AG: Well it was the dream, it was the possibility of actually saying what I thought. Well, in any kind of poetry, like in “Howl”, or “Kaddish”, or later poems, but also in the Blues form. since, especially since, there’s a tradition with songs like that, of expressing your most private feelings with humor and melancholy – so that kind of song has always been a vehicle for some kind of outlaw feeling – and there’s also a genre of ballads, which are Outlaw Ballads, which you’ve heard about, where there’s a public announcement that you’re going to make a statement that’s not in television, or the newspapers, or in the King’s records, or in Court language…
So there’s another genre that I began picking up on, of older ballads, 0f the “Come All Ye” – “Come All Ye Merry Gentlemen and Listen To My Tale / I’ll Not Detain You Long and Yet I Will, Forthwith, Wail”, or something..
[to a Student] – You have your hand up?
Student: Do you think the Blues is essentially a sexist form?
AG: Sexist form? Not necessarily. It could be political. But what do you mean by sex-ist?
Student: In a sense that, you would say, there were defined strict roles for men and women with womens’ being based on satisfying men’s desires, and…
AG: I don’t think so. There were certain stereotypes, dealt with sometimes, humorously – but, actually (no, it was) non-sexist, in the sense that a lot of the great Blues singers were women.
Student; But they could still be perpetuating (the stereotypes and..)
AG: Well, I think it would vary a great deal..I don’t think you could.. there is an element of phony sexism, in the sense of ironic sexism, but it’s so.. sharp and so intelligent that, by sometimes stereotyping those, it’s protesting against it. Actually, (in) the ones (the Blues) I was playing (will be playing), by Ma Rainey, she was putting down her man.. finally. She was saying, “If you did not want me, you had no right to lie”- “I’m gonna buy me a pistol just as long as I am tall/ lord lord lord, you’re my man and cannon ball/ If you don’t have me you won’t have no gal at all. That’s the sort of opposite of the macho dominant.
Student: (But) that’s very common to in…
AG: Yeah. So.. Among the.. one of the early “Come listen to me” – “Ye gallants so free – all (that) you got – “And I will tell you of a bold outlaw that lived in Nottinghamshire” – “that lived in Nottinghamshire..” So, it was all about Robin Hood at the beginning… (well, this was “Come listen to me” not “Come all ye”, but…)
I like the “Come All Ye” form, it’s a.. apparently it was.. I had.. there was a little book on Ballads [Living With Ballads] that has some transcriptions from a local pub balladeer by Willa Muir, Edwin Muir’s wife, English poet’s wife – [Editorial note – Scottish, actually] – “Come all ye, listen to me and I’m gonna sing you a sang/ and if you all detention pay, I’ll not detain ye lang/ Like a fool I married a wife/ my fortune for to try/ ‘Twas the cause of all my strife /’Cause she was the real McCoy” – Her commentary here is: “Both Harry and Sandy’s songs were products of oral tradition. Neither of them had ever possessed a song book, nor was it likely that they ever would. Sandy’s song was in the patter of “Come All Ye’s” brought to Scotland by Irish harvest labourers..”
And in this little Penguin Book of Ballads I just got hold of, there are a couple of samples:
“Come all ye young fellows that follow the gun
Beware of going shooting by the late setting sun
It might happen to anyone as it happened to me
To shoot your own true love in under a tree
She was going to her uncles when the shower it came on
She went under a bush the rain for to shun
With her apron all around her I took her for a swan
and I levelled my gun and I shot Molly Baun
I ran to her uncle in haste and great fear,
Saying , “Uncle, dear uncle, I’ve shot Molly dear
With her apron all around her I took her for a swan
But oh, alas, it was my own Molly Baun
I shot my own true love, alas, I’m undone
While she was in the shade by the setting of the sun
If I thought she was there I would caress her tenderly
And soon I’d get married to my own dear Molly
My curses to you, Toby, that lent me your gun
To go out a -shooting by the late setting sun
I rubbed her fair temples, and found she was dead
A fountain of tears for my Molly I shed
Up comes my father and his locks they were grey
“Stay in your own country and don’t run away
Stay in your own country till your trial comes on
And I’ll set you free by the laws of the Land”
All the maids of this country, they will all be very glad
When they hear the sad news that my Molly is dead
Take them all in their hundreds, set them all in a row
Molly Baun she shone above them like a mountain of snow.
And there’s “The Buffalo Skinners” – which is probably American – “Come all you jolly cowboys and listen to my song/There are not many verses, it will not detain you long./ It’s concerning some young fellows who did agree to go/And spend one summer pleasantly onthe range of the buffalo/ It happened in Jacksboro in the spring of seventy-three/ A man by the name of Crego came stepping up to me,/Saying “How do you do young felllow, and how would you like to go/And spend one summer pleasantly on the range of the buffalo?”.. and so forth
And there’s a modern imitation by Oliver St John Gogarty who was the “stately plump Buck Mulligan” of the first line of Joyce’s Ulysses, a doctor man – “Come all ye bold Free-Staters now and listen to my lay/And play close attention please to what I got to say/For ’tis the tale of a Winter’s night, when last December drear/When Oliver St John Gogarty swam down the Salmon Weir”.. That was the beginning of that. It’s about.. It’s..
