this land that I live in has god on it’s side…

I just finally bought the first and third Dylan albums. There is some sort of sacrilege involved in that admission. I had the second and fourth. Go figure.

I have greater more shameful admissions in Dylan purchases this week. That may be for a different day though.

On that first album Dylan looks like the fresh faced school boy new to the big city. It’s a slight album. Full of naïveté and cover versions and a couple of Dylan songs. There’s a certain arrogance in the eyes though which is a little unsettling amongst all that baby fat.

Then we get to the third album which is a much more world weary exhausted and bleak album.

Dylan sneers down from the cover and looks like he’s seen the world and is not so sure about things anymore. The baby fat is gone and the half smile is a sneer.

The songs are all here protest, love, politics, self righteous anger and tenderness.

When the ship comes in is also here. One of the greatest songs Dylan ever wrote go non prove me wrong.

21st Century Dylan…I carry four pistols and two large knives…

Somewhere in the intervening years Dylan delved into the Christian Christmas songbook and what is generally considered the Great American Songbook.

I have listened to and thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas album, I have however avoided the Sinatra years. These are critically acclaimed albums and I should probably get to but I have to admit I come over all funny when I think about Dylan crooning his way through Sinatra classics. It feels a bit like watching your dad drunkenly warbling The Lady Is A Tramp during a holiday family party.

Rough and Rowdy Ways will be the soundtrack to the pandemic as far as I am concerned. There was a moment in March that coincided with the release of Murder Most Foul when I realized that shit was getting serious. I fought with Asda in the UK to set up online shopping for my mum. I had to convince Boots that I was in the UK so she could get her prescriptions delivered and connected with family members to ensure that someone was checking in with her, all to the soundtrack of Murder Most Foul, a litany of pop culture references a history lesson in popular music and conspiracy theories.

It fitted in with the mood of the times, it was apocalyptic and steeped in the history of the country and name dropped like a fool. It managed to distract and inspire, the internet fired up with explanations of what it all meant, it sounded to me like the ramblings of an old drunk sitting at the end of the bar as he philosophized and rambled his way through the crannies of his memory. It was simultaneously the most profound and ridiculous song ever. A nonsense poem for the times.

It was also long and lock down meant people could actually listen again for awhile it seemed. That time has past with the urge to get back to normalcy, as if we will ever experience that again.

Then from nowhere came I Contain Multitudes with seemed to offer another view of who Dylan was. The pandemic was beginning to rage and I wanted Dylan to take his guns and knives to the establishment and make them pay attention. It was a life all lived in song out there for all to hear. Then came False Prophet basically reminding us to doubt the man, or maybe acknowledge that he maybe knows who he is, he’s just not willing to show us.

Like all of the other 21st Century Dylan it’s an album addressing mortality and life and all the the other bits and things that go along with humanity. Lyrically Dylan steals happily from anywhere he feels like, warping meanings and twisting pre-conceptions, self referential at times and disdainful of what the fan wants it to be.

So now we are over six months into the most significant historical event I have lived through. It has shone a spotlight on my suspicion that profit is more important than people and that public health is not a priority in the country I chose to live in. This is a time when the truth is stretched beyond the boundaries of any form of belief, when opinion is more important than fact. It is a time that working people are more actively than any other time in my memory making decisions that are so obviously contrary to their best interests. It is a time when racism is praised and actively promoted by our leaders and lies more than ever are the currency of politics. A time of despair, fear and loathing.

Mother of Muses sounds like some alternative anthem to forgotten history:

“Sing of Sherman, Montgomery and Scott
And of Zhukov, and Patton, and the battles they fought
Who cleared the path for Presley to sing
Who carved the path for Martin Luther King
Who did what they did and they went on their way
Man, I could tell their stories all day”

When Dylan crosses the rubicon with us we realize that this is the end of something, a changing a time for renewal and rebirth, the old heroes are leaving and we need to find our own courage now.

It’s been a trying year and we are just over half way through it all. It would be easy to fall in line with the conspiracists that this is all about control. Life is simpler if there’s a conspiracy to believe in, we can then blame someone or something else for all our troubles. That way lies authoritarianism, racism, bigotry and hate.

Rough and Rowdy Ways grounds us in the pithy world of the shadows and doubts and hope that we can keep going.

