We got plenty of nothing in this jam-packed episode of Theme Time Radio Hour, including Mr. D. quoting Dr. Dre; a fuggin’ censorship controversy; mislabeled Cookies, nihilistic Def poetry, the Theme Time Radio Hour Silent Treatment, visits from Amy Sedaris and Elvis Costello; the Harry Johnson mystery; missing brains… and more! So let’s get started.
Episode 87, “Nothing.” First broadcast January 14, 2009
[Background: “Do Nothing till You Hear From Me”]
The Lady in Red: It’s nighttime in the big city. A wealthy man terrorizes a waitress. The dogs can smell rain. This is Theme Time Radio Hour with your host Bob Dylan.
Commentary — The Radioactive Radio Show
Given Our Host’s history, “A wealthy man terrorizes a waitress,” will make many listeners think of Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” William Zantzinger, a wealthy white tobacco farmer in his twenties, killed Hattie Carroll on February 9, 1963, as she was working as a barmaid at a local event. A drunk Zantzinger struck Carroll, who had multiple health conditions, after becoming annoyed that she wasn’t serving him quickly enough. Carroll collapsed and later died. Zantzinger was found guilty of manslaughter… and sentenced to six months.
Coincidence, or something that Barkin, Eddie Gorodetsky, or someone else scripted? As with most of TTRH, the production team kept the details of Ellen Barkin’s intros a closely held secret, to the point that I sometimes felt I was dealing with the Manhattan Project rather than a radio show.
[Background: “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang” — Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg]
Bob Dylan: Welcome back to Theme Time Radio Hour and I couldn’t be more excited because today I’m going to talk about… nothing. As most of you know, I’ve studied nothing my entire life and I like to think I’m a bit of an expert. We’re going to be talking about next to nothing, good for nothing, nothing to do, and all or nothing. We’re going to be talking about nothing to write home about, and nothing to shout about. Nothing to sneeze at, and nothing going for ya. Much ado about nothing. Next to nothing. Nothing of it and having nothing to do with you.
In the background “Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang” from 19 and 92. It hit #1 on the R&B in the Rap charts and #2 on Billboard Hot 100. Dr. Dre was a member of N.W.A, not to be confused with the NRA or the WPA. He went on to have an even bigger career after he left them; not just as a performer, but also as a producer and a talent scout. But perhaps most importantly, it features one of his discoveries, a dog commonly known as “Snoop.”
[“It’s like that and like this and like that and it’s like this and like that. And like this so just chill, ’til the next episode”]
Bob Dylan: Fo’ shizzle, my nizzle. Just because we’re talking about nothing doesn’t mean I can leave a lot of dead air. So, let’s get started with a little bit of music. When you’re talking about nothing, nobody does it better than The Fugs. And on this album from 1965, one of those subjects was “Nothing.” Here goes nothing. The Fugs.
[“Nothing” — The Fugs]
Bob Dylan: That was The Fugs with “Nothing.” The Fugs were founded by a poet named Tuli Kupferberg and a bookshop owner, Ed Sanders. They got together in 19 and 64 and would bash away at their instruments playing songs that were political, sexual and satirical. Ed Sanders became even more famous after leaving The Fugs. In the 1970s, he wrote a biography of the Manson family called “The Family.” Also in the 70s, he spent a long time writing a 900-page biography of the Eagles. It’s never been published and there’s a good chance it will never be published because the Eagles own the rights to it. I think I’d like to read that book.
Commentary — The Bowdlerized “Nothing”
An annoyed Fugs fan ranted online when the “Nothing “ episode aired that Our Host played an abridged, censored, version of “Nothing” without explanation. The studio versions of “Nothing” weigh in at around 4 minutes and some-odd seconds. The cut played on the show was 2 minutes and 30 seconds, trimming away almost half of the original song.
The reason could be as simple as “Nothing,” whatever its charms, is a fairly repetitious piece, and you more or less get The Fug’s point that all is nada in 2 1/2 minutes. The more likely answer is that someone decided to remove such offending lines as: “Fucking nothing, sucking nothing.” It wouldn’t be the first time; the “F-word” was bleeped out in The Streets, “Dry Your Eyes” when it was played during Season 1.
Ironically, when a young Bob Dylan visited Bob Fass’ “Radio Unnameable” show in 1966, he asked that he play “Nothing.” Fass declined because of the language used in the song.
