In a very special show, the Storytelling Project interviews the founders of the legendary Composition Blues Band, the group that has taught us just how much of Rock 'n Roll has descended from the powerful and often traumatic experience of the writing process. We get the story behind their recovery of the true lyrics of classics by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and many more, and to hear them perform some of their biggest hits. Tune in to hear the amazing stories behind the writing and rewriting of rock 'n roll and classics—how "Johnny Be Good" started as "Rhetor be Good" and how Dylan's anthemic chorus in "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" was originally "Everybody Must Use Modes"—and learn about their new, international project, a re-examination of the Old Testament that reveals just how much its writers, and indeed the entire culture of the period, wrestled with the writing process.
Sure the Rolling Stones could write songs about girls, but could they write songs about writing? Their hit "Wild Horses", as the Composition Blues Band tells us, isn't about love. It's about writing a research essay.
Many rock and roll songs have a spooky prescience. Mick and Keith could reference the internet before it was even invented. The Composition Blues Band talks about what they call the Cosa Nostradamus effect.
Bob Dylan, while he was writing the folk songs that made him famous, was at the same time earning his degree in Rhetoric and Composition at NYU. When he was first asked to direct a writing program, he was still a formalist, obsessed with the rhetorical modes. This is a song about that.
The Composition Blues Band takes their exploration of the hidden roots of rock outside the English canon. Because when it comes to the universal experience of rhetoric and composition, language is no barrier, as this song shows.
Interview, Part Three: The Future of the Composition Blues Band
The forms of composition are found in the great creations of mankind. For example: the pyramids. But is the essay more like a proper pyramid, or an inverted pyramid? The general to the specific, or the specific to the general? It's an argument that has roiled civilizations from the beginning of time. The Composition Blues Band takes on this and other controversies in the last part of their interview.
Rock legend Ritchie Valens had a monograph about commas in progress at the time of his unfortunate death. Born out of trauma, but rising above it, this last song is a testament to the power of music, and the deep role that composition plays in all our lives.
The Storytelling Project is supported by the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Stanford Introductory Studies, Stanford Continuing Studies, and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric.