Archive for Bob Dylan

Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” Finally Lives Up To Its Name

Posted in Music with tags , , on November 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Gloss on the tracks may have been a better way of describing Dylan’s greatest collection of love songs, at least as they were first released into the world.  We didn’t know that before, but we do now that the underlying songs, what Dylan first intended to release as a follow up to Planet Waves, have been revealed.

I had known from Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography Behind the Shades that Dylan recorded most of these songs, in September 1974, in the familiar confines of the Columbia Records studios in New York, several with just his guitar and harmonica as accompaniment.  And I knew that somewhere along the way, he’d scrapped those versions, recorded in less than a week, only to re-record them with a band in Minneapolis. His brother, as I recall, had predicted the album would be a commercial flop, and after the success of Planet Waves and his ’74 tour with the Band, Dylan wanted his comeback, and his return to Columbia after his interlude with Geffen Records, to continue.

What I didn’t know until I read Jon Pareles’ surprisingly good piece this week in the Times was that when Blood On The Tracks was released in 1975, Dylan had the tracks slightly speeded up, which to me accounts for why, classic song that it may be, “Tangled Up In Blue” has never been completely satisfying.  It has always seemed just a little off.

On the one-album set, released today, of outtakes entitled More Blood, More Tracks, the version of “Tangled Up In Blue,” with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar is a revelation.  Hearing it in this version has a similar impact to hearing the versions of “Someday Baby” or “Can’t Wait” on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.  You can never again go back to listening to the “original,” never go back to the song that was released.  In almost every case, the versions Dylan, or his management and record company, chose not to release are more raw, more emotionally affecting, less commercial than what we first heard.

As with those songs, and so much of what comes out on his remarkable Bootleg Series, all of the songs on More Blood, More Tracks are the way we should have heard them.  The real Blood On the Tracks, finally available, consists of simple, blues-based acoustic folk songs, enraptured memories of the women in his life — Suze Rotolo, Sara Lownds, Ellen Bernstein — narrated by a series of characters invented for just this occasion.

Instead what we got in 1975, and what was still good enough that it has long been considered one of Dylan’s classic works, was a sped-up, fairly slick pop album, even if the instrumentation was dependent on its folk underpinnings.

But this is the real thing — “Meet Me in the Morning” containing all the pain of Dylan having to explain to his children why their mother wasn’t with them, “Simple Twist of Fate” cutting deep enough for real blood to drip from the turntable’s needle.

Dylan once had to chase away the likes of A.J. Weberman, who was intent on literally going through his garbage in order to find out more about the resonant cultural figure of his age.  We live now in an era in which, due to the miracles of technology, scientists and restorers can look under the paint to see Leonardo’s original brushstrokes.  Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate, has for more than 20 years freely flung open the vaults and shown us everything that was in there, sparing us from having to go through his garbage or operate an X-ray machine to find out what’s underneath the art that was released into the world.  Little by little, bit by bit, he’s giving us everything.

Today we learned how much was missing from an album already considered one of the high points of the ’70s.  Today we learned how great Blood on the Tracks really is.  This is a revelation and we are, all of us, so much better for it.

 

Making A Playlist From Dylan’s “The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 (Deluxe Edition)”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 12, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Dylan 65

From the display window of the Paul Stuart Store (!), City Center, Washington, D.C., November 2015

It’s a lot to work through, six CDs of alternative takes from those fourteen months in which Dylan recorded his three early masterpieces.  But if you are disciplined, and create in a more or less chronological order the songs as they were recorded between January 1965 and February ’66, a really pleasing playlist takes shape.  As a public service, we offer it below.

Some quick notes on what we’ve done and what’s not here.  Where the better version, or perhaps we should say the more pleasing version to our ears, is on The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: Deluxe Edition, we’ve used that.  And where the better version is the one used on Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, or materialized on previous editions of The Bootleg Series or other compilations, that’s what’s utilized.  (We didn’t use one of the many alternate versions of “Like A Rolling Stone” that spill over an entire, fascinating CD showcasing the song’s evolution. We of course used the one that made it to AM radio.)  And as for what’s not here, well, we were never a big fan of songs that, on the official releases, sounded like amped up, perfunctory blues and rockers (cf. “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat”.)  Yet on this Deluxe Edition, as with Tell Take Signs, the alternative versions of numerous songs we might have skipped over, really worked.  Without further ado, here’s our playlist, with easy to follow annotations of what’s from where:

