Graded on a Curve:
The Byrds,
Mr. Tambourine Man

So I was hanging out with the Weavers at the Troubadour’s Monday Hoot Night when Chris Hillman walked through the door and said, “Hey Mike, Jim McGuinn and I just invented folk rock. And it’s gonna be huge!”

“Yeah, right,” I said as I tuned my Alpine zither. “And within 10 years we’re going to put a man on the moon. What are you, eight miles high?”

“Hmm,” said Chris thoughtfully, adding “Wanna join our band?”

“And give up playing my zither-based adaptations of Woody Guthrie songs in front of 7 people? Give me 8 years and I’ll be opening for Tiny Tim. I’m gonna be bigger than Dave Van Ronk!”

“Get real, man… “

“I am real, whatever that means. This whole “just add electricity thing” is a passing thing, like The Beatles. What do you plan to call yourselves, anyway?”

“The Birds.”

“Pretty lame,” said I. “I suppose you’ll spell it with a ‘y.’”

“Hmm,” said Chris.

“Who’s in your so-called group?”

“Well, in addition to McGuinn we got Gene Clark, and Michael Clarke. Oh, and David Crosby.”

“The great Snosby?” I said snidely. “He should change his name to Bing and sing Christmas carols. Last time I saw him he was running out of a barbershop in a panic, screaming, “I almost cut my hair!” Let’s see him write a song about that.”

“Laugh if you want to. We’re going to give folk songs some contemporary pizazz. Take Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” We’ve been working on it, and it sounds great. McGuinn’s playing a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.”

“Twelve strings, huh? My Alpine zither has 42. And it yodels.”

“The kids are gonna love our music.”

“The kids?” I said, with a shudder discernible through my Mexican folk serape. “There’s no future in the kids. We should always be looking steadfastly backwards to a time of depression, filthy coal miners, and “Froggie Went a-Courting.” Our duty as artists is to play folk music for wheel-chair bound old people who sit politely and occasionally clap along. Not fast food ditties for teeny-boppers who slouch around jukeboxes snapping their fingers thinking Ringo’s a perfectly respectable name for an adult male. Any other Dylan songs you plan to turn into hits?”

“Spanish Harlem Incident.”

“Never work.”

“Chimes of Freedom.”

“Fat chance, elastic pants.”

“All I Really Want to Do.”

“Yeah, and Dylan’s gonna start wearing polka dot shirts. Go ahead, but you’ll end up looking like fools. Me, I wasn’t born to follow. It’s a fad, and I’ll feel a whole lot better when it’s gone.”

“Hmm.”

“Why do you keep saying hmm?”

“Just a nervous tic,” Chris replied.

“Why are you taking this horrifying step? Why, why, why?

“Hmm.”

“You did it again! But you’re making a fatal mistake. Go down this road and you’ll never play for soup in a rat-infested Greenwich Village coffeehouse again. Seriously, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

“Hmm,” said Chris. “Mike, you’re missing the point. Our new music is hip. It’s the new sound, and it’s groovy. Plus it’s gonna get me laid.”

“So you Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star? Mark my words: everybody’s gonna get burned.”

“Hmm. And hmm.”

“Why do you keep doing that?”

“Sorry. Just thinking. Could be the Tijuana Red.”

“You should probably give that stuff up, Mr. Spaceman.”

“Hmm. Look, I gotta go. Got a show to play.”

“We’ll meet again,” I said.

“Hmm,” said Chris.

“I wish you’d cut that out,” I said.

A couple of months later I heard The Byrds version of “Mr. Tambourine” on my car radio. Afterwards, some odious disc jockey person announced it was the Number One song in America. “What’s Happening?!?!” I asked myself. And up popped David Crosby from the back seat, saying “Hmm.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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  • Robert Sharpe

    I remember when I wore a polka dot shirt.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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