Welcome to the all new, all singing, all dancing 20 pounds. It’s the same as it used to be only different. What I’ll be doing is taking a bunch of cuttings from a particular month (or months) and looking at what themes were running through the press. For those that like them, the familiar witty remarks (sic) will still be in place, especially whenever oour Spanish friend Mr. Manrique ever puts pen to paper.
O-Kay, without further ado, let’s see what was happening on the Bob front during June and July 2001.
There were still plenty of reviews for David Hajdu’s book Positively 4th Street and Howard Sounes’ surprisingly informative and surprisingly readable Down The Highway. Reviewing both books in The New Republic, Ronald Radosh emerges convinced that Dylan is the most important 20th Century artist working within the field of popular music. His conclusion that “the man who kept inventing himself, the trickster tangled up in blue, turns out to have been a hero of authenticity.” Has the ring of absolute truth about it. James Eve also reviewed both books for The Times and was disappointed with the Sounes Bio, especially when it was “trumpeting revelations” about a secret second marriage in 1986. (isn’t that what the umpteenth biography on the same person is supposed to do if it wants to sell?) and preferred “Hajdu’s marvellous history” instead. However his revelation that at 60, Dylan is “one of pops holy relics” and that “apparently , some people attend his concerts just to see if he will die onstage.” (Really? Who are they then?) suggests that he is perhaps not Bob’s greatest fan.
Reviewing Positively 4th Street in the Daily Mail, Ray Connolly (apparently, some people read the Daily Mail just to see if he will die in mid-review) admits that the book is never dull but promises more than it delivers: “…That’s the trouble with biography, the truth getting in the way of a good story.” James Sullivan reviewed the same book for Book Magazine and was pleased that the 1960’s Dylan/Baez entanglement has been widened to include those other artists who gravitated around their flame and tried to burn brightly also:, “… Old lovers sometimes crop photos bearing memories they might sooner forget. The author has restored this particular snapshot to its’ original frame.”
Folk Roots Ian Anderson is over-familiar with the Dylan/Baez story and so finds Richard Farina as “the dark star of the tale.” Whilst Lisa Levy, In America’s Entertainment Weekly. Awarded the book an A rating and noted that “his four main characters are richly drawn (but not prettied up) and his affection for the music and the musicians is unmistakable.” Nigel Williamson writing in Uncut, was totally overwhelmed with Down The Highway (“…only someone who knows and genuinely understands Dylan musically could have picked out the obscure but magnificent version of I Ain’t Got No Home with the Band at the 1968 Woody Guthrie tribute concert as a key moment in his rehabilitation.”) and, because he is such a huge Dylan fan, was slightly underwhelmed by Positively 4th Street, (“…the book is conceived as a four-hander… This never quite works, simply because Dylan towers above the other three in our interest, and in real life very swiftly left them trailing in his wake.” – a true and valid point and one that perhaps someone should remind Joan Baez of in case she should ever be tempted to update her own shitty autobiography.)
With a book to promote Hajdu was popping up everywhere during June and July. To Liz Thomson in Hammick Bookshops’ own Bookmark Magazine he insisted on reminding us just how much Dylan owed the early success of his career to Joan and went on to make a point that perhaps did not need making: “…her long decline since the 1960’s had made it difficult to remember how huge a figure in popular culture she was in her prime.” Yes, it is difficult to remember and let’s keep it that way, shall we?
To the San Francisco Chronicle’s Philip Elwood he admitted that he always knew that Dylan would not co-operate and that, without that co-operation, the book would probably not happen. Then he gained access to four years worth of biographical tapes made by Robert Shelton. “My book couldn’t have happened without those taped Dylan revelations, “he admits.”Although the tapes had to be checked. Both Dylan and Farina were very young, ambitious and vain, constantly revising their past,” Elaborating on Dylan’s lack of input to Peter Terzian on Newsday.com, he merely reveals that, “Bob Dylan never turned me down – he just never found the time.” Which, given that Dylan had probably already begun working on his own autobiography by then, is perhaps not too surprising.
Away from the Bob Dylan back then, Bob Dylan here and now was still treading the boards and nipped over to Scotland, Ireland and the UK for three blink-and-you’ll-miss-him shows. (I blinked, I missed him) Liverpool was first and Steve Harrison reviewing for icLiverpool.com felt that the show started slowly, that Dylan at times almost slipped into self-parody but that he pulled it off in the end. (O-er, missus) especially during Like A Rolling Stone; “…there came a point – the start of the final chorus – when among that thronging mass I felt myself alone, when Bob’s hand reached out and touched the hairs on the back of my neck, Such moments are rare and beyond price.”
