“I had always heard by reputation of the high regard accorded the folk-ballad singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. But I was so engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world that I had never heard his songs. So I bought a collection of his texts.”   John Corigliano, in program notes for his Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan

On the other hand, Dylan probably didn’t catch The Ghosts of Versailles either.

23 Responses to “Mr. Shoegaze. Meet Mr. Tambourine Man”
  1. Graham Rieper says:

    “I do not believe that any of them have half the talent of poets like Sandburg, Ashberry or Simic.”

    I imagine this spoken in the voice of Margaret DuMont.

  2. Steve Layton says:

    Sandburg, Everette?!? “One of these thiiings doesn’t belong here / One of these things is not the same…”

  3. everette minchew says:

    I don’t ever see myself setting the lyrics of 50cent, Bob Dylan or any other pop/rock/folk singer or rapper.

    I do not believe that any of them have half the talent of poets like Sandburg, Ashberry or Simic.

  4. DJA says:

    Dylan is as much one of Corigliano’s “greatest contemporaries” as 50 Cent is one of my “greatest contemporaries”.

    And do you see yourself, 30-40 years from now, picking up The Collected Rhymes of 50 Cent and setting them to your own music?

  5. Graham Rieper says:

    You’ll have to stop hallucinating my definition of hip, which has not been offered, and plugging it into your definition of Ivory Tower, which seems to be part of a rant we probably don’t want to hear.

    The Soviet Union? I think we’re getting perilously close to Godwin’s Law here, not to mention implausibility bordering on the comical.

    But comical is what it’s about. It’s such a funny excuse. Imagine the courtroom scene: Q–Mr. Corigliano, did you not here the gunshots from the next room?…A–No, I was so engaged in developing my orchestral technique.
    Or the romantic scene: Q–Would you like to come up for a drink?…A–Sorry, I’d like to but I am currently so engaged in developing my orchestral technique…

  6. The main thing it shows for me is how Corigliano just isn’t cool enough to not say shit like that.

  7. Daniel G. says:

    Yes, condemning someone for their seeming lack of awareness or cultural insight, because they didn’t happen to be “hip” back in the 60s (by your definition), IS “ivory tower.”

    Perhaps if both Corigliano and Dylan had lived in the Soviet Union, they would have been forced to know of each other’s music and chant with other youths in Red Square their tunes, blaring over a loud speaker to their comrades on the front lines. Yes, that’s a plausible scenario.

  8. Rodney Lister says:

    So…at least in the 60’s, Corigliano didn’t know any of Dylan’s music (which does seem inconceivable) and Dylan (most likely) didn’t know any of Corigliano’s (which doesn’t). Which one should feel most keenly that his life if less rich than it otherwise might have been?

  9. Graham Rieper says:

    Ahem. This ain’t 50 cent we’re talking about. To have lived in New York in the 1960s and never *heard* any of Dylan’s songs shows not only incredible insularity, but an astonishing lack of curiosity. Those songs were not so much pop hits (in fact, Dylan had few hit singles himself in the early years) but the talk of the world, both beat and academic, not to mention this town, both up and down. Ivory Tower, my ass….

  10. davidcoll says:

    i can’t either. this has to be some misunderstanding. I mean, did he hear about a war going on back then by any chance…starts with a v, ring a bell?

  11. bill says:

    Dylan took on the cloak of folk and rock but he is really one of the greatest poets of our age and I think will be remembered long into the future for that. I still can’t fathom that Corigliano has never run across him before.

  12. Steve Layton says:

    I don’t really knock Corigliano for missing Dylan, either — I missed almost everything “pop” between about ’75- and ’79. But the idea of his Tambourine Man does sound pretty cringe-worthy.

    As to Dylan being one of the “greatest contemporaries”: yes, no doubt at all… But with a huge caveat on the what’s assumed in the measures of both “greatest” and “contemporaries”.

    The idea of pop artists with nationwide or even intercontinental influence and appreciation is still so new –only since about the time my own grandma was born, after all — that it’s hard to know if the trends we’ve seen hold. But we’ve yet to see a single pop artist keep more than a thread appreciation past the “contemporary” bubble of their generation. Even those paid enormous attention in the time of their career barely register a few decades later, and there’s certainly nothing like the sustained appreciation and influence of some of the older classical greats.

