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“Positively Wall Street” — National Lampoon Lemmings Soundtrack

August 9, 2010

Anyone who has read my other blog (http://thedornblog.wordpress.com/) knows that I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan and also a satire enthusiast.  This week my musical selection merges both interests.  I think—as a Dylan fan—you’ve got to appreciate a well-done Dylan parody, and this is one is hilarious! 

Based on its pedigree, it should be.  Back in the early 70’s, National Lampoon was a monthly magazine that “regularly skewered pop culture, the counterculture and politics with recklessness and gleeful bad taste.”1   Needless-to-say, I read it religiously (sacrilegiously?). 

In 1972, National Lampoon put out a comedy album called Radio Dinner.

One of the tracks was a spoof of a commercial for a K-Tel-style compilation album.  On it, a 24-year-old actor named Christopher Guest impersonated Dylan pitching a record called “Those Fabulous Sixties.”  Guest would later play Nigel Tufnel (the guitarist whose amp goes to 11) in This is Spinal Tap and write/direct/perform in a series of comic faux-documentaries including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind (in which he played a member of an early 60’s era trio called The Folksmen). 

In 1973, a comedy revue called National Lampoon Lemmings opened at a nightclub in Greenwich Village; the second half of the show was a mordantly funny send-up of the Woodstock Festival. 

The cast featured John Belushi (including an early incarnation of his Joe Cocker imitation), Chevy Chase (savaging John Denver), and Guest.  He did a take-off on James Taylor called “Highway Toes” as well as co-writing and singing the Dylan parody spotlighted here.  Besides being hysterical, it gives you 2 very different Dylan voices—one circa Highway 61 Revisited and one circa Nashville Skylinein the same song. 

So… stand inside my shoes and give a listen to “Positively Wall Street.”

Okay… commenting about a song containing the line “I’m up to my knees in cow shit” may well put me in that same situation, but here goes.  The lyrics (by Sean Kelly), while humorously contrasting the so-called “voice of a generation” with the mellow “Country Pie Bob,” also parallel comments Dylan would make 11 years later in a Rolling Stone interview: 

“I’d also seen that I was representing all these things that I didn’t know anything about… It was all storm-the-embassy kind of stuff—Abbie Hoffman in the streets—and they sorta figured me as the kingpin of all that.  I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just a musician.  So my songs are about this and that.  So what?’  But people need a leader.  People need a leader more than a leader needs people, really.  I mean, anybody can step up and be a leader, if he’s got the people there that want one.  I didn’t want that, though.”2

To which some people would respond “Boo-f___ing-hoo.”  Anyway, taking what Dylan says in an interview at face value is risky business.

Another irony in this parody is the prescient reference to Jesus—but enough with the literary criticism BS.  Check out this clip from a grainy video of Lemmings, featuring “Positively Wall Street.”  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS83HGHU934

The opening segment, with Belushi as the stage announcer, brings up that Frequently Asked Question:  Why did Bob Dylan, who lived in Woodstock at the time, not perform at the Woodstock Festival?

A.  He had an exclusive contract with the promoters of the Isle of Wight Festival that forbade him from appearing at any other festivals that summer.3

B.  He and his family were scheduled to sail to England (for the Isle of Wight Festival) on the ocean liner QE2, on the day Woodstock started.  While boarding, his son Jessie hit his head and lost consciousness; the ship’s doctor wouldn’t take responsibility for him, so they disembarked, took him to a doctor in New York City for treatment, and then flew to London.4

C.  He didn’t want to be home when 300,000 baby boomers “dropped in.”5

Answer:  D.  All of the above.

Fun Fact:  Christopher Guest is a British peer (The Fifth Baron Graden-Guest of Saling, England) and actually served briefly in the House of Lords.6

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Lampoon_(magazine)
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self_Portrait_(Bob_Dylan_album)
  3. Howard Sounes, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (Grove Press, 2002) p. 250
  4. Ibid., p. 251
  5. Ibid., p. 249
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Guest
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From → The 1970's

3 Comments
  1. Jim Laffan permalink

    Dorn: Thanks for the memories. But the past is with us, late and soon. I went to a wedding last Friday where the best man read the entire “Desiderata” to the congregation. And all I could hear was the sober, earnest voice of a guy imitating Lawrence Spivak intoning the Deteriorata: “A walk in the ocean of souls would scarcely get your feet wet… You are a fluke of the universe.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJJBtmhRRl8&feature=related

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