December 11, 2016

Patti Smith's performance of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is horrifically awkward.



I saw this yesterday and averted my eyes. As a diligent — dylangent — blogger of all things Dylan, I feel obliged to provide you with coverage of the Nobel Prize ceremony, which took place on a day when my writing about Bob Dylan consisted of 2 quotes from 60s-era Harvard-Square snobs insulting Bob for playing croquet badly and having green teeth.

I don't know if Bob Dylan wrote anything yesterday. I heard he was busy — too busy to attend the Nobel ceremony. Maybe he was busy writing songs, maybe he was busy with Nonattendance at Ceremonies, not following leaders, and watching parking meters.

But he sent Patti in his stead — Patti with her lifelong embodiment of Punk, Patti to sing one of the oldest, most serioso Bob Dylan songs for the throng in white tie. She chokes up around the 2-minute point, and you might think she's just so moved by the profundity of the words, but the truth is she's forgotten what comes after "I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’." The next line is "I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’," but she sings "I saw the babe that was left bleedin'" and then for the line after that — which should be "I saw a white ladder all covered with water" — she begins "I saw the babe...." Another babe!

When I heard this the first time, I believed she — just like a woman — was reacting to the suffering of babies. But Bob only put one baby into the song — "a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it" — and that baby had already been sung about, back before the black branch with blood that kept drippin’. Oh, Patti, you are in verse 2 of a song with 5 verses full of particular characters and images. Is it the poet or the clown who dies in the gutter? Does the white man give you a rainbow or walk a black dog? What about the pony? Where is that pony?

Is Bob Dylan watching this YouTube and feeling glad it ain't me, babe, bleedin' babe, cryin' in the alley, dyin' in the gutter, with ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’?



Has Bob Dylan ever performed for royalty or does he send back all of his invitations....

63 comments:

Laslo Spatula said...

"Has Bob Dylan ever performed for royalty...?"

I'm sure he collects his royalties.

I am Laslo.

John Christopher said...

President Obama has said he appreciated Bob not kissing his ass. A comment that helps both of them. He's a smart guy.

Laslo Spatula said...

?According to terms of the deal with Sony/ATV Music, Dylan gets a payout of $4.4 million every December from 2010 to 2014. It covers all hits hits from “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “Just Like a Woman” to more recent hits like “Make You Feel My Love” and “Things Have Changed....”

"The deal was a safe one for Sony/ATV. According to the memo, Dylan had averaged $4 million a year from 2006 to 2010 anyway in publishing royalties..."

(from Showbiz411)

Nobel Prize money? Chump change.


I am Laslo.

Owen said...

What a perfect ceremony, with lords and ladies in white tie and gowns applauding the forgetful bearer of prophecy. It captures the absurd triviality inside a cube of absolute irony. Replicas available at the concession stand in the lobby.

rhhardin said...

It's a pretend ceremony. They all dress up. Serious gestures are made.

The genre is groundhog day proclamation.

Look at us.

rhhardin said...

Some ritual has a point. The gestures are coded so that they're unlikely to be made in ordinary life just so that they can have legal consequences. Marriage for instance.

rhhardin said...

Placing hand on bible might be the cure for fake news. A keyboard that won't work unless the bible is in place and a hand is on it.

Or a keyboard made of a bible.

rehajm said...

If we could call a time out from respecting this whole Dylan episode and reflect on this delightful farce...

The man is getting the prize for words and you get the words wrong! It's the inevitable outcome when you send Snoopy's droopy brother Spike as your stand in. The juxtaposition of the royals against Patti is priceless...

Just how does this conversation between Bob and Patti where he asks her to stand in for him go down, anyways? Did she owe him? (Does Laslo do blog post commission work?)

A pretty red bow on top of all of this. What's the Norwegian word for schadenfreude?

rhhardin said...

If the Punxsutawney groundhog day proclamation wins the literature prize next year, it would all be perfect.

Quayle said...

Doesn't matter that Patti can't remember the words. Everyone know what Dylan is saying in every song. He's condemning all things conservative. He's promoting and prophecying the leftist secular vision of the inevitable march to the correct side of history. He's saying that a slow train's comin' round the bend. He's sayin' that youre gonna have to serve somebody.

You know, standard Western leftist stuff.

