Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Weekend linkage

Now that the clouds of incense surrounding the late Christopher Hitchens have dissipated, the pushback is underway, and welcome. I enjoyed his book reviews and his readiness to tangle with religionists — he was certainly the earliest and most articulate truth-teller following the death of the odious Jerry Falwell — but his posturing as a professional left-wing apostate and cheerleader for the Iraq disaster soiled any of his other accomplishments. “His tragedy, which his careful revisions and rationalisations cannot conceal, is that he became what he had despised – as Hazlitt put it, ‘a living and ignominious satire upon himself’.” Yep. 

Spend some quality time with Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves.

Bertrand Russell appeared in a Bollywood film. Who knew?

I’ll drink to that.

So the Tealiban, the Elmer Fudds, and the Charles Whitmanites have declared that Martin Luther King’s birthday will also be National Gun Appreciation Day. Stay douchey, wingnuts. The more of you come out into the sunlight, the more people get to see you for what you are.

Jeff Redfern learns about the daily demands of the writing life. It even brings him closer to his journalist dad. Doonesbury continues to surprise.

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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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Summer days, summer nights are (nearly) gone

Yes, the end of the summer is near, and yes, I’m grumpy about it, but at least I can console myself with the prospect of a new Bob Dylan disc to ponder on. The advance word on Tempest has been excellent, but that’s nothing new — Bobcats and critics (to the extent they can be told apart) hail each new Dylan release as “a return to form” as regularly as Big Ben tolls the hours. But the pre-release taster, “Early Roman Kings,” had a nice line of surrealistic humor, and after Modern Times, Together Through Life, and Christmas in the Heart, Dylan has the requisite number of duds to overcome. So I’m optimistic. 

I’m also a bit worried. Plenty of other writers have wondered if the title’s Shakespearean echo is a signal that the magician is getting ready to drown his guitar — with his publisher expecting two more installments of Chronicles, Dylan could hardly drown his book. In his Rolling Stone interview, Dylan made one of his trademark non-denial denials, having his enigma and eating it, too. If Dylan is Prospero, then I guess A.J. Weberman would be Caliban, and Woody Guthrie would be . . . Sycorax? Bob Neuwirth and a host of others have auditioned for the role of Ariel, but the Prospero of Hibbing always keeps aloof . . . jeez, see what a lifetime of listening to Bob Dylan does to your mind?

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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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Bobness Day

Radio station WBAI is catering to your Bob Dylan needs today with a daylong Bobfest. What more do you need to know?

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Gray studies

Regular readers of this blog know that I consider Michael Gray the best writer on Bob Dylan walking the planet. I also greatly enjoyed his recent biography of blues master Blind Willie McTell, so needless to say it was a real treat to have Gray drop in at my bookstore for a Sunday afternoon reading and Q&A. A small crowd of fellow Dylan obsessives showed up, some driving in from rather far away (Hunterdon County is a bit of a trek) to hear the man speak.  It was probably all timed to raise the profile of his spiffy new Web site, though I couldn’t say for sure.

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Zantzinger zingers

Via the estimable Michael Gray we learn that the BBC is about to broadcast a half-hour documentary about the wealthy scumheel William Zantzinger, whose 1963 attack on a black barmaid led Bob Dylan to write “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and thus immortalize Zantzinger’s infamy. The doc was produced by Howard Sounes, author of the Bob Dylan biography Down the Highway, a book worth reading chiefly for Zantinger’s amusing explosion over the effect Dylan’s song had on his life. Sounes claims he even located the cane Zantzinger used against his victim.  This is gonna be good.

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The Thanksgiving Show (with Bob Dylan, The Band, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig)

Since it’s Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for the indispensible Wolfgang’s Vault, which has posted the most complete available recording of The Last Waltz, the all-star farewell concert by The Band on Thanksgiving 1976. Whatever qualms you might have about the film — I refer you to Levon Helm’s autobiography This Wheel’s On Fire for a savagely hilarious demolition of former bandmate Robbie Robertson’s self-mythologizing ways — there are moments of supreme beauty and artistry, as when Dylan takes the stage near the end of the proceedings.