As were many other of Tuli Kupferberg’s songs, “Nothing” was based a Yiddish folk melody called “Bulbes” about the monotony of having nothing to eat but potatoes.
On Sunday — potatoes, on Monday — potatoes,
on Tuesday and Wednesday — potatoes, on
Friday — potatoes, on Sabbath — a novelty, the
potato kugel. On Sunday — potatoes again.
Bread with potatoes, meat with potatoes, lunch
and dinner. Potatoes, potatoes over and over
One meal is a novelty — the potato pie.
On Sunday — potatoes again.
As Dylan notes, Ed Sanders, best known for his book on the Manson Family, also wrote a reportedly 900-page manuscript — “This American Band — The Story of The Eagles” — which remains unpublished, probably because of the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll stories Sanders described, including “Don Henley getting arrested for being with a fifteen-year-old. Glenn Frey getting zapped for coke and John Belushi’s soldering iron opium-smoking techniques.” Three boxes containing Sanders’ manuscript are among his papers in the Princeton University Library, so perhaps one day we’ll get to see the book… hopefully not the bowdlerized version.
Bob Dylan: One guy who had plenty to say about nothing was Shakespeare. In “A Winter’s Tale,” he said, “Is this nothing? Why than the world and all that’s in it is nothing. My wife is nothing nor nothing have these nothings if this be nothing.” And in “Macbeth,” he said, “Life’s a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. In “Hamlet,” “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And finally, from King Lear, “Nothing can come of nothing.”
The Cookies were a band from New York. They recorded for the Dimension record label, which Carole King and Gerry Goffin were kind of the brains behind. As a matter of fact, Carol and Gerry wrote this song. “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” Here are The Cookies.
[“Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” — The Cookies]
Bob Dylan: That was The Cookies, “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)”. They recorded this song in 19 and 63 and it went up to #7. The Cookies were Margie Hendricks, Earl-Jean McCrea, who I’m pretty sure we’re going to be hearing from next week, and Pat Lyles. The Dimension label was actually formed by Don Kirshner as a recording outlet for Gerry and Carol’s songs and productions.
Call me Tim Ziegler if you like, but Our Host is both right and wrong about the make-up of The Cookies, getting the names of the original girl group from the `50s on the nose, but mistakenly saying that they were the ones singing “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” in 1963. The Cookies of that year and in that recording included Dorothy Jones, Earl-Jean McCrea, and Margaret Ross.
The original Cookies started singing together in the early 1950s and made their first recording in 1954 on the Lamp sub-label of Aladdin Records. The group morphed into the Raelettes when Ray Charles recruited them as his backup singers and worked under that name until 1962 when Jones, McCrea, and Ross reformed as the new Cookies, becoming a regular session band at the Brill Building.
Bob Dylan: We’re going to move from the Brill Building a couple of blocks over to the Great White Way. This is a song from the Broadway production of South Pacific. The song was written by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Roger. In the original Broadway production. It was sung by Myron McCormick who played the character Luther Billis. But we’re going to listen to the one from the great Sammy Davis Junior who recorded in in 19 and 63 for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise record label. Here’s Sammy, who knows for sure there is nothing like a dame.
[“There is Nothing Like a Dame” — Sammy Davis Jr.]
“Nothing would have convinced me that I was actually a songwriter, and I wasn’t, not in the conventional songwriter sense of the word. Definitely not like the workhorses over in the Brill Building, the song chemistry factory that was only a few blocks away but might as well have been on the other side of the cosmos…they were the songwriting masters of the Western world, wrote all the popular songs, all the songs with crafty melodies and simple lyrics that came off as works of power over the airwaves….” ~ Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One
Dylan seems to hold both a fondness for and a competitive attitude towards the songsters of the Brill Building. Earlier in Chronicles, Lou Levy and the young Dylan journey from the Pythian Temple at West 70th Street, where Bill Haley and His Comets fired the first shot of the pop music revolution with “Rock Around the Clock,” to Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant on the first floor of the Brill Building. Dylan is advised by world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey that he’s going to need to punch above his weight if he’s to succeed. Dylan’s later claim that he single-handedly “put an end to Tin Pan Alley,” proved that Jack Dempsey was right on.