The Observers Pat Kane also found Dylan subdued at times and somewhat frail. His headline “He is broken – but don’t try to fix him.” Says it all. Though, for all that, Dylan overcame obstacles and triumphed in the end; “The voice has almost gone, the body is only just holding up, Yet there’s still a ragged glory about Dylan.” Ever reliable Gavin Martin was nothing less than enthusiastic in the Independent, “… It was the sort of night where one could only hope that he lives to be 100 and stays on the road, because these songs simply keep improving each time he plays them.”
The Telgraph’s Caspar Llewellyn Smith was equally impressed, finding a “punk energy” to the rockier numbers and an inner energy in Dylan that belied his age. Even so sensitive phrasing aside, Smith cannot but help mourn the passing of The Voice, which is now “a cracked, hoarse, raddled thing.” The Liverpool Daily Post despatched Phillip Key to review the show. (“I went in as a non-Dylan fan. But if not a total convert, I ended up impressed by the singers performance”) and David Charters to try and meet the Great Man even get an offstage snap. Needless to say, he was unlucky on both fronts, though he did get one furtive photo which, upon enlargement , turned out to be a woman. I guess it was the pencil moustache that fooled him.
Joe Riley gave The Bobster 10 out of 10 in the Liverpool Echo and concluded that he was still “the absolute professional from the soles of his slip-on trainers to the tip of his still tousled hair.” The Mail on Sundays David Bennun was somewhat depressed by Dylan’s first half delivery and with the audience’s blind adoration (“… you sense that Dylan could replace the lyrics to This Wheel’s On Fire with those from The Wheels On The Bus – Lord knows, he might as well do – and still they would cheer him to the echo”) but felt that he reconnected with his performing art during Fourth Time Around and stayed connected for the rest of the show.
Meanwhile, in an unidentifiable newspaper, Paul Whitelaw was advising his readers to get along to the Stirling gig because it may be “perhaps the last chance you’ll have to share the air with this living legend.” (At least until May 2002 says I) even if, at the 1992 Bobfest, he felt that “he played like a rat trapped in a shoebox and sang like an adenoidal weasel”. Yes, it was rather a good performance, wasn’t it? Freewheeler Andrew Muir advised Scotland’s The Herald to expect the unexpected and not expect the songs to sound the same as the album versions. Above all, though, “the show will mainly be about having fun.” At least, that was the idea until the weather and the venue conspired to dampen everyone’s enthusiasm except for Bob’s and his accountants. A late soundcheck left fans locked out in the pouring ain waiting for their first glimpse of the fairytale Stirling carpark,,,er, Castle and caused the Scottish Daily Record to scream,”Shambles Hits Dylan Concert!”. What they made of the actual gig is not recorded here.
Over in Kilkenny, a projected beer festival before the show was scraped when Garda Inspector Paschal Connolly told Ireland On Sunday somewhat unfairly that “The only time there has been a riot after a concert was in Sane, and that was after another Bob Dylan concert.”
Beer Festival or no beer festival, the Kilkenny show received the media thumbs-up. The Irish Independants Niamh Hooper was not disappointed and the newspaper even managed to secure an offstage photo of a cowboy hatted Dylan o his way to the gig. Sean Keane, writing for the Irish edition of The Mirror was equally impressed and reported that the day was so pleasant that the Garda didn’t even get a chance to use their water cannon on all those lovely Bob Dylan fans.
The Irish Examiners Neans McSweeney enjoyed the whole festival but admitted that Dylan stole the show; “It was certainly a case of the best wine until last and boy, did the fans lap it all up”. The Irish Times interviewed many of the fans on the way to the festival and were rewarded with comments like “Bob is our Jesus” Hardly riveting stuff but they did feature a lovely onstage ohoto to make up for it. However a day later, the same newspaper featured a glowing review by Peter Crawley, especially when comparing surprise (sic) special guest Ron Wood with the star of the show; “… Wood comes off….well, just like a Rolling Stone. Dylan however, was focused, dignified and taciturn, Icons always are….”
