The Nobel Dylan

If you’re under thirty, you might ask, “Who’s Bob Dylan?”

If you’re over thirty, you might ask, “Bob Dylan’s still alive?”

Yes, Dylan’s still alive, though he’s 80 now, and a lot wealthier for having sold his entire recorded catalog to Sony music, a deal worth between $150 and $200 million

That’s a lot of social security.

Dylan, most widely known for folk and folk-rock music, has a career spanning more than 60 years. With more than 500 songs under his belt – many of them covers sung by other artists and movie soundtracks – he ranks in the top 30 most successful musicians of all time (The Beatles being number one, and Michael Jackson being number two). You may recognize not only Blowin’ in the Wind (a top hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary as well), but Quinn the Eskimo (made a hit by Manfred Mann), Too Much of Nothing (another Peter, Paul, and Mary hit), and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, which became a major hit for Eric Clapton – all written by Dylan.  In addition, he was a founding member of the Traveling Wilburys, a short-lived group (1988-91) composed of the royal powerhouse of Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. 

Dylan with Rubin Carter, a free man

Dylan, following in the social justice footsteps of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, wrote the ballad Hurricane in 1975, based on the arrest of boxer Rubin Carter for a 1966 murder he didn’t commit and who was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Dylan played several concerts to raise money for his defense. Carter was found to have been unfairly tried in 1985, and released. In 1999, a movie version of his story was released, with Denzel Washington playing Carter.

If that’s not enough of a resume, Dylan is the only American songwriter to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 – yeah, that Nobel Prize – for “creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  He’s only the second songwriter to ever be awarded the prize, the first going to the prolific Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote more than 2000 songs – back in 1913.

Dylan on his own can be hard on the uninitiated. His voice is nasally and sometimes whiny, and the socially conscious ballad style of the 1930’s and 40’s isn’t in a resurgence as it was in the 60’s, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen. Dylan has a wide variety of songs and styles, and if you don’t like him singing it, look for someone else performing the song (Joan Baez does several, but she can also be nasally and whiny. Her song Diamonds and Rust is allegedly about Dylan.). With a resume like that, there’s a lot to like.

Try these biographies on Dylan, too!

The Double Life of Bob Dylan
Chronicles
Down the Highway
Bob Dylan in America

What’s Happening at Cheshire Library in December

’tis the season for great programs at CPL! Check out our Events Calendar for all of our December offerings –  here’s a taste of what’s in store this month:

The Nutcracker Ballet

Saturday, December 1, 2018, 1:30 and 3:30PM

Brass City Ballet celebrates the magic of Christmas in a live, narrated performance of The Nutcracker. Children and adults will delight in the story of Clara and her journey through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of the Sweets where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy and all her delicious treats. Seating is limited and registration is required. Thank you to the Friends of the Cheshire Library for funding this special event!

Atwater-Donnelly Celtic Holiday Concert

Sunday, December 2, 2018, 2:00 – 4:00PM

In celebration of winter, light, and American diversity, Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly sing ancient and new songs about Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. This award-winning, internationally acclaimed duo are long-time audience favorites at Cheshire Library for their programs of traditional American and Celtic folk songs and percussive dance. No registration required.

CT’s Remarkable Jewish Women

Tuesday, December 4, 2018, 6:30 – 8:00PM

Jewish women in Connecticut have made a lasting impact on our society with contributions to the arts, business, and religious life. Their accomplishments are as varied as their struggles, and their stories inspire us to create new history. Learn about the many Connecticut Jewish women who have challenged the status quo and blazed new trails. Registration is required.

Caring Crafts: Socks for Seniors

Thursday, December 6, 2018, 4:00 – 5:00PM

Caring Crafts is a new program for school-age kids (grades K-6) to have fun making things, while making the world a better place. This week we’re making grippy socks for seniors in nursing homes. Want to donate crafting materials for an upcoming program? We’re accepting soft fabric like fleece, textured fabric like denim and nubby chenille, and sewing notions like buttons, velcro, and zippers. Send an email to lgledhill@cheshirelibrary.org if you’re interested in donating. Registration is required.

New Movie Thursday ~ Crazy Rich Asians

Thursday, December 6, 2018, 6:00 – 8:00PM

Did you miss the screening of a film you wanted to see in theatres?  Join us for the first Thursday of the month for a screening of a recently released film.  December’s  movie is Crazy Rich Asians  :  Rachel Chu is happy to accompany her longtime boyfriend, Nick, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. She’s also surprised to learn that Nick’s family is extremely wealthy and he’s considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Registration is appreciated for this adult program.

