Saturday, January 01, 2005


far in that valley's shade i knew a gentle maid

forget the strobes. forget the white shites. forget fritz ferdinand. the album of the year wasn't even available in the shops, and it was by a 64 year old guy who travels round the world in a bus wearing a hopalong cassidy outfit.

manho's album of the year, 2004: Eileen Aroon Compilation '88 - '89

eileen aroon is an irish song based on a poem from the 1800s which was itself based on a gaelic work from the 14th century. bob dylan heard this song in new york in 1961 in a version by the clancy brothers:

then in 1988 he started to play it live. anyway, the liner notes below more or less explain everything. last year a woman called emily smith had the idea - stroke of genius - of compiling all dylan's live performances of the song on one disc. what came out of that idea was a record which shows the creative process in action:

you can't buy this record but you can trade for it: seems right somehow. get off your ya yas and get listening to eileen.

liner notes

Something happened in Dylan's head in the summer of 1988. He started playing this song, this old song. Not old from the dustbowl or old from the cottonfields, this one was really old. Gaelic old. 14th century old. Something was happening in Dylan's head in the summer of 1988 and it was to do with folk music. He must have heard Eileen Aroon being sung around the bars of New York in the early 60s. Maybe he heard Liam Clancey or Tommy Makem singing it down at Malachy McCourt's bar on a Manhattan summer night in 1961. These Irish guys with their Guinness and their Jamesons. They love a song. They love an old song. They love a song about a woman. Only a woman can make you lament like the Irish lament. Dylan played the song for the first time in Denver on the 15th of June 1988. It sounds like he's playing it for the first time in his life. There's some clumsy guitar work and he's singing like he's trying to figure out the words, the structure, the sense of the song. It sounds like he's writing the song right there on stage. "Hey, you go about your business now, people. Don't mind me, I'm just writing a song here, just trying it out."

Two days later he's playing it in St Louis and it's longer, more stately. He's in a conversation with the song. He's asking it how it wants to be played. He's rehearsing it on stage. "Hey, here's a song for you. It used to be like that but now it goes like this." Over the next few weeks he'd play it in Long Island, and Columbia, and Mesa, and Hollywood. There it was tucked into the acoustic set like it was no more important than Barbara Allen or any other old song. Each performance was different. Shorter or longer. Lyre-like guitar flourishes and staccato bass work. And each vocal was different. Breathless here, dominant there. Then he reaches Santa Barbara and what's this? He throws it in after Rolling Stone. Now what's that about? What's he trying to tell us here? Two weeks later in Calgary it's back in the acoustic set. The Rolling Stone experiment didn't come off. It's just a folk song after all. Nothing more, nothing less. Calgary was the last time Dylan played the song in 1988.

The winter comes and the winter goes and the buds of May are blooming and we find Dylan in Northern Europe. It's 1989 now. Stockholm, and he pulls out Eileen again in the acoustic set and it's immediately apparent that he's got it off now. He's playful, throwing in a little dance beat. A little jig? What's going on in his head? Why now? Wasn't the experiment finished in Calgary? And hey, he's thrown a harp solo in now. It's filling out. Two days later he's in Helsinki and he opens the song with the same harp solo he finished it with two days earlier in Sweden. Now that is a statement. Maybe something really is happening.

June the 3rd 1989. Where are we now? We're in Dublin. With the Liffey curling and flowing down to the sea. To the Irish Sea. Over the water there's the port of Liverpool. The port that sent out all those Flynns and O'Malleys and Lennons to America all those years ago. This is where it all started. This is where the folk started. Thousands of years ago with stories of little green men, stories of women with their feet on back to front walking winter roads at midnight. Myths and legends. In 1965 Dylan took back the Rock and Roll that young Liverpool musicians had stolen from America and made their own. The song that told everybody that the music had come back home was called Like a Rolling Stone. Everybody understood that. There was no arguing about that. What he was about to do now, though, was even more audacious. He was bringing the music back to where it originated. He was this American showing the Irish how their music should sound. How it did sound seven hundred years earlier. Not that sweet Clancey Brothers sound but a mediaeval sound. A keening sound. Rolling Stone finishes and you can hear the crowd going crazy. This is no respectful Finnish audience, this is a sweating mass of wild life stoked up on stout and spirits. And looking for the truth. The tragedy of the Irish is their constant search for the truth. Rolling Stone finishes and you can't follow that. But Dylan follows it. The jangling guitar sounds and the crowd quieten down. Hey, is this an Irish song?

Dylan can do one of two things here. He's capable of throwing it away, letting it go. "Hey, it's just a song, man. Nothing more, nothing less." But he's also capable of producing the definitive version. The exquisite beauty of the perfect performance. And he does just that. He sings Eileen Aroon like it was never sung before and like it has never been sung since. My feeling is that he was thinking of Keats while he sang. Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Castles are sacked in war
Chieftains are scattered far
Truth is a fixed star
Eileen Aroon

99% rubbish on this blog, but this post was a good one.

and i liked that remark you made about stan laurel, though i suspect your point would not stand up to scrutiny.
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