  1. “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (Take 1, Remake) T.C.E.
  2. “She Belongs To Me” (Take 1, Remake) T.C.E.
  3. “Outlaw Blues” (Take 2, Alternate Take) T.C.E.
  4. “On The Road Again” (Take 4, Alternate Take) T.C.E.
  5. “If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night” The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3
  6. “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” (Take 3, Remake) T.C.E.
  7. “Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence” (Take 2), T.C.E.
  8. “Tombstone Blues” (Take 9) T.C.E.
  9. “Positively Fourth Street”, Biograph
  10. “Like A Rolling Stone”, Highway 61 Revisited
  11. “From A Buick 6”, Highway 61 Revisited
  12. “Highway 61 Revisited” (Take 5), T.C.E.
  13. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Highway 61 Revisited
  14. “Queen Jane Approximately”, Highway 61 Revisited
  15. “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”, Biograph
  16. “Visions Of Johanna”, Blonde On Blonde
  17. “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)”, Blonde On Blonde
  18. “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat” (Take 3), T.C.E.
  19. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” (Take 14), T.C.E.
  20. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (Take 1, Alternate), T.C.E.
  21. “Temporary Like Achilles” (Take 3), T.C.E.
  22. “Obviously Five Believers” (Take 3), T.C.E.

Random Notes: As you can see, there’s nothing here from the official Bringing It All Back Home, and we think this is for two reasons.  One, that album seems to have comprised the versions of the songs with the highest torque, and on The Cutting Edge, the alternative versions, possibly less perfect performances than what’s on the official album, somehow come across slightly less caffeinated.  Second, a pair of classic songs from the period — “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” — somehow didn’t seem to fit with the playlist as a whole; we had ’em on there, but took them off.  You may try a different approach.

Finally, we should say, just because we went with the previously released versions of some songs, doesn’t mean what’s on The Cutting Edge is not worth listening to.  It’s just that some songs were on the official releases for all the right reasons — they’re better.  We should note that at least two songs here — “Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence” and “Highway 61 Revisited” — have at least as good versions out there on various editions of The Bootleg Series.  We just happened to really like these versions on The Cutting Edge.

Follow Tulip Frenzy on Twitter @johnbuckley100

Anticipating Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes Complete”: An Essay

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2014 by johnbuckley100

The New York Times put on its front page this week the news that Orson Welles’ final film will at long last make it to the silver screen.  We marveled at the news, but also at the news judgment, the front-page treatment, and wondered what they’ll do about The Basement Tapes finally being released in their entirety November 4th, 47 years after they were recorded.

You may think we are overdoing things here, preparing for the six-CD release of the 138 songs as if it were a newly found segment of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  But the story of Dylan’s crashing his motorcycle in June ’66 and then dropping from sight for the next eighteen months, all the while recording, with a cohort of confederates in the basement of a Woodstock ranch house, a collection of original songs and American obscurities, is perhaps the enduring myth of rock’n’roll.

Already by 1973, Don DeLillo began what may be the most compelling novel about a rock’n’roll star, Great Jones Street, with this opener:

“Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings.  I mean long journeys across gray space.  I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic.”

The character narrating the story was named Bucky Wunderlick, a rock star hiding out on Great Jones Street (not nearly such a desired or high-priced address in the early ‘70s.)  Wunderlick had recently dropped from sight and secretly recorded a new album he was hiding from his record company, and it was called, simply, Mountain Tapes.  Sound familiar?

“Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity – hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs.  Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.”

When Dylan came up over the rise — the story is told wonderfully by Clinton Heylin in the new Uncut —  and was blinded by the morning sunlight that caused him to crash the bike, he was actually blessed by good fortune.  If his fame was compelling him, as Wunderlick said, toward suicide, then Dylan’s compressed vertebrae was a lucky break.

He crashed on July 29th, 1966.  Less than a month later, the centrifugal forces of ‘60s fame would compel the Beatles to stop touring.  They would depart one ring of the circus that surrounded them, never to play a real concert again.  The Stones, too, were on the road that summer, touring an America that was changing by the hour, but they were rapidly coming to the end of Chapter One, the madness of their rise soon to sputter from the heavy punctuation of drug busts and romantic dissolution, before they returned, in ’68, with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” kicking off their four-year Golden Age.

Dylan’s accident was the most dramatic, and as it turns out, most graceful way to get off the stage, to leave in the nick of time.  By nearly killing himself on that motorcycle (it wasn’t that bad a crash, but it was a close call), he had an excuse to disappear, and in so doing, likely saved himself from becoming an Art Martyr, the first of this generation of rockers to die.