Aside from the fact that this is a superb performance of one of Dylan’s greatest songs, what I particularly like about this clip is the way you can see drummer Levon Helm and guitarist Robbie Robertson watching Dylan as the song ends — wondering what he’s going to spring on them next. Helm’s evident enjoyment of Dylan’s unpredictability is there to be seen in the film, in between the closeups of Robertson and his designer scarves.

And, of course, no Thanksgiving is complete without a viewing of this Warner Brothers classic:

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Friday finds

WokingTripod

All you need to celebrate Halloween the H.G. Wells way. (And the George Pal way, and the Oson Welles way, and the Hugo Gernsback way. . .) The image above, incidentally, shows Michael Condron’s sculpture of a Martian tripod in Woking, Surrey, where all hell breaks loose in the original novel. Check here for the New Jersey location used in the radio broadcast.

How about some literary costume ideas for trick-or-tweeding?

Halloween, B’more style.

Continuing our Halloween theme, it turns out that Dan Aykroyd based the Ghostbusters storyline on the psychic exploits of his own dad.

Novelists nominate books they think have been unfairly neglected.

A medievalist tries his hand at the Dante’s Inferno board game.

Taking on Knut Hamsun.

No need to be skeptical about Martin Gardner.

Patricia Cornwell’s latest mystery tale is playing out in court.

Gore Vidal’s sunset years.

How Paul Shaffer was crucified and resurrected by Bob Dylan.

There’s nothing more pathetic than a whining contrarian.

Maurice Sendak has three words for parents who think Where the Wild Things Are is too scary for their kids.

The Guardian harkens back to its coverage of John Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize for Literature. A writer retraces the journey described in Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

M*A*S*H was Robert Altman’s first big hit as a filmmaker, but his son ended up making more money off it than he did.

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The Bob Dylan-Perry Como Christmas special

Apologies to anyone who has nightmares tonight because of that headline, but I think that’s the organizing principle behind Bob Dylan’s new one, Christmas in the Heart. It’s been almost forty years since His Bobness released an album as conceptually brilliant, artistically confident, and virtually unlistenable as Self Portrait, and now that Dylan has done the trick — and I’ve done my bit for charity by buying it — I want to mark the occasion with a few words before shelving the thing.

Greil Marcus, the eminence grise of deep-dish Dylanology, pre-empted any thoughts of doing a one-liner review of Christmas in the Heart by by opening his review of Self Portrait with “What is this shit?” But the concept behind Self Portrait was very astute: if we build our identities from the things we like, then why shouldn’t Bob Dylan reveal himself through the songs he liked?

And if Christmas is the most nostalgic of holidays, a time for family get-togethers and the observance of traditions, then why shouldn’t Dylan style the musical settings for his Christmas album after the crooners of his childhood, and those Yuletide television specials featuring blanded-out whitebread singers on overlit sets, dazzling the TV camera with wide, preternaturally bright smiles? In other words, why shouldn’t Bob Dylan put out a Perry Como holiday record?

I realize you can instantly think of a thousand reasons why you wouldn’t want to hear Dylan wheezing along with King Family-style backup singers,  but that’s the kind of stuff television sets beamed into households during Dylan’s youth, and Christmas brings out the child in all of us, right? The title alone revives the memories of all those Hallmark Hall of Fame TV specials that time and post-traumatic stress disorder had buried somewhere back behind my medulla oblongata. As one whose childhood occurred on the tail end of that era, I could recognize all the nostalgia zones Dylan was working in, and I acknowledge the intent even as I shake my head at the result.

Though by no stretch of the imagination is Christmas in the Heart a good album, portions are weirdly listenable in a Christmas-with-Dr.-Demento kind of way. Future generations who want to know how Dylan pronounced Latin will be thrilled to have “O Come All Ye Faithful,” or the first verse of it, anyway. The uptempo numbers tend to work best. When things slow down, Dylan sounds like a man trying to compete in a shot-put match by flinging his own larynx.

From all accounts, Dylan’s real Christmas gift to the world has been rehiring guitarist Charlie Sexton for his touring band. The recent shows are supposed to be vastly better than anything Dylan’s given the world of late. I’ll want to hear one of those sometime soon. I can’t imagine ever wanting to hear Christmas in the Heart again.

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