¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Talkin’ New York is a “talking blues” song. The talking blues go back at least to the minstrel shows that enjoyed great popularly in the US in the early twentieth century. Some researchers believe that Chris Bouchillon, a white singer from South Carolina, invented the form in the early 1920’s out of necessity: he simply couldn’t sing worth a damn.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Woody Guthrie helped popularize the talking blues style. Dylan had an intense affection for his work, even calling himself a “Woody Guthrie jukebox” in the excellent documentary Folkways: A Vision Shared. Dylan surely picked up the style from Guthrie. Many of his later talking blues tunes show an obvious influence.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Dylan has always been a liberal borrower from other people’s work. As the more devoted Dylan students may remember, there was a lot of discussion concerning Dylan’s borrowing from Junichi Saga’s novel Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan’s Underworld for his Love and Theft recording. What many don’t realized is that borrowing from other people’s work is a common practice in folk music. The term “folk process” is frequently used to describe it. Below are Dylan’s thoughts on the subject.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “Well, you have to understand that I’m not a melodist,” he says. “My songs are either based on old Protestant hymns or Carter Family songs or variations of the blues form.”
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “What happens is, I’ll take a song I know and simply start playing it in my head. That’s the way I meditate. A lot of people will look at a crack on the wall and meditate, or count sheep or angels or money or something, and it’s a proven fact that it’ll help them relax. I don’t meditate on any of that stuff. I meditate on a song.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “I’ll be playing Bob Nolan’s ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ for instance, in my head constantly – while I’m driving a car or talking to a person or sitting around or whatever. People will think they are talking to me and I’m talking back, but I’m not. I’m listening to the song in my head. At a certain point, some of the words will change and I’ll start writing a song.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 He’s slowly strumming the guitar, but it’s hard to pick out the tune. “I wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in ten minutes, just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records. That’s the folk music tradition. You use what’s been handed down. ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ is probably from an old Scottish folk song.”
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Dylan borrowed quite a bit for Talkin’ New York, the first original song he recorded. According to Manfred Helfert (www.bobdylanroots.com) the lyrics of Talkin’ New York are derived from Woody Guthrie’s Talking Subway Blues. No doubt about that, have a listen….
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Talkin’ New York is definitely similar. It follow the same general narrative structure: arriving in New York, traveling through the town, looking for a job, and generally having a tough time. But while Guthrie’s song is a simple pro-union tale, Dylan takes it a step further with these stark, haunting lines:
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 “So long, New York/Howdy, East Orange” is another Guthrie reference. During his long decline from Hodgkin’s disease, Woody’s friends Bob and Sidsel Gleason brought him to their East Orange, New Jersey home on the weekends to visit with friends and relatives.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Paul Williams, in the first volume of his Performing Artist series, points out an interesting quirk of Dylan’s songwriting, a technique that he would use many times in the future. Notice how Dylan switches the verbs swung and grabbed in the following lines, subverting the listener’s expectations:
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Ramblin’ outa the wild West
Leavin’ the towns I love the best
Thought I’d seen some ups and downs
’Til I come into New York town
People goin’ down to the ground
Buildings goin’ up to the sky
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Wintertime in New York town
The wind blowin’ snow around
Walk around with nowhere to go
Somebody could freeze right to the bone
I froze right to the bone
New York Times said it was the coldest winter in seventeen years
I didn’t feel so cold then
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I walked down there and ended up
In one of them coffee-houses on the block
Got on the stage to sing and play
Man there said, “Come back some other day
You sound like a hillbilly
We want folk singers here”
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Well, I got a harmonica job, begun to play
Blowin’ my lungs out for a dollar a day
I blowed inside out and upside down
The man there said he loved m’ sound
He was ravin’ about how he loved m’ sound
Dollar a day’s worth
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So one mornin’ when the sun was warm
I rambled out of New York town
Pulled my cap down over my eyes
And headed out for the western skies
So long, New York
Howdy, East Orange