Bob Dylan: That was Sammy Davis Junior, “There’s Nothing like a Dame.” Nothing like a babe. Nothing like a chick. Nothing like a chippy, nothing like a doll or a kitten, nothing like a looker, a skirt, a tomato or a dish. You’d have to write a whole different song if it was called, “There’s Nothing like a Dish.”
Here’s some words about nothing by Jean Passaerat. It’s called “Nihil”, and it goes like this…
Nothing is richer than precious stones than gold.
Nothing is finer than adamant, nothing nobler than the blood of kings.
Nothing is sacred in wars, nothing is greater than Socrates wisdom. Indeed, by his own affirmations, Nothing is Socrates wisdom.
Nothing is the subject of the speculation of the great Zeno.
Nothing is higher than heaven, nothing is beyond the walls of the world.
Nothing is lower than hell, or more glorious than virtue.
… Jean Passerat, nothing poet, and I don’t mean that judgmentally.
[clip from “The Three Amigos”]
“Do you know what the word ‘nada’ means in all those Mexican movies you made? “Isn’t that a light chicken gravy that…” “It means nothing, zero, zip! It’s what you’re going to have once I’m through with you!
Bob Dylan: This is Theme Time Radio Hour where we’re talking about nothing, nada. We’re talking about the goose egg, zilch, zip, and nought.
If you are going to say nothing, you ought to keep them sweet, as our next artist is going to tell us. This next record was written by Ronnie Self, who you might remember from my “Dog” show. He did that song called, “Ain’t I a Dog?” But he also wrote this next song for Brenda Mae Tarpley, who recorded as Brenda Lee.
[Background: “Brenda Lee” Chuck Berry]
Bob Dylan: Now Brenda was only 4’ 9 and when she opened in Paris in 1959, people kept writing letters to the newspapers because her press pictures showed this young girl in her school clothes. Nobody could believe that such a big voice could come out of a little girl. But her manager had the great idea to start a story, which ran in the French newspapers, that Brenda was actually a 32-year-old midget. Brenda and her manager denied the story publicly, but it was still great publicity for her.
Here’s that big-voiced little gal, Brenda Lee.
[“Sweet Nothin’s” — Brenda Lee]
That was Brenda Lee and “Sweet Nothin’s”. In 1990, a miniature rose was named for Brenda by the American Rose Society. It’s a yellow rose with pink or red edges, and it’s smaller than other miniature roses. It’s kind of a miniature miniature rose.
We got nothing else going on, so I wanted to check to see if we got some e-mail. Let me just pull one out. This is from Bill Shield in London Ontario. Bill writes: ‘Dear Theme Time, I really enjoy your show. A couple of weeks ago you played a country song about a couple who wasn’t getting along. Could you tell me the name of it?’
Bob Dylan: Well, Bill, you’re going to have to give me more information than that. That could be any country song. Bill continues:
‘I enjoyed the song because it reminded me of my life. I’ve been married for three-and-a-half years and my wife and I have spent three of them fighting. We’ve been to couples counseling, we’ve seen mediators, we’ve gone to therapy. I’m afraid the next stop is lawyers. I love her, and I want to stay with her. Do you have any advice?’
Bob Dylan: Well, Bill, first of all, let’s say you do get divorced. You can start writing country songs. If you don’t want to change careers, and you want to stay with her, I do have one piece of advice. I call it “The Theme Time Radio Hour Silent Treatment.” Here’s whatcha do…
The Theme Time Radio Hour Silent Treatment
[music] You and your wife sit in a room. Just look at each other, and nobody says nuthin’. Just keep quiet. Eventually you’re gonna want to talk. Don’t! This is where most people make their mistake. The frustration works its way to the surface, and whatever you say will just make the other person angry. Keep quiet awhile longer. Look at the other person. Remember why you were with them. Finally, you’ll know it’s time to talk. When you remember how much you missed them, the silence you hear is what your life will be like without them.
Bob Dylan: Sometimes it’s important to just take the time to remind yourself why the other person is there. I guarantee you it’ll work.
There you go. You got Freudian therapy, Jungian therapy, Reichian therapy, and now “Theme Timeian” therapy. You know which one my money is on.
All my advice should be taken with a grain of salt. I know a little bit, but truth be told when it comes to knowledge, I got plenty of nothing and here’s Frank Sinatra to sing about it.
[“I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” — Frank Sinatra]
Bob Dylan: Franks Sinatra. Got his gal, got his song, got heaven the whole day long. Indeed. That’s from George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s, “Porgy and Bess.”
