Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969): Part X: Smooching with Lisa Bonet

by Jochen Markhorst

X          Smooching with Lisa Bonet

 Nick Hornby is a justly celebrated writer and talented scriptwriter whose own books are often made into very enjoyable films by other scriptwriters. About A Boy, Fever Pitch, A Long Way Down… but the real success began with the film adaptation of his first novel, High Fidelity (book 1995, film 2000, musical 2006, television series 2020). Autobiographical elements shine through enough, but most clearly in protagonist Rob’s obsessive tendency to make Top 5 lists of everything. The book even opens therewith;

“My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:

                1) Alison Ashworth
2) Penny Hardwick
3) Jackie Allen
4) Charlie Nicholson
5) Sarah Kendrew

These were the ones that really hurt.”

How fond Nick Hornby himself is of making lists, he shows in 2003, with the publication of 31 Songs, a beautiful collection of essays on his 31 favourite songs. In it, he also expresses his awkward, very two-faced relationship with Dylan’s records. In the opening line to Favourite Song No. 8, Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”, he is quite clear: “l’m not a big Dylan fan.” A stroll through his record collection, however, reveals, to his own surprise, that he has some twenty CDs by Dylan – “in fact I own more recordings by Dylan than by any other artist.” And when discussing Favourite Song No. 7, Rod Stewart’s cover of the Dylan song “Mama You Been On My Mind”, the not-a-big-Dylan fan drops:

“Dylan’s ‘Mama You Been On My Mind’ seems to me to be not much more than a strum – an exquisite strum, with one of Dylan’s loveliest and simplest lyrics, but a strum nonetheless. Stewart’s evident love for the song rescues it, or at least spotlights it: where Dylan almost throws it away, with the implication that there’s plenty more where that one came from, Stewart’s reverence seems to dignify it, invest it with an epical quality Dylan denies it.”

That same special talent, the talent to express admiration with highly quotable, cast-iron sentences, Hornby demonstrates again in Chapter 8, the chapter on “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”: There’s a density and a gravity to a Dylan song that you can’t find anywhere else.

In the book High Fidelity, however, Dylan is not mentioned too often. About four times. Very respectful, though: “All-time top five favourite recording artists: Madness, Eurythmics, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley.” And Dylan is explicitly linked to Rob’s emotional struggles once:

“When I get home (twenty quid, Putney to Crouch End, and no tip) I make myself a cup of tea, plug in the headphones, and plow through every angry song about women by Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello I own.”

Striking enough, in any case, for the screenwriters to highlight Dylan more in the otherwise very faithful film adaptation. “Most Of The Time”, under the romantic climax, in the pouring rain after a funeral vigil late at night, makes the most impression. The song from 1989 was covered once until the filming, by Lloyd Cole in 1995. After the success of the film and the soundtrack, it has been covered more than twenty times (most beautifully by Sophie Zelmani in 2003, but the raw, unadorned cover by ex-Grandaddy Jason Lytle in 2021 also has its own distinctive emotional power).

In the scenario Dylan’s name pops up as well, every now and then. Like in the witty shop scene in which Barry (Jack Black) pushes one must-have album after another into the hands of a dorky customer:

“You don’t have it? That is perverse. Don’t tell anybody you don’t own fucking Blonde On Blonde [stacking the album on the pile in the hands of the overwhelmed customer]. It’s gonna be okay.”

And on the soundtrack, one more Dylan song comes along: “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, under the sensual love scene Rob has with a one-night stand, the enchanting singer/songwriter Marie DeSalle. Played, incidentally, by the secret childhood crush of half the Western world’s population over 40, Lisa “Denise Huxtable” Bonet. To complete the circle, the lead role in High Fidelity‘s 2020 television adaptation is played by Zoë Kravitz, Lisa Bonet’s equally enchanting daughter from her marriage to Lenny Kravitz.

The splashing Rolling Thunder performance of the song did not really lead to a broad, general reappraisal of the song at the time. From the 70s, only the 1979 version by British blues veteran Dave Kelly is worth mentioning. An unadventurous, country-like arrangement, true, but it’s all the first years after the Rolling Thunder Revue have to offer. And it does have a pleasantly nostalgic piano.

In the 80s, the song remains just as obscure. Dylan himself never plays it, his colleagues also ignore “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. With one exception: the energetic soul veteran Nappy Brown experiences a come-back in the 80s, some thirty years after his glory years (between 1954 and ’58 he scored his biggest hits). After Jeff Beck, Cher and Esther Williams, Nappy is the next to recognize the soul potential of the song and records a catchy, swinging mid-tempo soul stomp for his strong album Tore Up (1984).

From 1990 onwards, Dylan plays it himself again, at irregular intervals, and that, plus perhaps the reasonably successful cover of Albert Lee (1991), leads to a steady reappraisal.

In the course of the 90s, the song then appears here and there on the setlist of Second Division artists, until Premier League player and Dylan disciple Jimmy LaFave reanimates it completely in 1999;

… in turn inciting the blues potential, but above all – as usual – appealing because of his husky, skipping vocals and his unique phrasing.

The film adaptation of High Fidelity then seems, as it did for “Most Of The Time”, to throw open the gate once and for all; after 2000, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” enters the canon. In all categories, too; blues, country and rock artists, of course. A forgotten recording by Rick Nelson from 1969 surfaces, as a bonus track on the reissue of Rick Nelson In Concert (2011).  [Editor’s interruption, for this track just click on the link]

And even in jazz circles, as in a somewhat safe, sultry, but not unattractive rendition by Janet Planet;

And soul, especially soul – which usually makes for very attractive covers;

…as the delightful Ann Peebles, with old master Allen Toussaint on the piano in 2005, proves. En passant demonstrating why the old soul diva (“I Can’t Stand The Rain”) is inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

However, its particular beauty is best appreciated in a hybrid, in a mash-up of rock, soul, blues and country, as Jeff Beck argued half a century ago. For an exercise in that winning category we have to go to continental Europe, to a small town in the south of Holland. In Breda, Jan Barten and Fons Havermans produce Dylan covers, in which the Muscle Shoals-like piano, funky guitar, driving Hammond organ, Kenny Buttrey drums and jazz-rock-ish Steely Dan guitar solos create the perfect blend of Memphis, Nashville and New York. Their “One Of Us Must Know” with brilliant, percussive Stevie Wonder keyboard work is a great example of that approach, and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” emulates the warmth and drive:

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” never made it to the real top, though. In a – fictitious – list of Most Covered Dylan Songs, the song probably only just makes it to the Top 30 – at best, it ‘s a mid-tier. And apparently, only Dylan’s original has the magical power to give even a sucker like Rob Gordon the chance to make out with Lisa Bonet:

…after which he is allowed to be staying with her tonight, the lucky devil.

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Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

 

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