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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Annotated “Flowers” Theme Time Radio Hour - Episode 11 (Part 2)

Being the 2nd Part of a Compleat Transcript with Commentary on Episode #11 of Theme Time Radio Hour, "Flowers"

Original air date: July 12, 2006


There's much of note in Episode 11 -- "Flowers" -- of Theme Time Radio Hour, including monster lists, the largest group of def poetry readings in the show's history, quotations from Buddha, Isiah, and H.L. Mencken among others, a mystery laugh, appearances by two Dylan contemporaries from the Greenwich Village scene of the `60s, and some evidence that Our Host was wingin' his commentary as much as reading from a script. 

The transcript/commentary length was way past what I think a typical blog reader would tolerate, so I've split the "Flowers" transcript into two parts.  Part One can be found here. ~ fhb


[Commercial clip – Singers: “You’re so much wiser to buy fertilizer where you get the best in price and quality!” Announcer: “Yes and there is a difference in the price and quality of fertilizer! See us for the best in both! ]

Bob Dylan: Tiny Tim was a character who played around Greenwich Village in the Fifties and Sixties. And a lot of people just think that he was a joke. But I’ll tell ya, no one knew more about old music than Tiny Tim did. He studied it and he lived it. He knew all the songs that only existed as sheet music. When he passed away, we lost a national treasure. Here’s Tiny Tim, and the only song that made it to the top of the charts and kept him in the public eye. Here’s “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips” on Theme Time Radio Hour.

[Tiny Tim – “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips”]

Bob Dylan: That was “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim, a song that sold over 200,000 copies. In 19 and 68 when Tiny Tim got married on the Johnny Carson Show it was one of the biggest events in television history. And deservedly so. His daughter from that marriage was named “Tulip.”


Dylan’s admiration for Tiny Tim is obvious in this segment, and the Bob Dylan/Tiny Tim connection has a long, rich history, which Dylan alludes to as he introduces "Tip-Toe through the Tulips." In Chronicles, Volume I, Dylan writes about their first meeting,
"One of the guys who played in the afternoons was the falsetto-speaking Tiny Tim. He played ukulele and sang like a girl -- old standard songs from the '20s…"
Tiny Tim was born Herbert Buckingham Khaury, on April 12, probably in 1932, although in various interviews he gave his birth year as anytime between 1922 and 1932. His first performances -- under the name Larry Love -- took place in 1954, where he won several amateur contests. His professional career began in 1963 or '64 at a lesbian cabaret in Greenwich Village called the Page 3. In a short time, Tiny Tim was well-known in the Greenwich Village music scene, although more as a novelty act than for his deep knowledge of American music.

In Chronicles, Dylan goes on to tell about sharing lunch with Tim, "The best part of working with [Fred Neil] was strictly gastronomical -- all the French fries and hamburgers I could eat. At some point during the day, Tiny Tim and I would go in the kitchen and hang around. Norbert the cook would usually have a greasy burger waiting. Either that, or he'd let us empty a can of pork and beans or spaghetti into a frying pan."

In 1967, Dylan and Tiny Tim would meet again, when Tim recorded several songs with The Band for Peter Yarrow’s deservedly seldom-seen rockumentary, "You Are What You Eat." The Band/Tiny Tim collaboration included “Memphis, Tennessee,” the Sonny and Cher classic, “I Got You Babe,” and the Al Jolson standard, “Sonny Boy.”

According to Tim, Dylan renewed their friendship after hearing he was recording with The Band, and invited him to his Woodstock home. Greeting Tim at midnight Dylan’s first words were, "Tiny, I never saw a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game."

In the course of conversation, Tim serenaded Dylan with Rudy Vallee’s "Maine Stein Song" and "My Time is Your Time" and played Dylan's own "Like A Rolling Stone" - comparing Dylan's popularity to Valle's. According to Tiny Tim, "After he [heard] the comparison to [Rudy] Vallee and what he meant to me Dylan said, 'Look, do you want a banana before you go to bed?' I said, 'No, I have my own fruit with me.'"

