Thursday, August 16, 2012

For a Song: Morning Dew

"In this last of meeting places // We grope together // And avoid speech // Gathered on this beach of the tumid river."   
T. S. Eliot  The Hollow Men

This the final installment in a somewhat tawdry Tim Rose trilogy.  This series, which I've now titled "For a Song" started with "Hey Joe" and "Dazed and Confused" and now continues with  "Morning Dew" The common thread that ties them all together is Tim Rose. Timmy (as Bonnie Dobson referred to him) was a gruff guy, who had a growling vocal style somewhat similar to Joe Cocker or Tom Waits (without any of their redeeming qualities or talent)

Tim Rose  was a rather obscure and minor figure in American music. A man better known for his plagiarism than for his music. Rose was a product of the early 60s folk revival, his first big break in music came as part of the folk trio The Big Three, which included Cass Elliot, soon to be known as Mama Cass of The Mamas & The Papas and John Brown. Rose had gravitated towards the trio (originally called Triumvirate) after the break up of his previous group Tim Rose & The Thorns (which included Jake Holmes, the man who wrote and originally recorded Dazed and Confused)

When The Big Three imploded over musical differences, (compounded by the secret marriage between Cass Elliot & Jim Hendricks, who had replaced John Brown) Tim Rose set out to establish himself as a solo artist. Rose became a fixture at the Cafe Wha? in New York City, which led to a multi-album recording contract. His first album "Tim Rose" released in 1967 contained all the songs he's best known for including the infamous duo of "Hey Joe" and "Morning Dew"

It's one thing to take cover songs and make them your own, it's another thing altogether when you start taking songwriting credits for material you didn't compose. Rose started playing a slowed down, angry version of "Hey Joe" shortly after The Leaves had scored with their hyperactive take on Billy Robert's song (credited to Chet Powers, who was actually Dino Valenti) Rose stated that he had learned "Hey Joe" as a child in Florida, and adamantly claimed that the song was traditional.

It was an old trick that took advantage of loopholes in U.S. copyright laws. The British were especially adept at taking songs written by Americans (African Americans in most cases) and claiming them as "traditional arrangements" to avoid paying royalties. If anything, Tim Rose was well versed on copyright laws. He steadfastly held on to his claim of authorship for "Hey Joe" Although, no evidence in the U.S. or elsewhere has been provided to support the claim.

This is the way the world ends  Not with a bang but a whimper.

Nevil Shute's 1957 apocalyptic novel "On the Beach" came out just as the U.S.  was starting to feel the first twinge of cold war stress. In 1959, Hollywood tried to cash in on the paranoia and unease by adapting Shute's novel to the big screen. It was a big production with big stars (Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins) directed by Stanley Kramer. The premise of Shute's novel was that mankind had been wiped out by nuclear war (started when Albania attacks Italy with nuclear warheads, which lead to a tit for tat round of nuclear retaliation) 

In Shute's unrealistic, almost comical novel, he surmises that the Soviets get blamed for the attack because their aircraft were used. The USA goes all fail safe on the commie pinkos, but not before Russia fires off a salvo of preemptive nuclear strikes against Red China. When it's all said and done the entire northern hemisphere is polluted by a killer cloud of radiation and hotter than a microwave burrito. With impending death slowly creeping to the southern hemisphere, we join our happy band of misfit survivors in the cultural capital of Australia... Melbourne, Victoria state.  

Ava Gardner is said to have described Melbourne as "the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world" The Aussies got all their knickers in a bunch over this, but the truth is.... she never actually said it. Some over zealous editor for the Sydney Morning Herald directly attributed the quote to Gardner after journalist Neil Jillett was unable to confirm or deny information from a third party source as they went to press.

There are people still alive in the southernmost outposts of civilization, and in Melbourne the locals have settled into an ordinary routine as they await the end of the world. A mysterious telegraph signal suddenly beams across the Pacific, it's tracked to  Seattle, Wa. (in the movie it's San Diego,Ca.) Hopeful that people are still alive in North America, the last U.S. naval vessel, a submarine that had been spared by a timely port of call to Melbourne is dispatched across the ocean to investigate. 

