Tag Archives: Christmas in the Heart

Gray study

Michael Gray, who as the author of Song and Dance Man and The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is somebody who can get me to change my mind (or at least revisit my opinions) about anything Bob Dylan-related, has listened to Christmas in the Heart and found it good. In fact, he loves it and admires it, which is a reaction just about completely the opposite of mine.

Reading the post, I instantly imagined a Dylanesque take on A Christmas Carol in which Gray, as the Spirit of Dylan Albums Present,  snatches away my earbuds and warns me of the consequences if I fail to join the Perry Como chorus. I then notice two Prada-clad figures huddled at his feet.

“Are these yours?”

“They are man’s. They are Hipness and Snark. Beware the last one particularly — especially in the Internet era, when no blog post can be lived down!”

“Is there no forgetting?”

“Are there no remainder bins? No Amazon Marketplace? No Half.com?”

I am then visited my the Spirit of Dylan Albums Past, who reminds me of the Dylan discs I now love, or at least enjoy, years after I scoffed at them. (“Street Legal, hey? Remember that?”) And then the Spirit of Dylan Albums Yet to Come reduces me to gibbering in terror by pointing to a Sony Legacy catalogue with multi-disc “Bootleg Series” sets of outtakes from Self Portrait and Knocked Out Loaded. No! Noooooooo!

Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll make like Nick and do an Alastair Sim about Christmas in the Heart. So I’ll just congratulate Michael on the 10th anniversary of Song and Dance Man, a book that will continue to dominate the field of Dylan criticism decades from now.

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Friday finds

“Sister Jean”Webster, a former sou chef for one of the Atlantic City casinos, started feeding the homeless from her home and now serves hundreds daily at the First Presbyterian Chuch, across from the Trump Taj Mahal. This marvelous photo essay at Corbis will give you the picture(s). (Thanks Rix.) 

Writers! Get ready for a pep talk from . . . Emily Dickinson.

John L. said life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans. Nick D. agrees.

Oscar-winning screenwriter may be Twittering from behind bars.

A different kind of giving thanks.

Resolution: Bring poetry into the 21st century.

You can find the strangest things while hiking through the desert.

After a dry spell, Bat Segundo is posting again.

Now that the initial wave of ridicule has passed, some listeners are having second thoughts about Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart. I’m not one of them, but a lot of people whose opinions I respect are coming around to liking the thing.

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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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Friday finds

Persepolis

Two young Iranians have reworked Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of her girlhood in revolutionary Iran, to tell the story of the bloody aftermath of the recent Iranian election. The literary remix, Persepolis 2.0, was done with Satrapi’s blessing.

A town built around books and publishing? I may just have to learn Korean.

A reminiscence about Ted Kennedy that shows his quality as a progressive senator, and why it will be next to impossible to find anyone to fill his shoes. Joyce Carol Oates talks about Kennedy’s unpunished crime and search for reinvention and redemption.

As a big fan of comedian Patton Oswalt, I can only applaud the imminent release of Big Fan, the movie about a big fan of the New York Giants.

Follow David Gill as he negotiates A Maze of Death.

A good reason to pre-order that upcoming Bob Dylan Christmas record.

Reading poetry (and teaching it) in Uzbekistan.

Now I have to put Sunshine Cleaning on my Netflix queue.

Ralph Nader has written a novel? Who knew? As J.D. Rhoades notes, the book sounds like a parody of Atlas Shrugged, which places two big burdens on the work. First, Ayn Rand novels come with self-parody already installed, and second, Nader ain’t exactly the life of the party. (Quite the opposite, in fact, as we saw in 2000.)

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