George Gershwin wrote 700 pages of music for “Porgy and Bess” and Ira and Dubose wrote the lyrics. According to Gershwin’s biographer, he never quite ceased to wonder at the miracle that he had been its composer. He never stopped loving each and every bar, never wavered in the conviction they had produced a work of art. “Porgy and Bess” was a slow starter, but it ultimately had staying power. The story of Porgy, Bess and Sportin’ Life on Catfish Row is still performed to this day. Songs from it, including “Summertime” and the one we just heard, have become standards.
Bob Dylan: I was at Staples buying some yellow legal pads and I ran into Amy Sedaris. I told her about this week’s show, and she told me something you got to hear.
Amy Sedaris: When it comes to doing nothing, like tanning to me is nothing. I really like to just lay out on the beach. When we were growing up, we had a tanning contest and whoever got the darkest, you got a a emollient cream sash and we would set up the main bedroom as the emollient center and everyone contributed their lotion, you know my family. And then each night we were all responsible for some kind of entertainment. So I might teach you how to side tan, you know, but nothing to me that tanning’s not… It’s, it’s pretty boring. But I can do that. Just lay around and act like your bones leave your body, that kind of feeling.
Commentary — The Sedaris Family Tanning Competition
It would have been interesting to learn how Theme Time’s celebrity commentary segments came about, maybe with Eddie G. sending out emails to his comic buddies, “Hey, Bob’s doing something about “Nothing.” Want to contribute a 30-second schtick? Give me a call.”
Some of the commentaries sound spontaneous, others not so much. Amy Sedaris’ segment falls somewhere in-between as a riff on a routine that she’s performed more than once. As seen in the video clip, she was still doing a variation of the “Sedaris Family Tanning Competition” some seven years later on the “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show.
Bob Dylan: Thanks Amy. I first heard this next record when it was on a compilation called “God Less America,” and that’s about all I knew about it. Here’s Harry Johnson with a song about a bar fight, “It’s Nothing to Me.”
[“It’s Nothing to Me” — Harry Johnson (Sanford Clark)]
Bob Dylan: That was Harry Johnson, ‘” Ain’t Nothing to Me.” Always enjoy a song with a story attached. It’s like getting a two-for-one. And he makes a good point. Mind your own business! You don’t have to get involved! You don’t know the whole story! Before you go jumping in, take a moment, look at the situation. Ask yourself, ‘Will I really be making this better?’ I guarantee ya, nine times out of ten, the answer is, ‘Nooooooo!’
Commentary — God Less America and It’s Nothing to Me
Our Host was right that there’s nothing to know about “Harry Johnson.” And that’s because there is no “Harry Johnson,” even though that’s the name of the artist listed on the “God Less America” compilation. “It’s Nothing to Me” was performed by Sanford Clark, a rockabilly guitarist and protégé of Lee Hazlewood probably best known for his 19 and 56 hit “The Fool,” a song Mr. D. played in Season 1 on the “Fools” episode, remarking at the time, “I always thought it was one of the best Elvis Presley records that Elvis never made.”
Lee Hazlewood was looking for someone with a distinctive voice to record his song, “The Fool,” and Phoenix guitarist Sanford Clark fit the bill. “The Fool” was originally released in May 19 and 56 on the local MCI (not to be confused with the conglomerate) record label. “The Fool” was credited to a “Naomi Ford,” Lee Hazlewood’s wife, probably because then-radio deejay Hazlewood was worried about someone pointing out that playing a song on his show that he had also written and produced stunk a bit of payola.
As it turned out that wasn’t a concern, as the 500-copy MCI release of “The Fool” sank without a trace, and Sanford Clark began delivering soda pop in the Phoenix area to keep body and soul together. Luckily, a Cleveland disc jockey thought the song deserved a second chance if it could get some decent distribution and passed it on to Dot Records. Dot called MCI and cut a deal with Hazlewood. Sanford Clark signed with the Dot label, which re-released “The Fool.” By August 19 and 56 the song had hit Number 7 on Billboard’s pop charts and sold more than 800.000 copies, proving once again that we all deserve a second chance.
