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20 Pounds Of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

MAY 2002

Lots more Love and Theft reviews this month so let’s kick off with some from Germany and Switzerland, starting with the German press.

Andreas Obst, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, is less than impressed, claiming that “the music….drags on for nearly an hour”.But all is not lost, the “affectionately barked” Sugar baby is “a classic song – 6 ½ minutes of eternity.” Donanhurier’s Peter Felkel had no such reservations, claiming that “Dylan sings like he hasn’t done for a long time, with the reality and dignity of a man who has seen, heard and experienced everything, everything which can leave scars on the heart. “ Michael John, writing in the Thuringer Allgemeine, reckoned that, after the second listen, the Dylan fan would “look for the repeat button on his CD player, because one thing’s for certain; for the rest of the day he’ll be listening to Love And Theft on an infinite loop.”

In Die Tageszeitung, Max Dax reckoned it was Dylan’s best album since Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, a novel – and, I would think, pretty unique – point of view. Going one further, Rudiger Schaper, in Der Tagesspiegel, stated that it was his most relaxed album since Nashville Skyline. If we travel any further down this particular road, someone will be claiming that it’s the best thing since he sang Accentuate The Positive for his mum when he was four. In the German edition of Rolling Stone, accompanied by a nice caricature, Wolfgang Doebeling’s review awarded it 4 ½ stars, especially praising Mississippi and Sugar baby’ “…So the album ends on a ray of hope which becomes brighter the more one listens to this record.”

The Swiss reviews were no less enthusiastic. Tagblatt’s Rudolf Amstutz claimed that “It’s the first album that sounds exactly like it’s supposed to. All other albums were failures on that score.” In Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Manfred Papst is especially impressed with High Water and Mississippi, claiming that the latter “line for line, contains the same poetic power as Dignity.” Gunter Amendt, in Die Wochenzeitung, was so impressed that he fell into an uncontrollable spate of name dropping; “His project, to write songs in the style of Charlie Patton, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Bo Diddley, Django Reinhardt, Elvis Presley and others is successful.” Der Bund’s Phillip Dubach simply concluded that “the result is a triumph, clearly outshining it’s predecessor Time Out Of Mind.” Perversely, although he penned a good review, Der Standard’s Christian Schachinger seems to be the only critic in the entire world who thinks that Mississippi and Sugar baby are the “least successful songs”.

Don Carnell’s briefish review in the Jewish Chronicle not only (correctly) called Bob “rock’s greatest living poet” but also praised Sugar baby as “a song which, like much of Love And Theft, underlines the fact that his song writing ability remains as sharp as ever. “ Damien Love’s review in The Scotsman is in danger of straying into Greil Marcus “Well , does he like it or doesn’t he? Territory (“… Love And Theft is soaked in this old, strange, unfathomable trash, currents in the air, collecting in isolated cabin porches, tenement doorways and trailer-park corners, where people pick up remnants, then customise them”) but concludes in the post September 11th daze with; “As people talk about Pearl Harbor and recession, Dylan, dressed and playing for a Depression party, has made the best record of 1932 and 1941 … Love And Theft knows history, and it’s place in history. Standing at the crossroads of 1932, 1941 and 2001, facing down the highway to God knows where.” I think this is one of my favourite reviews.

Entertainment Weekly’s David Browne awarded it an A- and reckons that Dylan’s voice is just perfect for this album; “His scratchy, cigarette-scarred bark makes his early recordings sound like those of a budding opera star, but it’s perfect for capturing the mood of the people in his songs.” And perhaps he hits the nail squarely on the head – and it’s something I hadn’t really considered until I read this – when he concludes; “Here’s another chilling profundity; Dylan’s peak, his revolutionary period, was decades ago. But the remarkable thing about Love And Theft is that for the first time in a while, he doesn’t seem to know it. He’s just a man who’s returned to work after learning to appreciate the art of breathing, and he’s attacking his job with renewed vigour. “ Another exceptionally rewarding review, and with a 1984-era caricature included as well. If you seek out only two reviews from those I’m discussing this month, then this and Damien Love’s should be the two.

Finally this month, there’s a brief mention in The Lancaster Citizen which informs us that “the trouble with Bob is you either love him or hate him. All fans will adore this new album as it’s as good as anything he has ever done.” Fair enough.

Meanwhile on the interview front, Switzerland’s Sonntagezeitung reproduced portions of the Rome Press conference, though nothing that hadn’t appeared elsewhere. German journalist Christoph Dallach was present for the press conference but was also granted an interview of his own afterwards. It seems to have been a pretty negative affair and we learn that Dylan hates modern movies (“I’d rather watch something from 1948 than this summer…. I prefer black and white, I consider colours ugly”), though he admires George Clooney (“… I would watch any movie with George Clooney, this boy has heart”) and that his loathing for the media is till unabated (“… Somewhere somebody makes a profit in marketing violence and brutality. There’s nothing presented in the media without someone earning money from it. … they defeat their purpose which should be to educate their audience. They present spectacle and brutality instead”). Amazingly, given that this is the guy who once wrote the controversial Joey, he also gives the Mafia a fair old tongue lashing. Whilst discussing the Godfather (“… a movie about the scum of the earth. Glorifying human dirt like the Mafia horrifies me very much. Those criminals are no heroes – they’re dirt”). When asked if he still boxes to remain fit, he demands to be told who said that he did. Upon learning that the actress Gina Gershon has revealed that he once hit her while they were sparring, laughing Bob spits; “Well, if she continues to talk like that, she’ll get another punch.” He will admit that he enjoys the ballet and tries to attend “three or four times a year”. All in all, a particularly bad-tempered interview.

