Champaign, Illinois (1969) part 1: You’re happy, Tim?

Champaign, Illinois (1969) part 1

by Jochen Markhorst

I           You’re happy, Tim?

“When you buy a cup of coffee today, do you still know who is responsible for it? Who makes that coffee? The gentleman here, of course, thinks it was Herr Starbuck. But you, Frau Bellini, and I, we both know: This Starbuck can’t cook everywhere at the same time. No one knows who made the coffee, the only thing we know for sure is that it wasn’t Herr Starbuck.”

 Er ist wieder da (by Timur Vermes, English title Look Who’s Back) from 2012 is a phenomenal sales success, despite lukewarm to scathing reviews. Millions of copies sold, a successful film and theatre adaptation, translations in more than 40 languages. The story is set in 2011 and the protagonist is Hitler who has risen from his ashes. The monologue above is an example of the satirical quality of the work; the resurrected Hitler does not yet understand these times, but his criticism, in this case the modern reflex to avoid responsibility, makes sense. And Hitler, who was resurrected only a few days ago, has not even been able yet to learn that “Herr Starbuck” also produces television programmes, records and films; Starbucks Entertainment has been around for five years at this point, late summer 2011. And has already scored big hits; Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full, for example, and the film Akeelah and the Bee (both in 2006).

Less commercially successful, but artistically partly very successful, is the Artist’s Choice CD series, compilation CDs filled with the choice of famous greats such as Ray Charles, Yo-Yo Ma and Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan selects his pick for the February 2008 release in the series, and it’s a beautiful CD. Eclectic as an episode of Theme Time Radio Hour, with lesser-known tracks by Dylan favourites like Wanda Jackson, Junior Wells and Ray Price, a few usual suspects (The Stanley Brothers’ “The Fields Have Turned Brown”, for example), and also featuring liner notes written by the bard:

“They’re a lot of different ways a record can get under your skin. Sometimes it’s the way they sound, sometimes it’s the words. Maybe it’s a guitar riff or a horn line or maybe you feel like the singer is talking right to you. Some people say it’s chemistry but chemistry is too much of a science. A great record is more like alchemy. Here’s a bunch of folks who somehow manage to turn lead into gold for a couple of minutes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.”

And his brief commentaries of the individual songs are just as charming and worth reading. Like the opening track, Pee Wee Crayton’s “Do Unto Others” from 1954: “I bet that John Lennon heard this record at a party once and probably didn’t even know who did it, but that guitar just stuck in his head” – elegantly referring to the fact that Lennon and Ringo have simply stolen the intro for “Revolution”.

 

The selection of Pee Wee Crayton’s “Do Unto Others” seems, in a nutshell, to be a symptom of Dylan’s weak-spot for shuffling and rearranging facts, styles, genres and artistic expressions. We know this postmodernist artifice – of course – from his music, which combines centuries of songwriting, diverse musical genres and paraphrases from both low and high culture into the oeuvre we all admire. But in other areas, Dylan is just as fond of creating mosaics. The screenplay of Masked & Anonymous, his autobiography Chronicles, his forging and his paintings – the common denominator of Dylan the literary man, Dylan the visual artist, Dylan the musician and Dylan the scriptwriter is: it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, to quote Ray Davies (“Lola”, 1970).

And that also applies to Dylan the DJ.

The listener examining the cover of that Dylan edition of Artist’s Choice is struck by the name of the “Compilation Producer”: Tim Ziegler. A name familiar from episode 66, “Lock and Key”, of the Theme Time Radio Hour, aired on 30 January 2008, nineteen days before Starbucks releases Artist’s Choice: Bob Dylan (Music That Matters To Him).

In this broadcast, the sixth song DJ Dylan plays is “Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door” by Wynonie Harris;

“Back in the forties, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Wynonie “Mr. Blues” Harris. Here is one of his recordings for the King record label: “Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door”.

The DJ makes a small, insignificant mistake. King Records has indeed released plenty of Wynonie Harris’ records (the irresistible jump-blues monument Good Rockin’ Blues, for example, from which Elvis learned “Good Rockin’ Tonight”), but precisely “Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door” was not released by King Records. And so a phone call is made to the studio by a listening know-it-all, and a dryly comic dialogue unfolds with an increasingly grumpy Dylan:

TZ: “Yeah, I’ve been listening to the show all day, and that song you just played, “Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door”, well, you know, you told everyone that it was on the King record label and I went to Wikipedia, and sorry to tell you, it was on Apollo Records.”
BD: “Huh! Whaddayaknow. You’re probably right, Tim. You know, sometimes we tell you who wrote the song, what kind of music it is, who else recorded it, but you know sometimes we don’t get it right. I mean it’s important to remember this isn’t a classroom here; this is music we’re playing. This is music of the field, the pool hall, the back alley crap game, the barroom and the bedroom. We don’t want to make it dusty and academic. It’s full of sweat and blood, it’s like life itself. If every once in a while we get a name wrong, or we tell you it’s on the wrong label, it’s not gonna kill anybody, Tim. Just listen to the music.”
TZ: “Well, I hear what you’re saying, but you know… it was on the Apollo record label.”
BD: “Well, thanks for your call Tim.”
TZ: “Yeah thanks.”
BD: “Well, there’s just no pleasing some people. That was “Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door” by Wynonie Harris. On the Apollo record label. You’re happy, Tim?”

Funny. But the Dylan fan’s attention has already been caught shortly before, when the caller and the DJ are still exchanging pleasantries:

BD: Hello caller, you’re on the air. What’s your name and where you’re calling from?
TZ: Yeah, my name is Tim Ziegler, calling from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois…

Not only does Theme Time Radio Hour choose the very name of the “Compilation Producer” of the CD that will be released by Starbucks in a few weeks, but Tim Ziegler is also being dragged some 2,000 miles away from his hometown. The real Tim Ziegler has lived and worked on the West Coast all his life (and started his career in the music business, by the way, as a colleague of his current interviewer, as a DJ for KUSF-FM, the radio station of the University of San Francisco).

But for some reason, the mixing up, muddling up, shaking up DJ moves poor Tim from California to Champaign, Illinois…

To be continued. Next up Champaign, Illinois part 2: Oh, how I love you

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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