Before retiring for the night, Tim sang an Irving Kaufman song from 19 and 23 called "What's Today Got To Do With Tomorrow (When Tomorrow's So Far Away)", and Dylan in turn played "Cool Water” for him. Dylan also offered Tim a minor part in "Eat the Document," for which Tim was paid $22.00.

Tim's performance in “You Are What You Eat” led to his first TV appearance on the popular “Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In,” where he was an instant sensation, although perhaps not in the way he wanted. But that was hard to tell. Tiny Tim seemed to exist in his own space; oblivious to snickers, laughter, and ridicule. In any case, he became a hot TV property, appearing on “Laugh-In” several more times, as well as on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and, of course The Tonight Show.

In 1969 [not 1968, as Dylan mistakenly says] in front of an estimated 40 million viewers, he would marry Victoria May Budinger, better known as "Miss Vicki," on The Tonight Show. The couple had a daughter, Tulip, as Dylan also mentions on Theme Time, but lived apart, and divorced after eight years of marriage. Tulip is alive and well and living in Pennsylvania with her family.

Although the public's taste for Tim's inherent weirdness faded away by the mid-70s, he never stopped performing wherever and whenever he could, reportedly even joining a circus for a few months in the 1980s. In September of 1996, Tiny Tim suffered a heart attack while performing at the Ukulele Hall of Fame in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Upon his release from the hospital, Tim resumed his concert schedule, but, on November 30 1996, suffered another heart attack in Minneapolis while performing his signature song. He died an hour later. His remains are in the mausoleum of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A true eccentric who happened to be in the right place at the right time to become a media star, and a lover of the American songbook who dedicated his life to bringing back old, obscure songs, Tiny Tim never let his personal oddities or public reaction interfere with his main mission… singing the songs he loved.

Bob Dylan: “Beauty itself is a faded flower.” Another flower that faded was “The Wildwood Flower.” We’re going to hear “The Wildwood Flower” by the most influential group in country music history, The Carter Family. They switched the emphasis from hillbilly instrumentals to vocals. Alvin P. Carter, his wife Sara, and his sister-in-law, Mabel, sang pure, simple harmony. A.P. collected hundreds of British-Appalachian folk songs and recorded them, enhancing the pure beauty of these “facts-of-life” tunes. Here’s one of the best, still fresh as a daisy, “Wildwood Flower.”

[The Carter Family – “Wildwood Flower”]


“Beauty itself is a faded flower.”

Dylan is paraphrasing Isaiah 28:4, again probably from memory…
“And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.”
“…the most influential group in country music history.”

Dylan’s commentary on The Carter Family is taken almost verbatim from the first paragraph of their entry in the “allmusic” web site.

Bob Dylan: That was The Carter Family with “Wildwood Flower.” This song was originally a written song from 1860, called “I’ll Twine ‘Mid the Ringlets.” These songs were passed around from person to person over a long period. By the time the tune got to The Carter Family many people claimed to have written it. And like a game of “Telephone,” some of the words stopped making sense altogether. “I will twine and will mingle my weepin’ black hair/ With the roses so red and the lilies so fair/The myrtle so green of an emerald hue/ The pale emanita and violets of blue.” These lyrics are difficult to interpret. There’s no flower named “emanita.” Some hear it as “the pale and the leader.” Somehow, amidst the confusion, the song still makes sense.


Most of Dylan’s information appears taken from the Wikipedia page on “Wildwood Flower.” It’s interesting that he specifically cites the “pale and leader” variant of the line, as that was the way the line was sung by Joan Baez on her debut album of 19 and 60. While Dylan was certainly already familiar with the song before meeting Baez, one can imagine the two singing the song together and using that line.

Bob Dylan: I got another song that A.P. Carter composed or found. Another song about roses. This one is called “When the Roses Bloom Again.” It’s by a young singer from Nashville, Tennessee named Laura Cantrell. British disc jockey John Peel called her album, “Not the Tremblin’ Kind, “…my favorite record from the last 10 years… and possibly my life.” “When the Roses Bloom Again,” Laura Cantrell.

