“Mary…Had…A…Little…Lamb…His …Fleece…Was…White…As…Snow,” as recited by Thomas Edison, and perhaps the very first recording of a human voice for at the very least the first instance of recorded verse. Edison himself did the recording, and therefore the first recording artist. I have several editions of this recording on different formats. 12” vinyl, 78 rpm recording, wax cylinder, CD, DVD, and MP3. Recently I did spend an afternoon to listen to all formats and came to the conclusion that the MP3 is the best recording of Edison’s version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” For one, it didn’t skip. The best version of the song that I keep in my collection is Bob Dylan’s live recording of the song in 1964. Someone in the audience yelled out “Mary Had A Little Lamb” as a request. Dylan retorted back “God did I recorded that? Is that a protest song?” The answer to both questions is a strong yes.
The nursery rhyme written by Sarah Josepha Hale, which is based on a true incident, is about a young girl, Mary Sawyer, who one day, takes her pet lamb to school with her. Or perhaps her pet lamb just followed her to the classroom. Nevertheless the teacher insisted that the lamb be placed outside the classroom, where the animal lingered outside the window, and waited patiently for Mary to appear. It is perhaps the first animal rights song ever, and also deals with the right of a student to bring something important, and therefore have that dream crushed by one’s teacher. God knows, this happened to me on countless occasions in my life as an elementary school student. It’s a powerful piece of work, and I’m moved by both Dylan and Edison’s recording of this song. Hale lived long enough to actually hear the Edison recording, and it is ironic, since it is about an animal, yet Hale was one of the key figures to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. On a certain level, she is responsible for the murder of millions of turkeys over the years. Nevertheless, history usually has a sad narrative.
About two years after Dylan sang and recorded “Mary Had A Little Lamb” my father got a phone call from his friend Allen Ginsberg, requesting if he could meet Dylan at his hotel room and drive him to a location where he can get a reel-to-reel tape machine. He never met Dylan, but he liked his music, so he said “sure.” It was around 11 in the evening, when he went to his hotel room on the Sunset Strip. He knocked on the door, and Dylan opened the door himself, and was holding a book by Henri Michaux, a writer that my father admired greatly. Dylan asked him if he minded taking him to the Byrds rehearsal studio, because someone in the band mentioned that they have a reel-to-reel tape machine on the premise. Dylan told my dad that he just got a copy of his new album, and he stupidly forgot to get a tape machine for his hotel room.
As they’re were driving slowly in traffic on the Strip, people noticed Dylan in the car, and at least twice, they tried to get into the car, but my dad reached out and locked the door. He later provided a description to me like it was insects or bees being attracted to the honey. You see one, and then all of a sudden a whole tribe of the insect shows up, trying to suck on the honey. Dylan was slightly freaked out, but it seems he has gone through this a lot, so he laughed it off.
Once they got to the Byrds studio, Dylan got very serious, and told my father, “whatever you do, don’t leave me here alone.” My father had no intention to abandon Dylan to these wolves in their den. Once they both walked in, it is almost as if an electric bolt struck that room. It could have been David Crosby, but it seems like he went up to Dylan and said “Baaaa. Baaaa.” This struck my dad a tad odd, but he kept quiet, and Dylan didn’t bother to introduce him to the band. Perhaps this reason alone, he felt uncomfortable and feels he had to move on. Dylan was engrossed in some sort of conversation with the others, but my dad went up to him and said “later.”
When I saw my dad the next morning, he told me the entire narrative of that night. There was no way of finding out if Dylan waited for my father to pick him up, or he forgot about it, but the window of opportunity closed, and they never met again.