Meanwhile the rest of the world wasn’t ignoring Dylan either. It was reported that the statue on top of Oslo’s Trondheim Cathedral was modelled on Dylan. Erected in 1969, the sculptor Kristofer Leirdal has finally revealed where his inspiration came from; “ I saw that singer as a a representative of American opposition to the Vietnam War. I thought It was appropriate to have a great poet on the top of the tower. “ Expect lots of Dylan fans to suddenly develop an interest in 12th Century Architecture the next time the Neverending Tour hits Oslo, then.
In Rolling Stone, Greil Marcus was giving a typical Greil Marcus review of live 1961 to 2000. He seems to have liked it, awarding it 4 ½ stars and saying of It Ain’t Me Babe,”It will never be sung and played quite like it was this night in 1975. You missed it. Or would have, if this record didn’t exist.”
Sally Kirkland was giving an interview to Dany Margolies for the Malibu Times, revealing that she wrote “20 million” poem for Dylan and then waited for answers in his songs. They last dated year a year ago and she plays his music before his stage appearances. “ He’s my muse” , she allows, “it hasn’t worked out yet, I’ve been in love with him since my 20’s . Maybe when we’re in our 90’s”.
Dylan’s boyhood home in Duluth was put up for sale on the internet, still boasting young Bob’s initials scratched in the woodwork. A “music loving group” headed by Stephen Reuff eventually secured the “charming duplex” with a bid of $94,600, though second place bidder Bill Pagel, who offered only $100 less was not giving up without a fight. He contacted the owners lawyer and offered cash on the nose if he could have it. And the lawyer insisted that the seller was not “legally bound” to accept the highest bid. Meanwhile, Duluth based DJ , and Dylan fan, John Bushey was insisting that the childhood home that really mattered was the one in Hibbing; “That is where he really grew up that’s where he really became interested in music” Good news for anyone who has just bunged out nearly a 100 Grand for a house with scratches in the woodwork, then.
Finally, July brought forth news that Dylan was to release a new album in September called Love & Theft, and described by Dylan as a greatest hits album without the hits. Those who had already heard it found it to be “contemporary let rootsy” Edna Gunderson, “The kind of record that people are hungry for” Don Ienner and “ filled with his trademark level of dazzling lyrics sophistication.” (Robert Hilburn). It was to be released on September 11, 2001; a date that history will not forget in a hurry, not that we knew it back those more innocent Summer Days.
This month Oi Ave been mainly reading German concert reviews. Dylan’s July 2001 tour of Germany produced a veritable deluge of reviews, in the main all very positive indeed. Without further ado lets have a look at what some of them had to say.
Firstly, the Braunsheweig Concert, Mathias Bejalke , in the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, pointed out that this gig was the 1,322 nd of the never ending tour.(good job someones counting” and that “maybe Dylan’s a sad old man but on stage he gives the impression that he’s doing what he always wanted to do; to be there on the road and sing his songs. To be a tramp and a juke box”. Whilst, in the Neue Presse Hannover, Mathiashalbig especially enjoyed the encores: “….during knocking on heavens door the teenies where on there feet, and even dancing…Sixty years and Forever Young. Dylan is brilliant.” In a brief but positive review the Westfalenpost concluded that it was “ a good concert without big gestures without trapping, but with music.” And Roland Comes, in the Braunschweiger Zeitung, decided that, while “he’s no master of the guitar and his voice isn’t as flexible as it used to be, the passion and intensity he expresses…. Not only command respect, but make for a fascinating experience.”
A couple of days later the Montreux concert is just as enthusiastically received. Reviewing in Derbund, Brigitta Niederhauser was as impressed with Dylan’s band as Bob himself, calling Charlie Sexton, “one of the best guitar players in the world.” And getting excited enough to write, Dylan and his four musketeers are lashing through the dark nights at a rock n roll gallop, as if they want to face all the ghosts lurking in songs like Visions oF Johanna, Drifters Escape and Masters Of War.” Reviewing the first week of the Montreux Festival for Switzerlands Neuezuricher Zeitung, Manfred Papst concluded that, without “videothunderstorms on the sceens” or any concessions to theatricality at all, “everything which was heard the night before was dwarfed by Bob Dylan’s performance on Sunday night.
