28 June 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#9]

"When I Paint My Masterpiece"
Elliott Smith
Original Dylan version found on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971)

Steven Paul "Elliott" Smith often expressed an admiration for Bob Dylan. Asked about early musical influences, Smith commented: "Probably the Beatles, and then Dylan. My father taught me how to play 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.' I love Dylan's words, but even more than that, I love the fact that he loves words. That's my favorite thing with him. Sometimes we play 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' in concert." (He also played "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," dedicated to his father in some performances; and, in Minneapolis, Elliott played "Ballad of A Thin Man" in an October 1998 concert. )

"I like folk songs but it is a very defined genre and I think it's not really what I play," said Smith. "For me, the difference between folk and pop is that in folk there is a clear message in every song and there is usually a moral to the story. That's fine but it's not how I write. I like more 'impressionistic' things, word pastings. Pop is broader, more things can be in it together."

His simple take on "When I Paint My Masterpiece" above is from an impromptu performance at Boston's Newbury Comics on 5 October 1998.

Elliott Smith would appear on Saturday Night Live 12 days later. And despite having been nominated for an Academy Award and solid album successes Either/Or, XO and Figure 8, Smith - plagued by harrowing mental illness most of his life - would be dead less than five years later.


I remember receiving Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 for Christmas in 1971 on a new fangled format: cassette tape. Two LPs could fit on one compact cartridge! The player that I had was the equivalent of a cassette "Close 'N Play": an orange plastic contraption with one tin speaker, an exposed area to pop in the tape and a single pushdown bar to start or stop the music (yep - no rewind, forward or record, just the Neanderthal basics).

The new Dylan songs were the curiosity on Vol. 2. One of the new originals, "When I Paint My Masterpiece," immediately starts abruptly following applause from the 1963 Town Hall live recording of "Tomorrow Is A Long Time." The tune is another playful Dylan ramble, indirectly commenting on the pleasures and bothers of the road for a particular musician. It is one of two songs on the LP produced by the under-appreciated Leon Russell, who was starting to make his mark with both Joe Cocker (Mad Dogs & Englishmen) and as a solo artist (Leon Russell & The Shelter People).

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "When I Paint My Masterpiece"

Other Cover Version: The Band, "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (Cahoots, 1971)

1 comment:

  1. Elliott Smith is easily the most underrated songwriter in American history.