Thinking twice: Part 1

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how hard I found the exercise of choosing my fifty favourite Beatles songs. And as I signalled then, there are/were very few modern artists that present similar challenges.

Bob Dylan is one of them. So I spent some time musing about my top 50 Dylan songs, then went down a rabbit hole. I sort of wasted my precious time looking into the cover versions of just one song: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

Here’s a collection of some of my favourite cover versions of the song, set into context by the original. This is by no means a comprehensive list, that was never my intention. While there are many songs that have been covered hundreds, sometimes thousands of times, what intrigues me is when there is great variety in the treatment. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right just happens to be a classic example. By the way, I’ve linked twice in this post to the “official” Bob Dylan site. Worth a visit if you haven’t been there before.

Here’s the original Dylan version. All the way back to 1962/63. All the way back to his time with his first girlfriend, Suze Rotolo,  a mentor of sorts, someone who helped make the album cover iconic, not just the album. Sadly Suze passed away a few years ago.

Then here’s Messrs Travers, Stookey and Yarrow (the surnames of Mary, Paul and Peter as in Peter, Paul and Mary) singing the song “live” a few years later. Mesmerising. Completely different treatment.

Soon after Dylan had written the song, PP&M actually helped the song get to prominence by covering it on their incredible album In The Wind. They may even have helped get Dylan himself to prominence by covering Blowin’ In The Wind on that album and even naming the album after that song. It behooves me to include their album version here as well, a faster, more frenetic, staccato approach.

I’ve heard many people swear by John Mayer’s rendition. I hadn’t appreciated it enough to begin with, but over the years it’s grown on me. I was probably biased against him: after all, he was born twenty-five years after the song was written and aired. But I found this 2011 version on the web, and quite liked it.

While wandering around YouTube looking for covers I hadn’t heard (and there were many), this one, by Camille Schorderet, caught my attention. And no, I didn’t include it just to pretend not to be ageist. I actually liked the treatment. Something striking about the juxtaposition of streetwise and hardened lyrics delivered in softly innocent strides.

Staying with the somewhat younger, here’s the Marcus Mumford/Justin Hayward-Young version. They were both born after my first child, so there. There’s something fascinating about hearing the same song sung solo, in duet and as a triplet. With video you sometimes get facial expressions and nuances that help augment the experience too.

Just making sure you don’t think I’ve gone soft and moved away from my Sixties and early Seventies focus, and to get properly this side of the Atlantic — (yes, both Mumford and Hayward-Young are British, but Mumford was actually born in the US) — here’s Davey Graham’s bluesy version.

Venturing a little further north of Davey, time for a little John Martyn. I could listen to John singing the Shipping Forecast, the Weather Forecast or even the football scores. His characteristic alterations of the phrasing makes it an altogether more plaintive lament, and somehow more vulnerable and personal as well.

Still with the small island. Still bluesy, but heavier on the electric. Here’s one of my favourite Slowhand versions.

Now before you start thinking I only listen to male singers, here’s a lovely three-person female version. The Indigo Girls. They had me at Closer to Fine and I’ve not really strayed away. Here they’re with Joan Baez, fittingly. I’ve heard the one they do with Brandi Carlile, which is pretty good, but I prefer this. Again a different tempo, a three-voice monologue if such a thing is possible.

Now for some classic Elvis treatment, a bit bluegrassy but all the way silver-tongued and hip-slinking Presley.

Change of scene. What happens when a prog-rocker who just happens to play a welter of stringed instruments sublimely gets going on a Dylan classic? Here’s Steve of Yes to show you Howe.

 

Joan Baez was such an incredible influence on Dylan that it wouldn’t be right to leave out her own interpretation of Bob’s classic. So here it is. Unvarnished brilliance. No further comment needed.

 

Staying with the gentler sex, here’s Melanie. No she’s not singing in a brand new key, but it’s a whole lot slower than most other version. Velvet melancholy.

The late 1960s had some amazing talent in the folk-rock space, and one of my favourites was Jose Feliciano. So here he is giving us his version. I can’t believe he turned 70 a couple of weeks ago.

Not everyone who reads this will know who Judith Durham is. Or who the Seekers were. They made sure my carnival is never over, even when I finish turning vegetarian. Here’s their effort.

