Song of the Day #2,314: ‘Tombstone Blues’ – Richie Havens

im_not_thereA lot of people take the stance that they like Bob Dylan’s music but they just can’t stand his voice.

I can appreciate that argument, as I feel exactly that way about both Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. I often say that I would love an album of their best songs as sung by somebody (pretty much anybody) else.

I don’t feel that way about Bob Dylan, even though I acknowledge the limitations of his voice (especially in recent years). I find way too much to love in his delivery to trust his songs in the hands of somebody else.

That said, the soundtrack to Todd Haynes’ 2007 I’m Not There, a brilliant film that aims to capture the many side of Bob Dylan, is a fine collection of the Bard’s songs performed by others.

Today’s Random SOTD is a particularly rich example. Richie Havens, who has a long history of covering Dylan’s songs (he even released an album called Richie Havens Sings Beatles and Dylan), delivers a rousing rendition of the Highway 61 Revisited classic ‘Tombstone Blues.’

I wouldn’t call it better than Dylan’s own recording, but I won’t argue with ‘just as good.’

The sweet pretty things are in bed now of course
The city fathers they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse
But the town has no need to be nervous

The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits
At the head of the chamber of commerce

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, “I’ve just been made”
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
Says, “My advice is to not let the boys in”

Now the medicine man comes and he shuffles inside
He walks with a swagger and he says to the bride
“Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it’s not poison”

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?”

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And dropping a barbell he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken”

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The king of the Philistines his soldiers to save
Puts jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves
Puts the pied pipers in prison and fattens the slaves
Then sends them out to the jungle

Gypsy Davey with a blowtorch he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedro behind him he tramps
With a fantastic collection of stamps
To win friends and influence his uncle

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown
At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter

Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill
I would set him in chains at the top of the hill
Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille
He could die happily ever after

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,314: ‘Tombstone Blues’ – Richie Havens

  1. Dana says:

    I like Dylan’s version better, including his voice.

  2. Andrea Katz says:

    There was a time I couldn’t go to a concert without seeing Richie Havens…he was just alright. This doesn’t work for me either.

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