Virgil Hilts said...

Patti kind of looks like Iggy Pop now, but with fewer age lines.

khematite said...

Of all songs in which to blow the lyrics, how can it be the one with the line "I'll know my song well before I start singing."

Oso Negro said...

Quayle - It is standard classical western leftist stuff in the political songs. But it hails from the era when the left rejected conformity (!) (Conformity! Remember when the left was against it?) and in favor of free speech and in favor of the rights of working men. Good times, the good old days.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I really don't know much about the various subcultures by which the mean girls assuage their consciences and grant themselves permission.

The efficiencies of the mocking sense of humor might well be a substantial component of it, though, is my surmise.

Perhaps, sometimes, a sort of convenient appeal to some sort of vaguely identified duty.

GWash said...

i see dylan as a pretty conservative guy, it was often about the money and he has stated and i believe his that all he really wanted to do was to be a song and dance man... i dont think we need to worry about dylan financially, probably has passed most of the bloggers here in positive cash flow long ago... if anyone here has tried to memorize and sing this song, it can be daunting... it is one of dylans most poetic pieces as it whirls through the senses and wraps up with the last verse... i heard that patti was already in the area not that dylan 'had sent her'...

Bob Ellison said...

Where is that reference to the notion that Dylan has been doing it all for show, all for the money? that he figured out folk music early as a money-maker, and then plugged in at Newport because that was even better money?

Rush Limbaugh says the same thing routinely on his radio show. "I'm an entertainer."

ganderson said...

The queen of Sweden is named Sylvia not Jane…

On the other hand did they sell postcards of this particular hanging?


Also when it asked me to select all the pictures with signs, does that include the poles for the signs? Inquiring minds want to know!

Smitty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tank said...

I read an interview with Dylan where he talked about being lucky to have a magical gift for a short period of time where the great lines just flowed out of him. He recognized that he did not have that anymore, but was just plugging along as best he could. Self knowledge. I appreciated that.

rehajm said...

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
I really don't know much about the various subcultures by which the mean girls assuage their consciences and grant themselves permission.


Mean girls make themselves feel better by preying on innocents. This is not that. This is finding humor in irony and in the absurd.

Laslo Spatula said...

Patti Smith, performing at the Nobel Prize Piss Factory.

I am Laslo.

AReasonableMan said...

Patti Smith was not just honoring Dylan's Nobel prize but also honoring all the people who have sat through one of Dylan's horrific live performances.

Rob said...

Patti Smith looks like one of the proprietors of the lesbian bookstore on Portlandia.

Bob Ellison said...

Getting the words wrong isn't so bad. Dylan is both a lyricist and a tunesmith. I find his tunes superior to his lyrics. You could sing just about any words to "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" or "The Times, They Are a-Changing" and make a hit recording.

madAsHell said...

I never understood the appeal of Patti Smith, and how in the world did she get a gig singing for royalty?

Darrell said...

In the old days, Patti would have just shown the audience that she wasn't wearing knickers when she forgot the words. Time rolls on.

dustbunny said...

Tough crowd here. I thought it was a beautiful arrangement, she recovered and delivered the end well. She does a great version of Dylan's Changing of the Guards, she should have sung that.

Tim Windsor said...

How does she forget the lyrics when, presumably, they're right there in front of her on the music stand? I mean, at other points you can see her looking straight at the stand.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, Dylan shudda sent you instead of Patti Smith. He shudda sent you.

gspencer said...

Patti Smith - appreciate that you covered your arms.

khematite said...

Blogger Bob Ellison said...
Getting the words wrong isn't so bad. Dylan is both a lyricist and a tunesmith. I find his tunes superior to his lyrics. You could sing just about any words to "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" or "The Times, They Are a-Changing" and make a hit recording.


Of course, the tune to "Hard Rain" is pretty much the old Scottish ballad, "Lord Randall."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMR55HoeSG4

Bob Ellison said...

What are the logistics here?

I need to know, because I'm seventh in line for the Snarky Comment Nobel Prize.

Do you say, "no, Nobel folks, I've got a gig that day, but I'll send some crappy punk-rocker there instead"?

Do you have to arrange flights and hotels and tickets for all of that?

Bob Ellison said...

khematite, the lyrics are similar, but the tunes (the music) are not.