 

I guess even fewer people today listen to Maggie Bell and Stone The Crows. If Janis Joplin needed a Glaswegian doppelgänger she wouldn’t have needed to look for long. Here’s a superb Kozmic Blues version from Maggie and band.

There’s always space in my heart for a rocker-turned-crooner version, so here’s Bryan Ferry doing his thing, suitably soft-spoken, embellished with harmonica as needed.

On to Nashville style. Chet Atkins and his ensemble. A different era, yet hauntingly similar to the rest.

Time for a rabbit hole. Here’s Jerry Garcia and friends doing their bit. Don’t Think Twice is at 2:37:16 in the video below. In preparing for this post I found myself listening to the whole tape. Amazing.

Just in case my hippie roots were showing too strongly, back to more modern interpretations. Here’s Metric, well half of Metric anyway, showing how they do it.

For those more inclined to country and western, here’s the nearest I can get to it. Randy Travis.

Finally, here’s the version that made Bob Dylan say “I relinquish it to you”. Rambling’ Jack Elliott. First hear the 1960s version, to give you the baseline. And then make sure you listen to the one below, where you’ll find out why Ramblin’ Jack got his name, amongst other things.

Now you know why I love the music of the 1960s and early 1970s. I could spend all day just listening to one band; or one album; or even one song.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

Permission espionage and peer-to-peer spying

When I came to England in 1980, I spent some time in Blundellsands, near Liverpool, before coming down to London and starting work some months later. In those early weeks, I started exploring the area gingerly, first going to watch Marine FC play nearby, before finally heading to Stanley Park to watch my first-ever First Division match. Even the Calcuttan in me had heard of Keegan and Dalglish, of Bob Paisley, of Bill Shankly.

Which meant I chose the Red side of Stanley Park, and I’ve been a Liverpool supporter ever since. Some great years, some good years, for the last twenty years mainly not-so-good years. I was brought up to support teams regardless of whether they won or lost, so it hasn’t mattered. If, like me, you were an Indian cricket supporter in the 1960s and 1970s, you’d know something about supporting teams that lose.

It was January 1981 when I had my first experience of being in the Kop when it was time to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. You have to be there to know what it feels like. Nearly twenty-five years later, I was at the Ataturk stadium in May 2005, there with my son to watch Liverpool in the Champions League final. 3-0 down at half-time. You had to have been there to to know what it felt like, hearing the stadium in full voice a few minutes later. Incredible. The rest is legend.

You’ll Never Walk Alone. There is immense comfort to be drawn in being together with people who you share something with. That comfort means even more when you’re up against it, when times are hard, when you’re at your most vulnerable. You draw strength just from the knowledge of someone else caring about you.

These were my thoughts when I came across Companion last week. As the tagline says, Never Walk Home Alone. A mobile app that lets you share your route and destination with friends, so that they can monitor progress. An app that even lets you express your doubts and fears as you travel, useful for journeys where you feel exposed because of the time or the context. An app that even lets you contact the police if needed.

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We have ways of tracking devices, of the Find My iPhone variety. We have ways of tracking luggage, of the Trakdot variety. Companion is just one of a long line of services that allows people and/or things to be tracked or kept in contact. An unusual example is the Good Night Lamp, launched by a friend of mine, something that will appeal to parents with young children.

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I enjoy my privacy: I detest the idea that others can decide on my behalf to trade my privacy for their perception of security, something that many governments are wont to do.

As Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

What I like about the Companion or Find My Device or TrakDot style of offer is that the choice is left to the individual, not just the choice of being tracked, but by whom.

Permission espionage. Peer to peer spying. With an accent on the permission.

Track me, but only when I ask to be tracked. If something I do will mean I am going to be tracked, tell me in advance of my being tracked. If you intend to share my track with anyone, then do so only when you have my explicit permission.

It’s not just marketing that needs to be about permission. Being spied upon should require the same permission.

 

 

 

From 45rpm to 45 minutes: thinking about long songs

 

 

Something strange happened in the mid 1960s, as we moved away from the 45rpm singles culture, representing a time when albums were nothing more than collections of singles. [It was actually worse than that, since the albums would contain both the A sides as well as the B sides of the singles. Until the Beatles came along, B sides were B sides. With Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, they broke the mould. I didn’t have that single in my collection, my first experience of the phenomenon was Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane.]