Canta Y Baila Conmigo Demo – A Music Together Program

Wednesday, December 12, and Saturday, December 22, 2018, 9:30 – 10:15AM

Small World Languages and Musical Folk have teamed up to bring to you Canta Y Baila Conmigo – a Music Together program. Designed for beginning Spanish speakers and native speakers alike, these playful, interactive classes naturally and organically integrate language learning with music learning. The idea is to help your child learn Spanish through immersion in both music and language.  Best for ages 2-5. Please register at the Small World Languages websiteThis class will be held twice in December.  Please register for only one class to make room for others.

Winter Read Aloud with FEA

Saturday, December 15, 2018, 10:00 – 11:00AM

Join the Future Educators of America from Dodd Middle school for a special winter read aloud and crafts! The Future Educators of America is an organization that offers opportunities for young teens in exploring careers in education. Best for children ages 3-6.

Connecticut 169 Club

Tuesday, December 18, 2018, 6:30 – 8:00pm

From the quaint splendor of the town of Kent in the northwest hills of Connecticut to the great restaurants that dot the shoreline of Westbrook to New Britain’s industrial roots, travel and history author Martin “Marty” Podskoch is hoping to give Connecticut residents a chance to explore every municipality in the State of Conn. with his new book, Connecticut 169 Club: Your Passport and Guide to Exploring Connecticut. Podskoch will share stories and information about our great state. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Registration is required.

Max Found Two Sticks, by Brian PinkneyCreating Musical Readers: Max Found Two Sticks

Wednesday, December 19, 2018, 10:30 – 11:15AM

The Waterbury Symphony Orchestra will read beloved children’s stories and use their instruments to bring each story to life. Children will also have a chance to play the musical instruments after the stories. Best for children ages 2 and up.  Registration is required.

Cat Tales- Writers Group

Thursday, December 20, 2018, 6:00 – 8:00PM

Do you write in secret, or do you publish your own blog? Are you working on your dream novel,  a memoir, or poetry? Join us at the library for an open writing group that can help answer your questions on writing, editing, grammar, and publishing. Read a selection of your work to the group for general constructive feedback, or discuss a book you’ve read that might help someone else. Join us once, join us every month! . Registration required for this adult program.

Relaxing Coloring Night for Adults

Thursday, December 27, 2018, 6:00 – 8:00PM

Join us for relaxing coloring night for adults and de-stress from this busy time of year.  We’ll provide coloring pages and supplies, but feel free to bring your own pages, art supplies. Registration is appreciated, beginning December 13.

 

Ceòl na h-Alba (Music of Scotland)

wallacesco-368349William Wallace is a Scots folk hero who, it is believed, was born around April of 1270. Wallace was a Knight who fought for Scottish independence from English rule, and was immortalized in the Oscar-winning film Braveheart, at least in name. Braveheart, while an entertaining drama, is about as factual on Scottish history as a tub of Cool Whip is the equivalent to Whipped Cream.

Braveheart’s soundtrack, while pleasant,  is also a modern composition, in the style of 468e4c6be98b994f6e8abf87e1f95732Scottish music but not containing a single actual Scots tune. This begs a greater question: what’s the difference between Scottish Music and Irish Music? Aren’t they the same, but with bagpipes? The question might just get you decked for saying that.

Truth is, they are quite similar, passing traditions back and forth. If you listen to folk steeped in the music, there are subtle differences in rhythms, traditional Scots music tends to be in the key of A (there’s only so much you can do on a bagpipe), while the Irish prefer drums and the key of D. Scots tunes tend to be more “snappy,” while the Irish are more “driving” (the Clancy Brothers version of “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” all but jumps out and strangles you through the speakers). But, as in anything, the styles change song to song. Each will tell you theirs is better.

brigadoonIrish music tends to be better known for several reasons. Far more people have emigrated from Ireland than Scotland, a country with the same population as Dallas-Fort Worth. The Irish tended to have more children than the Scots, so they beat them on sheer numbers as well. Many of Scotland’s great ballads get lumped in with English, but Scottish music is far from unknown. Amazing Grace, played on bagpipes though it’s an English hymn, is a funeral standard. Pipe bands are often a staple of parades. There is the Broadway play Brigadoon by Lerner and Loewe, complete with kilts and dancing. There’s a 1954 film version, but even for its day it’s rather awful. If any film needs a full Hollywood reboot, this one is 60 years overdue.

