Bob Dylan on Tennessee

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.

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