Friday, August 30, 2013

Life Changers: Elston Gunnn's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

[Part of a planned series of pieces highlighting people and media that have had monumental effects on my thinking and to which I'd like to expose the uninitiated]

I'm always a bit incredulous when I bring up the music of Bob Dylan with people my age or younger (i.e., twenty-somethings and teenagers) and receive a lukewarm response.  The thing is, I used to have the same tepid opinion of Dylan myself.  When I think back now on all of the ways Dylan's music has expanded my understanding of what can be done with lyrics and melody, it's a bit shocking to think it all might not have happened had it not been for the cover of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" by a Florida-based band called Elston Gunnn.  It was Elston Gunnn's version of "Baby Blue" which made me begin to fully appreciate what Dylan was capable of as a songwriter, and it is by sharing their version with the reader that I hope to impart a similar appreciation to the remaining non-Dylanites among my fellow Millenials.

Up until the time I heard Elston Gunnn's version of "Baby Blue," I didn't care much at all about Bob Dylan.  To me, Dylan was just the dude who had written "The Times They Are a-Changin'" and "All I Really Wanna Do."  When I was younger, "The Times" struck me as a protest tune with little appeal outside of the context in which it was written; and "All I Really Wanna Do" I thought of as a vapid ditty that the E.B.E. who called itself Cher once covered.  It was my friends Jesse and Noah Bellamy, leaders of the band Elston Gunnn, who showed me how ignorant I was.

Jesse, Noah, and myself all have musician fathers.  It was through my father that I was introduced to Jesse and Noah, and we became fast friends, based primarily around the fact that we were all three unabashed music fiends who could literally sit around just talking about music (Martin Mull be damned) until the sun came up, without even noticing the time.  If they had had T & A, it would have been love.  But I digress...

Around the time I met Jesse and Noah (I think I was 15), I got my hands on a copy of the then-new album by their now-defunct band, Elston Gunnn (a name which Bob Dylan is widely known to have used as a stage name early in his career).  The album was called "The Key to the Highway."  I liked the album just fine, but one track in particular stood out: it was called "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."  As I remember it, I just assumed Jesse had written it as I believed he had the rest of the tracks.  I might have even said something to Jesse like, "The rest of the album is good, but, damn, that one is"  Either by Jesse correcting me himself or by my finally reading the liner notes, I soon came to realize it was a Dylan composition.

Lightyears removed from the bland language of "All I Really Wanna Do," here in "Baby Blue" was vivid, cryptic imagery.  Here was a sense of something that might have been wordplay—but if it was, it was wordplay so sly, I couldn't even decide whether it was wordplay or not.

Then there's the track.  To this day, of all the material I've heard, this version of "Baby Blue" is Jesse and Noah's finest 4 minutes and 4 seconds as recording artists.  In the track, they almost manage to approximate what the Desert Rose Band might have sounded like had John Jorgenson and company grown up a few decades later.  Given that the Desert Rose Band are my Beatles, there couldn't hardly have been a better package for my first blind tasting of a supreme Dylan tune.

Tons of people have covered "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."  My beloved Bad Religion have even recently released their own cover of it.  For my money, Elston Gunnn's version is the best I've heard.  It's even better than the famous version by those legendary Dylan coverers, the Byrds (and with that I think Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn might even agree, given the huge post-Byrds advancements they both made as recording artists).  There aren't a lot of people I can think of who should confidently state, "My rock version of [insert Dylan tune] is better than the Byrds' version."  Not for nothing, I feel Elston Gunnn have earned that right.

My subjective contention, then, is the following:  Millenials who love music (and especially those interested in making music) ought to have an appreciation for Bob Dylan's songwriting.  If any Millenial out there can't see what all the fuss over Dylan is about, they need to hear Elston Gunnn's version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (preferably at high volume).  After my own such experience, I immediately set about acquiring nearly every single one of Dylan's pre-Christianity albums, and after sifting the wheat from the chaff among Dylan's songs, my vision as a songwriter seemed to double overnight.

Spread the word.  And the hyperlink.

[Special thanks to Jesse and Noah for uploading their track to Youtube, enabling me to write this post]

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