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Hollis Brown and The Monochord on the Radio


You may have seen the essays and comments about Bob Dylan's "Hollis Brown" here and here. Well today, Jerry Clark played three records on KFAI to illustrate some of those ideas — and gave The Celestial Monochord a big juicy plug, too.

You'll be able to hear the June 21 show online (for the next two weeks only) by streaming it from here. I think the Celestial Monochord section starts somewhere after 1:16 and ends around 1:38.

Jerry begins with "Pretty Polly" (which Greil Marcus says inspired "Hollis Brown"), playing a version by Ralph Stanley.

He then plays "Poor Man" by the Louisiana Honeydrippers. Jerry contends it was certainly a more direct inspiration for Bob Dylan's song — I'll be damned if he doesn't turn out to be right about that.

He then plays an unfamiliar recording of Dylan doing "Hollis Brown." At the end, Jerry and host Dakota Dave Hull ruin my reputation with very kind words and high praise for me and The Celestial Monochord. (When you stream the audio, you can skip right to that part if you want.) Thanks, Jerry and Dave!

Listen to this episode and, come to think of it, every episode you can of Dave Hull's radio show, where Jerry is a frequent guest. I always learn enormously from it and I enjoy it mightily. I've heard rumors that radio used to be good — that it used to be kinda like this. Nah, couldn't be!


The Celestial Monochord now an "author blog"

A pidgeon contemplates St. Paul history atop the Victoria Cafe


I've always puzzled over how — and whether — to present my research into Frank Cloutier and Victoria Cafe here at the The Celestial Monochord.

My goal has always been to understand "the complete circumstances" surrounding the recording of the "Moonshiner's Dance" in 1927, knowing that "the complete circumstances" surrounding anything are ultimately unknowable. They're sure-as-hell too complicated to fit within the here's-what-I'm-thinking-today format of the blogosphere.

Well, after thousands of long hours of research, the picture I've uncovered is so sprawling, complex, and transformative that it's outgrown my ability to post it sensibly at The Monochord.

So here's my plan: I'm working toward a book to be published by somebody like the Minnesota Historical Society, Indiana University, or even myself. There may also have to be an article, or series of articles, for Minnesota History, or Minnesota Monthly, or Ramsey County History, or The Old Time Herald, or Sing Out, or your publication (contact me!).

I understand, by the way, that there is probably zero money to be made as the author of a book about an 80-year-old polka record.

Nonetheless, The Celestial Monochord is now officially an "author blog" — at least with respect to my history research. This might resolve some of my uncertainty about what to post here, what not to, and how often. And it gives me a genre of bloggery to work in, providing some models for how to proceed.

This could result in MORE of my research being posted, not less. I'll feel less of a need to be "complete" and "authoritative" when, in fact, that is a long quest I'm working on elsewhere.

And needless to say, I'll also continue posting other stuff too, about Dylan, Waits, Prine, banjos, symposiums, fulgurite, kittens, nickles, etc., etc., etc.