Of all the artists who grew up in the fertile Greenwich Village folk scene of the sixties, Karen Dalton is somehow in the shadow of well-established stars like Bob Dylan, Joan Boyce and Pete Cigar. This is not due to the lack of effort of Dalton’s friends and fans.
In the years following his death in 1993, he released two studio albums – 1969’s It’s hard to say who is going to love you the most And 1971’s In my own time – has been reissued multiple times, and several posthumous collections of his home recordings are now available. Dalton has been named as influenced by many of today’s musicians who fall under the umbrella of people.
Even after all this, Dalton is still an unknown entity to many and even those who have forgotten are trying to keep the listeners of the world connected to music of all shapes and sizes. Like friends and film producers Robert Yakovitz and Richard Pitt, deep in a heavy folk music episode, were drinking in Brooklyn and wanted to dial some of Dalton’s work into the bar’s digital jukebox. “We were able to find Fred Neal and Tim Hardin,” Pete recalls, “but not Karen.”
Towards the end of that night, two men decided to revise Dalton’s historical record by making a documentary about him, bringing to light both his music and his life story of suffering. They planned to complete it in 12 months and dust it off. “It was six years ago,” Pete joked.
Finished documentary Karen Dalton: In my own time It is finally being released in theaters on October 1. Like the music of its content, the film carries a calm energy and an infinite honesty. Anchored by plenty of archival footage, photographs and journal entries (read in Dalton Acolyte Angel Olsen’s voiceover), Dalton’s portrait can be seen in various shades of light and dark.
Dalton was an emotional firebrand who calmed his inner ghosts through his addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was a strict Scrabble Oak who was married twice and had two children before moving to New York in the early twenties. Most importantly, he was an extraordinarily talented artist, whose core elements and the presentation of blues and Lokman – all filtered by the smoky tangle of his voice – made people breathe a sigh of relief. As Neil once said, “All I can say is that he can definitely sing outside the blues.”
For all the disturbing stories told by Dalton’s daughter Abralin Baird and colleagues like Peter Stampfell and Lacey J. Dalton (no relationship), the documentary is ultimately celebratory, with an unusual emphasis on music. At one point, the narrative closes as a song by Dalton plays out in its entirety. According to Pete it was a bold choice but felt necessary.
“By not getting Karen to be interviewed, we wanted to get her voice as much as possible,” Pete said. “You sit down with the songs and really feel them and listen to him and let him be a part of it.”
Unusually, the filmmakers chose to include only a few interviews with modern artists talking about Dalton’s superiority. The cuts were made by someone including Vanessa Carlton, a member of Deer Tick, and Nick Cave, who spoke of listening to Dalton’s “Something on Your Mind” when he was driving and moving so much, he had to pull. “I was in tears,” he told the camera. “Listening to this song, I really felt a kind of change in myself. It really changed how I looked at music. And I think Bad Seed has been trying to write that song for many years.
As important as these insights were, Yapkovitz said, he and his partner deliberately chose to keep those interviews “to a minimum”.
“We never wanted it to be something that was just a bunch of musicians who didn’t know Karen. We wanted it to be about people who really know him.
That said, some of those people proved elusive. Dalton’s son initially showed some enthusiasm for the project and wanted to appear on camera, but the filmmakers were haunted. Although their white whale interview was Bob Dylan. The venerable Icon was an early supporter of Dalton, acting with him during his first reign in the village of Greenwich and in the first volume of his memoirs. Chronicles, Described him as a guitar-like voice by Billy Holiday and Jimmy Reid.
“We asked Bob Dylan about 15 to 20 times,” Pitt smiled at the memory. “We have a friend who works with his manager, so we had a direct email. He was very responsive and very honest. ‘Bob doesn’t really do that kind of thing.’
This documentary may ultimately raise Dalton’s profile to a level of recognition and earn him the praise he deserves for a long time, but it also reveals why he has long been a tough sell for some people. Partly, it’s music. Dalton’s trembling voice and harsh gaze could ring in the wrong ear. An editor who reached out to filmmakers as potential collaborators was excited about the project until they sent out some music. “He was,‘ By no means. I hate it, ”Pete recalls.
There is no release in Dalton’s story either. He played as much as he could in the music industry, including traveling to Europe with Santana in the early 70’s. However, he refused to bow to the will of the industry and let his pressures weigh heavily on him. As his intoxication gripped him tightly, he retreated to the surface of New York and fell from there. In his final years, he was diagnosed as HIV positive and finally died in 1993 of an AIDS-related illness.
Comfort will come when new fans will be introduced to Dalton’s work and those who already knew and loved him will understand more deeply where he came from and how it made his music haunted and bright. At the very least, PT and Yapkowitz are happy to hear the film’s response from Dilton’s family and loved ones – especially Karen’s daughter.
“When we first started the project, Rob found out where [Abralyn] Worked and called him, ”Yapkots recalls. “We said we wanted to do a documentary on your mom, and she said, ‘It’s never going to work. No one can do it. No one wants to see a movie about my mom.’ Now she’s proud of the movie. She’s social. Posting about it in the media, we were ready for the challenge, he said, people have tried and failed, it wants to do more for us.