    At the same time, the same thing has happened to virtually all the recent classical greats, late-19th-century to now. This may just be how it’s going to be from here on out, though our window may simply be too small to make that call yet.

  13. I don’t find it very hard to believe that Corigliano never heard any tunes of Bob Dylan when he was younger. It is rare that I listen to pop/rock music and I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything by not being part of the music popular culture.
    He may have heard a Dylan song in passing at a store or walking on a street but that doesn’t mean it registered inside his skull as Bob Dylan.

    And as Daniel just said “give the guy a break.”

    Dylan is as much one of Corigliano’s “greatest contemporaries” as 50 Cent is one of my “greatest contemporaries”. It doesn’t mean he was locked up under a rock or in a Rapunzel-like tower it is however revealing of the personal musical choices he makes and feels are important to him.

  14. Daniel G. says:

    “Greatest contemporaries”? Come on, give the guy a break. Will someone criticize you in 40 years for not having listened to a certain artist back in 2007? Or will you be regarded as the most knowledgable composers because you immersed yourself in pop culture? For any of you to assume that Corigliano is some sort of fraud because he didn’t listen to Bob Dylan when he should have is just as “ivory tower.”

  15. zeno says:

    david, check out the final chapter (or two or three) of Taruskin’s history. The ending of Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music is precisely his discussion of issues of literate and notated music(s) and musical orality at the beginning of the 21st c. I recall the ending of his history reading like a string of his reviews for the New York Review of Books; with extensive and serious discussion of composers such as Meredith Monk and John Zorn. (My set of books is up the hill now in Cleveland Park. I’ll try to consult them this evening, and drag them downstairs from the hot upstairs.)

  16. bill says:

    How can anyone hope to produce relevant art when they don’t even know the works of their greatest contemporaries?
    And what God forsaken ivory tower was he locked up in all this time?

  17. davidcoll says:

    i’d be very surprised if taruskin has much light to shine on this issue, got the book around? how does he define his idea of a literate music/culture? i think this is mainly based on notated music, yes?

  18. zeno says:

    Thanks for your comment, Steven. What you say at the end is, as you imply, also especially true of Asian and other non-Western musics. … I’ll have to read the end of Richard Taruskin’s magnum opus again to see what his prognosis is, now in the 21st c., on this printed text-diacritic music-printed music nexus.

  19. Somehow, I find it difficult to imagine that Corigliano would not have heard a Dylan tune from the early 60s to 2000 or whenever this was written. You’d think he would have heard something walking down the street, in a store, watching TV. And it’s not like he picked obscure Dylan things either.
    That’s 40 years of avoiding popular music. Doesn’t Corigliano consider himself a post-modernist? (Of course, he’s really a Late Modernist, but that’s another post.)

    I’m not sure what’s worse: if he’s lying (fibbing?) or telling the truth. It would have been better to say that he was trying to make a truly alternative version of the Dylan songs.

  20. I’m sure Dylan will be shocked and saddened by this confession.

  21. Graham Rieper says:

    “John Corigliano, in program notes for his Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan”

    …which happens to be one of those works that is so abominable that it could be played at a party for laughs, or maybe clearing the room. Try the hysterical “Masters of War” for that train wreck feeling.

  22. Steven says:


    Almost all of western music before Adrian Willaert printed the texts seperately from the music in some sense, whether in a book of texts to go with the book of notes, or next to the music, etc. This practice continued well after the Renaissance, for example, in the psalters of American tradition. In fact, most of hymnody is that way- find a text that matches the tune in meter, etc. As far as popularity is concerned, certainly the psalters were widespread. Speaking of psalters, you could but plenty of ancient texts in this category- the biblical Psalms (lyrics but no music), ancient Greek song lyrics, sung dramas (again only the most fragmentary musical notation, but plenty of text)… It seems to me that this practice is rather ubiquitious, and that it’s finding the notation of the music strongly integrated with the text that is actually the rarer occasion.

  23. zeno says:

    “But I was so engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world that I had never heard his songs. So I bought a collection of his texts.” …

    So, Mr Corigliano, did you ever buy or listen to Mr Dylan’s songs?


    Lyric books — to folk and rock music– became quite popular in America about a decade or so ago. Does anyone know of earlier periods in American culture when lyric books — to songs — were widespread and popular? NEA Chief Dana Goia even wrote an opera libretto, as well as, I believe, song lyrics.

    “Sotto Voce: The Libretto as Literary Form”