The Basement Tapes is the output of that moment hidden away from fame.  And even when so many of the songs have appeared on bootlegs over the years, even with lickings of the cream of the collection, released by Columbia Records as a botched double-record, it is one of rock’s last mysteries.  There is no hidden trove of Beatles gems.  Truly.  And yes, we hold out hope we will someday get the live album from the Stones’ ’72 tour: the Holy Grail for those who were there.  But it’s The Basement Tapes, in their entirety, that promises to further complete our knowledge of rock’n’roll, and also, importantly, American Arts and Letters.

Dylan’s role as a quintessential American artist is one of the key elements in why, even had the Beatles and Stones secretly gone to work in some cottage in the Cotswolds, they couldn’t have produced something with the particular meaning of The Basement Tapes. What they were capable of would not have matched what Dylan was able to do in that basement with the Band.

The Beatles were fundamentally dependent on the Studio As Instrument, on a fifth member of the band, George Martin, who could leverage their capabilities and serve as midwife to their muse.  At the moment Dylan was recording The Basement Tapes, the Beatles were releasing their most influential studio album, Sgt. Peppers.  It was wholly new and original, a great work of art, and almost the polar opposite of what Dylan was doing up in Woodstock.

The Stones could play, Lord knows they proved that, but they were never in a position to tap into a native art form the way that Dylan was.  We know what the Stones would do when left to their own devices, and it was Exile On Main Street – supremely brilliant, to be sure, and yes, recorded in the factory above which at least Keith slept, so that it had the semblance of an ongoing, lazy session on the artists’ own terms.

But that studio was a basement in a rented estate in Villefrance-sur-Mer, in the elegant south of France, and in addition to Keith’s kilos of smack, they brought along a state-of-the-art recording truck and their producer, Jimmy Miller.  They just moved the studio to more comfortable surroundings.  And while Exile is an homage to the American blues and rock’n’roll they absorbed every bit as thoroughly as a cotton ball sucking up liquefied heroin, the Stones were always separate from the musical idioms they mastered by the cultural distance of being born on the far side of the Atlantic.  They could play the blues beautifully, but they couldn’t embody them, if only because they were white guys from London.

When by the early summer of 1967, Dylan remained upstate in Woodstock to record a masterpiece of Americana in the basement rented by his Canadian sidemen, the artificial, invented character of “Bob Dylan” was returning to authentic roots. The Bob Dylan whose persona conquered Greenwich Village and the folk movement and eventually pop culture — as completely as Bucky Wunderlick is said to have done – he was musically returning to the heart of the heart of the country and a song book he knew from memory.

When messing around on “Big River,” the Johnny Cash song, Dylan hollers out this verse so delightfully:

I met her accidentally in St. Paul (Minnesota).

And it tore me up every time I heard her drawel, Southern drawl.

Then I heard my dream was back Downstream cavortin’ in Davenport

And I followed you, Big River, when you called.

 Robert Zimmerman knew from geographic proximity what it was like to cavort in Davenport.  If the Stones had sung that – if Mick had sung that – it would have been fun, but it would have been an act.  When Dylan sang that, the artist who invented everything about himself including his name was as authentic as he had ever been.  Our theory is The Basement Tapes was Dylan returning to himself, after his art had created fame that might have killed him. It is the most authentic, true music he made in the 1960s.  And much of it has never been heard, until now.

Robbie Robertson, learning from Dylan, would come to channel in his songwriting that same timeless evocation of American folk, country, and blues storytelling.  The marriage of Dylan and the Band was a perfect match of musicians, singer, songwriter, and recording conditions: unhurried, unpressured, unwitnessed joy in musical storytelling taking place in a basement, hidden from the world.

Dylan stepped off the Dexedrine-fueled hamster wheel in a manner the Beatles couldn’t.  For an ambitious young man who had had producers assigned to him and musicians he barely knew show up for sessions his record company arranged in the high-pressured theater of a New York studio where the explicit desire was for hits… well, sitting around a basement on a summer’s afternoon, with no supervision, no deadline, playing music written with seemingly a remote expectation it would be released into that howling wind of fame from which he’d just escaped, with the musicians themselves in charge of “the studio”… it was an assertion of artistic control to play timeless music outside of time itself.