People also started releasing albums that were meant to be listened to as albums rather than as a series of discrete songs, where the “bargain size” of listening to music became 45 minutes at 33rpm rather than 3.3 minutes at 45rpm. That tolled the end of the auto changer and spindle extensions and single stacking and release mechanisms. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.

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I was thinking about all this a few days ago, in the context of tl;dr and Long Reads. It’s a theme that has come up regularly over the past decade or so, the apparent social trend towards sound bites and powerpoint rather than any sort of depth of treatment of any subject. When does something become tl;dr? What does it say of a civilisation when tl;dr starts trending towards zero?

You’ve probably noticed that whenever I ask myself such questions I tend to switch context, usually to food or to music. There’s a part of my brain that doesn’t distinguish between a single, a snack and a soundbite, and I learn from the comparisons.

This was what was in my mind when I saw a tweet from John Taschek and the conversation that ensued:

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Long reads, three- or four-hour meals, albums where you listened to all the songs in sequence, they’re all the same thing to me. [There’s one twist. Simultaneity. I can enjoy the meals and the music with others at the same time, but haven’t yet figured out a good way of doing that with long reads: recitals, plays and films cover only part of the need.]

Anyway, to the gist of this post. Here’s a short list of 1960s and 1970s long songs and albums-meant-to-be-heard-as-albums, to remind some people of geriatric genres, and to let the rest of us wallow in remembered warmth.

Long songs (at least 7 minutes in duration)

Light My Fire (1967, 7:06)

Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (1966, 11:02)

The End (1967, 11:41)

LA Woman (1971, 7:49)

Riders On The Storm (1971, 7:10)

Get Ready (1970, 21:06)

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1972, 12:02)

Season Of The Witch (1968, 11:07)

Ball And Chain (1967, 8:13)

Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971, 11:35)

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (1969, 7:28)

California (1969, 9:30)

Thoughts About Roxanne (1969, 8:20)

(Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired (1973, 7:31)

Roll Right Stones (1973, 13:40)

Glad (1970, 6:59 … OK it’s not 7 minutes but I’m not legalistic)

Foreigner Suite (1973, 18:19)

The World Is A Ghetto (1972, 10:10)

Living For The City (1973, 7:22)

Dear Mr Fantasy (1971, 10:57)

Forty Thousand Headmen (1971, 6:21, yes, not quite 7 either)

Layla (1971, 7:02)

Jessica (1973, 7:28)

Help>Slip>Frank (1975, 11:55)

The Music Never Stopped (1975, 8:24)

That’s all for now. There are at least a hundred others, all fodder for a post some other day. John Taschek, I think the appropriate loud melodic long song after Dreamforce is the long version of Living For The City. And Zachary Jeans, if you want long and instrumental, besides the Allmans’ Jessica I would recommend Traffic’s Glad.

Left to myself when the time of day or night doesn’t matter, there’s no competition for Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. And in some moods Help>Slip>Frank takes some beating, as does Layla. Late evenings and in the small hours there’s nothing to touch California or Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired. Next time I’m thinking of covering my top 20 long posts …. not posts written by me, but by others, posts I think everyone should read.  And I can never leave out the John Perry Barlow classic The Music Never Stopped.

Play up, play up, and play the game

THERE’S a breathless hush in the Close to-night –
Ten to make and the match to win –
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

The sand of the desert is sodden red, –
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; –
The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind –
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

Vitai Lampada, Sir Henry Newbolt, 1897

 

 

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If LS Lowry had lived in Calcutta, he wouldn’t have been able to call his painting Going To The Match. He’d have had to have called it Going To The Matches. Now why would that be?

The answer’s below:

 

 

 

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You see the little cross above the word Maidan near the centre of the map? Guess what all the rectangles around it represent? They’re sports grounds. When I was a boy in Calcutta, things used to be simple. You had the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium to the south of the city for large scale athletics events, and Eden Gardens for the cricket. Everything else was played at the maidan, in one or other of the stadia there. In those days the larger clubs had their own stadia, the smaller ones had sharing arrangements.

These were permanent temporary structures, the sort of things that were probably only possible as a consequence of the best strains of British bureaucracy mating with their Indian counterparts. Permanent enough to be able to accommodate tens of thousands of people safely; temporary enough to get past the “you can’t build here” zoning laws for that area, on land owned by the Army.