A theory espoused by Australian scientists that the radiation will dissipate before it reaches 'Oz is disproved by rising radiation levels at Point Barrow, Alaska. The submarine travels to San Francisco where one man jumps ship and is last seen taking up a fishing pole. The telegraph signal also turns out to be bogus, in conclusion... North America is devoid of life. The Naval men return to Australia to wait out what little time they have left. 

Oh, there's some romance and angst, but it all amounts to nothing. The automotive race organized by Fred Astaire's character, is worth the price of admission. Throwing caution to the wind, (because they're all going to die anyway) several of the participants are killed in brutal accidents.  And this folks is why they have restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, because every day is the last day on earth for those redneck fools and we need to save them from themselves. 

The well run socialist machine that is Australia hands out suicide pills and injections to all its citizens to spare them the horrors of dying from radiation poisoning. The American sub, attempts to reach American waters so that the crew may have their final wish granted, to die at home. Those left behind take their own lives, each in his own way and at their own leisure. "On the Beach" doesn't have a happy ending, it is after all an apocalyptic drama set in the months after World War III.

That was the national mood in 1960 when Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson, fresh off a singing engagement in Los Angeles decided to take in a screening of "On the Beach" The film made a tremendous impression on her, which she explained in an interview, "Particularly at that time because everybody was very worried about the bomb and whether we were going to get through the next 10 years. It was a very immediate problem"

She sat up all night talking with friends about the film and it's impact, once everyone went to bed she started writing the first song she had ever written.  "I'd never written songs and this song just came out and really it was a kind of re-enactment of that film in a way where at the end there is nobody left and it was a conversation between these two people trying to explain what's happening. It was really apocalypse, that was what it was about"

The song Bonnie Dobson wrote was "Morning Dew",  she elaborated on its meaning: "It was really about that film and the feelings, the fearful feelings we had at that time. And then things got better and then they got worse and we are where we are now. Actually I think that the song, if anything, is more of this time, of the present than it ever was then" Bonnie performed the song for the first time in her hometown of Toronto in 1961.  A review in the Toronto Globe & Mail stated that Bonnie had sang "a mournful dirge called Morning Dew" 

"Morning Dew" became part of her repertoire, the song however wasn't included on her first album "She's  Like a Swallow" (boy howdy! that could easily be misconstrued as a double entendre) A recorded version wasn't released until "Bonnie Dobson at Folk City" It was also included on a Broadside compilation set that same year. Jac Holzman, who had founded Elektra Records out of his St. John's College dorm room in 1950 and Nonesuch Records in 1964, contacted Dobson in New York City.

Holzman asked Bonnie "You wrote Morning Dew didn't you" to which Bonnie answered "Yes" Jac then asked if she had published or copyrighted the song. Dobson hadn't,  "cause I was quite a little dumb dumb actually in those days" as she put it.  Holzman informed her that "Fred Neil wants to record it so we would like to publish it." Bonnie would later elaborate on her oversight "I hadn't done it the way you're supposed to do things so it was somewhat in the public domain."

Tim Rose would later take advantage of that oversight to justify his claim that "Morning Dew" was traditional and thus fair game.  Fred Neil's version was the first cover of "Morning Dew" recorded and released in 1964.  Neil took the liberty to add some additional verses at the end and then in a stroke of genius changed the opening line from "Take me for a walk in the morning dew, my honey" to "Walk me out in the morning dew my honey", it made all the difference, a fact noted by Dobson herself.

Bonnie Dobson never once met Tim Rose nor even really knew who he was. Rose had heard Fred Neil, a reclusive man who disliked performing in public (much like Harry Nillson the man who made him famous) perform "Morning Dew" and as he was apt to do, decided to boost it for himself. In 1967 as Rose was preparing to record his first album, his manager called Bonnie to ask if she could write a couple of additional verses to the song, so that Tim Rose could record it.

