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Written by Charles Rammelkamp. Charles Rammelkamp’s latest book is entitled “Mata Hari: Eye of the Day,” a sequence of poems about the life of the famous exotic dancer/spy (Apprentice House). A chapbook was published last year by Finishing Line Press entitled “Mixed Signals.” For more on Jewrotica by Charles, see Kitty, Reunion, More Jewish, The Merkin, Forever Jewish, and Glasscutter. Revolutions Per Minute originally appeared in SHALE, an anthology of flash fiction published by Texture Press.
Not everybody knew Bob Dylan was a Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, named Robert Zimmerman, when his career began. Later, his music and lifestyle would take a religious turn (many still call his born-again-Christian phase a low point), sporting tzitzit and laying tefillin, etc., but in his early music his religion was largely unknown, irrelevant, which reflected the more secular spirit of the times. His song “Highway Sixty-one Revisited,” does begin, “Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son.” / Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on….”
True, the sound from the GE Wildcat Portable Record Player was a bit muddy. Solid state stereo three-speed (33, 45, 78, though none of us ever had a 78 rpm record, which we associated with square old-time music, pre-rock-and-roll; we only used 45 for the singles and 33 for the long-players), quality equipment captured in that phrase that was just beginning to be used, “state of the art.” (Note: Actually, the phrase “state of the art” was first coined in 1910, but its popular use in advertising dates to around 1967.) These days, of course you just click YouTube or MP3 or pop in a CD.
But I’m not here to talk technology. I’m here to talk about the lyrics in popular songs and the controversies they created among me and my friends, high school kids who routinely smoked cigarettes and listened to music after school in Potawatomi Rapids, Michigan. Those were the days you went down to the record store or the dime store and bought the latest Beatles or Stones record for $2.99/mono, $3.99/stereo, and cigarettes were thirty cents for a pack of twenty.
“He’s singing the word ‘pussy,’” Ross Burgess asserted.
“No he isn’t!” three of us declared. You couldn’t get away with a word like that in a popular song, could you? True, we’d all tittered listening to Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Workin’” But nobody’d ever really defined what a mojo was the way they’d defined a pussy, right? Maybe a mojo wasn’t a dick.
“Here, listen.” Ross dropped the needle in the smooth space between the second and third tracks on side two. As if we held our breaths in anticipation, listening to the pops and static, we began to breath again when the acoustic guitar came on. Then the song:
I can’t understand, she let go of my hand, and left me here facing the wall…
“You can’t say ‘pussy’ on a record,” Teddy Morris said with finality. “You just couldn’t get away with it.”
“Maybe the record company wasn’t listening closely,” Don Erdman speculated. “Can I have a Marlboro?”
Ross shook a couple of cigarettes out of his pack, gave one to Don.
“Well, it’s Dylan.” That said it all as far as Ross was concerned.
“Not even Dylan.”
We all listened, rapt.
If I didn’t have to guess, I’d gladly confess to anything I might have tried
“OK, it’s coming here,” Ross announced, and we all tried to listen closely to the song coming out of the portable record player, watching it spin around, one complete revolution approximately every two seconds, looking to the long tone arm that held the stylus, the needle resting against the record itself, as if it alone could unravel the mystery.
But now something has changed, for she ain’t the same, she just acts like we never have met….
“There!” Ross declared. “Pussy ain’t the same.”
“He didn’t say ‘pussy’!” Teddy shouted, just as emphatic as Ross.
“Well then what does he say?”
“Can we play it again?”
We all groaned. The lyric was at least two minutes into the song.
“Let’s ask Roger. He knows all of Dylan’s lyrics,” Don suggested.
“Roger’s not here,” I needlessly pointed out, though my intent was to say that we couldn’t resolve the issue here and now. But I was thinking of the sadness of the song itself, how the guy is baffled by the way the girl just snubs him without explanation, after their previous intimacy. Couldn’t she explain? She just acts like we never have met.
But Don’s suggestion seemed to satisfy everybody else. Roger McCoy was our expert on Dylan; whatever he said would be right. Still, Teddy couldn’t help but point out to Ross that he’d misheard the lyrics of “Satisfaction” as “fling cigarettes at me,” when in truth Jagger had been singing, “the same cigarettes as me.” It was a minor point, but Ross conceded it.