Waiting in the valley of all creation…

Sometimes the fates align and everything is as good as it should be. For a couple of weeks I have been looking at this record, trying to decide whether or not to buy it. Deep down I knew that it was going to happen but well occasionally I make good decisions.

Then in the midst of a week of listening to nothing but Biograph by Bob Dylan it struck me that there needed to be balance. Yes it is good to challenge yourself with meaningful lyrics, dense vocabulary and protest, and sometimes it is just time to get out of it with one of the most intense space rock outfits ever.

So I finally acquired Live 1982 by Hawkwind from the Choose Your Masque’s tour.

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This was the tour I saw Hawkwind nine times in about two weeks. Nik Turner was back in the fold farting his unique brand of sax playing and it was a crazy out of control show, lights, coffins and roller skates along with Turner’s bizarre neon spike of a hair cut. Most importantly though for a 16 year hawkfan there was blanga, that moment when the guitars, synths sax and drums merge into an almost spiritual drone, yes it is not the Space Ritual but it was loud and insane and for us that was enough.

It is a truly beautiful package as well.

 

 

 

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Blog Dylan: February 9th 1991…

Thanks to Danica at Living a Beautiful Life for organizing Blog Dylan, here is something I have been thinking about for awhile and this seemed like a good time to get the thought out.

Two things happened on February 9th 1991, Liverpool beat Everton 3-1 and Dylan played the Hammersmith Odeon. I am sure there had to be more than two things but I led a very shallow existence at the time, some things have not changed although I hope I have more depth nowadays. My wife says that I still have no depth around Liverpool games or even for that matter Bob Dylan.

I had tickets for both but had to choose, so my Uncle Robbie got to see the reds victory and I got to hitch hike to London from Liverpool. The mission was to see my friend Dave who had moved south and was working in London and go to the famed Hammersmith Odeon to attend my first Dylan gig.

This was the culmination of my Dylan journey, from reluctant listener to full on concert attending semi-fan. It had been a rocky path. Dave had done his best, trying as hard as he could to convince me that Dylan was worth the effort. He made me watch Don’t Look Back late into the night, he force fed me Zimmy’s performance on the Last Waltz. He read aloud from the lyric book, played me album after album, got me drunk, high and tired so many evenings playing Dylan to me. It just never clicked.

UnknownEventually he gave up on his all out assault apart from one night when I had to finish a paper on Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in 1986. In preparation I had gone to the pub all day, this seemed so obvious, how better to appreciate the two major poets of the Great War other than drunk, to think and take notes. At some point Dave walked in and I was reciting Anthem For Doomed Youth stood on a table to the applause of the bikers and metal heads in the Wilsons bar on Wood St. while Motorhead blared out of the juke box. This is how I like to remember the moment. Dave more truthfully perhaps says I was about to be throttled as I mumbled vague anti-war statements in the corner describing Lemmy’s bass playing like the roar of the barrages on the Somme.

Realizing my academic life was in jeopardy, and if this happened I would have to get a job and no longer be available for his hare brained schemes, he lured me into a cab with Bob_Dylan_-_Biographthe promise of further excess and fed me fruit cake and tea until I was able to think again. Then he sat me down, gave me his copy of Biograph by Dylan, the Penguin Owen and Sassoon and locked me in to write.

Those five albums of Dylans collected works arranged in some sequence that only made sense to Dylan focussed my mind as I managed to scrape together enough words to scrape a C+ on the essay. Thus saving my academic career and allowing me to live a life of excess on the government dollar for another year, yes this was the days of full grants and living expenses that the witch Thatcher was determined to end.

This collection had a profound impact on my dehydrated brain. As I said Dave had done his best to initiate me into the secrets of Dylan with little to no success, I had remained immune to the disease. However a small germ lingered on waiting to infect me.

It may have been the randomness of the collection that sucked me in. I am however still to this day struck by the incredible run on side 2:

  1. The Times They Are a Changin’
  2. Blowin’ In The Wind
  3. Masters of War
  4. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  5. Percy’s Song

All of this resonated with me as I struggled writing my report on Sassoon and Owen, the themes of alienation and the fact that the chips are stacked in favor of businesses and the war machine and the rich and don’t ask the judge to help. I realized at this point that Dylan was not just necessarily a songwriter, he was a voice not of but for the underdog. The empathy, compassion and rage in this side alone got me to the end of the paper. It also made sense in parallel with other music I was listening to at the time, Billy Bragg, Roy Harper, The Home Service and The Levellers. There was a thread of righteous indignation and a stance for change through humanity. They also had the same faded rolled up Levi’s in common, a fashion statement I continue to hold onto to this day much to my wife chagrin. “Why wear shrink to fit?” she cries as I begin the process once again, “it’s the jean of Dylan, McQueen, Bragg and the Boss” I proclaim as I pull on slightly wet jeans and defiantly roll them up.