In Switzerland Beiler Tagblatt, Ursgilgen especially enjoyed the “marvellously played“ encore and revealed that, before the show, a girl was performing a dance in order to persuade someone to sell her a ticket and a man was offering sexual services to get into the venue. Honestly, the things Andy Muir will do in order to get material for Razors Edge Vol 2! Away from such debauchery Berner Zeitung’s Samual Mumenthaler also enjoyed the encore. During which “Dylan and the band where rocking like a stadium act” but “it was the quieter moments which were really surprising. Dylan raised his voice like a blues singer and revealed his gentle tender side.” Meanwhile, Der Landbote enjoyed the encores and an “intensive “ Blind Willie McTell and called the show “the highlight of the first weekend”. Finally, Aargauer Zietung’s Rudolph Amstutz also enjoyed a “stubborn and distraught” Blind Willie McTell and rated the show as “two hours as a snapshot of a great ‘work in progress’”.
Onto the Schwabisch Gmund Concert, which was, according to Udo Eberl in Schwabisches Tagblatt, attended by 12,000 fans who, 2 and a quarter hours later, “went home more than satisfied.” In Wiesbadener Tagblatt, Gens Frederiksen praised the “grandiose freshness.” Of the performance. and singled out My Back Pages as the highlight. Steffen Radlmaier again enjoyed the encores. In the Nurnberger Nachrichten, though he was at pains to point out that it was impossible to sing along to Blowin In the Wind, just in case we thought it was still 1984.
In the Neue Wurttemebergische Zeitung, Marcus Zecha turned in a so-so review, claiming that it was the biggest concert to ever hit Gmund, throwing the city into “a state of emergency” and that some people spent the first hour of the show bemoaning the fact there weren’t many Greatest Hits and that when they got them during encore, there weren’t many chances “bellow along”. Some people. Never satisfied. Don’t know when they’re onto a good thing. Etc, etc, etc. Henning Dedekind, reviewing for the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, enjoyed in well enough; “….with the face of a grave digger, he expresses a dry playing mood…the chorus of Mr. Tambourine Man expresses some kind of tramp/romanticism, loudly acclaimed by the audience. Dylan is this tramp. He smiles. We picked a good day.” And finally the Reutlinger General-Anzeiger selected Blowin In The Wind as the shows highlight; “…this hymn still sounds honest and fresh. Nobody sings Dylan like Dylan.”
Reaching Lorrach, Badische Zeitung presented an on stage pic alongside Jurgen Frey’s review. Frey found Dylan’s “mumbling and croaking” voice to be powerful enough but admits that the audience failed to get overly excited. “probably because Dylan strictly refused all attempts at singing along.” (is it really that important to sing along at a Dylan gig??) Stuttgartter Zeitung, Michael Werner was extremely positive, calling Dylan “the guvenor” and claiming that he played “as if this was his last concert. He sang as though he was not sure that he would wake up the next morning.”
In his column for Oberdadisches Volksblatt, Guido Neidinger admits that he didn’t really enjoy Lorrach at all. There was, he claims, “a lot of monotony” and he was disappointed that Dylan didn’t acknowledge the audience or allow photographs,”we took some anyway, especially because of the prohibition”. The same newspaper also featured a positive review by Christian K Polit alongside a lovely onstage photo. Amongst the audience, Polit found Stephan Fehlau who was celebrating his 150th Dylan concert. Respect.
A day later, the same newspaper printed yet another review this time by Jorg Passlick :”…when he feels the audience understands him a concert can turn into a celebration. Just like in Lorrach. He gives the audience, which is going wild, 6 encores and says goodbye on his knees.
The tour hits Bad Reichenhall and Martin Riegler of Neues Volksblatt greets it with decidedly stroppy review. Complaining about his voice, the drums, and a “stretched” version of Its All Over Now, Baby Blue. That made him long for the Van Morrison version. Could it really have been that bad ???? Michael Bucholz, reviewing for the Oberbayerisches Volksblatt. On the other hand, found it to be “exceptional from the first to the last song” and revealed that Dylan even signed the promoters guest book – “it was really a very special night” Bernhard Flieher’s review in an Austrian newspaper featured a superb on stage photo an d the revelation that the concert briefly “brought the world to a halt.” Germanys Passauer Neue Presse where unable to get a photo for their review and so left a black box where the pic should have featured. Sabine Heinritz reveals that over 40 cameras were confiscated but, for all that, Dylan seemed more relaxed on stage this year. Austria’s Der Standard also managed to sneak in a naught onstage photo and reviewer Christian Schachinger had his faith restored with a “snotty punk version of All Along The Watchtower”.