Dylan snuck away to do what he wanted to do, and with no pressure on him to do something great, he actually created some of the greatest work… the greatest writing, the greatest music… in American art.

The jacket copy to Invisible Republic, Greil Marcus’ fascinating, if over the top, book on The Basement Tapes, calls it “secret music, never intended for release.”  But we don’t quite believe that.

We have come to accept, and this is confirmed in Uncut’s magisterial recounting of the many things in play when Dylan made The Basement Tapes, that at least some of the songs were written and recorded with an eye toward publishing them – either with him recording them again more formally at a later date, or as song demos created to fulfill the implicit demands of Albert Grossman, his estranged manager, and the business interests dependent on new Dylan product.  The guy was as big as the Beatles, and when he went flying off that motorcycle, so went the economic fortune of record label, publishing house, and the apparatus propping up, and living off, Dylan’s fame.  So there must have been at least an unconscious desire to create music that was, in some way, usable.

You don’t write songs as gnarled and ambitious as “Too Much Of Nothing” intending to let them never be heard outside of the basement of a pink-colored house in the hills. But then you don’t write a song as funny as “Clothes Line Saga” thinking it would get the radio play of “Like A Rolling Stone.”

The next day everybody got up
Seein’ if the clothes were dry
The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed
Mama, of course, she said, “Hi!”
“Have you heard the news?” he said, with a grin
“The Vice-President’s gone mad!”
“Where?” “Downtown.” “When?” “Last night”
“Hmm, say, that’s too bad!”
“Well, there’s nothin’ we can do about it,” said the neighbor
“It’s just somethin’ we’re gonna have to forget”
“Yes, I guess so,” said Ma
Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet

 The summer of 1967 was, let us not forget, The Summer of Love.  But even though he was a folk hero to the bands in San Francisco, woodshedding up in Woodstock he was a world away.  Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band would be released that summer, and so would The Velvet Underground with Nico.  And there was Dylan with the Band, channeling the voices, as Marcus points out, of obscure folk musicians from the turn of the century.

A missing piece of the American story will be released on Tuesday, 138 songs – originals and covers, completed masterpieces as well as fragments. Thinking of history’s widest angled lens, of course these songs would not be released in their entirety until now; the story of The Basement Tapes, their long path to our being able to examine them in quasi high fidelity, depends upon the circuitous route they took to getting here.

This will be viewed as heresy by many, but we actually think The Basement Tapes, as we have grown to know them over the past 40+ years via bootlegs and the roughly ten percent that has been released officially, comprises one of three distinctly great segments of Dylan’s entire career.  The first segment of greatness was the trio of records released in 1965 and 1966 – Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde On Blonde.  The next segment is The Basement Tapes.  It would be 30 years before Dylan would again ascend these heights, when with Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft, and Modern Times, he redeemed all that had been missing in the uneven albums since.

If I had to choose only one of the three to take to a desert island, it would be The Basement Tapes.  And there are at least 30 songs among them that, starting Tuesday, I will hear for the first time.

And you wonder why I am so excited.

Dylan, Velvets, Beefheart: November Will Be Historic

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 28, 2014 by johnbuckley100

The Basement Tapes in their entirety will be released one week from today in a 6-CD set.  Yes, 138 out of 140 or so songs recorded by Dylan and The Band in ’66 and ’67 will finally be available legitimately (not as low-fidelity bootlegs).

You don’t have to be a Dylanologist, you don’t have to even really love rock’n’roll, to understand what an important event in American culture next week will be.  A victory by Republicans may set the clock back on election night, but our palliative will be to return to the bygone era in which The Basement Tapes were recorded — The Band plus Dylan crowded in The Red Room (Dylan’s place in Woodstock) or Big Pink (The Band’s group house) playing old folk songs, some of Dylan’s most enigmatic originals, Johnny Cash covers and the like.  And it will all be available next week.  (Picture us rubbing our hands together.)

On November 17th, we get to listen to Sun, Zoom, Spark: 1970-1972, a four-disk box set that spans Captain Beefheart’s least celebrated, yet hugely satisfying post-Trout Mask Replica period.  For the first time ever, Lick My Decals Off, Baby will be released on CD in its entirety.  And in addition to a new mastering of the sublime Clear Spot, we get rarities from the period.  (Drool forms in the back of the mouth… It’s so close now, how can we wait three weeks?)

