Posts Tagged ‘van dyke parks’

Quote of the day: Bob Dylan on Frank Sinatra

October 18, 2022


By the time Frank Sinatra stepped into the studio to record “Strangers in the Night” on April 11, 1966, he had already been singing professionally for thirty-one years and recording since 1939. He had seen trends come and go in popular music and had, in fact, set trends himself and spawned scores of imitators for decades.

Still, it was amazing that the soundtrack of the summer of 1966, according to the July 2 edition of the Billboard Hot 100, was topped by that little pop song. Amazingly, in the middle of the British Invasion, “Strangers in the Night” by Hoboken’s own beat out the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Today, the charts are so stratified and niche marketed, you would never see something like this happen. Nowadays, everyone stays in their own lane, guaranteeing themselves top honors in their own category even if that category is something like Top Klezmer Vocal Performance on a Heavy Metal Soundtrack Including Americana Samples.

But Frank had to slug it out with everybody, even though “Strangers” was a song he hated, one that he regularly dismissed as “a piece of shit”…[He] may have hated the song, but the fact of the matter is, he chose it. And therein lies a tale. By the time we had heard “Strangers in the Night,” it had gone through at least two sets of lyrics and a few people had already laid claim to its authorship. It’s a confusing tale that spans a couple of continents…

And as far as I know, no one has ever contested the writing of Frank’s hit from the following year, “Somethin’ Stupid,” though it is worth mentioning that it was written by Van Dyke Parks’s older brother Carson.

–Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song

Good stuff online: Bon Iver’s “Holocene” video

August 29, 2011

I’m a huge fan of Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, and have been delving deeply into his second album (called Bon Iver, Bon Iver). His voice is distinctive, the sound spectacular, and his songwriting very peculiar, haunting and yet impenetrable. Even his girlfriend, the very fine songwriter Kathleen Edwards, confessed to the NY Times, “I mean this respectfully, but most of the time I have no idea what Justin’s songs are about.” (Read Jon Caramanica’s very good profile here.) But I spent some time during the, uh, hurricane hunkered down with the headphones and his record company’s website, which very thoughtfully provides the lyrics to all the songs on the new album. (I purposely bought a hard copy of the CD just so I could get the lyric sheet, but with characteristic perverseness Vernon wrote out all the lyrics by hand and they’re almost impossible to read, just like Rufus Wainwright’s on his most recent album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.) Reading them while listening to the songs gave me a lot. Many of them absolutely scan like dadaist poetry, with lines I plan to memorize and spout at (in)appropriate moments, such as “Unpeel keeness, honey, bean for bean” or “Fuck the fiercest fables, I’m with Hagen.” Not since Van Dyke Parks collaborated with Brian Wilson on Smile has there been such a match of gorgeous melodies and sense-defying lyrics.

But I had a whole other experience watching the video Bon Iver made for “Holocene,” which opens up the song in a whole other way. The chorus, repeated three times with slight variations, leaps off from the line “at once I knew I was not magnificent,” which sounds somewhat abject and self-negating. But in the video, shot in Iceland, makes the line positively Whitmanesque — it captures the ecstatic moment when a sentient being abandons his solipsism for a moment and realizes that he is only a small part of something gigantic and wondrous. Notice how when that line comes up, the video cuts to the sky, the mountains, an eagle — indeed, they are magnificent.


Someway, baby, it’s part of me, apart from me.
you’re laying waste to Halloween
you fucked it friend, it’s on it’s head, it struck the street
you’re in Milwaukee, off your feet

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
strayed above the highway aisle
(jagged vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles

3rd and Lake it burnt away, the hallway
was where we learned to celebrate
automatic bought the years you’d talk for me
that night you played me ʻLip Paradeʼ
not the needle, nor the thread, the lost decree
saying nothing, that’s enough for me

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
hulled far from the highway aisle
(jagged, vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles

Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright
above my brother, I and tangled spines
we smoked the screen to make it what it was to be
now to know it in my memory:

…and at once I knew I was not magnificent
high above the highway aisle
(jagged vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles

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