A few years ago you may remember a record, Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, which T. Bone Burnett produced by pairing unused Basement Tapes-era Bob Dylan lyrics with new music written by Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Jim James, Taylor Goldsmith, and Rhiannon Giddens.
Well, when that project was being put together, I was approached about jumping aboard. I was pretty into the idea. Mermaid Avenue was a very similar project, and I loved the challenge of writing music to accompany finished lyrics that border on holy writ. I asked if I could see some of the lyrics before I made my decision, and I ended up getting about 20 pages of Dylan-penned lyrics in various stages of completion. Super cool!
Unfortunately this was all happening around the same time Susie was getting her cancer diagnosis and beginning treatment. There was no way I was going to leave home for the required month of Big Pink-inspired recording in California. But since I had the words in front of me and I love Dylan, I couldn’t resist writing and recording a whole album with the lyrics I had access to, even if they wouldn't end up being used on the album. I still had a great time doing it.
All of this is to say I have a whole album of Dylan lyrics set to my tunes that might never come out. But I got to do it, and today, I have fun listening to it. Why am I telling you this now? Because the music here was originally written to support one of the Dylan pages. But the words you’ll hear are mine. At some point I just liked the tune and was bummed I didn’t get to share it anywhere, so I wrote some new words. And to add yet another layer of cannibalistic song craft, most of these words were recast against different music on Ode to Joy.
Hear the song in the video above.
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White Wooden Cross (demo)
A white wooden cross
By the side of the road
Once someone lost
I did not know
I thought about what would I do
If a white wooden cross meant I’d lost you
I asked myself how would I let go
A thought appeared like morning dew
And all the blood in my heart ran cold
As these sad ideas passed through
Now tell me, tell me, tell me no lies
Is it stranger to live or stranger to die?
I thought I knew the perfect truth
The moment we’re in no thicker than skin
For a fire to never burn or a world to never end
One would never love or ever jump in
And for all the space where I am not
So much more out there than where I am
I stand in my place and take one shot
And blow my horn for the whole band
This Week In Wilco, Etc.
1999 / March 9: Summerteeth is released on Reprise Records. Wilco plays the Roseland Ballroom in New York City the same evening.
2021 / March 11: On The Tweedy Show episode #157, Jeff debuts a new song titled “Tunnel at the End of the Light.”
2001 / March 12: Gary Louris from the Jayhawks is a guest in Jeff’s solo set at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN for two songs, “Please Tell My Brother” and “Radio King.”