The Velvet Underground  — the band’s third, and best, record will be released, along with contemporaneous live tracks never before legitimately set into the wild, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  Maybe the surviving Velvets (John Cale and Mo Tucker) are so concerned with family values, they wish us all to be able to discuss the rarities over dinner with the relatives?)

Who knows.  What we do know is that we have likely never gone into a November believing that we will need to lock ourselves away with headphones to listen to the 16 disks — 16 disks — of music we have longed for years to be able to hear, all to be released in this single month…

Here’s The Truth About Dylan’s “Another Self Portrait”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 31, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Over the course of the last several weeks, we’ve read a good deal of magical — and wishful — thinking about the release of Bob Dylan’s Another Self Portrait.  If the rock critters who currently are claiming the two-album compilation of various outtakes, stripped-down tracks, and unreleased gems are to be believed, then the producers have turned water into wine, coal into diamonds, and gold has been alchemically created from base metals via a Philosopher’s Stone recently discovered in the archives of Columbia Records.

For here is the truth, at least as we see it.  The three most interesting periods in Dylan’s long career are 1) the genius stretch from Bringing It All Back Home through the ’65 tour and Blonde On Blonde; 2) The Basement Tapes; and 3, that mature eruption of late-innings creativity best summarized by The Bootleg Series Volume 8: Tell Tale Signs, which includes songs from 1989’s Oh Mercy to 2006’s Modern Times.  Of all the various periods in Dylan’s half-century of astonishing creativity, the batch of records ranging from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline to New Morning — and including the acknowledged dreck that was most of Self Portrait — is, if not the least satisfying run of albums (you’d probably have to bracket the 1980s period preceding Oh Mercy for that), then let’s call it for what it is: a comparatively weak, uncertain detour in what is otherwise a straight shot from Greenwich Village to artistic Valhalla.

We were mystified, as a teenager, by Self Portrait, especially given how much amazing music was happening at that moment, from the Beatles and Stones to hippy caravans with their saddlebags stuffed with all the Mad Dogs, Englishmen, and nascent Zeppelins.  So to come out now, with what admittedly are some fine, lost Dylan songs, and make a claim, as some have, that this tumultuous period in Dylan’s amazing output is on the same aesthetic level as his best is, let’s face it, hooey.   Given the famous Greil Marcus opener in the Rolling Stone review of Self Portrait — “What is this shit?” — we could say the same now about a fair bit of the hyperbole over this set of songs.

Except, except, there is this: the great Mikal Gilmore’s marvelous cover story in the new Rolling Stone captures the historical moment in what reads to us like pitch perfect balance.  He makes no claims for the songs in the new album other than that they provide perspective lost in what was the official output of the day.  And by ratcheting down the hype, he enabled us calmly to listen to both CDs of the newly found stuff, and to find the gems sprinkled among them.  This is absolutely worth your time and money, even if the whole period of Dylan’s output — as influential as it was, shaking rock music from its jittery psychedelia to the more solid, stripped down country and blues that, in the Stones’ case, would lead to Beggars Banquet, and which would inspire the Byrds to consort with Gram Parsons — was neither as interesting as what came before it, nor as exciting as what was to come.

And then there is this: if you pony up for the box set, it arrives  with the entirety of the Isle of Wight concert recorded on this very day 44 years ago.  Picture the scene: Dylan has skipped the Woodstock Festival in his backyard two weeks previously, flown to England with The Band, and he performs his first concert in four years before a crowd of 200,000, which includes various Beatles and Stones.  And the set he performs, as we now know from hearing the whole thing, ranks as one of the greatest-ever Dylan live recordings.  For all the reports that he was nervous and ragged during this concert, with the fullness of time he sounds relaxed and loose and confident.  He sings in that glottal, Johnny Cash-inspired voice we recognize from “Lay Lady Lay” — in fact, the version of “Lay Lady Lay” is worth the wheel barrow of money you have to pay to get the box set, with this CD — and all in, there may never be as strong a live vocal performance by Dylan that you’ll ever be able to buy, and yes we have the Rolling Thunder Review material.  This live set has none of the jittery, amphetamine punch of ’65 set with The Band, and is wholly more satisfying in sound than the Before The Flood set from ’74.  This live album is pure genius, wholly satisfying, a revelation.

