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Music at the intersection of newspapers and song

 Bob Dylan
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 4/7/2011

By Jonas Beals

These are trying times for the printed page. Now that we can carry computers in our pockets, who needs a daily paper folded under the arm?

I am partial to wrestling with newsprint in the morning, but I don't fear a digital future for newspapers.

I am, however, slightly concerned about what a lack of newsprint will do to the music I love. Many great songs were inspired by newspaper articles.

News can travel fast and far via a song, and nothing memorializes an event quite like a popular tune.

"Frankie and Johnny" (and its myriad derivatives) is one of the most-covered traditional American songs. The lyrics can vary, but the song is said to be inspired by a sensational 1899 murder by a jealous lover.

Not a bad way to get your news, right? Maybe not so timely, but you get the facts.

Or at least the gist.

More timely was Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." Lightfoot read a November 1975 Newsweek article on the tragic sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior just a few weeks prior.

A year later, Lightfoot had a No. 2 Billboard hit, and America learned that the Chippewa call it Lake Gitche Gumee.

The Beatles mined the daily news for a number of songs, including "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," which reportedly came from a headline on a gun magazine producer George Martin brought into the studio.

"A Day in the Life" not only mentions reading the news, but may have been based, in part, on a Daily Mail story about the death of London socialite Tara Browne in a car accident.

"She's Leaving Home" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an especially cinematic song that tells the story of a runaway girl and her distraught parents.

Paul McCartney said it was inspired by a 1967 front-page story in the Daily Mirror about a missing girl named Melanie Coe. She was found three weeks later.

The Beatles' take is otherwise fictional, but Coe later said that McCartney's description of her departure was not far from fact.

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JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: Black Dynamite Trio at the Otter House. Jay Starling, Toby Fairchild and John Buck doing their amazing weekly gig. Wednesday at 9 p.m. OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: TV on the Radio at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville. Their new album drops next week. Sunday at 7 p.m. LISTENING TO: "Troubadour" by George Strait. An argument against country music's perpetual youth movement.