It really is the soundtrack to the apocalypse, good luck people and be good humans.

At least the scoundrels in the songs are honest ones.

Because at the end of the day as Zimmy might say:

“I’ve never lived in the land of Oz 
Or wasted my time with an unworthy cause 
It’s hot down here, and you can’t be overdressed”

21st Century Dylan…I’ve got a date with a fairy queen…

Tempest was the album by Dylan I first streamed on Spotify. It felt like a betrayal to physical medium. I had already moved to an iPod and spent the best part of a year ripping CD’s and downloading album after album to hard drives and flash drives. I had a connector for the iPod on my stereo in the green 4-Runner. Everything in our lives was becoming digital and less fun it seems on reflection.

I struggled with Tempest in 2012, it seemed almost like Neil Young in the 90’s Dylan could pee on a snare drum and the critics would fall in line to praise. I was looking for new sounds in my listening and in reality finding more of the same. I was also heading towards fifty and struggling with that so did I really want another album being frank about age, mortality and the world at large.

It also has possibly the worst album cover ever, some badly photoshopped picture of a statue, I know this was all supposed to be dreadfully symbolic and meaningful. To me though it looked like some bad art project one of my children may have done at school.

Eight years later the album doesn’t sound so bad. Yes the title track is the weakest because it is dealing with a real life event and not really that well. The voice is beat, phlegmy and raspy and evil sounding at times. David Hidalgo is there with the accordion to underpin the melody and keep time. The songs are mean and brooding and heading for the underworld of life, violence, decay and righteous anger at the state of the world. The music occupies the some territory as earlier albums, rootsy and based in every Americana style available.

This was to be Dylans last original work for a long time, he was about to dive into Sinatra world in the same way as 20 years earlier he had jumped headlong into the Blues and Folk music of previous decades. Dylan it seems needed to replenish the creative juices by wallowing in the music of his childhood/youth, who knows really. In twenty years he’ll probably dive into disco or hip hop to get his shit together

Really I am overthinking this now.

trying to prove your conclusions should be more drastic…

So if you were going to historically make a great Dylan covers album there is in my opinion a formula.

It goes this way:

1 part jingly jangly guitars

1 part laid back swinging band

Refuse to be to reverent with the material and choose the hard tracks.

Plus a girl singer.

In this way you normally get early Fairport Convention.

However in the 21st Century you get Emma Swift and her amazingly glorious album Blonde on the Tracks.

So the new formula may be:

1 part 80’s quirky power pop punk psychedelic maestro.

1 part Nashville session players

Plus 1 Australian girl singer not afraid to do the hard songs.

There’s really only one way to figure out how great this album is and that is to take a listen. Produced by Wilco’s Patrick Sansone and featuring Robyn Hitchcock on guitar, the album covers everything from Byrds influenced jangle to folky strumming and Emma Swift has the temerity to cover Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

I have always enjoyed female singers covering Dylan much more than male singers. Women seem to feel more assured in interpreting the lyrics than men do, they also have it seems enough disdain for the arrogance inherent in the lyrics, women seem comfortable with Dylan’s musicality rather than his lyrical extravagances.

I’m done, pretentious sentence moment completed there. Go listen to the damn song.

21st Century Dylan…Well, life is for love and they say that love is blind…

Together Through Life entered the charts at #1, this is becoming a habit for the crotchety old pop star.

Lyrics largely written along with Robert Hunter lyricist for the Grateful Dead it is maybe the most lightweight of the 21st Century Dylan. Of course not everything has to be heavy man. Dylan’s pronouncement on the album was that his fans would like it, and he was right.

Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos join in with the touring band. The album musically retreads the blues/folk/rock feel of previous albums with less stylistic changes. It’s a pretty uniform album in that way. Dylan produces and the band take direction well so it all works out. It may very well be one of the most consistently sounding Dylan albums in a long time.

This however makes for the fourth good to great album in a run from Dylan. Unheard of consistency in many ways but not unwelcome. the 21st Century was not treating the old codger badly, love songs, songs bemoaning the fate of the world, road songs and feisty songs. Not a bad record in all. Even though it runs to a double album on vinyl it doesn’t feel bloated like some records of the time by his contemporaries.

Apparently it began life as a soundtrack album and then took a different direction becoming a full on album.