On The Prospect of Dylan’s “Another Self Portrait”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Uncut‘s September issue is now out, and (besides teeing up the August 20th release of Ty Segall’s Sleeper) it gives the complete treatment to the August 27th release of Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10.  The way they preview it, Dylan fanatics can get excited about what’s to come: outtakes of both the original Self Portrait and New Morning, a live album of Dylan and the Band at the Isle of Wight in ’69, alternative versions, etc.  But for those who actually remember Self Portrait, Greil Marcus’s famous opening line in his Rolling Stone review — “What is this shit?” — certainly rang true at the time.

We remember Self Portrait, when we think of it at all, as the double album on which you found the Basement Tapes version of “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo).” To a teenager listening to it — especially at a moment (Summer of 1970) when so much great music was abounding, from Get Yer Ya Yas Out to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s epic, hits-driven season to Mad Dogs and Englishmen and John Barleycorn Must Die — it was enough to make you write Dylan off.  Which at that moment we kinda did, not fully reengaging with him ’til Blood On The Tracks and Planet Waves a half-decade later.

So the idea that now there is about to be released a 35-song compendium, as well as a more expensive complete dive down the rabbit hole, makes us feel… fascinated.  Was there really more to this period of Dylan than we realized at the time? Uncut would make you think so, though as much as they are an excellent filter for new music, and a source of many of our favorite discoveries over the years, they do tend to mythologize the work of artists from the ’60s and ’70s, such that you might think every album from that period, every band and performance, was a masterwork.  It, um, wasn’t.  And even great bands put out dreck (cf. Their Satanic Majesties Request.)

The fact that we still remember Greil Marcus’s review also tells us something about the quality of rock writing back then.  Can you imagine, 40 years hence, anyone being able to recall a single review in the 2013 version of Rolling Stone?  It’s possible we may be able to remember, decades hence, how terrible Jon Pareles’s writing in the Times is, but that’s a different matter, and we digress.

We do still remember that horse’s ass (and the man who, by complaining about the $6.00 ticket prices of their 1969 tour, would goad the Rolling Stones into doing a free concert in the Bay Area, which became Altamont…) Ralph J. Gleason’s review, four months after Self Portrait came out, of New Morning, which rock crits viewed as a return to form, or at least relevance, the antithesis of the creative nadir that Self Portrait was dismissed as.  “It came on the radio in the late afternoon and from the first note it was right…” Gleason went on to imagine that everyone, in every car on the road, heard the same set of Dylan songs, and that realizing the Dylan they loved had returned to form, all was right in the world.  A little later, when Alice Cooper’s great Love It To Death was released, John Mendelsohn — our favorite rock crit of the era — parodied Gleason: “It came on the radio in the late afternoon and from the first note it was right: Alice Cooper bringing it all back home again.”

So, we look forward — as someone whose estimation of Dylan has exponentially increased in the decades since; yeah, we view ’90s/’00s Dylan as more personally relevant, if not more important than ’60s/’70s Dylan — to the new version of Self Portrait.  Even as we wax nostalgic over an era in which an artist’s album could have such resonance, good or bad, as Dylan’s did in 1970, not to mention the power of rock critics to praise or dismiss a work with such world historical importance.

Dylan’s Fine Show At Verizon Last Night

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 21, 2012 by johnbuckley100

I suppose that, if Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King had conspired to move the hotel in The Shining to some hill region outside of Memphis, they would have built a set, and clothed the amazing band Dylan plays with, for the barroom scenes.  For Dylan’s whole presence these days is meant to conjure us back to a day that never existed, when bands effortlessly plied the waters between blues and rock’n’roll, and most of all swing.  Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys comes to mind when we see them, Dylan in his black velvet pajamas with the red stripe and his hat on, the band all clothed in stage suits and standing dutifully in their places.  Has there ever been so subtle a band, so supple a band, to play big basketball arenas?

His voice strong, but caught in that low-growl single register with its barks for emphasis, Dylan and His Band — yeah, His Band — played wonderful versions of “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Highway 61,” even a lovely encore of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”  “Early Roman Kings” was especially strong, for how could it not be with George Receli, the closest incarnation we have to the great blues drumming of Fred Bellow, kicking the band through its paces.  Dylan was frisky, playing barrelhouse piano, mostly, though of course he is so perverse that when it came to a great version of “The Ballad Of A Thin Man,” the one song that live he used to play piano on, last night he didn’t.  Go figure.  Every time the band sounded spectacular, it was because Dylan hit just the right note, and every time the band was off, it was because he hit the wrong note.  After 50 years of playing it, he can play “A Hard Rains A-Going To Fall” any damn way he wants to.  It’s his band.  His show.  We continue to give thanks we get to see him.

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