If Ancient Scottish Ballads aren’t your thing, and you think bagpipes sound like boiling rodstewartdm1306_468x431witches, there’s a much better chance you’ve enjoyed modern Scottish music. So many of the songs we hear today and think of as American or British acts are actually the work of Scots, since accents aren’t always that obvious in song. Perhaps the best known Son of Scotland would be Rod Stewart, the gravel-voiced rock singer who worked his way from rock to swing music. Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics is a Scottish lass. Sheena Easton, KT Tunstall, Mark Knopfler, now solo but formerly the lead singer of Dire Straits, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, the folk group The Corries, Average White Band, and current smooth hit-maker Paolo Nutini (yeah, that had me fooled, too – his father was Italian, his mother Scotch, and he was born in Scotland). Add in Ian Anderson (lead singer for Jethro Tull), Lulu (you might remember her for the theme from the Bond film “Man With the Golden Gun”), Big Country (a one-hit wonder in America), Gerry Rafferty, Simple Minds, and the Celtic folk group Capercaillie.

200px-wallace_tartan_vestiarium_scoticumThat’s a lot of tartan pride!

So whether you like traditional Celtic folk, the plaintive reels of a good piper, or feel like rocking out to Maggie May, sit back and raise a pint to old William Wallace, a patriot who died keeping his country and culture from being lumped with Ireland and England.

Hole-y Cow

singin-in-the-rain-diWay back when, when actors were still called entertainers, Hollywood stars were multi-talented individuals who sang, danced, and acted well – your Shirley Temples, Judy Garlands, Gene Kellys, and so many more. Studios knew they could not only rake in money off the films, but a Christmas album was a sure winner, and possibly even a touring performance.

Today, most actors are carefully pigeon-holed into one role, and there are very few “entertainers” who can successfully cross bridges in the industry. Some actors are talented musicians – Hugh Laurie plays a mean jazz piano, and Charo – yes, Charo the cuchi cuchi girl – was, at least at one point, one of the top three flamenco guitarists in the world. You have to see it to believe it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmNPXqG6ovg.  Some comedians are excellent dramatists – Robin Williams for one.  But some agents push actors with no talent into music, with embarrassing results. Ever listen to Clint Eastwood sing? Or William Shatner? Save yourself, and don’t Google Hulk Hogan singing.

But every now and then you hit the jackpot, and Kiefer Sutherland is one of them. Yes, That Kiefer Sutherland, whether killing as a vampire or saving people in under 24 hours, the Kiefer Sutherland whose father runs Pan Em and praises orange juice, second-generation Hollywood. The man can Sing.

Sutherland’s debut album is called Down in a Hole, and although it’s labeled country (and the steel guitars on a few tracks clinch it), the album is the closest thing I’ve heard in ages that resembles good old-fashioned rock and roll, the kind you can’t find on the kiefer-sutherlandradio anymore. Do NOT disregard the album because you don’t like country – it is well worth a listen. Sutherland has a rough and ready voice, Joe Cocker after four packs of unfiltered Camels – no polished music-school certificates here.

My favorite, I think, is “Going Home,” which has that glorious old rock feel. “Shirley Jean” is a tear-jerker, but almost more folk than country, not out of place in a Pete Seeger repertoire. “Not Enough Whiskey” isn’t my favorite, but it has a sweet rolling beat that just won’t let go. “I’ll Do Anything” is probably the most “country” song, steel strings twanging and pearl snaps shining. “All She Wrote” sounds like it was a track that didn’t make the final cut of a Sons of Anarchy album – you can almost hear the leather creaking.

Not too many singers/bands are successful at crossing the country/ rock line – The Eagles are probably the best example, maybe the Allman Brothers, with some singers – Dolly Parton (9 to 5), Kenny Rogers (The Gambler), Glen Campbell (Southern Nights, Rhinestone Cowboy), and Shania 4873bwTwain kicking occasional songs onto both country and pop charts at once. Kiefer Sutherland is another to watch – and the fact he has a severe hearing loss makes it all the more amazing. This is his debut album, and I cannot wait for the next one.

Dum-Diddly-DUMB

220px-TiK_ToK_-_Kesha_(official_single_cover)I came across an article from May of 2015 (there are many on the subject) that mourned the dumbing down of American music based on the reading grade-level of the lyrics. The average ability one needs to read modern lyrics is a whopping  second grade reading level. Hip hop scored worst, with short little repetitive words that needed only a first-grader’s ability to read. Country music was the Big Brain, with a reading level of third grade and a few months. I found that a bit shocking.