The final track is, It’s All Good which stands as a phrase of contempt, denial, anger, frustration and confusion at the state of the world, it is almost as if Vonnegut’s phrase of “so it goes” made it into song. Maybe in a year or two Dylan will write a song called “It is what it is” to memorialize the current state of events and the lack of leadership.

21st Century Dylan…We live and we die, we know not why But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down…

The 21st century revival meeting goes on with Modern Times, this may be my favorite Dylan album for the new century so far in my listening binge. It’s surprising it took me 14 years to getting around to buying it.

I was overcome with the completist bug and found myself late at night purchasing some Dylan gaps and this was one of them. This last few weeks I bought the records Tempest, Modern Times, Together through Life, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, I cannot really bring myself yet to buy Under A Blood Red Sky after the time I bought the cassette. Trauma is real. This was all brought on by the moment when I bought Rough and Rowdy Ways in the Barnes and Noble half price vinyl sale. We will get there eventually.

The album rolled through two sides of enjoyable late period Dylan, lazy blues, rocking blues, ripping off of other writers and that weatherbeaten voice, sometimes cracking an other times hitting a note or two. But always driving the song along.

Then came Side 3. and the knock out kick in the head moment, that Dylan guy can still manage to put out a great song. Working Mans Blues #2. It’s part protest part complaint and all empathy, Beyond the Horizon a song reflecting on age and love and then the closing punch of Nettie More. A song full of grief loss and struggle sung in a plaintive, demanding and consoling voice. During these strange times when empathy is so missing in the public forum in the USA to have Dylan expressing sorrow, love and concern is particularly jarring when interspersed with the news form CNN.

There is also the inevitable hindsight is 20/20 moment in Ain’t Talkin’.

“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through the world mysterious and vague
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ through the cities of the plague”

If there is an argument for Dylans continued relevance as a song writer it is on Side 3. of Modern Times.

Modern Times entered the US charts at Number 1. which for a 65 year old man was no small achievement. It is a truly satisfying album, contemplative in a way early Dylan is not. It is a reflective album even in it’s more raucous songs. If you have time to spare it’s worth reading some of the plagiarism arguments, everything from Ovid to obscure civil war poets and Muddy Waters. They are great songs and obviously there are influences, it’s almost as if Dylan was listening to a standard and then went in his own direction on some stream of consciousness riff of what the song means to him.

Right after Love and Theft I stopped going to see Dylan live, during the pandemic times as I sit in the plague lands I am regretting that decision. I also apparently stopped buying Dylan albums or even listening to the new ones any more. Again I am beginning to regret that decision.

As I gird my loins to head out into the plague lands to visit with my programs and keep staff moving forward I have been accompanied by these later Dylan albums. The sun beating down and the grass and greenery turning brown Dylan has kept me company with his gamblers and rogues along for the ride, his apocalyptic rasp of a voice just seems fitting to the strange times we are in.

21st Century Dylan…I’m no pig without a wig…

Love and Theft heralded in the real 21st Century for Dylan in Sept 2001, four years after his alleged resurgence.

Augies back on the immortal Vox organ, keeping the beat and laying the bedrock of what any worthy Dylanoligist sees as the real return to form for Zimmy. This much to the man himself’s amusement as he appears to think these scholars are kind of wacky to waste so much time thinking about him. So here I am thinking about Zimmy.

Dylan as usual rips off everything he has ever heard, dropping lines from songs, books and probably snatches of conversation overheard. Some call it plagiarizing, I kind of think it’s just that wicked brain up there putting stuff together the way I for sure can’t.

I remember buying the album and being terrified by the title of the first track, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, somehow it reminded me of Wiggle Wiggle in its name. I remember driving home and thinking have I just made a massive mistake buying this instead of a safer choice, this was at a time when every purchase may mean we ate macaroni again today. Thankfully instead of a vague attempt to write a sure pop song it is a dark study of Mardi Gras drunkenness and debauchery ending in death.

It’s an album of whores, gamblers, drunks and outsiders. It maybe hits just about every musical style America has given us, except for the stage musical, Dylan was saving that for later it seems.

“I’ve been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down.”

This line sums up the whole album, Dylan the rogue, the conman, the artist, he’s in trouble.