Thomas Karmar’s Diepresse Review was accompanied by another nice photo and he rates Dylan’s band almost as highly “the Band” and claims that Drifters Escape and watchtower where definite highlights of the show. Karl Bruckmaier of the Suddeutsche Zeitung was less impressed, claiming that Dylan lost his voice during To Ramona but found it again during Hard Rain. Abendzietung’s L. Grassberger also reckoned that “Dylan’s voice has lost it’s warmth but sounds sharper than ever.” Maria Rockenwagner, reviewing for Germanys Reichenhaller Tagblatt, called it no less than “an overwhelming concert.” And although “Dylan doesn’t attach great importance to perfect music”, he concludes that “some things become better the older they get. The same is obviously true of Bob Dylan.”
Finally, a review of the Taormina concert appeared in Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung by Willi Winkler. It was a positive enough review but of perhaps greater interest is the revelation that “according to local legend, Dylan asked for a sunshade and a table, and while drinking a beer, was lost in viewing Mount Etna spewing flames”. A nice image.
Meanwhile, closer to home, an unknown Scottish newspaper featured two reviews of the Stirling Castle show. The first, by Vicky Collins, was decidedly lukewarm, claiming that Dylan’s anti-showbiz onstage demeanour was admirable but an artists job is to entertain, especially as “a Dylan concert is costly”, and Dylan failed to do so. John Williamson more or less disagreed;”…now in his seventh decade, Dylan may frequently deviate from greatness, but he remains a fascinating, laudable, and often enjoyable live act.”
Ireland’s hot press – who, I believe, haven’t had a bad word to say about Dylan for nigh on a decade now- despatched Jackie Hayden to review the Kilkenny show. Despite a rushed Desolation Row, which “took the concept of artistic reinterpretation to wilfully pointless extremes”, the show soon picked up and became “two hours of no-nonsense, non-stop unapologetic rock, and all played and sang with a passion and power …truly something very special had been delivered.”
Away from the live shows July’s Record Collector was giving the thumbs up to the vinyl reissues of Bringing It All Back Home, and Highway 61 Revisited, both of which, according to Andy Neill, sounded “as fresh, vital as near to life changing as they did over three decades ago.” Peter Doggett was less impressed with the tribute disc A Nod To Bob, which was “pleasant but never compelling” and only featured one track-Rambling Jack Elliotts Don’t Think Twice – which “doesn’t treat the material as a sacred object.”
Also in July America’s Eastsidejournal.com where pretty enthusiastic about Andy Muir’s Razors Edge. The unlikely named Claude Flowers especially enjoyed the “priceless” 1993 Camden episode and found the book to be “loads of fun, packed with witty insights.” UK Making Musics Martin Scott was not so convinced praising Muir for his “gift for understatement that really brings home how bad the 1993 Hammersmith shows must have been.” But asking Making Music’s readship “Do you care?” before concluding “this is a labour of love, for a small audience….check it out carefully before spending.”
Augusts Q gave 4 stars to the Essential Bob Dylan compilation. David Quantick called it “a linear fellow with few surprises.” And “a sensible shoes list”, though he did admit that all the classics were here and “there are some fun moments.” Further along, Phil Sutcliffe gave 3 stars to David Hadju’s Positively Fourth Street and Andy Fyfle awarded Howard Sounes Down The Highway a deserved 4 stars, concluding that Clinton Heylins Behind The Shades is still the best biography but that “Down The Highway is far more entertaining in its gently scurrilous, if slightly clunky way.”
Finally, Andy Muir popped up in British Telecoms own BT Today newspaper explaining why he decided to write Razors Edge; “my aim was to put this vast and unwieldy tour into some kind of perspective…. The Never Ending Tour has become a phenomenon in my own life.” There’s also a photo of Andy sitting amongst some of his Dylan cds, albums and tapes. I am convinced that, if you stare carefully at the top left hand corner you can see, just peeking out from behind an old Dylan vinyl bootleg, the corner of the Glitter Bands first album. It could be my eyes of course, but it’s nice to think that , somewhere within his closet, Andy still has those spangly 1973 loon pants.
Help this month to Jens Winter, Graham Ashston and Andy (Hey!) Muir. Graham W, Tony S. Bryan G.