Category Archives: His Bobness

Bobby and Neil

My consolation for seeing the summer come to an end is to have not only a new Bob Dylan album to appreciate — Tempest, his best since “Love and Theft” — but a fresh Neil Young release, Psychedelic Pill, coming to banish the stale aftertaste of Americana, a disc that’s already faded from memory only a few months after its appearance. Talk about a banner fall!

Since I started listening to both artists in roughly the same year — 1975, when Blood on the Tracks knocked me sideways, and I had the previous year’s On the Beach and the new Tonight’s the Night and Zuma to obsess over all all in a batch — I’m struck by the difference in the way each man has aged. Dylan, 71, is only about five years older than Neil Young, but for the past two decades his voice has gone from craggy to croaking. Young sounds older, but not in the same way. From Neil Young and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere to Americana, Young’s alley cat yowl is instantly recognizable. Play Tempest after Blood on the Tracks — or even Oh Mercy — for someone untutored in His Bobness and try to get him to believe he’s hearing the same guy.

So what has Neil Young been doing that Bob Dylan hasn’t? Since Young acknowledged in his recent New York Times interview that he’s only just sworn off marijuana, while Dylan has been a heavy cigarette smoker much of his life, maybe this is another argument for legalizing pot. Is there any evidence for dope being easier on the vocal chords than tobacco? Inquiring minds want to know.         

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The Weight

Bruce Springsteen found a classy way to pay tribute to the late Levon Helm at last night’s Newark show:

Sounds like at least half the people in the stadium were singing along. It reminded me that the first time I really listened to this song was when I bought Before the Flood, right at the start of what would turn out to be a lifelong Bob Dylan obsession. The album hasn’t aged well, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it because I realized I’d already heard “The Weight” and “Up On Cripple Creek” at some point and gotten the choruses wound into the cellular structure of my brain.

It also got me thinking of what other artists have done with the song. Aretha Franklin, for instance:

Nice little slide guitar intro from Duane Allman. Gives Aretha the perfect launch platform for her vocals.

And then there’s this version from Gillian Welch:

This is a performance from last summer, with Levon joining Wilco on the stage. At about 3:39 Levon’s voice falters and his daughter smoothly steps in to complete the verse. The grin on her father’s face speaks volumes:

Finally, a performance from The Band itself, in its prime:

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Bob Dylan videos are their own justification

Great videos for great songs. For no particular reason.

I owe this one to Michael Gray, who used it in his “Bob Dylan: The Poetry of the Blues” performance some years ago:

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