Student: Allen, that poem is not by Gogarty, it’s by.. William Dawson
AG: Oh yes, you’re right, by William Dawson, right on, true enough, (well (in mitigation) I just bought the book ten minutes ago!
I had a.. there’s “the wild Australian boy” – “Come all ye wild Australian boys, and listen to my song”. I did a version of that – “New York Youth Call Annunciation” – “Come all ye Jewish boyfriends, that live here in New York..” – which I’ll play. My voice is somewhat strained in this but I think you can hear the words. [AG plays an audio recording of his own “Come All Ye”] – “When God stiffens your spine/Only emotion remains” – That’s a goof, the last line. I was paraphrasing (Ezra) Pound, Pound’s line – “Only emotion endures”
So, what you have there is totally personal and private sentiment in somewhat.. in either a sexual prophetic strain, or erotic prophetic strain, or ecological prophetic strain, with.. beginning, ”Come all ye”.
So it’s really in a.. in some respects, very similar to the Australian Aborigine motif of the shaman, or bard, or some songman, assembling the multitudes to make a social pronouncement, that comes from the unconscious of the tribe, or comes from the past experience of the tribe, or “purifies the dialect” of the tribe (a line of (T.S.) Eliot, actually! – “since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us/ To purify the dialect of the tribe/ And force the mind to aftersight and foresight”
Student: What was the origins of the “Come All Ye”?
AG: God, I don’t know how far back it goes. In Willa Muir’s book, brought over to Scotland by Irish harvesters, so it was a village…actually a village agrarian cultural song where you’d have a..minstrel, probably.. (it) may have come from the earlier bardic peregrinazione [Allen intentionally Italianizes pronunciation] in Wales, or anywhere in England, where the Bards went from town to town, when there were no newspapers and no radio, and served as the gossip-mongers, or proclaimers of war news, or state news.. (They) might have come to town and started a song, “Come All Ye, Local Villagers/ And Now I Will Ye Tell/ What To Our Dear George The Third Most Happily Haply Fell”, or something – “America declared itself Independent This Year/And Not One Mighty Englishman Would Care To Shed A Tear” – So, it would be a.. there would be a.. the bards.. the Welsh bards would go from town to town, on what they called “peregrinaziones” (or “visitaziones“, which is kind of nice – a visitation – by the bard to pronounce the news (actually, to tell who got married to who, or what battles were won and lost). And (so) the “Come all ye”? might just have been just a simple functional “Come all ye” – “Come listen to my song and I won’t be long” – I imagine it would grow out of that kind of situation. Not much different in a way from the Dylan-esque bardic role., where, say, in the Hurricane Carter song (or any other song that had some social content), he.. The tone is “Come All Ye” – “and I’ll tell you now this secret story that nobody really knows, that wasn’t in the newspaper, although it’s.. the secret shows” – But (And) that function can be done with ballad. But (and) then, what happens when you got a giant modern state with newspapers, magazines?, then you still, you still have the songman’s function in some form or other
Student: (You need amplification)
AG: Well, if you wanna do it on the mass-media, yeah. You’ve got to get it so. If you want to do it on mass-media so it can be heard clearly on juke-boxes, on car-radios and in little cassette machines you have to have very strong thump bass, keeping the rhythm, which means you have to build a very.. you have to lay down a rhythm track, which is the string bass (or electric bass) and drum, to keep a steady rhythm that can penetrate through the bones of the automobile, or through a bar-room full of crowded screaming talk (actually, that’s the technical key to pop – body-penetration) – But, I don’t think, since Dylan and The Beatles, that the.. well, actually I don’t think that.. Richard “Rabbit” Brown, the music is exquisite, but the words are equally exquisite. And in Dylan, the language became predominant, and the words were built around the language (I mean, the music was built around the language!) Naturally, you get good musicians.. You need good musicians because, with..a..with good black musicians.. genius musicians, or genius white pop musicians, every rendition of the song will be different, metrically, so it’ll be different phrasing, because the song will be interpreted differently each time. So that, for instance, Dylan never sings the same song twice in exactly the same way, and he has to have musicians who are alert and listening to him and following his intonations and hesitancies. So it’s not just cut-and-dried music, where they know their parts and they know their harmonies and they play them, they actually have to, each time, be on their toes, walking a tight-rope, listening, because he changes the time, he slows the time down. He might begin in different kinds of time, he might even begin in a different key sometimes – and they never know.. in advance – and so they’re trained to do it as old-time improvising jazz musicians (or they train themselves), which is why I found it useful to use his musicians, because my time is so bad! – that they were used to paying attention to the words and finding out what the words (meant) (meaning), and making intonations in their instruments to follow that.
[Audio for the above disquisition may be found here, starting, approximately twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes in, and through to the end of the tape]