The box set is very much weighted to the famous songs but there are incendiary live performances of Isis, Romance In Durango and the real treat and the song that haunted me for years, Visions of Johanna from the Royal Albert Hall in 1966. I must have played this one song three or four times on that first night. Years later I was talking to a friend about how I didn’t get Dylan until I heard Biograph. He smiled and nodded and asked if I had seen him live yet?

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So I told him about February 9th 1991.

Sometime in December 1990 I got a phone call from Dave asking if I would come to see his hero Dylan at the Hammersmith Odeon in February, he was masquerading this invite as a Birthday present for me. Without thinking I agreed. As the day drew closer I noticed the conflict on the calendar, actually being super organized it was three days before the event. This was the time before cell phones, the internet and instantaneous communication. I had arranged to meet Dave in Trafalgar Square at 5pm on the 9th and now it was the 6th. Dave lived in a house with no phone and his girlfriend Lesley had no way of contacting him apart from the arranged phone call weekly that was supposed to be after the gig. She helpfully let me know he was planning on coming north on the 10th, this was however  a day late and I was going to be with him.

I could at this point make a decision to screw with my best friend and not turn up but go to the derby game, or give my ticket away and hitch to London and see the gig. After a long night tossing and turning I decided to hitch to London and be done with the ethical dilemma. Robbie may have been an advocate for this decision as well seeing as how he would benefit the most. My uncle Robbie picked up his ticket and dropped me at switch island to start the long hitch to London at 7am. Three truck drivers and their dirty jokes and a car full of Rastafarians later I arrived at Trafalgar Square, a little grizzled and smelling none too savory.

Dave refused to tell me the score and we proceeded to prepare for the gig in a jubilant buoyant mood. Drinks and things were imbibed and comestibles ingested we were ejected from many southern pubs as we loudly made our way to Hammersmith. Weaving our way through the usual crowds of any major city. This was not another gig, this was the gig that Dave insisted would change my life. How he new this so firmly I have no idea as this was Dave’s first Dylan gig too.

imagesOn entering the hallowed ground were No Sleep ‘Till Hammersmith had been recorded we spent time star spotting. Dave Stewart was over there, is that Seal and Eric Clapton and I swear we saw a Stone or two.

Being poor Dave could only afford two tickets at the upper most nose bleed balcony. We settled in next to a pale young woman who had her program in a protective plastic cover and had arranged her notebook with a red and black pen on her lap to take notes. She slid further away from us as we sat. Being friendly Dave asked if he could see the program, as if it was possible she got even paler and looked a little sick and fearful. She never did let us look at the program.

Dave pulled out his hidden half bottle of scotch and we got comfortable. The pale girl did accept a few sips and relaxed a little as we got ready for the gig ahead.  There was I have to acknowledge an air of expectancy in the air, a tension that was palpable, the knowledge that something was going to happen that would be memorable.

The great man wobbled on stage and proceeded to destroy his back catalogue. How his voice screeched and croaked, his guitar may have been slightly out of tune and it was only by the second verse you could figure out which song he was singing, the band appeared to be having the same problem. There was an arrogance about his stance, his practiced sneer and his seeming indifference to the band and audience. He walked on stage as if he owned it and every other stage he might inhabit. He at times looked as if he was arguing with himself under his own breath, maybe deciding what to play next.

Briefly this small crazy haired nasally dandy captivated the audience and despite the many short comings he was frankly brilliant. His stumbling presence was such that you new you were in the company of a musical giant. It was almost as if he was so secure in his own ability he knew he could just fuck with the audience however he wanted and was going to get away with it. The man was a legend that night, seemingly coked out of his mind and somewhat the worse for wear on the Never-ending Tour.

