20 Pounds Of Headlines


March 2002

This month we’re looking at cuttings from August and September 2001.. It’s a bit of a mixed bag with some live reviews, book reviews and the first of what would be a deluge of Love And Theft reviews. Let’s get the ball rolling then.


Nick Hasted was decidedly less than impressed with Bob’s Liverpool show in Septembers Uncut, finding it all a bit of a bore. Even Desolation Row, a song he “lives in awe of on record”, becomes tonight, “just another song”. If Dylan was workmanlike and stagnant it is, Hasted Theories, because Dylan’s artistic life “now moves forward like a shark, no reflective life possible, each night’s achievements grinding into the next….there’s no time to think. Bob 2001 no longer veers giddily between genius and clown. Instead he treads a steadier line, between genius and another sixties trouper doing the rounds.” Nice colour onstage photo included, but not from Liverpool or, indeed, even from 2001.


John Harris was almost as unimpressed with the Stirling Car Park gig, feeling that Dylan was “coasting” and that the dominant 1960’s material plus his increasing eccentric phrasing and guitar playing were all becoming a bit tedious. There were moments though that were “utterly transcendant”, especially Girl From The North Country, Don’t Think Twice and a “taut, defiant” Maggie’s Farm. Still at least there was a colour pic from the Stirling gig to console me from the fact that, on audio evidence (I wasn’t there) , Harris may have been at least partly correct.


In the only American review this month, Kimberly Demucha of the Antelope Valley Press was more impressed with Bob’s Antelope Valley Fair gig, even going so far as to call his guitar playing “masterful”. In what could be considered the concert event of the summer, Dylan played to a sold out crowds of passionate fans …. With little fanfare. Dylan did what he does best and a lunched into a non-stop set of tunes from his vast repertoire…”


On the book front, Howard Sounes was getting a roasting from Phil  Kitchel in the August / September issue of the Grateful Dead fanzine Relix; “… Sounes lacks sufficient language for discussing Dylan’s music, image and impact, so when Dylan’s ascent is complete, halfway through the book. He’s hard pressed to make the next 30 years very compelling. Sounes own perspective is obvious and pedestrian, so we’re left with the many voices he’s pulled together, listening to the echoes of an American gospel.”


Here in the UK, Peter Doggett was giving the thumbs up to Andy Muir’s Razor Edge; “…I found the most enjoyable parts of his account were those rooted in his own experiences …his ever changing response to Dylan’s mercurial progress is often more revealing than his straightforward narrative of facts and events.” In the same issue, Joel McIver was equally impressed with the republished Early Dylan photo book; “…Impressive, then, perhaps not up to the standard set by last years bench-mark-setting Elliott Landy photo collection Dylan In Woodstock, but a worthy coffee-table feature for Bobaholics.”


Nigel Williamson was full of gushing praise for Razors Edge in Septembers Uncut, awarding it four stars and claiming that the last chapter is “one of the finest pieces of recent Dylan commentary.” John Mullen, in Septembers Q, was dishing out three stars for the re-published Scaduto biography: “…this pioneering biography now reads like a tame remnant from a more innocent age. You  can’t fault the books astonishing attention to detail… the problem is that in those pre-Goldman days, the rock biographers role was essentially to be an overpaid cheerleader”.

Finally, Dave Marsh was – at long last – questioning the universal adoration that greeted David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street. The premise of this “hideous” book, he claims, is that “Farina, a decent songwriter and ambitious  literary hustler, was The Great Lost Folk Rock Artist, while Dylan  was somehow just an opportunist with a big vocabulary. After all, Farina was admired by his Cornell chum, Thomas Pynchon, while Dylan only went to a Big Ten university and expanded the possibilities of what songs could say for millions.”He’s harsh but he kind of sums up how I’ve felt about the book since I read it last June. Anyway, this review appeared on during August but should have been syndicated wider.

Onto other matters of a Bobular nature. Septembers Mojo was reprinting the story about how the archangel atop Norways  Trondheim Cathedral was facially modelled on 1960’s-era Bob Dylan. The photo reproduced here is closer than any I’ve previously seen and, I have to say… it looks nothing like him. The same issue carried an interview with country star Lucinda Williams by Sylvie Simmons: “.. A student of my dad’s, a young poet, came over to the house one day in 1965 with a copy of Highway 61 Revisited and it just changed my life. All of a sudden here was someone who had taken  both of the worlds I was from – the traditional folk music world that I had come out of and the creative writing world – and put them together and made it work. I decided from that moment on, I wanted to write songs like that.”

