Saturday, November 8, 2014

Forever Young # 42: "A Heart Transplant"

Song:  Pardon My Heart
Album:  Zuma
Released:  November, 1975

‘The Basement Tapes Complete’ was released this week, a significant portion of which had spent almost 50 years under wraps.  I hope to write much more on this astoundingly prolific period in Bob Dylan’s career when I get around to ‘Dylanology’ in this blog (although with 138 songs in all, it would take 3 years to write on this album alone, which ain’t gonna happen).  But for those who need a little primer, I’ll oblige, seeing as this story sets the stage for this week’s entry.   

In 1967, when the Beatles and many other musicians of the times were going all psychedelic on us, Bob Dylan and The Band holed themselves up in a tacky cookie-cutter pink house in Upstate New York and focused on American roots-style music.  They set up the basement of this home as a makeshift recording studio (unheard of in those days) and played daily for months on end.  There was never any intention to release any of the material they were recording, but over time it began to dribble out in one bootleg form after another.  In 1975, admitting defeat to some degree, The Band asked Dylan if they could release something official from the time (and include some of their own newer material in the process) which turned out to be a compilation of 24 songs dubbed ‘The Basement Tapes’ (one of my all-time favorite albums). 

For all the bootleg material that leaked out after those ‘Big Pink’ sessions, it’s amazing how much this new comprehensive release has to offer in terms of unheard music.  And this coming on the heels of ‘Another Self Portrait’ (the most fascinating thing about that revisit is that the unreleased music on it is far superior to what Dylan originally released on ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘New Morning’ back in the early 70s!  Why would he do this?  I have a few theories which I’ll share at some time down the road). 

Although Neil Young is not quite as prolific (which is no slight, just a recognition that Dylan is in a league all his own), he has recorded his share of hidden, unreleased gems over time.  In the era surrounding the mid to late-70s, he would actually record 3 albums that would never see the light of day:  ‘Homegrown’, ‘Chrome Dreams’, and the original ‘Old Ways’.  Some of the songs from these albums, however, would eventually find themselves on other releases, including this week’s entry, Pardon My Heart ( ) which was slated for ‘Homegrown’ and ended up on ‘Zuma’.

So, what is it that drives some of the best artists to hold back from releasing a significant achievement, or assume pseudonyms (i.e. Jack Frost, Bernard Shakey) instead of taking full credit for something?  Last week I wrote about Neil Young following his musical muse at the expense of continuity with fellow musicians, and often at the most inopportune of times.  This shakeup style also happens with projects.  Some are simply aborted, often at the tail end, after all the toil and trouble.  You would think that the momentum alone would close the deal.  Obviously, this is not always the case with artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. 

How can they bring themselves to do this?  When I start something, I need to envision the end game as having a real possibility of success.  A bit of recognition is always nice too.  If I’m to write a proposal at work for example, I don’t want it to be pie in the sky.  Proposals can be time consuming.  If there is little to no demand up front, I’m not all that inclined to put in the effort.  But some folks in my office can do this.  Maybe there’s a little desperation there, I don’t know.  I just consider it a waste of time.

But perhaps this is the character trait that drives to the core of the most brilliant among us.  Success, or the avoidance of failure, appears not to be the motivation for these individuals.  It’s all about the pursuit; the principle element that fuels the most creative of minds.  This is the well that never runs dry.  Most of us are capable of tapping into this source, but few actually do it on a regular basis.  Often, we get sidetracked by other more alluring results.  Not so the genius types.  And for the rest of us, this can be a treat to witness.  We soak in the ride for all it’s worth.  It’s what brings us to the museums and the opera houses and the theatres and the nightclubs and the bookstores.  It’s what has us listening to a handful of classic albums over and over again.

Seven years ago, daughter Charlotte sketched a brilliant booklet of nature scenes for my birthday.  A considerable effort went into those sketches, but a few days later in a huff and a dare she started ripping them up (when I could see she was serious, I managed to put a halt to the carnage before losing a bulk of her works) .  At the time I was mortified, but now I look back on it as part of a process:  As anyone who has seen Charlotte’s paintings of late, she got quite a talent (if I do say so myself).  Thinking back, I believe there was a part of me that knew then that Charlotte had what it took; a creative mindset.  Her willingness to ‘shed’ herself of a snapshot in her lifetime portfolio spoke to this.  We see similar acts play out all around us in the street painter and the sandcastle molder and the ice sculptor, and the cairn builder (Pat!), and even the guitar smasher.  These statements make an impression.  There are lessons to be learned there.

Projects come and projects go.  Some are destined to be completed and others look just fine in the foundation phase. Some are good to throw out there to see if they stick and others are meant to box up in the basement or attic, perhaps to be unearthed at a later date.  Neil Young appears to have always realized this.  It’s all part of the creative process.  The pieces held close to the vest just as important - if not more so -than the pieces shared.

Pardon My Heart starts off haunting and ends up hopeful; a splendid acoustic number about a romantic relationship on a roller coaster ride.  Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot offer up the backing vocals of the singer’s conscience.  “You brought it all on” they repeat.  “No, no, no, I don’t believe this song” fights back Neil Young in the first set of lyrics.  Later the same conscience-based backing-vocal refrain plays out in a positive, reassuring light.  Young’s guitar playing weaves its magic in.  It’s a love story compacted into 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

But let us not forget that Pardon My Heart has that other story behind it; a transplant that once belonged to something else.  It’s part of the fun of digging deep into an artist’s gallery.  You gain an understanding of what was for a short time, what could have been in the long term, and what became of it all as a consequence.  It’s enough to stir those creative juices within you as a fan.

Perhaps that was the intention all along.

-          Pete

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