Bob Dylan on Tennessee

December 3, 2006

One of the more attention-getting shows on satellite radio is XM’s Theme Time Radio Hour,” hosted by Bob Dylan. Each week, the enigmatic performer introduces songs and delivers commentary on themes such as water, time, dogs, and baseball.

Episode 31 was on Tennessee, the first state to be so honored. I am not a subscriber to XM radio, but good friend Franklin Jones pointed me to a website where anyone can download the entire show for free. Visitors to the site have the option of downloading an “archive” or “complete” version of the show. Both are MPs. I recommend the archive version, for it downloads as a series of individual songs, whereas the complete version is one big MP3.

I saw Dylan in concert in Denver in October and, as anyone who has ever been to one of his shows can testify, they are what my aunt would call a caution. Dylan plays old songs in new ways, seldom acknowledges the crowd, and utterly mush-mouths all of his lyrics. I could barely understand him when he introduced the band, so I was most interested to hear how he spoke on the radio.

First, he is much easier to understand on the air than on the stage. The music was inspired, beginning with Shorty Long’s “Good Night, Cincinnati, Good Morning, Tennessee” and ending with King Curtis’s “Memphis Soul Stew.” In between were David Allen Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and Dylan reading a segment from Tennesee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The show was great, especially getting a chance to hear (and understand) Dylan, but the researchers for the material ought to be fired. At the beginning of the show, Dylan announces that Andrew Jackson, Tennessee Williams, and Tennessee Ernie Ford were born in Tennessee. Of those three, only Ford was actually born in the state. Later on, Dylan says that Carl Perkins was born in Tipton, when it was acutally Tiptonville.

Believing in Mississippi

December 3, 2006

It happened to me when Harold Ford lost his Senate race in Tennessee. I was among some Democrats, and I was called upon to explain why Ford’s loss happened. Tennesseans and other Southerners who no longer live in the South are familiar with the phenomenon of, without any warning, being appointed the Spokesman for Tennessee or Spokesman for the South. I have never in my life heard anyone single out someone from New England or the Pacific Northwest and say, “Tell me, what do New Englanders think about (insert favorite topic here).”

Of all the Southern states, Mississippi has the worst reputation. It is the poorest. During the Civil Rights movement, it had some of the reddest necks. Even now, people like Senator Trent Lott, who ought to know better, make comments like the one he did at the retirement party for Senator Strom Thurmond. (At least that embarrassment was not from Mississippi.) People from Tennessee and other states often make some variation of this comment to each other: Thank God for Mississippi. By this we mean, “Well, it could be worse–we’re not as bad off as Mississippi.”

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Going ga-ga over Dolly Parton

December 3, 2006

A Washington Post article article by a writer with the improbable name of J. Freedom du Lac focuses on Dolly Parton, one of five people this year who will be honored tonight by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Mr. du Lac begins with the tiresome (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) comments about Dolly’s celebrated bust, but delivers a passable interview with the 60-year-old entertainer. He gets her birthplace wrong–it was Pittman Center, not Sevierville–and mentions her new album, “Country Is as Country Does,” that will be released in 2007.

There’s a much better article in today’s Tennessean: Dolly Parton drinks from deep well of success – Nashville, Tennessee – Sunday, 12/03/06 –