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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they say everything can be replaced…

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I remember trying to stay awake to watch Renaldo and Clara all the way through into the IMG_2228.JPGlate hours of the night/early hours of the morning on Channel 4. I never made it, even the musical interludes could not save the mumbling mess.

I watched the Scorsese movie this year on an airplane. It was better, maybe because there was no attempt to tell the truth. It was at times pretentious, at times awe inspiring and at other times bullshit, kind of like Dylan, I so wanted the Sharon Stone story to be true.

Best moment, watching Dylan driving the RV.

Second best moment watching Mick Ronson on stage playing his heart out and sounding so good in the band but looking so much as if he is in the wrong band.

IMG_2229.JPG“Bobby will be back…” the most telling moment on Side D. Right before an electrifyingly acoustic version of It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.

So I have been listening to the three record collection of The Rolling Thunder Revue, no matter if I could afford it I am not sure I could deal with the massive collection, I am not even sure I would want to be able to deal with it.

Sometimes the legend lives up to your expectations. This is what I have always wanted it to be, ever since I got the CD’s awhile ago and then upgraded(?) to the LP’s this exactly how I have always wanted Dylan to sound, sneering, edgy, arrogant and in your face. Or maybe it’s sometimes the expectations live up to the legend?

I had the thought today that Dylan could have stopped writing after Hard Rain and it may have been okay.

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I met a white man who walked a black dog…

That most unfocussed event the celebrity fundraiser. Endless troops of stars appearing on stage to mumble there way through the back catalogue and raise some money for a cause they are not necessarily connected to.

I am not even going to pretend I have ever sat through this collection all the way in one sitting. I am not even going to pretend I have even heard some of it. I bought this for one reason only, well two really.

Number 1. being this was Dylans return to performing and he may be the best reason. His set is strong and assured, accompanied by Harrison and the boys in the band all to good affect.

Number 2. it was literally five dollars and in great shape.

Here we are Day 3, no records bought, feeling strong and in no way ashamed to have pre-ordered Neil Young’s Tuscaloosa and Dylan’s Rolling Thunder L.P.’s.

take what you’ve gathered from coincidence…

It’s been 26 hours since I slept.

There is no real reason, nothing major or awful happening. In fact I feel pretty good about many things. We even bought a new car that has the colour of “galactic aqua” I have no idea what that means, it is a kind of blue.

As I realized how kong I have been awake without the aid of chemicals or other things I decided to start listening to Dylan, namely the Real Royal Albert Hall show from 1966. It was $15 how could I pass it up, especially since I have no way of playing the Bootleg Series Vol. 4 as I don’t really have a CD player apart from in the car and I am not sure it works anyway.

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So how is it you ask. Well it’s the same track list, I have to admit I cannot tell if the performances are dramatically different, I am sure they are I just could not tell you how.

Well it’s Dylan with most of The Band, Levon Helm was not digging being yelled at all show so stayed home leaving drumming duties up to Mickey Jones. They are under siege to a most politely upset U.K. audience, a palpable sense of disapproval although no shouts of Judas like in Manchester. I can’t help but wonder how an audience these days would display their displeasure, probably watch Netflix on their smartphones instead.

Dylan rambles his way through some classics and some soon to be classics. He mumbles incoherently at the audience in between songs and thrashes about with the band. Its raw and powerful and no wonder he had to take a break after this tour. Maybe it was the drugs, the strain or the negative energy from so any audiences not getting it. Maybe it really was the motorcycle wreck.

A thought I had was how comfortable we are now. Everything is familiar and has already been seen or heard. Musicians have to wear clothing made of meat to shock, all Dylan had to do was plug in and scream into the face of disapproval.

Time for bed, Thanksgiving beckons in the morning…

 

 

Oh mama can this really be the end?

There is a joy to Dylan at times, it’s found in the messes he creates I think.

IMG_0343The live album Hard Rain sounds like a band dragged to hell and back by a deranged lunatic crazy on hard drugs and cheap red wine. It’s messy and confrontational, sometimes it sounds like the band are all playing different songs.

The first time I hated it.

The second time I loathed it.

The third time I decided never to listen to it again.

Tonight after watching the shit show that US politics has become it seemed like the panacea I needed.

Tonights it’s my favorite Dylan album, once the funk and fog of the night is over it will be another album, but for tonight as I nurse that Bushmills into the night it’s just right.

Listening to it I feel like a drunk careering through a packed bar room. Apologizing brusquely as I meander to the bar for one more drink, neglectful of any social graces that I may have had before the fifth whiskey.

I am fascinated by Dylans inflection, the crowd noise and shouts for songs that may never get played. Between tracks Dylan strums his guitar absently trying to search for the next song. The violin and guitar solos are at times fighting with each other, not in a flashy Nashville battle of skill but in a drawn out dirty bar fight. The type of fight that involves teeth on the floor, bruised knuckles and stitches in unfortunate places.

