Sunday, June 15, 2008

Footwear: Boots of Spanish Leather

Bob Dylan: Boots of Spanish Leather


Nanci Griffith: Boots of Spanish Leather


Martin Simpson: Boots of Spanish Leather


There's been a Bob Dylan song in almost every single theme we've attempted here on Star Maker Machine, but those of us who appreciate his iconic songwriting know there's no such thing as too much Bob Dylan. Hence, Dylan's neo-traditional ballad of separation, loss, and fine Spanish footwear, with the boots in question the final request from a left-behind lover who, after thrice refusing material possessions, finally asks for the memento as a signifier of his acceptance that he will never again have what he truly desires.

Call it cavalier or callous, the power of those final three verses, spoken by the remaining narrator after the dialogic "other" has faded from the song, are undeniable. In fact, I believe the song is one of Dylan's most powerful and enduring -- and for a man with such a canon, that's saying a lot, indeed. But then, I'm not alone in this assessment, which I share with no less an authority than the Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th edition, which included the lyrics to this song in a section titled "Popular Ballads of the 20th Century."

That said, it may be sacrilege, but as someone who has gone on record as preferring Dylan the songwriter to Dylan the performer, I genuinely prefer both of today's covers to the original 1964 performance from Dylan's seminal work The Times They Are a-Changin'. Nanci Griffith's genderbent countryfolk take is more plaintive and delicate, as her songs are wont to be; master guitarist Martin Simpson's version is more mystical and poignant, revealing the song as less neo- and more a true traditional folk ballad from across the sea. Each, in its own way, hits the gold standard of coversong, subjectively speaking: though there are a dozen or more covers of this one out there, it is these two which, for me, transformed the original song from something decent into something truly great, more than worthy of its inclusion in my own high school English Lit textbook.


Divinyl said...

And the short list takes another hit... ;o)

Although, to be fair, I don't think I have the song by anyone but Dylan and you do it far more justice!

boyhowdy said...

Thanks, D. I hereby forgive you for taking on the Elvis Costello.

This may be one of those themes where, once we get the obvious choices out in the first half of the week, the real hidden gems have a chance to shine. Even with bwr's above post on Paul Simon's classic (I had covers of that one, too), I've got at least one more obvious one on tap...

Anonymous said...

My vote goes to the Dylan version. But I really love most of his singing styles.

Nice boots picture, by the way.

boyhowdy said...

As I looked for images for this post, I discovered that "spanish boots" are generally a type of riding boots - practical, though stylish, and used for both horse and motorcycle travel. Spanish leather, meanwhile, is known for being especially supple and comfortable. Knowing that adds a nice layer to our understanding of the song, I think -- he's not just asking for a tourist's token, he's asking for something of real value that will help carry him away in style. The question of whether his request comes too late, of course, remains open.

Hopefully, the picture -- real Spanish Boots, of real spanish leather -- helps set that context .

Divinyl said...

Yep, plenty left on the list. And no-one's posted the most obvious one yet!