Featured Post

Film review: Danton outgrosses Robespierre

Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Question for Robbie Robertson

So, if you are a devotee of the Basement Tapes, and are following my Dylan-Shakespeare thing (you are, right?--closely, minutely and obsessively, right?) perhaps this question may have occurred to you too: when Dylan on the "Crash on the Levee" sings:

"Swamp's gonna rise, no boat's gonna row,
You can train on down to William's Point..."

...is Robbie Robertson behind him aware that they are doing a Shakespeare mash-up? (or "surrealization" as I called it). Or is he just thinking, "Well, well, another screwball Dylan tune, pass the doob... man!... hee hee!"

One tantalizing bit of evidence on the Tapes album indicates Robertson is thinking SOMETHING about the screwiness, else why would he sing, on his own song "Yazoo Street Scandal":

"Sweet William said, with a drunken head,
If I had a boat, I'd help you float..."

Unless you argue that the entire album is just 100% surreal nonsense with an Americana flavor (a tenable thesis, I must admit, with a rueful chuckle) Robertson must be either a) aware that Dylan is reconfiguring Hamlet, or b) groping at Dylan's meaning and riffing around with it. Offhand I'd guess Robertson DOESN'T see the Hamlet connection, but I bet he is smart enough to be puzzling about incongruities like:

"King for king, queen for queen,
Gonna be the meanest flood anybody's seen..."


         *         *         *         *

Sept 30 footnote: FINALLY scouted the lyrics online; here are two results:



Man oh man oh man.

I know how altogether RIDICULOUS it is to even ATTEMPT an analysis of these wacky lyrics, but let's try to reduce the murk just a little. First comes determining just what the lyrics ARE. Note the disagreements between the two transcripts (e.g. I dibs "Eliza" rather than "Delilah") and, heck even where the two sources agree I'm inclined to raise question-flags. For example, is it really "widow"??--my ears have heard "winner" all these decades, and "winner" gives a nice Civil-War flavor to the nasty laugh at Cotton King. On the other hand, this is mighty intuitive, and anything but conclusive.

Now look at the line that BOTH obviously struggle to hear: "Think what you want/"Take once for all" respectively. After about 10 listens each to the Basement Tapes version and the Big Pink outtake (very similar) I'd say the actual line is "Cain't want the war" but I'll admit that the vocals are strained and I'm groping. Nor is the context much help.

     *       *       *
(just a little more to wrap up this inconclusive turkey...)