There is no harmony here when you hear two voices they are berating each other. The music bludgeons and bullies it’s way through the classics. The songs by the end are battered and bruised, yet all the more powerful because of the battle.

Everything about the album says fuck you, the songs are listed on the top right corner of the back cover out of sequence, a brusk notation saying check label for sequence.

The front cover is a weary close up of Dylans face, the eyes glazed. The back cover is a IMG_0344blurry distorted hunched rear view shot of Dylan in front of a festival audience.

So tonight on the eve of the G7 conference as the roadies prepare the prima donnas for their moment on the spotlight.  Our glorious leader thinks its inconvenient this summit was arranged immediately before his get together with the despot from North Korea. I hope that we all manage to make it to Monday. After all there is the opiate for the people of the World Cup to prepare for.

Monday I install the corner bracket in my office for the TV so we don’t miss a moment.

In the words of Bobby…

Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
And rivers that ran through ev’ry day
I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Until I threw it all away

We’re going all the way ’til the wheels fall off and burn…

Knocked Out Loaded is not the best Dylan album, it’s not the worst though if only for the 11 minutes of Brownsville Girl.

Full of strange disjointed images, Gregory Peck, judges, cars and a swelling gospel chorus. Maybe it’s Sam Shepard’s input or maybe it is the hallucinatory nature of the whole thing. The wistful longing for a lost love, the one line throw away non-sequiturs. It is one of Dylans great nonsense epics along with Bob Dylan’s dream and more recently Highlands.

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Sometimes it feels like it is the type of brilliance Dylan knocks out when the world starts thinking he has lost his touch.

“You know I feel pretty good but that ain’t saying too much, you know I could feel a while lot better.”

My love she laughs like the flowers…

It’s a strange thing the first Dylan album. You either love or hate him but you are forever changed having heard him. It’s an as they say life changing moment. What however if your first time is an album that falls into the derided Dylan album category. It seems like everyone should hear Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks first, be bathed in the beauty of the words, the rhythms, the high speed imagery and the stories.

1989-fiat-uno-3I had a habit in the past of thinking the best way to get into a band was to get the live album, better still if it was a double as that’s twice the volume of songs isn’t it. So when faced with a several hour drive with my new love up the A1 from London to Newcastle in a hired Fiat Uno there was a need for some tunes for the journey. This being a spur of the moment thing there was no time to make the obligatory road trip tape. In fact I had a brief moment of panic, deciding at the last moment to leave the choice to the neighbor, asking him for 4 or 5 tapes he could choose, “and oh yeah do you have any Dylan?”

So we set out with an assortment of tapes, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, Mott the Hoople, John Prine, The Band and some others all greatest hits collections from his drives. Nestled amongst all this was the Dylan tape, the only one he had on tape and joy it was a double live album. I was obviously aware of Dylan, had heard many songs but never sat down with an album and here we were setting out for a long sit down for several days on the way to Newcastle.

So the first Dylan I heard all the way through was Live at Budokan. A universally it seems IMG_6428panned album. Show band Dylan, massive backing band 3000 backing singers, reggae flutes and incredibly jaunty versions of songs, or cod heavy metal at times. Most consider it a travesty. However in the full flush of young love it was the perfect soundtrack to that road trip. Now when I hear the strange flute on Tambourine man I smile and settle in for a long happy listen that takes me back to golden hair spilling out of the car window as we attempted to pick up speed to pass another car in a white Uno going uphill.

Yes there are without a doubt better Dylan albums but none of them remind me of that glorious summer. Here they all are, the hits in almost unrecognizable versions. I have to admit to Live at Budokan being my favorite Dylan album. The day I did this in the Dylan club meeting in the smoky bar in Liverpool they threw me out and refused me entry, luckily I had gotten the GP’s bootleg I went for before admitting this shameful fact.

So it may be a coke fueled frenzied album. It may tear apart classics, reinventing them into strange distorted versions of the original, but damn it sure is a fun album that shows in my opinion that when asked to do a greatest hits tour Dylan does what he does and gives you what you didn’t know you wanted. All you need to hear is the slinky, strange sexy version of One More Cup of Coffee with it’s staccato latin rhythms and congas, oh the congas, to know there is something else happening her. The thing is you have no real way of knowing what it is that is happening. Like A Rolling Stone is relentless, the backing singers hitting every last phrase with Dylan and wailing those lines out like a Greek chorus. It’s a march through the hits, Oh Sister, All Along the Watchtower, all recognizable and yet twisted and torn.

That last sentence would make those men in the Dylan club back in Liverpool very happy. The real thing is if you are not to wedded to your Dylan mythology it’s an interesting listen. Of course now it has become part of that mythology, hated by most loved by some. For me it takes me back to that wonderful week as I grew to know my future wife, getting to know what the rhythms of our life would be. Of course if you ask her about Live at Budokan she probably doesn’t even know Dylan made a live album in Japan. She has however a great affection for The Band’s Last Waltz album which was in the player that week too. Just goes to show she has infinitely more taste than me.