Come September and it was the small matter of  Love And Thefts release that was dominating the press. The Edmonton Sun’s Mike Ross was waxing positive a full fortnight before it’s release; “…His upcoming album sees the Jester reinventing himself as a back-porch bluesman. He’s got the hat. He’s got the voice. He’s got the hard luck and trouble and strife. Now he’s got the blues.”

A.D. Amorosi, putting poison pen to paper for, obviously hates Dylan (a “Minnesota Twerp”) and blames him for selling out to cash (wow a radical theory and it’s only nearly 40 years  since the accusation was first thrown.) and turned every other poor innocent folkie “so money-hungry that they would devour one another.”Yes, folks, single handedly “Dylan and Grossman, by fucking the corpse of Woody Guthrie, turned the folk scene that adored him sour.” As expected Amorosi is less than excited by Love & Theft , calling  it a “gently grinding hard folk whir sped up and cooled down by his coarse round band” Instead he reckons we should spend our hard earned cash on the  new Dave Van Ronk album, presumably because he’s some sad old fart who still thinks it’s 1958 and that Guthrie isn’t dead, let alone royally butt-fucked by Bob and Albert.  Mr. Amorosi. You are a turd floating in the toilet bowl of life.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Boyd Hilton was giving it four stars in Heat and singling out Mississippi, High Water and Sugar Baby as “three quite remarkable ballads… full of dazzling acoustic guitars and all fit to take their place in the Dylan pantheon of masterpieces.” Time Out’s Ross Fortune didn’t like it (though he reluctantly admits that Mississippi “clomps and emotes pleasingly enough”)  And calls it a case of rockin’ whimsy, cheap shot and hollow rancour.” For fresher waters try Caspar llewllyn Smith’s Daily Telegraph review, where he found it to be “a perplexing piece of work.” And “a fascinating, loveable record and proof that the itinerant performer is still very much himself and still has plenty of tricks in his bag.”

Alex Petridis, writing for The Guardian, was less sure, finding some numbers to be little more than clunky filler while recognising that, in Mississippi and High Water, “Love And Theft also carries  moments of genuine inspiration.” His voice, too, while sometimes adding a “skid-row pathos to Love And Thefts more delicate moments”, is sometimes disturbing; “..When, during moonlight, he sings “Won’t you meet me in the moonlight alone?”, It sounds less like a romantic assignation  than the soundtrack of a public information film warning children not to talk to strangers”. For David Sinclair, writing in The Times, it was a grand failure after Time Out Of Mind:”…the overriding impression is of a formerly distinguished performer cheerfully sliding into an advanced state of decreptitude.”

Greil Marcus wrote a typically lengthy Greil Marcus epic which found itself being reproduced in the Guardian Weekend on September 8th. Mostly, he concentrates on High Water but he seems to like what he hears. With Marcus, as with Dylan himself, it’s often a case  of reading between the lines, but this is a good piece of writing and, back in the good old days, may even have made Article Of The Month.

As of August 7th, the Duluth News Tribune was reporting  that Dylan’s boyhood home still wasn’t sold. Steven Lundeen the Minneapolis attorney for the homes owner, said that, whilst second highest bidder Bill Pagel had made a perfectly legitimate offer to secure the property for a cash purchase, he felt “an obligation on my part to deal in good faith with the first bidder.” That highest bidder, Stephen Rueff, still hadn’t finalised the deal and the house owner, Kathy Burns, was legally free to look at other bids and was also getting mightily impatient.

Finally this month, mention must be made of the August edition of Temoignage Chretien, a French Christian magazine. It contained a special Dylan supplement which featured a new interview with Hugues Aufray as well as several articles touching upon different aspects of Dylan’s career. Illustrated with a nice selection of photo’s  (many in colour and a few previously unfamiliar to myself.), this is a  nice little addition to the collection and, surprisingly , the religious angle of Dylan’s career is kept to a minimum.

And that’s it for now. Next month the Love And Theft reviews will sweep away everything else  before them and I think I’ve got all the negative ones out of the way already!

Thanks this month to; Graham A, Antonio J.I, Graham W.

Stirling Castle, July 13, 2001