The Love And Theft promotional push received another boost in September when Robert Hilburn’s interview appeared in the LA Times’ “Calender” magazine. He admits that there were too many slow ballads on Time Out Of Mind; “I can gut-wrench a lot out of them. But if you put a lot of them on a record, they’ll fade into one another, and there was some of that in Time Out Of Mind. I sort of blue-printed it this time to make sure I didn’t get caught without any up tempo songs. If you hear any difference on this record – why it might flow better – it’s because as soon as an up-tempo song comes over, then it’s slowed down, then back up again. There’s more pacing. “ He will not accept that Masters Of War is an antiwar song; “.. I’m not apacifist… it’s about what Eisenhower was saying about the dangers of the military industrial complex in this country. I believe strongly in everyone’s right to defend themselves by every means necessary.” He believes that his songs have been misinterpreted by “imbeciles who wouldn’t know the first thing about writing songs.” And that eh has never been a generation’s spokesman or an idealistic optimist; “… A lot of my songs were definitely misinterpreted by people who didn’t know any better, and it goes on today.” O­kay, then, given the humour and spirit on Love And Theft, does he feel pretty good about everything these days? “Any day above the ground is a good day.”

During August the pre-Love And Theft Summer Tour was garnering some good reviews, none more so then by James Beaty in the McAlester News-Capital & Democrat, where he witnessed a “rollicking night” at Oklahoma’s Zoo Amphitheater by Dylan and his, “remarkable band” . Steven Rosen, reviewing both Telluride shows for the Denver Post, simply realised that, “he’s never been better live.” Writing in the Arizona Republic, John Carlos Villani said of the Phoenix Sundome gig, “It was .. what turned out to be a rocking night of no-holds barred musicianship, featuring one great hit after another.” The Telluride Daily Planet’s Suzanne Cheavens witnessed not so much a pair of rock concerts in her home town as a miracle of supernatural proportions; “ ..We bathed in magenta cloud light and rain as light as a whisper. We hoisted our children above the crowd, saying; “See, See him?” And hope, that somewhere in their formative beings, they get it, that they listen to the words.”

In the Valley Press, Kimberly Demucha succinctly summed up the Antelope Valley Fair performance; “…With little fanfare, Dylan did what he does best and launched into a non­stop set of tunes from his vast repertoire.”

On the folkmusic.about.com website, Hugh Blumefeld had little praise for David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street. Having expected so much, he was disappointed to find that it was “not a book that will give you much insight into the remarkable creativity of it’s chief figures – Baez, Dylan and Farina.. Instead, it is a collection of personal recollections, anecdotes, gossip and innuendo and very people escape from it unscathed.” An accompanying interview with Carolyn Hester reveals that she found the book to be disappointing and failing to live up to it’s promise and that she had “very mixed emotions about it.” She believes that it was Grossman who was manipulating and “the guiding genius” and that Dylan’s early success didn’t mean that he had sold out; “His Song For Woody made a whole lot of people buy a Woody Guthrie record”.

Onto other various sundries. In the Sunday Times, John Harlow revealed that Dylan was writing his autobiography but that his “retrievable memory goes blank on incidents and things that have happened.” . Harlow, kind soul that eh is, provided the most potted of potted biographies to jog Bob’s memories and even asked John Peel to help. Alas, all to no avail. “I’ve never met Dylan,” the DJ admits, “So I can’t fill in any of the blanks. They say that if you can remember the sixties you weren’t there, but those years didn’t do me any major damage.” Fair enough John, but never, ever put that theory to the vote.

In October’s Record Buyer And Music Collector, the A Nod To Bob compilation was receiving the thumbs up; “…while this isn’t the highest profile Dylan Tribute album, it’s on of the best, especially in this red letter year for the great man.” In the same issue, Spencer Leigh set himself eight questions about Dylan (many about the Liverpool show that he attended) and allowed himself two hours of surfing various Dylan websites to try and find the answers.

Unsurprisingly, he was successful and found out a lot more than he had intended into the bargain. Entertainment Weekly’s Stephen McGill also surfed the maze of Dylan sites and was impressed with what he found; “Few artists are as enigmatic as Robert Allen Zimmerman, and fewer still have bodies of work that are so well documented. It’s an irony Bob Dylan would be proud of – assuming he ever logs on to find out about it.” Which, I think we can safely say, isn’t ever likely to happen.

And that concludes my ramblings for another month. Next Issue: more Love And Theft reviews than you can shake a shitty stick at (not that I’d advise it – it plays hell with the carpet.

Thanks this time around to Graham A, Jens W, Graham W, Tony S

Bob Dylan

 
 

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