in Sydney, the sun, it shone down
on a view that was lovely and thrillin’.
‘Til, spotting my case, with a smile on his face,
Customs said «Can you sing any Dylan, mate?».
I said «No! No! A thousand times no,
I’d rather see my life blood spillin’.
I’ll sing anything, even ‟God Save the King”,
but I just won’t sing any Bob Dylan.».
And ever since then, again and again,
I’ve been asked the same bloody question.
And I usually reply in me own quiet way
with a totally indecent suggestion!
But the last straw came one night at a local motel
where I had a young girl who was willin’.
As she shook off her dress, she said «I’ll say yes,
if only you’ll sing some Bob Dylan!».
I said «No! No! A thousand times no,
I’d rather see my life blood spillin’.
I’ll sing anything, even ‟God Save the King”,
but I just won’t sing any Bob Dylan.».
But I tell you, my friends, that was the end
of all my traditional aspirations.
If being a folkie was goin’ to cut off my nookie,
there was one way to end my frustrations.
The next night I sang at my local folk club,
where the audience as usual was millin’.
‘Til I took off my coat and I ruptured my throat
and I sang – just like Bob Dylan!
Well, the audience went wild, men, women and child,
and they clapped ’til their raw hands were bleedin’.
And said, so to speak, that my style was unique,
and just what the Australian Folk scene was needin’.
So all you young folkies who bash out a chord,
if you want to attain the top billin’,
just murder good prose, and sing through your nose,
and then you’ll sound just like Bob Dylan!

 

What else is here?

An index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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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1 Response to Songs about Dylan part 3: The comedians – Paul Simon, Loudon Wainwright

  1. Rajan Mahadevan says:

    Very enjoyable posting, this. Also the „serious“ bit with JT thrown in for good meaure.

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