Now I got that out of my head the truth is it’s a great album, probably up there with the high marks of the 60’s and 70’s, of course that is entirely subjective and subject to change at a moment. I have managed to drive around with this album all week in the plague lands and it’s kind of fitting for pandemic times.

At the time Dylan had entered his 60’s and seemed to have mortality on his mind. He’s got nothing for us and he had nothing before. This is fascinating as the most interesting piece of the Dylan myth has been the impact he has on people, the fans, the friends and the business. He has managed to be totally involved in the “business” of Dylan and yet maintains his integrity somehow. It’s quite the feat.

The music is predominantly played by the touring band. It has a liveliness missing from Time Out of Mind, there is also the lack of the Lanois touch doer want of a better phrase. It’s a more immediate sound. Produced by Dylan himself.

21st Century Dylan…I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will…

The next great Dylan resurgence is upon us.

It all began way back in 97 with Time Out of Mind the Daniel Lanois produced return to form, after the 89 Daniel Lanois produced return to form of Oh Mercy. Yet the one recurring memory I have of Time Out Of Mind’s sound is the Augie Meyers organ  that pervades the album and let’s face it Augie perfected that sound before Lanois got out of  short pants.

So Time Out of Mind is the turning point, the return to form, the rebirth of the songwriting talent of Bob Dylan, or maybe the cocaine ran out, who knows?

IMG_3835.JPGEither way he seemed to have moved away from the idea that he needed to have a plethora of guests on an album to make it relevant and stopped trying to be a pop star and concentrated on writing songs.

This was after all after his two records of folk and blues covers, some see as a stop gap of dealing with the lyrical drought that is perceived as happened in the mid to late 90’s. Maybe it was Zimmy’s attempt to get back to the roots, a solo retreat to the Big Pink on some level, there was no Band around this time just our boy, his guitar and the songs he cut his teeth on on some level, the recorded version of his radio show. That was somewhere in the future.

It was also at some point in the never ending tour that he had perhaps managed to exorcise some demons. Who knows it would take a Dylanologist to come up with a good enough theory as the man himself is not forthcoming with any semblance of the truth.

So we have some theories that are not worth the virtual paper they are written on, and a record that puts Dylan back on some sort of track. It helped that grunge had happened and the need to sound relevant was passé, it was more important to sound authentic, of course in order to do this Dylan made with Lanois what many consider to be in some way his most “artificial,” as in the sound could not be easily reproduced live, album.

Add to this some near death experience with a rare and strange heart condition and you get all the elements of a come back.

I have now listened about three times this week to this album, in the car, sat on the couch and walking the dog. Each time I hear a new lyric, a turn of phrase a comedic moment, a moment of tragedy and at times horror. Each time the record/stream stops I feel like the album is just out of reach, I don’t remember the songs until they start and then they are like old friends coming to sit and sip whiskey.

Not dark Yet, Cold Irons Bound and Can’t Wait along with Highlands are the stand outs, it is however a remarkably consistent album. It was twenty some years ago and it seems old Zimmy is still in his third, fourth or fifth come back and started the new century early.

I remember sitting there as the Y2K moment came and went, listening to Time Out of Mind as I watched the fireworks around the world waiting for the lights to turn off. For some reason this was the CD I wanted to be stuck in the CD player when the world ground to a halt. No turntable in those days as I was along with most of the world enamored by CD’s, there was however a box of records under the stairs.

It’s hard to think that this record is now twenty three years old. When it was released Dylan’s career had been twenty five years. In those twenty five years he released twenty nine albums. In the last twenty three years he has released ten, how things have changed.

As the Y2K bug never appeared it was on to the 21st Century with Dylan.

you shouldn’t take it so personal…

Here we are in our sheltered places.

I am in some sort of fog, wandering around and picking things up placing them down and moving on to the next thing. It’s sketchy, slippery difficult to grasp or understand. We started closing the gate at night, now we have a gate, not sure why but it feels better, as if we can keep contact at bay.

IMG_3087.JPGToday I ventured out to do the shopping for the week, it’s only Thursday but I couldn’t face the weekend again too many people. I wondered the empty aisles searching out basics to get through the week, for some reason I bought all the ingredients for hummus, not sure why.

