By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
In this series Aaron selects albums and tracks that are in the style of, or otherwise related to, Bob Dylan. Tony then adds his thoughts as he plays the music selected.
Aaron: Let’s look at another one of the albums that spun out of the Rolling Thunder Revue. This time it is “Lasso from El Paso” by Kinky Friedman.
The band included Rolling Thunder alumni T-Bone Burnett, Rob Stoner, Mick Ronson, Steven Soles and Howard Wyeth as well as guest performers such as Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, Roger McGuinn, Ringo Starr and members of The Band. Dylan and Jacques Levy even gifted him the original song Catfish.
AllMusic wrote that “of the many albums that grew out of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, this must be the strangest.”
The album opener “Sold American” was recorded live with Bob Dylan and The Rolling Thunder Revue, Ft. Collins, Colorado.
Tony: As ever I am writing my contribution while listening to the music – and throughout this piece, listening for the first time. I’ve never heard this album before.
And as such it gives me another chance to go onto a ramble. My father, as I think I have mentioned, played piano and saxophone in dance bands in the pre-war era and as such there were in the flat (apartment) in which I grew up lots of 78rpm records, including some by Glenn Miller. So I got to know his music – and did at sometime come across the song “Sold American” by Glenn Miller. It wasn’t until much. much later, when I started doing research into songs that I got to understand the title came from a Lucky Strike cigarette advert, which itself came from a tobacco auctioneer who used the phrase to suggest that the American Tobacco Company only used the best tobacco in their cigarettes. Apparently, the company used the phrase in its radio adverts.
So now I get to understand (and sorry for being so slow, but it can take me a while to get to the bottom of phrases that I’ve never heard before) that the song title is itself a reference back to the old days with, I guess, a cross-reference between the original song and the old days of the busker hoping for a dime, thinking of the lost old days when he was a star.
Now I do know that quite often my attempts to make sense of a song that I’ve not heard before can go laughingly wrong, so if there is a totally different explanation please do let me know, (although ideally without laughing at me too much).
Aaron: The rest of the album range from off color comedy songs and touching ballads such as Dear Abbie:
Tony: Here we go again – I am culturally lost. What I have found is a statement that says Dear Abby “is the most widely syndicated columnist in the world.” So are we into an album which are made up of songs based on phrases from America’s past? Listening to the lyrics I think this might be true. Although if not, I suspect that Aaron is maybe having a good laugh at me and everyone else in America is groaning at my stupidity and ignorance.
But there is of course a link between the two tracks so far… in that both are about reflecting on the past, and being desperately lonely…
But the life I lead's so lonesome That I wonder, Abbie, if you've ever known What it's like to live in others' dreams And never have a dream to call your own
That is desperately, desperately sad – or at least it feels that way to me. It is so simple, and yet obviously very true. There are many people – particularly older people who are simply alone and just crave the company of others.
But dragging myself away from such thoughts, and back to Dylan, I’m immediately reminded of
There are those who worship loneliness, I'm not one of themIn this age of fiberglass I'm searching for a gem The crystal ball up on the wall hasn't shown me nothing yet I've paid the price of solitude, but at last I'm out of debt
Tony: As you will be seeing, Aaron has simply given me the tracks, with no hints as to where I should be taking this or what I should be hearing or understanding. But at least I can touch the ground with a little certainty here, as this is a Dylan/Levy song with a completely new treatment.
Although actually, it took me a few moments to recognise what I was listening to. In my original review of the song written five years ago, I wrote “It is a slow atmospheric blues with a reverberating harmonica played throughout – while the blues band does its blues band thing.” Which is, of course, not how it sounds here.
Here’s Bob’s version in case you don’t recall.
So, I don’t know… it’s an interesting reworking of the song that Friedman has offered, but to what end? I am really not too sure.
Aaron: Ol’ Ben Lucas…All right, pick it, Eric!
Tony: I looked this song up on my computer and the first result says, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe”.
What data protection law protects us from that song? I wish I knew because I’d like to thank whoever it was that introduced it – and have it extended.
Aaron: The last track is the deliberately misspelled “Waitret, Please, Waitret”
Tony: I have stopped trying to do this all on my own, feeling as I do, totally with an understanding of what is going on in this album. So turning for help… AllMusic’s review of the album says “of the many albums that grew out of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, this must be the strangest.”
I’d agree with that, and I also know that quite often in terms of music, as indeed with theatre, writing and dance, the other art forms that occupy my time, strange can be interesting, illuminating, engaging, stimulating, and indeed fun.
But maybe because I am from a different cultural background, or maybe it is just me, but I really don’t find anything in this that engages me in any of this strangeness. For if there is something of interest in any of these pieces then it has passed me by. That doesn’t mean that the music is no good – rather that I simply don’t understand what’s going on.
Sorry, Aaron, this time you have really beaten me. But to you, dear reader, if you have just battled through my ramblings here and wondered why you were bothering, please don’t be put off the earlier episodes of the series. It’s not that my writing was any better, but rather the songs are of a totally different nature.
- Part 1: Desolation Row
- Part 2: There goes rhyming Dylan
- Part 3: Songs inspired by the music of Bob Dylan – Young, CSNY, and Coxon
- Part 4: Dylanesque: the anti-war songs