By Tony Attwood
Updated 6 March with a third cover included – see below.
Dylan Obscuranti is an imaginary album consisting of both lesser known Dylan songs performed either by himself or other people, and re-worked versions of songs which take the song into somewhere completely different.
This is not the first Dylan album we have created. Earlier we invented “Bob Dylan 1980” and we have also created “The Lost Album” which could have replaced “Down in the Groove” and (in our view) done a much better job of it! Now I am at it again with Dylan Obscuranti. You can hear the opening tracks on our You Tube channel or via the articles…
- Track 1 – Angelina but not as we know it
- Track 2 – Tomorrow is a long time
- Track 3 – I’m not there
- Track 4 – Mama you been on my mind
- Track 5 – Love is just a four letter word
- Track 6 – To fall in love with you
- Track 7 – Restless Farewell sung for Frank Sinatra
- Track 8 – Ballad for a Friend
Track 9 is Dusty Old Fairgrounds, recorded on 12 April 1963.
This song was written in 1963 (the year that began with “Masters of War” as part of a “moving on” series of songs written one after the other:
- Only a Hobo
- Ramblin Down Thru the World
- As I rode out one morning
- Dusty Old Fairgrounds
This track was apparently intended to appear on the album “Bob Dylan in Concert”, planned for release in 1964 but then seemingly cancelled. It seemingly appeared on what is called the “hard-to-find 50th Anniversary Collection 1963′,” although I can’t verify that.
As for the lyrics – the song is pure description. There is no message – it is totally a case of scene setting. Haiku 61 came up with a good summary
Melancholy clowns From one fairground to the next Ride the blue highways.
I would single it out for inclusion in my make-believe Obscuranti album not just because it is not known by many Dylan fans, and not just because it is such an accomplished piece of writing, and such an accomplished performance of what is a long piece, but also because I fear some may have not bothered to find the piece given that Heylin described it as another “outlandish account of his youth.”
However there is nothing here to suggest that Bob is seriously suggesting that this is the life that he has had in the past. What he does is the opposite of this: he gets inside the music and the lives of other people are presents their realities through song.
Heylin’s comment seems to me to be at the very heart of the misunderstandings many people have about Dylan, that the listener has to believe everything he writes and sings, and that all of his work has to be taken as a statement of things that have happened to Dylan or what he feels and believes is true.
It is a discussion I have been trying to raise in relation to songs like “Joey”. I cannot see why Dylan is not allowed to be a writer of fiction, and a writer of contemporary folk songs that do what historic folk songs have done – that is to say they exaggerate the past. He is not a historian and has never set himself out to be: he’s an entertainer who has moved through multiple forms of writing.
Besides, cartoonists can do it with illustrative art, why can’t we have a cartoonist musician? (Hence the image chosen for the top of this little piece).
Indeed, if I may say so, the fault is not in Dylan, but in the critics who have utterly failed to understand the traditions of music that Bob Dylan draws upon.
Imagine if Dylan had sung “Nottamun Town” with verses such as
I rode a grey horse, a mule roany mare Grey mane and grey tail, green striped on his back Grey mane and grey tail, green striped on his back There weren't a hair on her but what was coal black She stood so still, She threw me to the dirt She tore-a my hide, and she bruised my shirt From saddle to stirrup I mounted again And on my ten toes I rode over the plain
they would probably have complained that the lines didn’t make sense and besides Nottingham isn’t like this, oh and it isn’t clear if he is getting on or off the horse, running or riding over the plain and anyway he’s spelled the name wrong.
Folk music and blues music are the traditions that Bob’s music has emerged from and they are traditions that have nothing to do with exact references to how life is. So I see nothing in this to suggest that Dylan is trying to claim this is autobiographical. Heylin to me seems to be one of those weird people for whom the whole notion of fiction and exaggeration as an art form does not exist.
In fact it is a fine representation of a way of life – not the daily 9 to 5 grind, but of travelling with the fair ground through all the different weathers and situations, living a life on the road – that image that has so engrossed Dylan across the years.
Having published this Jochen has pointed out that a missed out another cover…
The other one I had found is on the album “No More, No Less”, by Blue Ash, released in 1973. I am told that the album was re-released on CD by Collector’s Choice Music 2008.
Dusty Old Fairgrounds starts at 3 minutes 10 seconds
Here are the lyrics
Well, it’s all up from Florida at the start of the spring The trucks and the trailers will be winding Like a bullet we’ll shoot for the carnival route We’re following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling From the Michigan mud past the Wisconsin sun ’Cross that Minnesota border, keep ’em scrambling Through the clear county lakes and the lumberjack lands We’re following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling Hit Fargo on the jump and down to Aberdeen ’Cross them old Black Hills, keep ’em rolling Through the cow country towns and the sands of old Montana We’re following them fairgrounds a-calling As the white line on the highway sails under your wheels I’ve gazed from the trailer window laughing Oh, our clothes they was torn but the colors they was bright Following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling It’s a-many a friend that follows the bend The jugglers, the hustlers, the gamblers Well, I’ve spent my time with the fortune-telling kind Following them fairgrounds a-calling Oh, it’s pound down the rails and it’s tie down the tents Get that canvas flag a-flying Well, let the caterpillars spin, let the Ferris wheel wind Following them fairgrounds a-calling Well, it’s roll into town straight to the fairgrounds Just behind the posters that are hanging And it’s fill up every space with a different kind of face Following them fairgrounds a-calling Get the dancing girls in front, get the gambling show behind Hear that old music box a-banging Hear them kids, faces, smiles, up and down the midway aisles We’re following them fairgrounds a-calling It’s a-drag it on down by the deadline in the town Hit the old highway by the morning And it’s ride yourself blind for the next town on time Following them fairgrounds a-calling As the harmonicas whined in the lonesome nighttime Drinking red wine as we’re rolling Many a turnin’ I turn, many a lesson I learn From following them fairgrounds a-calling And it’s roll back down to St. Petersburg Tie down the trailers and camp ’em And the money that we made will pay for the space From following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling
There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page. You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.
If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to Tony@schools.co.uk with the details – or indeed the article itself.
We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down