The proximity of the structures meant that when it came to the Saturday match, all roads led to the Maidan. Everyone was going to the match. Except there was more than one match. All the matches were held in that small space. It was like having the Dundee Derby every weekend, with ten teams rather than two.

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This was a Good Thing. Supporters from rival teams didn’t fight each other quite as much as they might have otherwise, possibly because of the unnerving possibility that the “neutral” fan passing by was actually next week’s opponent. [That was what it was like when I was young, things may have changed since.]

You supported your team win lose or draw … if you supported a team, that is. It was all right to be a neutral and to visit without allegiance, nobody cared.

It wasn’t about winning. It was about “play up, play up, and play the game“. There were things that were “just not cricket”. Jerusalem may have had its Gate called Beautiful; in Calcutta, it was the Game that was called Beautiful. [Even today, it astounds me that India does so poorly at world soccer. I have a theory as to why, but that’s for another day].

How you played the game mattered. At school, there were many things you could do on the playing field. Challenging authority wasn’t one of them. Questioning the official’s decision was the quickest way of getting sent off. You shook hands before the match, and “three-cheers-hip-hip-hurrah”-ed your opponents after the match, regardless of the result. Coaches focused on teamwork; selfish stars found themselves dropped with alacrity. Football matches reached their conclusion without language, spitting or shirt-tugging. Yes, fouls were committed, yes, there were crunching tackles, yes, there was blood and there were broken bones. But not in malice.

Every sport had its rules, but the rules were underpinned by values. Phrases like the “spirit of the game” meant something.

Today, in many sports, the spirit of the game means nothing. Winning is what appears to count. Winning at all costs.

We all lose as a result.

We have drug cheats, match fixers, rule benders; we have divers and dissemblers, Oscar-winning injury-feigners, sly shirt-tuggers, all apparently in the name of “gamesmanship”. We use terms like “professional foul” where we mean “cheating”.

We all lose as a result.

The money involved in sport has become astronomical, so it’s not just the games that get fixed, it’s everything. Where events take place. What equipment is used. Everything.

We all lose as a result.

I love cricket. What happened at Lord’s yesterday was shocking. If Ben Stokes was truly considered to have handled the ball “wilfully”, the consequences could be serious. In a world where only winning counts, a world where the letter of the law counts more than the spirit, there is now an incentive for members of the fielding side to shy the ball, with extreme force, at a batsman anywhere near the stumps.

Situations like this have been simmering for a while, a consequence of poor blood on the pitch. Unfortunately England’s position on spirit-versus-letter has been inconsistent. Spirit of law when Bell is given out legally; spirit of law when Buttler is Mankaded; letter of law when Broad is given not out legally. Such inconsistency breeds frustration, and leads to situations like yesterday where the batsman, Stokes, isn’t given the benefit of the doubt by the fielding team or the third umpire.

The ludicrous “umpire’s call” rule makes a mockery of DRS, above and beyond the damage done by unilateral choices of equipment provider.

Why does all this matter? Because sport is about learning to do the right thing first and everything else second.

If we make sport about winning, we all lose.

We all need to play up, play up, and play the game.

Not just in sport.

In life.

From me to you: musings on food

If there’s anything that you want
If there’s anything I can do
Just call on me and I’ll send it along
With love, from me to you

The Beatles : From Me To You : Lennon-McCartney : 1963

I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in Calcutta without becoming an inveterate foodie. Food and drink were essential punctuation marks in the conversations and get-togethers, the addas that were (and still are) defining characteristics of the city. Much of the food was vegetarian; much of the drink was nonalcoholic; the venue was often the street; it was a classless, reservation-free, standing-up, affordable part of everyday life.

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My memories of Calcutta are interlaced with feelings of being spoilt for choice when it came to street food. The puchka has a special place in my heart, because it was the only street food I can remember that was served dealer-style. It was like being in a casino playing blackjack. You had your slot at the table. You waited your turn as the dealer went from hand to hand.

And, unlike at the casino, you won every time. A good thing.