At this point I finally got Dylan, he really didn’t care what you thought he was just going to do his thing and you could come along if you wanted but don’t expect any help. You had to get there on your own. At some point I found myself holding the hand of the pale girl next to me all in black as she leaned over and told me this was her second night and she was here for the whole run. This seemed to be an almost religious experience for her, at one point she was shaking and crying, I’m not sure if they were tears of joy or tears of rage but they made her mascara run. She reminded me of those girls at the front row of a Beatles show screaming the name of their particular hero. She diligently took notes, some songs in red others in black, at times she feverishly erased lines to replace it with the correct song title. Hopefully she is out there blogging her experience.

If I could have found or afforded tickets I think I may have stayed for that whole run of shows as well. At one point in my mind me and that pale girl followed Dylan on the Never-ending tour, keeping track of songs and keys they were played in. We recorded his mumbled introductions for posterity as this was surly the most important thing that could be happening in the 90’s. Eventually we became confidantes of the great man, we knelt at his feet and supped form his brilliance. Then he played Wiggle Wiggle and all was well with the world. The pale girl pulled her hand out of mine and I took a slug of the scotch.

Since that night I have bought Dylan albums gone to shows and listened to the bootlegs, apart from that one show on Feb 9th 1991. Maybe it wasn’t as amazing as my memory says it was and in no way do I want to shatter the memory.

After the gig we found a pub, what else do you do to decompress. The pale girl came too mainly to watch the show that was unfurling before her as Dave and I bickered and argued and fought about the gig. In the smoky corner of a bar near the venue we found a clique of Dylan fans talking about the gig. Gleefully we joined in the conversation until the immortal line was spoken by a floppy haired youth in an aran sweater and a donkey jacket with a voice straight out of PG Wodehouse: “At one point he used his voice in the way Charlie Parker blew his horn.” At this point Dave stood up gleefully smiled down at the callow youth and declared in a voice that had been heard across a packed dockside bar; “Charlie Parker has never sounded like an asthmatic goose you wanker…” The pale girl ducked and made herself look small, we grabbed our jackets and ran as the Dylan cognoscenti rose as one to face the heathens in their midst. We stumbled towards Kensington laughing until we reached Hyde Park and sat smoking next to the Serpentine. The only company being the homeless, the drunks and the ducks and swans. Breathing hard we laughed feeling the joy of a night of friendship music and hedonism.

At some point we managed to get back to Hounslow to stay in Dave’s truly awful flat. Leaning back we groaned and played Street Legal and Desire until the neighbors complained at which point we switched to the Grateful Dead.

Every time Feb 9th roles around I play Street Legal and think of that long ago crazy day when I missed the game but caught Dylan during his most erratic phase. My fear is if I ever hear the gig it will suck, it’s better in my memory along with that strange pale girl, I hope she enjoyed her remaining shows and they did not continue the trauma it seems we were intent on causing for all around us. I like to think we were just carrying on the tradition of the Beats, in reality we were just two drunk young men going to the gig, I like to think Zimmy would approve.

Nine years later I leaned against the bleachers at Portland Meadows as Dylan played Mama You Been On My Mind, I held my youngest son Ben and laughed at the thought of how far we had come in 9 years Bobby and me. He looked healthy and spry with a band that was rocking. I was sober and healthy with three kids and a beautiful wife. 6000 miles away Dave was married to Lesley and had three kids and according to Lesley did not listen to much music, for some reason this makes me sad.

Dylan, he still managed to demand the attention of every person sitting, standing or stumbling and even the baby. He then moved into Country Pie and I smiled and settled down to enjoy the show, I looked around and sitting cross legged not far away was a pale girl with a notebook and black and red pens taking notes and smiling. Not the same girl but I guess Zimmy attracts a certain type of crazy.

A couple of years ago I heard Dylan played the Liverpool Empire, at the end of an harmonica solo he threw his harp to the crowd. Allegedly some wag threw it back with the shout: “Learn to play the damn thing Bobby.” I have no idea if this is true but I want it to be.

The set list is here from Feb 9th 1991:

https://www.bobdylan.com/date/1991-02-09-hammersmith-odeon/

Portland Meadows is here:

The Liverpool game is here if you are interested:

Lost in the cartoon…

On the tour in 1973 around the time Tonights the Night was recorded Neil Young would walk to the standing lamp on stage pull the switch and mumble the line “welcome to Miami beach ladies and gentlemen…” He would repeat this occasionally throughout gigs. Towards the end of the gig he would mumble and now to play you something familiar, as the band launched into Tonight’s the Night which had opened the gig, prior to this the audience had been inundated with the unfamiliar and the gut wrenching songs.