There was no yeast or flour as if we are all going back to baking, the rice was gone but I got some unicorn shaped macaroni and cheese for the youngest member of the household. I have been designated the family forager, every now and then I head out to get what we need, mostly food.

My middle son is quarantined with his room mates, one of them had symptoms and was tested the other day, hopefully she is okay and they will all be fine. They are however having a great time, the never-ending game of D&D online is going on. I can hear my youngest in his room yelling down the internet to him. The other day we went over there to his house to drop some Ramen noodles off  and books, we put them on the step and backed away. He smiled and waved and grabbed the noodles and headed back in.

The eldest had some work today, he headed out with his tools and some wipes in case he had to use someone else’s tools. He managed to keep distance but tomorrow they pour concrete and he doesn’t know how that will work out. The middle son in quarantine has decided he is going to school to be a history teacher, this is a great move, he will be the cool, funny, moody teacher everyone loves. He says this has all made him realize how important history is. Strange stuff happens.

I have been working at home, doesn’t feel like work though. I Zoomed into our residential program and saw all those smiling young happy faces of the brave staff, getting up and coming to work every day. I have been searching for P.P.E. for them all day, we have no masks, no gowns and no hand sanitizer left, luckily we have no sick kids either, yet. Everything these days is followed by a big YET, it’s almost a shout of fear, anger, horror. Our state partners are not a help, in fact their insistence on carrying on as if everything is normal will end up badly.

I long for a time when I did not know what P.P.E. meant.

Tonight I sat down with Blonde on Blonde, it seemed apocalyptic enough for the evening.

Rambling, rolling, strolling and cajoling, loves songs and fury, anger and lust, humor and pain, spiritual and earthy it’s a freaking trip.

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Has there ever been an other album this extraordinary? Some of it sounds amateurish and a bit shambolic but it all makes sense, and then it ends with Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands so what more do you really want?

everybody’s in despair…

I used to declare my hatred for The Basement Tapes loud and often, sometimes just to piss off the Aran sweater wearing pseudo-intellectuals in the Baltic Fleet where the Dylan club met. I had gone there to get a copy of Neil Young’s Tonights the Night tour bootleg from a chain smoking Dylan fan who wanted a fiver for it, I turned him down and went home having been chased out as I told the entire club how stupid the Basement Tapes were.

They were somewhat confounded and angered by the drunken long haired Doc Marten shod lout declaiming loudly that their hero was a fraud and fool and shouldn’t be allowed near a microphone especially if he was carrying a harmonica. Full of beer and righteous self indignation at the thought that a Dylan fan was trying to sell me a C-90 cassette with probably some badly distorted mumbling from Neil Young on it for a fiver.

I was never allowed unsurprisingly back to the Baltic Fleet for Dylan night. Yes in the dim and distant eighties fanatics would collect around warm beer and communicate about the object of the affection in person, nowadays we blog, join chat groups and Facebook groups, the conversation is sometimes just as reverential and I suppose I would be considered a troll for my behavior if I was ever to repeat it in the virtual world.  There was however a certain honesty about facing down the screaming bespectacled young men irate at my lack of respect for Bobby, as opposed to hiding behind the anonymity of the keyboard and internet.

Now the Baltic Fleet is a beautiful pub and you should visit it if ever in Liverpool, it is probably long past it’s heyday and undoubtedly a lot cleaner than it used to be, it is however forever ingrained in my mind as the scene of  my ignominious removal from before I was ever a member of the Dylan fan group.

IMG_2601After almost 30 years I have now become something of a fan of the Basement Tapes mainly because some of the songs have become ingrained in my mind, whether it’s Quinn The Eskimo, Tears of Rage, Million Dollar Bash, I Shall Be Released, You Ain’t Going Nowhere and This Wheels on Fire and thats just from memory, never mind the Washing Line Song and Goin’ To Acapulco. And to think none of these songs were ever initially supposed to be released. It also has markedly less harmonica than any other Dylan album I believe. I have also become a bit obsessed with the Bootleg Series so the Basement Tapes Raw arrived today and as I listened I was surprised at how fresh and immediate the recordings still sound, although I was also a bit frustrated by the compilers willingness to release partial tracks, I bet he owns an Aran Sweater and a pair of brogues. I will own them all one day, I swear.

Also here is the tractor shot for those that need it:

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