Ambrose said...

Ironic that Hard Rain includes the line "I know my song well before I start singing."

Amexpat said...

It was horrific at first because it looked like PS was going to fall apart. But she pulled herself together and finished strong. It ended up being a courageous and gutsy performance.

Ann Althouse said...

I felt very uncomfortable watching Smith performing even before the screwup and even though I think her voice sounded good.

It was just so pretentious — the concert hall, the audience, the choice of song.

I thought the song was chosen because it kind of feels like it's about global warming — presciently. It was about nuclear war, but who's counting?

Such a weird situation for Smith. Why her? Why did she do it? If Bob wouldn't do it, why would she?

And I've been a fan of Patti Smith from back before she was famous, before she had any records, and before she even had a band — when she performed with just one guitarist sitting in the background and the act was mostly poetry reading... but then at one point she started singing the 60s song "Gloria."

That was in the 1970s at a place in the Village that was called something like The Metropolitan. She was the opening act for Happy and Artie Traum. We'd come to see Happy and Artie and were actually annoyed that we had to sit through some poetry reading before we got to the music. But when the poetry turned into "Gloria"... that was the most sublime moment I've ever experienced as a member of an audience.

Bob Ellison said...

Ann Althouse said, "It was just so pretentious — the concert hall, the audience, the choice of song."

That's an elitist statement. You found it pretentious because of the venue, the listeners, and the song choice?

Bob Ellison said...

Doesn't the performance matter more than anything else?

I hate to make myself a hater out here, but it's probably inevitable.

Fernandinande said...

I don't see any Diversity™ in the band or the audience - aren't they supposed to die or something?

Big Mike said...

Her majesty looks as though she's thinking about how once upon a time she could just send Patti Smith out to the chopping block and be done with it.

BudBrown said...

It was just so pretentious — the concert hall, the audience, the choice of song.
So yer saying it was phoney?

EDH said...

"It was just so pretentious — the concert hall, the audience, the choice of song."

A little too close to the creepy vibe in Dylan's music video for Political World?

Maybe that's why Dylan was a no-show?

(directed by John Mellencamp)

mikee said...

Bob performed twice for Obama, once at the White House and once at Kennedy Honors, IIRC, so he has performed for people who think of themselves as royalty. Does that count?

I'm just glad Bob didn't let his disdain for his admirers get in the way of a huuuuge payday of $870,000. Are Nobel Prizes taxed in the US?

David said...

I did not watch the video. Why watch someone's painful embarrassment (if indeed she was embarrassed.). But the screen grab of the royals is all I need to see.

David said...

"Are Nobel Prizes taxed in the US?"

No. Long ago it was ruled to be a gift, and gifts are not taxable to the donee.

khematite said...

For what it's worth, Dylan disavowed the "nuclear fallout" interpretation of "Hard Rain" not very long after writing it. He told Studs Terkel in a 1963 radio interview that it was (at least in part) actually about "fake news"--although of course he wasn't quite prescient enough to use that term:

"No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen ... In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,' that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers."

PackerBronco said...

I prefer to think of it as a musical rendition when Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize and the committee couldn't provide any examples of why he won it.

"I saw a black man win the Nobel Peace Prize,
'cause he uh uh humph uh da da da de da ..."

Quaestor said...

Aging queens. No, I'm not talking about queers who've sudden discovered they are no longer fabulous. I talking about Patti Smith, the erstwhile tousled punk poet queen and Sonja, Queen of Norway, in the same room.

There was a time when Robert Mapplethorpe made a lot of money selling framed photos of Patti Smith slouching in saggy underwear to people with more money than their tastes deserved. She's no longer that artist's model. Now she looks like a crone who hordes cats. Please, get an age-apropriate do and some attire that does not look insane, maybe something from the Jaclyn Smith Collection? (Available at a Kmart near you!).

