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20 Pounds Of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

APRIL 2002

As threatened last month, the Love And Theft reviews will dominate pretty much everything here at 20 Pounds Towers for the next few issues. With that in mind let’s get underway with some of the dozens and dozens of reviews that appeared during September, beginning with the UK ones.

Patrick Humphries waxed lyrical over in the Sunday Express way back on August 19th and concluded that it was “Dylan’s most varied and enjoyable album in years… With a voice as rich as oak-aged Chardonnay, Dylan sounds like he’s having a whale of a time.” Another familiar name, Neil Spencer, was similarly impressed a couple of weeks later in the Observer, declaring “Despite a voice ravaged by wine, weed and touring, he’s in a more playful, upbeat state of mind than at any time in the past couple of decades… His faith remains intact. Remarkably, after so many years of comparatively barren toil, so does his muse.” Andy Gill – one of Dylan’s biggest fans - was unsurprisingly enthusing wildly in The Independent, claiming that the album was one of the most important in Dylan’s history and concluding a dazzling review by insisting that his readers “Count yourself lucky if you’re half as vital at his age: once again, the spokesman of a generation is setting the highest standards for any generation to live up to.” Nick Coleman awarded it five stars in The Independent On Sunday, and asked, “Is this classic Dylan? What place does it take in the canon? These are the wrong questions. Love And Theft is a record describing mortality, so it’s a matter of life and death, not league tables.”

Nigel Williamson contributed a brief three-star review to The Times, concluding that “overall, this album is a pleasant diversion rather than a classic” while an equally brief review in the Sunday Times’ “Culture” section decided that it was “if not a great Dylan album a pretty damn good one.”

In the US of A in the more innocent pre-September 11th days, the album was receiving a more innocent warm thumbs-up from all and sundry than the darker (though no less enthusiastic) reviews that would follow after the fateful day. Joel Selvin, in the San Francisco Chronicle, claimed that the album was a classic and that Dylan was “bravely romantic and explicitly sentimental”, proving that “the cunning old fox has still got what it takes”. In the Dallas Observer, Robert Wilonsky produced a different point of view; “If Time Out Of Mind was the soundtrack for the forthcoming funeral – and the first masterpiece since Blood On The Tracks (or Empire Burlesque or Oh Mercy) – then Love And Theft is the album meant to be put on at the wake. “ In the Rocky Mountain News, Mark Brown had a few minor reservations (not least the “lame puns” which, “coming from the best lyricist of all time, are doubly painful”) but still awards it a B+; “..As a whole, Love And Theft feels like a sombre conversation on a porch at twilight, reminiscing about the past and wondering what you have to look forward to.”

Fearing a “great album followed by a crock of shit” scenario (Empire Burlesque followed by Knocked Out Loaded, Oh Mercy followed by Under The Red Sky), The New Yorkers Ben Greenman, was mightily relieved when such fears were dispelled as soon as the first track kicked in: “…Love And Theft instantly dispels any thoughts of superficiality with the rollicking Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dum, a surreal rockabilly number that comes off as an older and crankier cousin of Highway 61 Revisited.” A briefish review in People by Kyle Smith began by praising Bob’s voice (“…like a stretch of unpaved road churning through with sagebrush and Joshua trees. Which is to say, better than ever”) and finished with the simple statement, “This is the 43rd record of Dylan’s career. May it mark the halfway point.” And so say all of us!

Steve Morse of the Boston Globe was pleased to discover that “most of the album finds Dylan shrugging off the bad times, refusing to wallow in them as he did on Time Out Of Mind” and even describing Po’ Boy’s “knock knock” joke as “vintage Dylan” Jon Bream’s Star Tribune review contained this awful clunker of a description of Sugar Baby; “…all nasally croak philosophizing long-windedly about love and life” but at least signs off with the wish that “hopefully, the bluesy, crooning Dylan – like B.B.King, the king of the blues, and Bennett, the king of the crooners – will continue to make music this vital and valid when he’s 75.”

Meanwhile, on those computer thingies, thestar.com’s Vit Wagner observed that “while his new disc falls short of its predecessor’s greatness, there is no question that Love And Theft is far and away the more fan-pleasingly accessible of the two.” Hamp Nettles (what a great name) , writing for dailygamecock.com, delivered a lengthy review, praising every track as “a joy to listen to” and Mississippi as “easily the finest track on the album” and concluding that “even in Dylan’s old age, his phenomenal ability to write and perform songs continues unabated. Perhaps he says it best in Mississippi when he promises that “things should start to get interesting right about now”.” Neumu’s Michael Goldberg was “thrilled” to be hearing lines like, “funny, the things you have the hardest time parting with, are the things you need the least” and perhaps he speaks for all Dylan fans when he writes, “Know anyone who seems to be suffocating themselves with their “stuff” boxes of old magazines, shelf upon shelf of records that haven’t been listened to in years, books gathering dust? Hey I stand accused!” me too, Mike, me too.

Rolling Stones Rob Sheffield bestowed no less than five stars upon the album. An accolade that reputedly pleased Dylan no end – and states that “the remarkable achievement of Love And Theft is that Dylan makes the past sound as strange, haunted and alluring as the future – and the song-and­dance man sings as though he’s drunk too deeply of the past to be either scared or impressed by anybody’s future. Least of all his own. And he sounds like he’s enjoying the ride.”

