Or, what do an 18th Century English antiquarian, an early 20th Century Indiana lawyer, Adlai Stevenson, Commander Spock and an obscure 1970s singer have in common?
K’naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame in 1978, is an amazingly talented Somali-Canadian poet, rapper, singer, songwriter and instrumentalist based in Toronto after surviving a harrowing upbringing in war-torn Somalia. He recorded the song above, a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side,” for a compilation album that came out earlier this year, Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years Of Amnesty International. K’naan’s version of the song, with substantially new lyrics, is fantastic, with his own desperate wartime childhood history woven into it. I’ve included the lyrics, below, side-by-side with Dylan’s original lyrics, and a stunning early Dylan recording of the song below. Enjoy.
|With God On Our Side (K’naan / Bob Dylan)||With God On Our Side (Bob Dylan)|
|It’s a movie and the whole world is viewing it
And the popcorn is dreams torn, but we’re always chewing it
The set design is by God but the costumes’ by the devil
And the screenplay is adapted from a book that’s embezzled
This is where I grew up
Oh my name it ain’t nothing; my age it means less
I was young; I grew. I could tie my shoe
Childhood came up for the kiss, but its lips was painted with mist
Now the Somali-American
I had an undying wish to keep from dying
The left was fighting the right
So now as I’m leaving
|Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.
Oh the history books tell it
Oh the Spanish-American
Oh the First World War, boys
When the Second World War
I’ve learned to hate Russians
But now we got weapons
In a many dark hour
So now as I’m leavin’
And for comparison, and because Mr. Dylan was just awarded the Medal of Freedom this week by President Obama, and because it’s such a great song, here’s a great live bootleg version of Dylan performing With God On Our Side from 1963:
As a Forgotten Nomenclature aside, the name shown on the video above, Elston Gunnn, was an early alias for Robert Zimmerman, before he changed it to Bob Dylan. Here’s the story told by Bobby Vee about the time that a young man named Elston Gunnn briefly joined his backing band, The Shadows:
“He [Dylan] was in the Fargo/Moorhead area. He was working as a busboy at a place called the Red Apple Cafe. We didn’t know that at the time. Bill [Velline] was in a record shop in Fargo, Sam’s Record Land, and this guy came up to him and introduced himself as Elston Gunnn–with three n’s, G-U-N-N-N.
“He said he heard we were looking for a piano player, which we were, and he said that he had just gotten off the road with Conway Twitty. Bill was blown away. ‘Man, how good can this be? This was as good as it gets!’ And went over to the radio station with him, over to KGFO, and there was this piano in the studio and auditioned him on the piano. He came back and he said, ‘He played pretty good in the key of C.’ We didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s all he could play in, was the key of C. I-IV-V in the key of C.
“So we hired him to come out. And he was a neat guy. He was friendly. I remember his dark, curly hair. We bought him a shirt to match ours and paid him 15 bucks a night, which was about what we were making. Went to pick him up for the show, and he didn’t have a piano. There weren’t a lot of piano players in our area anyway–there were mostly guitar players–but they had the little Wurlitzer pianos, and we just assumed he had a piano. He didn’t, of course. We took him to the gig anyway, and there was a piano there. It was terribly out of tune. He sat and he played that, and when he got lost he would come up and do background parts and do Gene Vincent handclaps. It was a trip!
“It was ill-fated. I mean, it wasn’t gonna work. He didn’t have any money, and we didn’t have any money. The story is that I fired him, but that certainly wasn’t the case. If we could have put it together somehow, we sure would have. We wished we could have put it together. He left and went on to Minneapolis and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. A couple of years later I was in New York in Greenwich Village. I was walking down the street. There was a record store there, and there was an album in the front window. And it said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Looks a lot like Elston Gunnn!’
“I probably plugged into him on the second or third album, and the stuff was really unusual. It was so far removed from what I was doing. Not long after that, I started listening to his stuff and really became a big fan.”
(Source: The Bob Dylan Who’s Who)
Now it’s clear that if Bobby Vee had had God on his side, Elston Gunnn may have made his career as a member of The Shadows. Oh well, you can’t always get what you want….