Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tin Pan (Woodstock) Alley

When I read, recently, that Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop were not too impressed with Bob Dylan's music,

in the Sixties, I wanted to wonder, smart-aleck-ily, if maybe these poets had "never learned to listen with their ears."

(Would have liked to have made that phrase up myself, but I didn't.)

Musicologist and musician / entertainer John Eaton uses this expression on his music CD, Indiana On Our Minds, which features songs by Hoagy Carmichael, and by Cole Porter (both composers were from Indiana); it also features, on several cuts, Eaton discussing the music and enlightening us as to "precisely" "why we like it...."

Answering some contemporaneous critics from a 1980s vantage point, Eaton dismisses those who dismissed Hoagy, as never having learned "to listen with their ears."

Another thing about Lowell and Bishop trying to "get into" Bob Dylan's music in the 60s -- in 1971 when Lowell made the "using the guitar as a crutch" comment in an interview, he would have been 54 years old.  (He had been born in the same year as John F. Kennedy, 1917.)  Miss Bishop was six years older.

In today's society we don't think of 54, or 60, as being as "old" as we used to imagine them being, but in that era, the time of the "generation gap" and the exhortation to not trust "anyone over 30,"

as the earliest wave of the baby boom came of age, there did seem to be a resistance to a lot of the new music on the part of -- well -- anyone "over 30" ...or at least, over 40.

It was something "new"; it was loud.  Society had other pressures:  Cold War; Vietnam.  People over 30 or 40 at the time didn't even appreciate, or were actively horrified by, Elvis Presley's dance moves on the Ed Sullivan Show.

What were you going to do?  There was a "gap" -- of some sort.  An "Understanding Gap."  An "Openness Gap."  "A Willingness to Listen" Gap.  ("Turn that down!")

To consider and try to explain (or lightly discuss) a couple of respected poets' inability -- or reluctance -- to appreciate the musical poetry of Bob Dylan, I had to turn to a music CD containing the songs of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael and borrow a phrase.

Then, having considered for a moment, music and songwriters from the so-called "Great American Songbook" we are reminded of the fact that Bob Dylan's new album, Shadows In The Night, is a line-up of traditional pop "standards" recorded by Frank Sinatra in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

It includes
"The Night We Called It A Day"
"Autumn Leaves"
"Full Moon and Empty Arms"
"Some Enchanted Evening"
along with six others.

(Do "all roads lead" to -- Bob Dylan?  Apparently so.  If Lowell and Bishop and the whole rest of what I thought of as "the older generation" were living today, now would they listen to Bob Dylan, since he's singing these songs??)

The New York Times gave Shadows In The Night a favorable review, and Seth Rogovoy on WBUR's site, The Artery, wrote,

"Dylan's fondness for Sinatra

and for the so-called 'Great American Songbook' is hardly a big secret.  He's performed some of these tunes in concert over the years, as well as numbers by Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin and other Tin Pan Alley songwriters....

This isn't one of those string-laden orchestral efforts....It's got more of an intimate, 'glass-of-bourbon-in-a-dark-bar' feel to it, just this side of noir."

He adds that Dylan has always had "the easygoing phrasing of a jazz singer, and here his natural swing gets put to great use."


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