Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bob Dylan: An Apology

A Wood
Earlier in the year, I wrote a long essay about the Almighty Bob's epic ballad about the sinking of the Titanic. I remarked that it quoted extensively from "It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down", alludes to "God Moved on the Water", and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder"; but that it was most closely modelled on Woody Guthrie's "Dust Storm Disaster".

A Tree
What I entirely failed to notice is that the song is much more closely based on a Carter Family song. I can perhaps be forgiven for not spotting this because the Carters carefully conceal the subject matter of their song by giving it the cryptic title "Titanic."

The old song starts:

The pale moon rose in its glory
She's drifting from golden west 
She told a sad, sad story, 
Six hundred had gone to rest

Where the new one starts

The pale moon rose in its glory
Out on the western town
She told a sad sad story
Of the great ship that went down...

An Arse
While Dylan's song doesn't amount to a "cover" of the the Carters, there's a far closer match between them than, say, between "Lord Franklin" and "Bob Dylan's Dream" or "Hard Rain" and "Lord Randolph", or any of Dylan's other swipes. Not that there is anything wrong with "swiping", of course. That's what makes it folk music.

I said in my first essay that I was surprised that hardly anyone else had mentioned the connection between Dylan's song and Woody Guthrie's; I am astonished and embarrassed that most of us failed to spot the Carter family connection, as well.

An Elbow

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