Bob Dylan Showcase – “Listen Robert Moses”

Commentary by Tony Attwood

For some time we have been locating texts for songs that Bob Dylan has written, and for which no music exists.  So we have been inviting readers of Untold Dylan to provide us with their own music to accompany Dylan’s lyrics.

My view is that this has been one of the most successful ventures on the site since we started – and I think if you have a look at the list of links below and play a few of them you will see why.

And today we have another: “Listen Robert Moses” provided by Paul Robert Thomas who writes…

“‘Les Paul’s’ (The Paul’s) take on ‘Listen Robert Moses’ that we’ve done in what could be described as in a ‘Nu-Jazz’ genre or perhaps others would call it differently, anyway, we didn’t wanna do a sound-like-Dylan take off so I hope you like and appreciate what we’ve created.  It’s taken a while as we’re nearing the completion of our album BELIEF and we did the Dylan lyrics in the break.”

And below here is a re-run of the story behind the lyrics…

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Last year, we were fascinated when a lyric sheet for “Listen, Robert Moses,” credited to Bob Dylan, popped up on the internet.

And yes it seems “Listen Robert Moses” is another Bob Dylan song – in this case it seems it was originally sung to the tune of Listen Mr Bilbo.  So we typed out the words to make them easier to follow and asked for anyone who felt like it to put some music to the song.

Listen Robert Moses, listen if you can,
It's all about our neighbourhood that you're trying to condemn
We aren't going to sit back and see our homes torn down
So take your superhighway and keep it out of town.

We won't be moved Buddy we won't be moved
We're fighting for our rights and we won't be moved
We're fighting for our rights from our heads to our shoes
We're fighting for our homes and we aren't going to lose

For twenty long years there's been a shadow hanging round
That anyday the bulldozers will throw our houses down
We're going to lift the shadow once and all for good
We don't want a superhighway we want a neighbourhood

Some of us are young and some of us are old
But none of us like to be thrown out in the cold
Are we squatters in the city that we are living in?
Will we stand up for our rights or be scattering the wind?

Up and down Mulberry, Delancy Street and Spring
Chrystie and Canal Streets, you hear our voices ring
From Elizabeth to Thompson, to Varrick Street and Broome
We're trying to save our streets from that superhighway doom

Too many other people have been driven from their doors
To make room for some highway or else some fancy stores
They've been forced to leave their homes and all their roots behind
And dwell in housing projects, the reservation kind

It's time to make a stand, it's time to try and save
This ere neighbourhood of 'curs for it lands down in the grave
So hold up your banners and raise tem to the wind
We'll stand here and fight, and fight until we win.

The background

In this case it seems it was originally sung to the tune of Listen Mr Bilbo.

Robert Moses was an impresario who resisted the changes that were happening in America during the early days of Dylan’s career, and many websites contain suggestions that there was a certain racism behind his bookings policy, as well as a dislike of modern trends in music, with him famously refusing to book The Beatles.

In an article in gothamist.com there is confirmation that Dylan may have written these lyrics in protest against his activities.   They admit The New York Public Library has no record of any recording of the song but it’s entirely possible Dylan wrote the lyrics and never actually sang it—he was writing a hell of a lot of songs during that time period, many of which were getting sent around to other songwriters.

But the website Mental Floss suggests that Bob wrote the song with activist Jane Jacobs, so it is a possibility and that is good enough for us to say, if you fancy writing some music to this piece, we will count it as a possible Dylan song, and add it to our files.

There is more information here.

Bob Dylan Showcase: previous rounds

 

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