"What the, what?" Randy Jackson said when he got a first glimpse of his former co-star on stage.
"My name is Pepper. I'm going to sing a song called 'Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa, Our Love Going to Grow, Wah Wah,'" he joked to judging panel. "But before I do I'm going to judge you all (bleeps) first."I'm not finding any news reports that place the lyric — which I have engraved on my brain — in the old Bob Dylan song. "Talkin' World War III Blues" has 12 verses of Bob talking his way through a dream he had about walking through post-nuclear NYC, with all the people gone from the "lonesome town." Here's the 9th verse:
Well, I remember seein’ some adTyler said "Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah," by the way, just like Dylan, not "Wah Wah," as the Daily News would have it.
So I turned on my Conelrad
But I didn’t pay my Con Ed bill
So the radio didn’t work so well
Turned on my record player—
It was Rock-a-day Johnny singin’, “Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa
Our Love’s A-gonna Grow Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah”
Now that you get the reference, is there anything to be made of it? Maybe Dylan was making an in joke at the time and Tyler was referring to that joke. Maybe Tyler wanted to alert us to the threat of nuclear war. Maybe Tyler wanted to wink at Dylan fans. But the best clue I found — as I did a Google search to see if anyone had recognized the Dylan quote — was an article from back in November about friction between Tyler and current-season judge Nicki Manaj. Tyler had said in an interview:
“If it was Bob Dylan, Nicki Minaj would have had him sent to the cornfield! Whereas, if it was Bob Dylan with us, we would have brought the best of him out, as we did with Phillip Phillips....”Manaj thereafter tweeted:
“Steven Tyler said I would have sent Bob Dylan to a cornfield??? Steven, you haven’t seen me judge one single solitary contestant yet!”And:
“I understand you really wanted to keep your job but take that up with the producers. I haven’t done anything to you. That’s a racist comment.”Racist because it's against her... or because sending someone "to the cornfield" is a reference to slavery?
“You assume that I wouldn’t have liked Bob Dylan??? why? black? rapper? what? go f— yourself and worry about yourself babe.”To quote Bob Dylan — especially while dressed in a garish blonde wig and big inflated breasts — is to tweak Nicki. Talking blues is related to rap, somewhere in the ancestry. The quoted line, which is talked, is about singing, singing like a rockabilly guy — "Rock-a-day Johnny" — and Tyler was acting as though he were going to sing the song Bob Dylan heard. Dylan is all alone in his dream, looking for company, and in his desperation, he turns on the radio, and then puts on a record, and it's this pop culture idiot, singing nonsense — ooh-wah, ooh-wah —but it's very poignant, because, after the war, Bob is longing for any kind of a voice. In the 10th verse, he calls the telephone number where a recorded voice says the time, and he listens to that voice, repeating the same time — 3 o'clock, the time the war started — for over an hour.
So Steven Tyler had a lot to say, if anybody wants to notice. He's saying we don't get artists like Bob Dylan anymore. The music industry — like NYC after the bomb — is devoid of real people. We're desperate for a human voice. And Nicki Manaj is the embodiment — for all her voluptuous physicality — of emptiness. He was spoofing her, critiquing everything, crying out for real human art, which — for him — Bob Dylan embodies.
But did anyone hear him? He pranced out as a clown. He was dressed as a woman. It resonated in the hollowness that has always been television. In drag, with that wide smile, he even looked like Milton Berle.
IN THE COMMENTS: In this post where I chide others for missing the Dylan reference, Mumpsimus dings me for missing a reference:
"To the cornfield" refers to the SF/Horror story "It's A Good Life" by Jerome Bixby. Or, more likely in this context, to the Twilight Zone episode based on that story.Dust Bunny Queen links to this TZ clip.