There was something else. While I salivated over my bhel poori and my jhal moori, while I mowed down mountains for my kati roll, there was something different about the puchka. Something that built a relationship between the maker and the eater. It was a simple something: the puchkawala didn’t just serve you, he served you multiple times in a single session, rapid-fire. He memorised the particular spec you wanted your puchka made to (how much filling, how much spiced water, how much “heat”, even the level of fragility) and then delivered it to you custom-made, perfect, time after time.

With love. From me. To you.

It’s one of those things that I will never stop appreciating about food. It is so inherently social. It is so part of what makes us human. When you eat, there are multiple relationships that blossom, all at the same time. You have the bond of eating together, eating family-style, common, even de rigueur, in cultures ranging from Italian to Iranian to Indian and everything in between, and a few places beyond. You have the bond between the eater and the eaten, the one that can take you from gourmet to gourmand all the way to glutton if you’re not careful. And you have the bond between the cook and the guest.

Food is essentially and intrinsically cultural. Which is why I found Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book, Eating Animals, utterly compelling and occasionally unnerving.

I was born a vegetarian, in a vegetarian household. Many of my relatives have never eaten meat.

I’m coming to the realisation that it’s only a matter of time before I become a vegetarian again.

While there are many reasons for this, the catalyst was reading Eating Animals. If I were to write an elevator pitch for the book, I’d say something like this: “I want to be a selective sustainable omnivore. But there’s a problem. I can’t be a selective sustainable omnivore in society, because there’s no simple way for me to communicate what that means to society. So it’s better for me to say I’m a vegetarian or a vegan: that way, people will be able to understand what I’m saying. So even though it’s not perfect, that’s what I’m going to do.

This is a hard thing.

My path away from vegetarianism was an easy accident. I had vegetable samosas at a friend’s birthday party. Loved them. Asked for the recipe. Turned out they weren’t vegetarian after all. Oops.

So I became an omnivore. And loved it. I’ve eaten most things, pretty much everything bar long pig.

I’m still an omnivore. I still relish a masala dosai or a matsutake dobin mushi the same way I would relish tournedos Rossini or a Chateaubriand (with béarnaise sauce of course).

But now I know I need to be a selective omnivore. I can’t eat meat as much as I would like to. My reasons aren’t religious; my beliefs allow me to eat whatever I want, in moderation. They aren’t “medical” either; no doctor has asked me to ease off anything, although that may still happen if my cholesterol or blood sugar went doolaly. [An unlikely occurrence, especially since I’ve been reducing my meat intake, have no alcohol or nicotine or coffee, and am learning to watch my weight]. They aren’t financial; I’m blessed to be able to afford whatever I want to eat.

So why do I want to be a selective omnivore? Why do I want to put myself into a position where I tell people I’m a vegetarian to all intents and purposes?

It’s simple. We can’t all be meat-eaters. Not seven or eight billion of us. The natural-resource cost of providing meat as a staple to everyone will bankrupt this earth rapidly. When I say rapidly I mean “in our lifetime”. Soon.

Simply put, when we look at the energy and water costs of food production, the meat-eaters amongst us are being heavily subsidised by the vegetarians and the vegans. Heavily.

That was fine in the past. It’s not fine now. We have serious issues to deal with when it comes to energy, and even more serious ones when it comes to water.

In the end it comes down to renewable resources, the cycle time those resources take to be replenished, the other resources they draw on in that cycle. No different from any other conversation about renewable resources.

As human beings, we’re at a time in our evolution where the opportunity to get better information about the causes and effects of what we do is increasing. That’s a good thing, because we’re only just beginning to understand just how interconnected everything is.

As we build and develop and evolve more sensors we’re going to have better information and feedback loops. Take for example the number of trees we have on earth. Turns out there are three trillion of them. Seven times the number we had estimated previously. Seven times.

As we get better information, as we learn more about the root causes, we’re going to make better decisions. Decisions about climate change and energy and water and nutrition and wellness will turn out to be high on the agenda. I can be sure of that. Because the alternative scenarios are peppered with terms like death and extinction.

Man is intrinsically social. Food is part of the machinery we use to be social. The earth we live in is all we’ve got, all that exists in the known part of the universes around us that is capable of sustaining life as we know it.

I’ve got to do my part. And so I’m going to continue on my path to becoming a selective sustainable omnivore.

Some of you will find yourself on that same path. For the same reasons. And when I meet you there, I look forward to enjoying some puchkas with you.

With love. From me. To you.