Sanford Clark wouldn’t release “It’s Nothing to Me” until 19 and 67 when he signed with Ramco Records after an uneven career over the past decade with not much luck past “The Fool.” Clark cut “It’s Nothing to Me” as part of a session that produced 12 singles, including a remake of his only hit.“It’s Nothing to Me” was released as the A-side of a Ramco single backed with “Calling All Hearts.” As with most of the singles Clark produced in his career, “It’s Nothing to Me” didn’t do much of anything. Clark had one more shot at a hit when he was the first to record Lee Hazlewood’s “Houston” in 1964, but Clark’s single was overwhelmed by Dean Martin’s version. Although keeping one foot in the music business, by the 1970s Clark was making his living in construction and as a blackjack gambler before retiring. He passed away of COVID-19 at the age of 85 in 2021.
“It’s Nothing to Me” has even more of a Theme Time Radio Hour connection than Sanford Clark. The song was written by one “Pat Patterson,” a pen name of Leon Payne’s, author of the very weird “Psycho,” which Mr. D. mentioned in an aside during the “Luck” episode of TTRH, “… a song about a serial killer [that] never got a lot of airplay but has become quite a bit of a cult favorite.”
Payne wrote hundreds of songs during his career, and apparently — like all good country music writers — had something of a soft spot for murderers, at least in song. He probably wrote “It’s Nothing to Me” sometime around 19 and 56. A year later it was published by Lee Hazlewood’s Gregmark Music and first recorded by a member of Lee Hazlewood’s Phoenix music mafia, Loy Clingman, on the Liberty Bell/Dot labels in February 1957.
If an artist recorded “It’s Nothing to Me” between the late `50s through the late `60s, you can pretty much bet that artist had some connection to Lee Hazlewood, who evolved from deejay to a music impresario best-known for his work with Duane Eddy during the fifties and Nancy Sinatra in the sixties. “It’s Nothing to Me” would also be covered by Hazlewood acquaintance Buddy Long on the Demon label in 19 and 59, and more successfully by The Coasters in 19 and 64, who would use their comic version of the song, “T’Ain’t Nothing to Me,” to reclaim a slot on the pop charts after a string of unsuccessful releases.
Recorded live at the Apollo Theater in 1963 and featuring a clowning interchange between two of The Coasters, “T’Ain’t Nothing to Me” would be #64 in the Hot Hundred in April `64 and climb to #20 in the R&B charts over a 10-week period. The Coasters were managed at the time by Lester Sills, Lee Hazlewood’s partner and co-founder of Gregmark Publishing.
Let’s see: Sanford Clark, Nancy Sinatra, The Coasters, Leon Payne… all played or mentioned on Theme Time Radio Hour. All these things tie together, as Mr. D. would say.
Why “It’s Nothing to Me” is credited to Harry Johnson rather than to Sanford Clark is easy to explain. “God Less America” bordered on the bootleg, compiling material both in and out of copyright, but studiously avoiding paying royalties on anything. As well as “Harry Johnson” “God Less America” also tags at least one other artist with a pseudonym to avoid eagle-eyed legal beagles. “Drunken Driver”, as lugubrious a tune as the title suggests, is credited to “Grandpa Joe,” although in reality it’s a 19 and 54 Ferlin Husky recording.
Bob Dylan: Will Durant once said one of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.
[Clip: “Nothing is not really very much. I hate to even think about it. Does it annoy you? I fear nothingness. What can it do? There’s so little of it. There’s none of it. How can nothing do something? Nothing can do everything. Think about nothing for a while. I can’t. Why not? There’s nothing to think about.”]
Bob Dylan: We’ve had Peter Wolf on the show a couple of times. He’s always fun to talk to and he makes great records. This is from a record he made a couple of years ago from the “Sleepless” album, and he’s got a little bit of help from his friend, Mick Jagger. He has nothing but the wheel.
[“Nothing But the Wheel” — Peter Wolf (with Mick Jagger)]
Bob Dylan: Pete Wolf, with a little help from Mick Jagger, “Nothing But the Wheel”. Staying clear of the interstate, seeking out those old two lanes. Pete, I know just how you feel.
There’s a lot of famous road trips. There’s Lewis and Clark. Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac made one. Ken Kesey took a bus full of people. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda made “Easy Rider.” One of my favorites Is the one Michael Paterniti made. He drove in a Buick Skylark across the country with the doctor who performed Albert Einstein’s autopsy. There was a third passenger in the car, well kind of, it was Albert Einstein’s brain, which the doctor had kept for more than 30 years. The brain was in a Tupperware container and Paterniti bonded with the dead scientist and had many conversations with him, at one point having the Tupperware container on the pillow next to him as he slept.
