This is a companion piece to the Wed. April 6th episode of Footnotes that streams on WGTB from 9-10pm.
On a rainy night in August 2009, a man sporting a beard, dark-sunglasses, and a hat pushed down to his eyes was looking around Long Branch, NJ. Afraid, a local family called the police, who questioned and then detained the man, when they did not believe his claims to be Bob Dylan. Eventually, at the station the policewoman’s superior recognized him and sent him on his way. Why was Bob Dylan skulking around the New Jersey suburbs during a storm? The block was where Bruce Springsteen lived during the Born to Run era, and Dylan had been visiting former homes of his favorite contemporary artists. During the year prior, he was noticed on a public bus tour around London sights related to John Lennon and visiting Neil Young’s former house, showing that Dylan was seeking to understand what they were thinking. Other artists have explored similar themes, without police confrontation and braving stormy nights, though song.
The Drive-By Truckers are amongst the best examples of bands that explore such themes. Their great album Southern Rock Opera is an exploration of both the meaning of “The Southern Thing” and the career of Lynyrd Skynyrd — better they imagine what Skynyrd was thinking through song than getting in “Double Trouble”. One strong example of this is their exploration of what must have been on the band members’ minds as their plane was crashing in “Angels and Fuselages.” The Drive-By Truckers additionally sang about some of their other musical hero’s thoughts through “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac.”
Additionally, many artists have written songs about people working in other media. For example, both the Hold Steady and Okkervil River recorded songs, “Stuck Between Stations” and “John Allyn Smith Sails,” about poet John Berryman’s suicide over thirty years after he “ended up on Washington Avenue, talking to the river.” On a more lighthearted note, as the leader of the Modern Lovers, Jonathan Richman, questioned what it might have been like to have Pablo Picasso’s charisma with women in “Pablo Picasso.” Neil Young took this style of musical exploration of others’ lives, even further to question what the Lewis and Clark expedition must have been like for Pocahontas (resulting in one of the weirder groupings I’ve ever heard in song, “Marlin Brando, Pocahontas, and me”).
– Robert Kaminski, host of “Footnotes,” Wednesdays 9-10pm on WGTB