Monday, November 26, 2012
Driving home from NoHo last night a Dolly Parton song came up on my iPhone's shuffle, and I thought for a little about how many great songwriters America has produced over the course of the history of recorded music. (There are great songwriters from before that time too, so settle down, Stephen Foster, but the idea of recorded music as a baseline makes sense to me: when a hit song was something that your sister played on the parlor piano songwriting was a different form.) Notably, our idea of a great songwriter is particularly genre-defined. David Crosby has said more than once that he thinks Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century, for example. I like Joni Mitchell fine, but this statement seems to me to be either a nice complement to a former girlfriend or an argument for a very, very inclusive list. My parents will frequently listen to a song by someone I like (Bob Dylan, perhaps) and say, "Well, he's no Cole Porter." Indeed not, although Cole Porter (and Lorenz Hart, and Billy Strayhorn and any number of others from the form we think of now as "Standards" certainly belong on the list. So does the man who wrote:
Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia,Dolly belongs there, without a question, and so too do quite a few Country songwriters. If your list doesn't have Hank Williams you need to start over; and if it is missing Willie Nelson, well, I don't know that we are capable of continuing this conversation. Come to think of it, maybe David Crosby is right, and an inclusive list is the way to go.
Tidewater four ten o nine
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin'
And the poor boy's on the line