There’s lots of stories about famous brains that were kept after the owner’s death. Some people say they saved JFK’s brain and somewhere the frozen head of Ted Williams waits for the day when science can grow him a new body.
I wonder if the new body will bat righty or lefty?
Commentary — Road Trips and Missing Brains
Ken Kesey’s road trip with The Merry Pranksters, which included King of the Road Neal Cassady as bus driver, is documented in Thomas Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.” And as weird as the story sounds, Michael Paterniti did go on a cross-country road trip with an 80-year-old pathologist and Albert Einstein’s brain to deliver the brain to Einstein’s bemused granddaughter. Paterniti wrote about the trip in a 2000 bestseller, “Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain.”
Speaking of weirdness, JFK’s brain disappeared from the National Archives in 1966 where it had been stored since Kennedy’s autopsy. Various theories have speculated that Bobby Kennedy had it taken to protect the family’s privacy; that the brain was stolen so that at least part of JFK’s remains could be buried at sea in accordance with his wishes; or that it was misplaced and then accidentally moved to a storage area in Mar-a-Lago, Florida many years later.
The location of Ted Williams brain — or at least his head — is known; his frozen corpse and severed head have been stored in a cryonics facility in Scottsdale, Arizona since Williams’ death in 2002.
Einstein, Kennedy, and Williams are just three of many famous people whose brains or skulls were collected for dubious purposes. The Moscow Brain Institute displayed the brains of Lenin, Stalin, and Sergei Eisenstein in a “Pantheon of Brains” until 1989. Austrian composer Joseph Haydn’s head was stolen from his grave by thieves who believed that they could decode his genius by studying the skull’s shape and size. And the skulls of Geronimo and Pancho Villa reportedly now reside at the Skull and Bones secret society headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.
Luke Wilson: Hi, this is Luke Wilson. You’re listening to Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan: Marie Magdalene Dietrich Von Losch was born in Schöneberg, Germany in 1901. During the 1920s, she worked in the German theatre and film world and broke out internationally when she appeared in the “Blue Angel,” directed by Joseph van Sternberg.
She became an American citizen and worked really hard in the war effort during World War II, recording anti Nazi propaganda in hrer native German. She received the Medal of Freedom and the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. She started making records in the ’50s. Some of them being backed up by a very young Burt Bacharach.
She was very supportive of Burt. Backstage at the Edinburgh Festival, 50 fans were waiting for her. They all were asking for her autograph, and she said, “you don’t vant my autograph. You vant his.” This is back in 19 and 58, before anyone heard of Burt Bacharach. Here’s a song of hers from 19 and 54, though it was heard more recently in the soundtrack of the film “Fight Club.” Here’s Marlene Dietrich.
[“No Love, No Nothin’” — Marlene Dietrich]
Bob Dylan: What can you say about that? Just fab..ulous. “No love, No Nothin” on the Columbia record label, back when there was a Columbia record label. Marlene Dietrich.
Commentary — Der Blonde Engel
Dietrich never used the “Von Losch” surname of her stepfather — who never adopted her — and where the crack TTRH researchers got that factoid is a mystery. Refusing to make any reference to his day job, Our Host neglects to mention that Dietrich did one of the earliest covers of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” in 1963, releasing a 45 backed by an orchestra directed by Burt Bacharach with an arrangement by Hans Bradtke, the German composer of the original version of “Summer Wind” whose name Dylan mangles in the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour.
Bob Dylan: Here on Theme Time Radio Hour, we were talking about nothing. Laozi Tao Te Ching said, “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds what we want.” The idea of nothingness is central in Zen Buddhism. Zen is the mystical school of Buddhism. It’s not really a religion, there’s no God to worship, no ceremonies, no heaven. It’s all about the understanding and the attainment of nothing as the path to both spiritual peace and deep understanding. This is the nothing of potential, the empty vessel waiting to be filled, because only in nothing is there room for something.
I’m reminded of the Zen Buddhist who went up to the hot dog vendor and said make me one with everything.
Here’s a native of Monroe, Louisiana with his one big hit. But as we always say, a song this good, you only need one. Here’s Toussaint McCall playing organ and singing “Nothing Takes the Place of You.”
