By Aaron Galbraith
I thought that after the funny’s from part 3 of this series, and given that the final song in that article was critical of Dylan’s styule, we could look at some that are more critical of Dylan. Both of these are pretty obscure and we’re pretty certain no one will have heard of them, so we (well, Aaron) will try to give all the details we have.
First, Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt with “If I had an Axe”
If I had an axe to me is a beautifully realized piece, they are a cello-guitar duo, And it really seems to work well for this song. The song appears on their Crooked Fiddle album.
Nathan’s explains the origins of this song in this rather annoying clip (for some reason they cut the story and song into and across each other!!)
He was working as a journalist backstage at the Kennedy Center Honors when Pete Seeger was being so honored. He interviewed him and ask if he thought Dylan would ever receive the same honor. He could tell Seeger was upset by the question and later looked into why this might be and then read about his previous problems with Dylan.
Then when Seeger died he waited to see if Dylan would issue a condolence message and then when nothing came he was upset on Pete’s behalf and so wrote this song.
Whilst I’m not sure I agree with writing a song criticizing the way someone else grieves I do think it’s a good song, and “if I had an axe” is a very powerful image, when I first heard the song I took a mental step back when he gets to the chorus as if I wasn’t quite ready for that.
Maybe Dylan should have put something out but really who are we or anyone else to say. As I’ve been listening to the song whilst composing this email I just realized that it’s written from Pete Seeger’s point of view! Weird how I just realized that!
Oh and the album it comes from also includes a cover of All Along The Watchtower!
I couldn’t find the lyrics on line so I thought I’d take a go at them!
We come here every summer To rise in song as one To play the songs of freedom As we sit out in the sun To push the movement forward Passed down from me to you And through those big old speakers I’ll hear you speak your truth I am listening If I had an axe I’d cut that cord What is that awful sound Everyone who cheered you Is gonna run you out of town It seems that you’re determined To push everyone away Now all I can do Is letyou go your own way You sang of Medgar Evers In the Mississippi sun A field of black kids gathered And a few white men with guns In the pictureI’m behind you Leaning in my eyes are closed And I could swear I saw the future Behind that microphone I am listening If I had an axe I’d cut that cord Like you cut me away One moment I’m your father The next I’m your mistake It seems that you’re determined To leave wreckage in your wake Now all I can do Is let you go your own way Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton You cut them off like your home state You even cut off JoaneyBaez Like you cut off your old name I’m out among the people I see they’ve set your stage At an old minor league ballpark I doff my cap and wave But for you the crowd is screaming I can’t make out what you say Yeah I had to buy a ticket It’s good to see your face And hear your music If I had an axe I’d cut this silence Help you find some joy They put you on a pedestal But I know you’re still that scared little boy Hoping somebody would listen To what you have to say It’s because I love you That I let you go your way
Next – Peter Cooper & Todd Snider with “Thin Wild Mercury”
Both songwriters have their own very different takes on this song
Peter Cooper is here…
And Todd Snider
The song appears on Peter Cooper’s Mission Door album and Todd Snider’s The Devil You Know.
Peter said, “Todd and I wrote this after having numerous discussions about the night Bob Dylan called his folk-singing contemporary Phil Ochs “a journalist” and then threw Phil out of his car. That’s the sort of thing we have numerous discussions about over on my side of town. The story is in the song.
To our way of thinking, Dylan and Ochs probably both wished everything had played out differently. “If he ever thought better, he thought too late,” is the way we wrote it. We never said who “he” was, because we didn’t have to. My heart goes out to Dylan, wherever he is tonight. And to Phil Ochs, lying in that cold, cold ground”
Poor Phil Ochs Sad and low Hands in his pockets Wonderin’ where to go Thrown from the limo For speaking his mind Like a red-eyed photo Into a garbage can At the corner of Hero and Also-Ran A fragile heart skipped a fragile beat It’s warm in the limousine Cold on the streets of Thin, wild mercury And gold lame Where things will go your way Or they won’t Thin wild mercury And gold lame You know what they say Or you don’t It was all over some new Dylan song That Phil had the nerve to say sounded wrong Dylan stopped the car Words shook like a fist Phil you’re not a writer, you’re a journalist Phil you’re not a writer, you’re a journalist Death of a rebel in a twist of fate If he ever thought better, he thought too late Poor Phil Ochs, he slipped through the cracks Judas went electric and he never looked back on Thin wild mercury Or gold lame Where things will go your way Or they won’t Thin wild mercury And gold lame You know what they say Or you don’t No, you don’t No, you don’t