[Laura Cantrell – “When the Roses Bloom Again”]

Bob Dylan: “Taking time to stop and smell the roses.” Laura Cantrell, “When the Roses Bloom Again.” Laura became a mother this year, giving birth to young Isabella May. Congratulations, Laura.


Cantrell’s daughter was born in May 2006, indicating that Dylan recorded his narrative sometime between that month and the show’s air date of July 12, 2006.  See the entry on “The Sharpest Thorn," which narrows the timeline even further.

Bob Dylan: I was golfing with Ricky Jay, the magician, and he told me something interesting…

Photo: Ricky Jay. Credit: Jesse Dylan

Ricky Jay: Many stage acts made use of flowers, but more interesting than that was a very early Dutch woman – off the top of my head I can’t remember whether she was 17th century or 6th century – named Eva Vlieghan who was supposed to have lived entirely off the scent of flowers. Ate nor drank food or water but lived entirely off the scent of flowers. It was presented as a religious oddity rather than someone you actually paid to see perform. But I think she did… ah, she rather enjoyed if people left donations.


“I was golfing with Ricky Jay…”

There have been various reports in recent years that Dylan is an ardent golfer, including speculation that he bought his Scottish mansion because it was right next door to Abernethy (not “Abernathy”) GC, a nine-hole course built in 1893. Both Dylan had Eddie Gorodetsky are friends of Ricky Jay, and Jay’s appearance on TTRH could have been at the invitation of either. The mind boggles at the thought of being on the links and confronted with a threesome composed of Messrs. Dylan, Gorodetsky and Jay, with perhaps the foursome being rounded out by Penn Jillette.

“Eva Vlieghan…”

In the year 1594, at age 19, Eva Vliegen began to eat less and less. Contemporary reports have it that beginning in 1597 she took no nourishment whatsoever. It was said that she lived from the fragrance of flowers, with Eva herself claiming that she was being fed by a honey-sweet substance supplied by Heaven. Her town council attested in writing that their examination of Vliegen proved she was not a fraud.

In early 1614, Vliegen abruptly declared an angel had appeared to her to announce that God was going to punish humankind with “widespread death,” and from that moment forward refused to utter another word, a silence she successfully maintained until her reported death later that year. Reports become confused at this point, with Vliegen apparently somehow discovered alive and well some fourteen years later living in a house with an ample supply of food and drink. She was reportedly arrested and disappeared into the mists of legend.

For centuries a wax figure of Vliegen, nicknamed in Dutch legend “Bessie Meurs,” was exhibited in an Amsterdam garden maze. A mechanism enabled the waxwork to wipe the crumbs from its mouth with its arm, to the accompaniment of a rhyme:

This old crone is Bessie Meurs, most faithless of females
She shakes her head, ay, swears an oath, while spouting her tall tales:
For two and thirty years, she says, she’s eaten not a crust,
She tells a string of barefaced lies, her words you cannot trust.

Eva Vliegen, a woman of obvious attraction to modern mountebanks Ricky Jay and Bob Dylan.

[Geraint Watkins – “Only a Rose” (background)]

Bob Dylan: Well there’s no shortage of rose songs, and here’s one I first heard through the grape vine. It’s from a young Welshman named Geraint Watkins. He played piano and accordion with Dave Edmunds and Shakin’ Stevens. But more recently he’s been in Nick Lowe’s band and has recorded and toured with Van Morrison. Here’s a beautiful song that he wrote, “Only a Rose.” Geraint Watkins.

[Geraint Watkins – “Only a Rose”]

Bob Dylan: Geraint Watkins, “Only a Rose.” And remember, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.

Bob Dylan: Gonzalo Perez from Austin Texas sent us an email. He asks, “Can I plant pansies in the fall?” Well, Gonzalo, traditionally pansies were the first spring annual I set out each year. I eagerly await their appearance at my local garden center. No matter how much I picked and deadheaded, by June they were leggy and limp from the heat and I pulled them to make room for something else. But now, late summer varieties are available. They may go dormant in cold winters, but they revive in the spring. Happy planting from Theme Time Radio Hour.

