Story Songs # 1

15 Nov



The recent squall precipitated by the Swedes foisting the Nobel Prize for literature on Bob Dylan was cause for carping and chirping by that marginal subset of earthlings devoted to the Written Word—writers and the like. While I agree with the notion that songs are stories and thus qualify as literature as much as other hybrid genres, something about this happenstance irked me.

As far as I can tell there was no pressing reason to burden the septuagenarian crooner with such an award. And burden it is—consider Dylan’s delayed response which originally suggested he might not appear at the attendant ceremony .

In any case, no biggie…

If anyone doubts the view that songs are literature here is a random sampling of such:

Randy Newman is a clever guy and has written a multitude of fine songs —this one has always grabbed me

God’s Song



Originally making his mark with the “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” Gil Scott heron’s Military and the Monetary (Work for Peace) vocalizes an obvious nexus


Made famous by the inimitable Billie Holiday, this haunting song’s portrayal of the Southern United States sport of lynching multitudes of Black Folk is soulfully
sung by another incomparable chanteuse, Nina Simone

Strange Fruit

Lowell George, singer, songwriter guitarist led this LA musical aggregation until his untimely death at the age of 34. I doubt he was aver a long haul truck driver but this song does capture that challenges of that profession

Willin’ — Little Feat

William ‘Smokey’ Robinson was a integral part if the success of the Motown musical juggernaut. Not least for his unforgettable love songs sung with his sweet tear-evoking counter tenor voice.Kevin Mahogany ’s pared down iteration of a Smokey classic sung in a deep dusky voice is a nice touch

Tears of a Clown

Tracks of MNy Tears smokey robinson live

Saxophonist John Coltrane only recorded with one singer— non pareil Johnny Hartmann .That recording is outstanding collection of tunes from the mid century American songbook and more a half century later is still as fresh as the day not was recorded. Billy Strayhorn’s melancholic hymn( I still marvel that he wrote Lush Life when he was 19 years old) is heart rending

Lush Life

In a long and adventuresome career Bob Dylan ( a jewish kid from Minnesota ) has written countless timely and memorable songs. None are representative so here’s one from a recent (non-crooning) recording. I like the line, “I an’t dead yet, my bell still rings.”

Early Roman Kings

The great Leonard Cohen passed away last weekend—having just released another recording of news songs. Naturally the recent kefluffle on the Nobel Award for Literature saw Cohen’s partisans decrying Dylan’s selection. If you are of a mind, David Remnick in the New Yorker and Leon Wiesltier in the New York Times wrote useful pieces on the poet /songwriter/wanderingJew. As he observes in the song that follows ,

I fought against the bottle,
But I had to do it drunk
Took my diamond to the pawnshop
But that don’t make it junk.

That Don’t Make it Junk

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