A Dylan Cover a Day: It takes a lot to laugh. Dylan and the ichthyosaur

By Tony Attwood

This song has always been one of my favourites, not just for what seemed in my youth an incomprehensible title, but also for the individual lines within the song.

And as such the thoughts and visions of the song mix with my own experiences and life, and somehow start to merge so I find myself having special relationship with the piece.  It becomes part of my life.

As such my visions of how the song needs to be interpreted change over time as new thoughts join with or replace the old.   Where once I was looking for a spot of joy and bounce, now the world has changed and I have new issues that I want those who record the song to deal with and acknowledge.

Except of course, these fine musicians who choose to re-work Dylan know nothing of my needs, and when they do hit the right note (as it were) for me, it is of course by purest chance.

A very quick search found well over 60 cover cover recordings available, and I am sure there are many many more.   Indeed Jochen has already introduced to the wide range available – including this extraordinary version from Higher Animals…

Talk about turning it into another song altogether….

But of Jochen’s choices in his earlier series, Chris Smither’s version is still played in my house on a regular basis.   Fortunately (or perhaps because of my propensity to play certain songs quite often) I live alone these days so no one else is disturbed…

This version just digs inside me so much that although I utterly adore it and if my daughters chose to have it played at my funeral when that time comes I don’t think I’d object (although I rather think I might have a hard time trying to do so, so maybe that doesn’t matter).

I think it is the combination of the persistently held pulse and note in the background with the vision of the sun coming down over the trees that turns me on… and this starts to lead into the link with my environment, which I’ll try to explain.

In fact, as for wintertime coming, Yo La Tengo tells us, it is already here, the ice age has settled in once more and we’ve all had it.  The only problem I have with the music is the end, which is a far too sudden conclusion for the visit to the places I have been taken.

So now I really need to divert for a moment, to explain myself more fully.

For it does seem to me that the images the sounds create are linking with my everyday life.   And if we can but acknowledge that this happens, and pull ourselves away from the lyrics and our in-depth knowledge of the song, then we can perhaps find something so personal that trying to explain to others why THIS version rather than THAT version is so moving, is really not just a consideration of musical integrity but also an expression of a totally personal issue.

In short my relationship with this song is not just something about the music and the lyrics, it is much deeper than this, and this is where I have to acknowledge that Yo La Tengo takes me into the ice age.  And from there try to explain why.

Obviously, there is the Winter Time coming line, but there is also something about the sound that is produced here which just seems to represent icicles and frozen countryside.  And once I had that feeling I was taken into my own personal relationship with the Ice Age – or at least one of the Ice Ages.

Which is going to sound a bit freaky, but if you have another few minutes to spare, please stay with me…

I live in a part of rural England in which the remains of pre-human times are still to be seen.   On part of a journey to and from one of the dance clubs I regularly frequent, there are hills and sudden drops into valleys, these valleys having been scoured out by glaciers edging from what is now the Midlands, towards what is now the North Sea.  It’s a thought that arrives in my head each time the car makes its way up and down these steep hills – I’m travelling over a landscape formed by glaciers.  For reasons I can’t explain I find that thought quite moving.

But there’s more because at the edge of the biggest lake in the region, incredibly well-preserved remains of a 10 meter long 180 million year old ichthyosaur have been found.  It’s the largest remains of a predator from the time of the dinosaurs that has ever been found in the UK .  Fortunately, the region is a nature reserve, so no one has built on it – the creature was preserved and will stay that way.  (There’s a picture of it above).

Now I find a link between Yo La Tengo and my nearby rural environment.  Why is hard to explain, but there is something in the sounds that brings these feelings to the fore.  So I feel this version of a song that has been with me for much of my life, relates to where I am now, where I live now, what I think now.  And the environment in which I live.

And maybe that’s what it is always about.  Do the musical sounds (not the lyrics, but the sounds) link to something in your current or past existence?  If yes, then maybe the music turns you on.  If not, maybe it doesn’t.

We tend to talk and write so much about the lyrics, probably because that’s easier – and you can most likely see how I am struggling to put this notion across.   But this version of this song links somehow my local environment – an environment that intrigues me, and which I care about and want to be preserved.

A bit weird I know, but that’s how I feel it.

Here’s a list of most of the articles from this series…



One comment

  1. Don’t play Smithers extremely annoying “tic-tic” version at anyone’s funeral-

    Attendees will think a person whose heart is still beating is being buried…

    A wonderful song completely destroyed thereby…. tic..,tic..,tic …,tic …. tic …..

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