Bob Dylan: I wasn’t gonna play any more rose songs, but how could I not play this one? It went to Number 3 in 19 and 67 and it’s called “I Threw Away the Rose.” We’ve talked a lot about Merle, so I’m just going to play the record.

[Merle Haggard – “I Threw Away the Rose”]

Bob Dylan: That was Merle Haggard, “I Threw Away the Rose,” with his story of unrequited love. This is Theme Time Radio Hour, and we’re discussing flowers. Buddha said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” Georgia O’Keefe, who knew a little bit about flowers, said that when you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment. On the other hand, according to Mencken, a cynic is a man who when he smells flowers looks around for a coffin. Mencken was definitely not someone who ever let the green grass fool him.

[Wilson Pickett – “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” (background)]

Bob Dylan: Another person like that is one of the roughest and sweatiest soul singers of the Sixties. Wilson Pickett, “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.”

[Wilson Pickett – “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You”]

Bob Dylan: That was Wilson Pickett, “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” the centerpiece of the 19 and 70 album, “Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia.” He got a bunch of hits on Atlantic Records, but after the hits began drying up he gave a pair of young producers, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, a chance to update his sound.

Bob Dylan: We’re just about outta time here and I gotta get home and water my azaleas. But we got time for one song first. Roses are the most popular flower to give, so let’s hear one more song about `em. Why not make it Allen Toussaint? Allen just did a new album with Elvis Costello, and they wrote a bunch of new songs together. Here’s one of `em, called “The Sharpest Thorn.” “Hot as a pistol, keen as a blade. The sharpest thorn, upon parade.” Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint.

[Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint – “The Sharpest Thorn”]


“Allen just did a new album with Elvis Costello…”

“The Sharpest Thorn” was a track on the Costello/Toussaint collaborative album, “The River in Reverse,” released June 6, 2006, further narrowing down the window when Dylan recorded his narrative to roughly sometime between early June and early July 2006.

Bob Dylan: That was Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello, “The Sharpest Thorn” from the album, The River in Reverse,” on Theme Time Radio Hour.

Bob Dylan: Well it’s been an hour, so I gotta make like a tree, and leave. But don’t worry, I’ll be back next week with more dreams, themes, and schemes on Theme Time Radio Hour, your perennial favorite.

[“Top Cat (Underscore)"]

“Pierre Mancini:” You’ve been listening to Theme Time Radio Hour with your host, Bob Dylan. Produced by Eddie Gorodetsky. Associate producer, Sonny Webster. Continuity by “Eeps” Martin. Edited by Damian Rodriguez. Supervising editor, Rob Macomber. The Theme Time research team: Diane Lapson and Bernie Bernstein, with additional research by Lynne Sheridan, Kimberly Williams, and Robert Bower. Production assistance by Jim McBean. Special thanks to Randy Ezratty, Debbie Sweeney, Coco Shinomiya, and Samson's Diner. For XM Radio, Lee Abrams. Recorded in Studio B, The Abernathy Building. This has been a Grey Water Park Production in Association with Big Red Tree. This has been your announcer, Pierre Mancini, speaking. Join us again next week for Theme Time Radio Hour when the subject is..."


Jim F. said...

This has always been one of our favourite episodes and I found your comments quite interesting... however, I think he says "the Victoria Sorghum".

Good luck with your work!

Jim F. from Victoria, BC Canada

jimfred said...

Thanks for these fascinating posts! A fantastic version of Bob singing Wildwood Flower is among the unreleased Basement tapes (with incomplete lyrics). When June Carter Cash recorded the song for the 2003 Dualtone album she sang ".. the pale and the leader and the eyes look like blue". beautiful!

Mary said...

I wonder if anyone has read A Rose for Miss Emily, a short story by William Faulkner? (Maybe Dylan has!)