Reluctantly, Dobson agreed and on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver she did just that, but with reservations.  She submitted the changes to Tim's record label and that was the end of it. A few months later when the album came out, much to Bonnie's chagrin no changes had been made, but  Tim Rose was now credited as co-writer for the song. Dobson was livid " I think what happened was there was no way we could not actually cut him in on the lyric because I had performed it and [then] published it.

Tim Rose had made no substantial changes to the song, his version was basically a copy of Fred Neil's.  Bonnie had a different opinion of Fred Neil's alterations " if we're really honest about this, if anyone is going to be credited as co-writer or co-lyricist it should have been Fred Neil because all Timmy Rose did was take Freddy Neils changes and add his name to the songwriting credit."  Through the years, Dobson has consistently questioned his right to a credit.

In the U.S. by the late 1960s, Tim Rose was fading fast from the scene, but in the U.K. he was still quite popular. In fact, Tim Rose had a large and loyal following in both England and Ireland.  In 1968, while his song "Roanoke" was getting some airplay in the UK, Rose was considered as a possible replacement for Brian Jones's place in The Rolling Stones. During that same period he toured the U.K. with back-up musicians that included John Bonham (on two separate tours) Aynsley Dunbar, John McVie and a host of others.

To add insult to injury, when Bonnie Dobson performed in England (1969) at Queen Elizabeth Hall, everybody praised her fine rendition of Tim Rose's song.  It seems that in England, Rose had received sole credit for writing the song which led to the misconception that he was the actual composer.  "I've written songs with other people and I have never claimed them for my own. I just think it was really a dreadfully dishonest thing to do" spoke Bonnie. Honesty or honor were never Tim's strongest attributes.

"I still get my royalty check, but I still consider it quite a grievous injury" said Bonnie. When Lulu hit the charts with her version of "Morning Dew" (it's quite good)  in 1967, there was a full page ad in Billboard, trumpeting her version of Tim Rose's great hit. "I nearly went crazy, but there was nothing we could do" recalled Bonnie Dobson. By the late 1970s Tim Rose was out of music and living in Hell's Kitchen, a slave to the bottle and far removed from his days of headlining concerts.

"Liquid Karma's gonna get you,gonna knock you right on the head. You better get yourself together pretty soon you're gonna be dead." But, then he lucked into a gig as a commercial artist (his best known jingle was for Big Red Gum, remember that one?) He turned his life around and even went back to college and earned his degree and started working as a stockbroker. In the mid-80s with the help of Nick Cave he got back into music and started touring again (mostly in the U.K.)

Tim Rose had just completed an Irish tour and was preparing to tour the U.K. when he died of a heart attack during an operation for a lower bowel problem in 2002. He's buried in London.  No more morning dew for you culero!  "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." and no, Mark Twain never said that, it's just that everyone thinks he said it. Just like Tim Rose didn't compose "Morning Dew" he just stole the credit for it.

Bonnie Dobson moved to England after making her London debut at Queen Elizabeth Hall, She subsequently performed extensively on the BBC and the ITV, recorded two albums and appeared throughout Europe in concert and on radio and TV.   In the 1970s, she virtually retired from the music business, eventually becoming the head administrator for the Philosophy Department at the Berwick College of the University of London.

Footnotes:  "'Walk me out in the morning dew my honey!' A burly cigar-smoking man, who looks like a drunken fairground barker, growls this command with incrementally increasing urgency over a strident bassline. Women are sickened by him, but they cannot resist his brutishly simple sexuality. In my dreams I am Tim Rose in 1967. In reality, it is 2006 and I'm a fat Morrissey." (Stewart Lee, comedian)

An interviewer quizzed Bonnie Dobson about the numerous cover versions of her song "Morning Dew" he named off the most obvious, Fred Neil, Tim Rose, The Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck w/Rod Stewart on vocals, Lulu, Nazareth etc.  Eventually he got around to asking about Devo's version:   (interviewer) "I believe there is also a version by Devo"   (Bonnie) "Oh Yea, I've heard that version. That is really bad! It is terrible actually, sorry about that boys, but it's really bad. It was pretty grim, that version"