The set list from Manchester was:

1. Tonight’s the Night  2. Mellow My Mind  3. World On a String  4. Speakin’ Out  5. Albuquerque  6. New Mama  7. Roll Another Number (For the Road) 8. Tired Eyes   9. Tonight’s the Night   10. Flying On the Ground Is Wrong   11. Human Highway  12. Helpless   13. Don’t Be Denied.

You can download it here: Neil Young and the Santa Monica Flyers, Manchester 1973

At the wonderful Aquarium Drunkard website.

Tonight’s the Night is an album I read about in the Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone interview before I had ever heard it. The idea that during a listening party for Homegrown, Young played Tonight’s the Night and decided to release the rougher of the two appealed to me then and still does. Perhaps we will get Homegrown as part of the archives.

“But by listening to those two albums back to back at the party, I started to see the weaknesses in Homegrown. I took Tonight’s the Night because of its overall strength in performance and feeling. The theme may be a little depressing, but the general feeling is much more elevating than Homegrown.”IMG_7641

He has called Tonight’s the Night an O.D. letter without the suicide. It seems more a group of friends grieving, as he says “playing Bruce and Danny on their way.” If Time Fades Away is Young laying in the ditch watching the world go by, Tonights the Night is him crawling his way out of the ditch to stand at the side of the road again. It’s not pretty crawling through the rotting vegetation and shit to get out of the ditch, but sometimes you have to get in there to get somewhere else.

Songs of dissipation, drugs, junkies, booze and comfortingly enough becoming a new mother. The album’s songs are sandwiched between two versions of Tonight’s the Night, maybe the ultimate drunk jam. It all just kind of shuffles along aimlessly in a bumbling good natured way like the mumbling drunk you meet walking down the edge of the ditch. Some of the stories may be harrowing but they are related to each other like the fragments of conversation with that drunk skipping form tale to tale as the neurons short circuit in his brain. Images from the edge of your eye as you nod off in the corner before raising the bottle again. It’s all very familiar to someone who has ever got themselves in too deep at any time, lost on the highway trying to get home.

I remember getting the album after reading that interview. I thought this was going to be some almost revelatory spiritual experience. The album had become something bigger than it really was, a legendary thing. When I finally sat down to listen I realized that while it was a tough listen what made it difficult was that there was so much emotion in every track and for most of us that loss and loneliness is at times very familiar. It was the first time I had really listened to anything were everything was just put out there. It’s a brave album, a scary album and somehow familiar.

The unnerving thing about Tonights the Night is not so much that it documents Young’s grief it is that it somehow documents all our grief. Even if we are not that millionaire rock star from Topanga Canyon we all know loss and fear and guilt. We just usually don’t get to sit down with our pals and document it, maybe if we did then shit wouldn’t hang around the way it tends to.

Let’s face it while it’s a harrowing ride, the band don’t look to bummed out.

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Son don’t be home too late…

Time Fades Away, the first of the famed Ditch Trilogy.

Damn the whole thing looks intimidating, a crushed rose on the edge of the stage as the audience stands in the murk, all of them looking in different directions, one lone member raising the peace sign.

For years I used to look at this album in HMV on Church Street and not buy it, I would pick up something else but keep coming back to look at the album. In my mind it took on some sort of life of it’s own. I had never heard any of the songs but it followed Harvest and had Crosby and Nash on it, it had to be good. I probably bought twenty records while looking at Time Fades Away and then it was gone. For some reason I had a sense of loss about this. I never did get it though, until overwhelmed with the collecting bug it was the last of the 70’s albums that was needed and therefore had to be found.

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Time Fades Away is not a bad album, it’s  not a great album either when compared to After the Goldrush and Harvest that preceded it. It has in Don’t Be Denied Young’s most autobiogrpahical song and one of the more harrowing in Yonder Stands the Sinner and Last Dance is almost apocalyptic. Young dragged his band around the states self-medicating and howling into the wind seemingly determined to self-destruct at every turn. The audience apparently was as confused as the band at what was going on. Between grief, anger and Tequila Young determined to make a document fo the tour.The inclusion of Crosby and Nash did not bring any sweeter harmonies just more volume and a sense of disaster in their vocals. The end of the album is particularly harrowing with the repeated “Last Dance” vocal coda plaintively echoing around the arena.