Your Royal Magnificence Queen Sonja of Norway. There was a time when Norway was famous for bold explorers, ferocious pirates, and determined conquerors. Not anymore unfortunately. Love them or loathe them at least the Norse were interesting, which they are no longer. The country you reign over is populated with the most boring people on the planet. Not only are they insipid, dull, and monotonous, the Norwegians are also the laziest people in Europe, which on a continent that contains the French is saying something. Look at yourself, Sonja. You're 79 years old and what have you done except struggle (and quite successfully I might add) against the wear of mortality and collect sparkly rocks? You could have been an inspiration to the people who pay handsomely for your bling and hair dye. You could have waved a sword over your head like Queen Asa or kicked rhetorical ass like good old Vicky — anything to get the Norwegians to do something. But no. You sit there and smile your beatific smile while Patti Smith embarrasses Homo sapiens.

JHapp said...

I think Bob proved that 99% of the authors, media and entertainers today are almost brain dead and he really did deserve that Nobel prize.

Bob Ellison said...

David, no. The Nobel Prize gift is taxable, like all gifts, and is thus taxed by the USA federal government.

chickelit said...

I like to imagine that Dylan sent Smith and had a hand in selecting the cover song. I like to imagine that the Nobel committee selected Dylan because they thought Dylan would be some sort of bulwark against Trump -- just like the Norwegians thought picking Obama for the Peace Prize could "do something." Ha. He showed them. I like to imagine that Dylan is telling them that hard times lie ahead -- hard times full of fits and starts.

As for Patty Smith covering Dylan, I don't think it gets better than Changing Of The Guards. I like to imagine that parts of that song are about Donald Trump.

Amexpat said...

...talking about Patti Smith, the erstwhile tousled punk poet queen and Sonja, Queen of Norway, in the same room.

This comment, like many of the other comments and reporting is based on misconceptions.

PS was not in the same room with Queen Sonja of Norway because only the peace prize is given out in Oslo, Norway. All the other Nobel prizes are given out in Stockholm, Sweden. The Swedish queen is Silvia, her father was German and her mother Brazilian. And, like all European Monarchs, they are passive participants in such events.

Also, PS was not there as Dylan's proxy. She accepted nothing on his behalf and was scheduled to perform at the event before it was known that Dylan wouldn't attend. She has said that originally she had not planned to perform a Dylan song but changed her mind when she found out that he would not attend. She chose the song, not Dylan or the Nobel committee. She should have done what Lou Reed did when singing "Foot of Pride", have the lyrics on a teleprompter.

Achilles said...

Wow, that looks like a useless ceremony full of useless people. Dylan paid them way too much heed.

David Begley said...

About six years ago at Omaha's Holland Center Kris Kristopherson twice (!) forgot the words to a song he wrote. He, too, was applauded. Sad!

JAORE said...

And in the kitchen the Swedish chef muttered, "Vert der ferk?"

FullMoon said...

AReasonableMan said... [hush]​[hide comment]

Patti Smith was not just honoring Dylan's Nobel prize but also honoring all the people who have sat through one of Dylan's horrific live performances.


Yep. I saw him once, and, ind the spirit of Twain's "Royal Nonesuch", I told all my friends Dylan live was not to be missed.

traditionalguy said...

Why couldn't they have had Joan Baez sing the songs she helped him write.?

Marty said...

I recently saw Dylan preform live.
I walked out in the middle.
The horror...

Nielsenhavn said...


I remember this time when the song was written. I remember it to be the very night of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I feel it almost as if a prophet had been sent by messenger from beyond. I found myself in tears upon hearing it this morning before the sun. I hope you enjoy, and within your love of words and the pictures they can paint within your soul I hope you feel enjoyment and sorrow also as these words have already been felt by many, by thousands, by millions, "A Hard Rain's a Gonna' Fall."
This Bob Dylan may have been sent to all of us by a whole other entity. Listen closely by what he has to say' James Milton Nielsen

Jeff Norman said...

Looks to me like Patti Smith was reading the lyrics, so her problem was losing her place, not forgetting a couple of lines. Apparently, she failed to memorize the entire song.

James Zadok said...

Blogger Nielsenhavn said...
I remember this time when the song was written. I remember it to be the very night of the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Dylan performed "It's a Hard Rain" at Carnegie Hall on September 22, 1962. So, obviously it was written sometime before that. The Cuban Missile Crisis took place from October 14-28, 1962.

Poetcrab said...

Who would have been a better choice to sing that song for Dylan? I think Antony (from Antony and the Johnsons) aka Ahohni would have been great. She has done a couple of Dylan tunes justice before.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Patti Smith looks a lot like Shemp Howard.