As in 1997, Dylan promoted his new album with a press conference and a spate of interviews. The Rome press conference – a somewhat reluctant and disappointing affair in my opinion – was reproduced in various levels of completeness – all over Europe, though not, as yet anyway, in Great Britain. Jan Vollaard, one of the twelve journos invited to attend – delivered a fairly truncated version to Hollands Vara TV magazine. A similar sized chunk appeared in Italy’s La Repubblica and again in Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter. Of greater interest is n interview granted to Alan Jackson of The Times magazine, presumably during the summer, as it was held in Spain. It begins with Dylan’s obvious excitement and pleasure that he had recently won an Oscar:” … A lot of performers have won Grammies. Thousands. But very few have won Academy Awards, so that puts me on a different plateau.. they’re simply not that generous with them. And if I hadn’t won part of me would probably have been devastated!” Of his fans – those who read the biographies as well as those who write them

– Dylan is less excited than by his Oscar success;” ..It’s humorous and sad. That such people have spent so much of their life thinking about who? Me? Get a life, please. It’s not something any one person should do about another. You’re not serving your own life well. You’re wasting your life.” Similarly, he felt able to rerecord Mississippi simply because it hadn’t leaked out to fans over the years. “.. those so called hardcore fans of mine (a sneering tone here) , whoever they might be – those folks out there who are obsessed with finding every scrap of paper I’ve ever written on, every single outtake.. the fact is that I can no longer be interested in it (material leaked out to collectors) It’s already been contaminated for me. I turn my back, move on to something else. This time though, my original wasn’t floating around out there, and I felt able to go back and revisit it. I’m glad for once to have had the opportunity to do so.” He admits that he has no plans to retire but that “one day I’ll just wake up and decide that I have had enough. And if and when that happens. I won’t have any problem with walking away. I’ve fulfilled every single thing I wanted to do. I feel like there is nothing left for me to prove.”

To USA Today’s Edna Gundersen he again revealed his pleasure at scoring an Oscar win; “In all honesty, if I hadn’t won, it probably would have devastated me a little bit. That’s like the Pulitzer Prize of the entertainment world.” He admits that he is less unhappy with the numerous biographies that keep appearing as his friends and workmates who are ready and willing to talk; “I have the same feeling about them that Sherman and Lee had about people hanging around their tents. They’re spies. All informers should be shot. A person should not rat on anybody. It’s a principle I adhere to.” Of Howard Sounes’ revelation that he had remarried and fathered another child, he appears to be not bothered. “I’ve been married a bunch of times! I mean, I’ve never tried to hide that. I just don’t advertise my life.” As for the future, there’s the first volume of Chronicles, a possible live album, a few new sketchy songs which could make it onto an album within a couple of years and, apparently plenty of unreleased material still in the vaults. “How do I see my future?” Dylan ponders, “I don’t.”

To Times Christopher John Farley he discusses the forthcoming Chronicles series at length, revealing that, even if he knows that a particular story about him isn’t true, he’ll use it if it sounds good. “.. I’ll take some of the stuff that people think is true and I’ll build a story around that.” Of his newly discovered daughter he will only say; “I get in fights with her if I talk about music”, though he does, for the first time, briefly talk about his second wife Carolyn Dennis;”She’s a gospel singer mainly. She’s a fantastic singer, one of her uncles was Blind Willie Johnson. What more do you need to know about somebody?” Modern music pleases him by, especially rappers like Eminem, though he admits; “ I almost feel like if anything is controversial, then the guys gotta be doing something right.” Only jazz singer Cassandra Wilson excites him; “She’s one of my favourite singers today. I heard her version of Death Letter Blues – gave me the chills. I love everything she does.”

David Fricke got a few comments for Rolling Stone, specifically on why Dylan vetoed Lanois’ 1997 version of Mississippi; “… (he) took it down the Afro-polyrhythm route – multi-rhythm drumming, that sort of thing. Polyrhythm has its place, but it doesn’t work for knifelike lyrics trying to convey majesty and heroism… I tried to explain that the song had more to so with the Declaration Of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights than witch doctors, and just couldn’t be thought of as some kind of ideological voodoo thing. “ There’s one great comment that I simply can’t resist repeating;”… Lanois can get passionate about what he feels to be true. He’s not above smashing guitars. I never cared about that unless it was one of mine.” Brilliant.

Briefly on to other matters before I switch off the typewriter for another month. In Septembers Record Collector Kingsley Abbott was enjoying yet another various artist compilation, this time the It Ain’t Me Babe – The Songs Of Bob Dylan, on the sanctuary label. “.. Arranged chronologically, and with the knowledgeable sleeve notes from RC’s Peter Doggett, this is an intelligent and successful compilation.” In the Phoenix New Times, Gilbert Garcia repeats Clinton Heylin’s observation that “For the 18 years that separate his religious conversion from his illness, it seemed Dylan could do no right.” And claims that the “do no right” period began at the two Tempe gigs during November 1979. These were the two shows, remember, that Dylan recalled six years later during the Biograph booklet interview and Garcia obviously either knows what he’s talking about or has been reading a fair selection of the right Dylan books. Of course for the world at large, the “do no right” period probably really began with the release of Slow Train Coming, or – more critically with the release of Saved, but this is a well written article and it serves to remind us that, at Tempe, Dylan faced an audience more hostile and insulting than all of the 1966 audiences put together.

Finally a positive review of The Essential Bob Dylan, in Septembers Record Buyer & Music Collector is a pleasure to read because the reviewer, when discussing Down In The Groove, reveals that, “I’m one of those lunatics who thinks that that particular album wasn’t the dud that nearly everyone else perceived it to be.” And that “other Dylan records since around 1980 are far less objectionable than the increasingly bland offerings of some of his now more commercially feted Swinging Sixties contemporaries.” Step forward Macca, Mick ‘n’ Keef, rhymin’ Simon – this man means you.

Thanks this month to Graham Ashton and Jens Winter, without them, this would have been a very, very small article indeed.

Dylan

 
 
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