If you look at it as a document of Young’s descent into the abyss dragging his complicit band along then it makes sense. At the end of the tour Young abandoned this band and holed up with what was left of Crazy Horse and Nils Lofgren, Ben Keith and some others, calling themselves the Santa Monica Flyers  to record Tonights the Night and drink tequila. Drinking all day and recording into the small hours.

The album is a document of decline, the trilogy itself is the record of redemption, climbing out of the ditch not wallowing in the muck that collects at the side of the road. Time Fades Away in this way would be the rock bottom of the ditch were the beer cans and roadkill collect to decay. It’s were the winos and vagrants pick through the mess looking for anything that can be reused or is of any value.

Time Fades Away is a nasty, dirty album. The whole record like the front cover seems to have been recorded in a haze of smoke and sweat, the scent of tequila and weed permeate the whole thing. It’s the edge of the road, the ditch, a place of refuse.

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I’m wonderin’ if you’ve come home…

IMG_7490For the past 20 plus years I have been driving those American backroads mostly avoiding the ditch. This is kind of how I am feeling about Neil Young’s ditch trilogy, yes it is a trio of great albums, it is a document of grief, sadness, disillusion and excess, I am sure I will get to it eventually but isn’t it better to think about happy things especially when you have a 101 degree temperature.

The ditch is not somewhere you generally want to be.

So instead I listened to Crazy Horse with Danny Whitten in full flight in 1970 at the Fillmore East. Must have been quite a show with Miles Davis being the support. All Young saw fit to release was the electric set from this show. in an another fit of orneriness. It is Crazy Horse doing what they do best grooving along as Young meanders on his guitar. It is more focussed than the 90’s meanderings, from a time when young was not yet the jaded rock star he was to become in the middle of the decade with the CSNY tour.

The two long meandering songs Down By The River and Cowgirl in the Sand are the obvious stand outs. It is however the shorter songs Wonderin’ and Winterlong that show the versatility of Crazy Horse able to rock with the best but also able to sensitively back a great song.

So here I am not quite ready for the ditch but just skirting the edges. Enjoying the calm before the rough ride.

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It’s a message from an ancestor who lived a long time ago…

Some musicians are a genre unto themselves, some musicians see no boundaries, some musicians are a force for good in the world and some exemplify the word cool. Taj Mahal is all those things. He never disappoints live or recorded.

So here we have 1974 and Taj is out there covering his roots, reggae, funk, blues some proto-disco grooves (I just created that phrase right now) and folk music. Who gets to cover The Slickers Johnny Too Bad and Marley’s Slave Driver and get away with it and sing in at least three languages on one record? It’s the type of music that makes a middle aged white guy dance or at least nod his head contentedly.

It is also the coolest album cover I have seen in a long time.

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And you might see what a state we’re in…

The thanksgiving feast is put away. The leftovers are in bags in the fridge and naps have been taken and games played. Everyone has either gone to bed or gone to do what they want to do now the obligation of family has subsided.

It’s at this point my mind turns to the old country and sometimes the past. I remember struggling through the latter half of the 80’s in Thatcher’s England and the early 90’s before having had enough and setting out to find some space in the colonies as my Dad puts it. I was going to reach for some quiet gentle sounds from the past, Jansch and Renbourn, Pentangle, maybe Fairport Convention or the Albion Band or Steeleye Span. The thought of protest was in my mind after watching the news though so I thought I would reach for that most polite, beautiful and scathing of political folk-rock records. Alright Jack by the Home Service.

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Along with Billy Bragg, John Tams and the Home Service led the charge against Thatcher in the late 80’s. The music was beautiful, haunting and angry all at once. Bragg and his cohorts were one dimensional in comparison to the horn arrangements and scathing lyrics of the Home Service that was born out of the ashes of Ashley Hutching’s Albion Band. There is no greater protest song than Sorrow/Babylon, it’s a hymn to protest, decrying war, the rise of the corporations and the inhumanity of politicians. It is still relevant today which may be the shame, however when you realize that the section Babylon is a traditional song you understand the struggle seems to be endless.

So now we are heading further out into the Cascade foothills looking for that peace and quiet that age seems to call for, an acre of land maybe. My Dad has started to refer to this move as the old homestead.Of course at the moment that acre looks more like a scene from the Somme as we try and get ready to build.

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