[“Nothing Takes the Place of You” — Toussaint McCall]
Bob Dylan: That was Toussaint McCall, “Nothing Takes the Place of You.” One place where nothing takes the place of U is in a game of Scrabble, especially when you’re stuck with the “Q.” But luckily, there’s about 20 words where they’re legal to play in Scrabble that can be made without a “U. “Here’s a couple of them you might want to have in your back pocket. And listen! Until I tell you otherwise these can all be pluralized.
“Qat” is the leaves of a shrub which could be chewed like tobacco or used to make tea. “Qindar” is a sub-unit of Albanian currency. QWERTY is a type of keyboard named for the order of the letters on it. And perhaps most exciting for Scrabble aficionados, is one of the five new two letter words that were recently added to the dictionary. Not only does this word only have two letters, but one of them is Q and the other one isn’t U. The word is “Qi.” It’s a variation on chi, the circulating life energy thought to be inherent in all things. The only drawback is that it cannot be pluralized. I’ll see you at the tournament.
Bob Dylan: This is Theme Time Radio Hour, and we’re talking about “Nothing.” Let’s go to the phones. Oh, they’re all lit up. Why don’t I just try this one. Hello caller, you’re on the line.
Caller: Hi Bobby! I am listening to your show about “Nothing,” and, uh, boy! It’s perfect for me because I have nothing going on right now in my life.
Bob Dylan: Well, it’s not fair to say that.
Caller: Well, it’s my life, and I’ll tell ya, there’s nothing happening. But, uh, I just wanted to say, y’know, Mose Allison did a great song called “Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues,” and I’m wondering if you could play that one.
Bob Dylan: Oh, we’d be happy to.
Caller: Sometimes I feel like that’s just what I got: nothing but the blues, man.
Bob Dylan: Well, thanks for calling, and we’re going to get it on for you right now.
Caller: Okay, thanks so much and, uh, by the way, “q-o-p-h” is also an acceptable Scrabble word.
Bob Dylan: Thanks a lot for calling.
Caller: All right. Bye bye.
Bob Dylan: Well, I can’t believe she’s got nothing going on. If nothing else, she’s got great taste in music. Here’s Mose Allison, doing the Duke Ellington song, “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues”
The unnamed caller is evidently a Jewish Scrabble scholar, as “qoph,” ((ק the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, representing the oneness of God, is indeed listed in the “Official Scrabble Players Dictionary” as one of the few acceptable “q without u” words. Interestingly, so is “sheqel,” a variant spelling of “shekel.”
Just to disappear completely into our own navels, Mr. D. could have replied with the three Hebrew letters, “Shin, Qoph, Resh,” to the heckler who cried out “Judas,” during the infamous Manchester concert. The letters spell Sheqer, which is the Hebrew word for a lie. As Wikipedia notes, it would be akin to an English speaker saying, “That’s a L-I-E.”
[“I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues” — Mose Allison]
Bob Dylan: That was Mose Allison, “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues.” By the way, the word “ain’t” first appeared in English in 1778. It evolved from an earlier word. “an’t,” “a, n. apostrophe t,” which was from about almost a century earlier. It was a contraction of “are not” and “am not.” It’s from the same period of time when words like don’t and won’t became part of the vocabulary. Some of these contractions came under criticism in the 1700s, people thought they were low class and devaluing the language. Don’t and won’t became perfectly acceptable. But ain’t was like its poor cousin. It was considered a vulgarism. But no matter how they tried to stamp it out, it’s like a weed. And more and more people are using it. People use it in place of is not, has not, have not and many other phrases. Perhaps because people use it for all these negative terms is the reason why people view the word itself in such a negative manner.
There’s no good alternative for the word. “Aren’t I” is perfectly acceptable, but it seems somewhat illogical. And “am I not” seems overly formal and fussy. So until they find a better alternative, I ain’t going to stop using it and neither is Mac Curtis, who’s going to tell us all about something that ain’t nothing but rght.
[“That Ain’t Nothin’ But Right” — Mac Curtis]
That was Matt Curtis, little bit of rockabilly on a label usually not associated with rockabilly, but they had a few good ones, Syd Nathan’s King label, out of Cincinnati. Let’s listen to a little bit of Syd addressing the troops.