You can find one of those informative studies here http://seatsmart.com/blog/lyric-intelligence/
#
There are many criticisms of such a study. One is that they only covered music in the last ten years. Was music really all that smarter 20, 30, 50 years ago? Another is that repetition dumbs down the word level:

(Ke$ha, TiK ToK, Billboard #1 January 2010) (NUMBER 1 SONG IN AMERICA)
I’m talkin’ bout – everybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys tryna touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk
Now, now – we goin’ ’til they kick us out, out
Or the police shut us down, down
Police shut us down, down
#
I’m not sure it’s the repetition that’s dumbing that down.
#
The other major complaint is how reading scores are measured: most have a mathematical formula that juggles word length, sentence length, or syllable length, and messes them around until an average is found. This is not always accurate, especially with poetry or lyrics, which may have 100 words before coming to the actual end of a sentence.

I had to find this out for myself. After all, we survived songs like “Doo Wah Diddy” and “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.” I took a variety of older songs and plugged them through https://readability-score.com/, which uses fivChild in school distracted_0e different reading assessment tools to come to an average score. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease was developed by the Navy, so that technical manuals wouldn’t get too difficult to understand. A score of 90 or better is good for a 6th-grade student, 60 or higher is good for high school students, and 30 or less is best left to college students (i.e., higher score is easier to read). Because the formula isn’t perfect it is possible, on the grade-level equivalent, to score well above a “grade” (as in, grade level 62).  That’s the number of years of schooling you may need to understand it. Ideally, if it’s for the average Joe or Jane on the street, you want a grade level of 8.  Don’t take it literally; just understand that the higher above 8 you go, the more complex it is to read.

Here was what I found when I ran nine popular songs through the analyzer:

Francis Scott Key, The Star Spangled Banner (1814) Everyone knows this one! Reading Ease: 87.6 (grade 7 or so). Average reading level – grade 7.3
Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land (1940) Come on! Okey folky here. Woody Guthrie was by far not an educated man. Reading ease: 33.8 (that’s in the college range). Average grade level: 37  (Blame no punctuation.)
Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock (1957) We’re talking Elvis. Hound dogs. Blue suede shoes. Reading ease: 77. 2 (high school). Average reading level: Grade 6.2
Frank Sinatra, A Very Good Year (1961) Thoughtful, but not Shakespeare, right? Average grade level: 11.6
The Supremes, Baby Love (1964)  Oooh, Baby Love, the reading ease is 54, with a grade level of 14, which, again, is almost guaranteed to be a result of no punctuation.
Bob Dylan, The Hurricane (1975) Ok, folk music by nature is going to score higher, because it tells a whole story. I only did the first four stanzas. Reading ease? 16.3. Grade level? 24.7  Big long sentences with grammar!
Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) Let’s face it. Scaramouche isn’t in a Ginn Reader, or even a Lippincott or Scott Foresman. Reading ease? 43. Grade level: 16.3. That’s a senior in college.  Thunderbolt and lightning.
The Police, De Do Do Do (1980) (Talk about repetition!) reading ease: 63. Grade level: 47.
REM, Drive (1992) Reading ease: 101.9 (that’s grade 5ish). Average reading level: 2.2  Ah! So music DID die off at the end of the 80’s!

knobAnd just for kicks (because it came up on my iTunes): Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Substitutiary Locomotion (1971) (remember, this is a Disney kid’s movie): Reading Ease: 4.1 (that’s PhD level), and a grade level of 18.  A catchy kid’s tune.

#What it means:
Okay, even I was surprised. I expected lyrics to have come down, but I didn’t realize it was by that much. Don’t bother with “scores,” just read the lyrics. I did The Police as a joke, because that much repetition was certain to skew things down, but no: the rest of the lyrics have words like jamming transmissions, not baby words. I thought for sure Woody Guthrie would prove a point, but his lyrics, too, are full of long words and long sentences and imagery. Elvis? Really? Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone,  Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone. It’s not junk, junk. The Hurricane I knew would score high – it’s about as close to an entire novel as you can sing without going back into Child Ballads.
#elvis-presley-collectors-by-jeff-schrembs-2010-all-rights-reserved-21290390
While the measuring tool isn’t precise – measuring sentence length in a lyric that doesn’t use punctuation gives false positives as to complexity – the word lengths counter some of it (we know it obviously does not take a PhD to understand Police lyrics). All in all, I have to agree: many modern music lyrics are about as intelligent as dirty dishwater, and the content is worthless. All you need to succeed is some gibberish, a loud driving beat, a fast groove of the hips, and a really good publicity team to get you air time. The music industry is about money; artists are about the art and the message. Hence we’re here  discussing Sinatra and Elvis and Queen, who haven’t been around in decades, and no one remembers who had the number one hit four years ago.