Syd Nathan: Don’t forget. We’re in the Midwest and we are not contaminated by New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. Godspeed. Let them do what they want to do. That’s their business. King, however, and their village are my business, and I’m gonna see that they run to the best of my ability. The day will come when I have passed on and maybe King will be better for it. I don’t know. But I’m gonna wait because I don’t have any contract with God.
Bob Dylan: Ain’t that something. King Syd on Theme Time Radio Hour.
[Clip: “They don’t mind nothing, don’t want to do nothing, nothing, nothing at all.”]
Bob Dylan: If you only know our next artist from the big hit he had called “My Toot Toot” you’re missing out on some great swamp blues. Rockin’ Sidney, playing harmonica and guitar, sang all through the South in the late 50s and early 60s, Floyd Soileau who ran the legendary Floyd’s Record Shop down in Ville Platte Louisiana signed him to his first record label, Jin Records. Sydney returned the favor by giving him this lovely hit. “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine” Here’s Rockin’ Sidney.
[“You Ain’t Nothing But Fine” — Rockin’ Sidney]
Bob Dylan: Sounded like me playing harmonica. Short and with a steady beat. That’s Rockin’ Sidney on the Jin record label, “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine” here on Theme Time Radio Hour.
We got time for one more and this is the late Townes Van Zandt. He’s in pain, live, with this song about nothing. As a matter of fact, it’s one of Elvis Costello’s favorite Townes Van Zandt tracks of all. Here’’s Elvis was talking about it.
Elvis Costello: Nothing is a very difficult subject to talk about. One of the most chilling songs I know, so about a frame of mind that I’m sort of glad I’ve never been in. And I suppose that sometimes it’s one of those songs that’s a little bit hard to even listen to because of that, but beautiful nonetheless. “Nothin’” by Townes Van Zandt.
[“Nothin’” — Townes Van Zandt]
Bob Dylan: There was “Nothin’” by the late Townes Van Zandt. By the way. Alison Krauss recorded this one on a record that T-Bone Burnett produced. This is Theme Time Radio Hour and unbelievably, we spent the whole hour talked about nothing. We’ve learned nothing and we’ve accomplished nothing and I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed it.
Seems every show we find a quote by Benjamin Franklin. He sure was a smart guy and he had something to say about nothing. It was, blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed. We’ll be back again next week. And with any luck we’ll talk about something. We’ll see you then.
[Background: Theme from “Top Cat” (underscore)]
Pierre Mancini: Thanks for listening to Theme Time Radio Hour with your host, Bob Dylan. Produced by Eddie Gorodetsky and the associate producer is Anita Fitzgerald. Continuity is by Eeps Martin and the editor is Damien Rodriguez. The supervising editor is Rob Macomber. The research team is Diane Lampson and Bernie Bernstein, with additional research courtesy of Lynn Sheridan, April Hayes, Callie Gladwin, Terence Michaels, Shawn Patrick, and Matthew Nelson.
Robert Bower was the librarian and the production coordinator was Debbie Sweeney. Special thanks go out to Randy Ezratty, Coco Shinomiya, Sampsons Diner and Lee Abrams. Tex Carbone was our Director of Studio Operations. Recorded in Studio B, the historic Abernathy Building, built in 1848. It’s a Gray Water Park production in association with Big Red Tree. This is your announcer. Pierre Mancini speaking. Don’t miss next week’s show. It’s all about Something.
“Nothing” is up in my Top 5 of favorite TTRH episodes, and another one (in a group including “Friends & Neighbors,” “Baseball,” and “California”) that I’d recommend to anyone wanting the best of the show’s 100+ episodes. “Nothing” has got a little bit of everything that made the show great — music spanning genres from Broadway to the streets that you’re unlikely to hear anywhere but TTRH; emails and phone calls; Def poetry; weird facts and trivia; plus Helpful Advice from Your Host.
It also shows a few seams in the TRRH production of interest to people like me who like a glimpse behind the curtain. Mr. D. gets some minor facts wrong, not unusual when you consider that Theme Time was moving at hypersonic speed to get a weekly show out the door. And those obsessive enough (again, like me) to keep track of the credits will be amused that the Associate Producer with the ever-changing name has become “Anita” Fitzgerald, perhaps standing in for her sister, Nina. It’s also nice to hear that hard-working Tex Carbone has been promoted from studio engineer to Director of Studio Operations. You deserve it, Tex.