Still A Slow Train Coming?

by Neil Watson


“I’m tired of waiting for tomorrow to come
Or that train to come roarin’ round the bend”

(Bruce Springsteen)

“What I find tragic is that he (Dylan) didn’t stand by the record,.. that he couldn’t see how brilliant it was. Obviously it’s a brave thing to suddenly start writing songs about Jesus, but I think he allowed other people to dictate what he should feel about the record later on.”

A quote from Sinead O’Connor on one of the biggest influences on her troubled life, Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming” album. The last part of the quote is open to debate of course.

Ms O’Connor has sung her praises of this album on previous occasions claiming to have gotten through “about 15 copies of it”! If this is the case then great, this is what listening to Mr Dylan is all about. I agree that “Slow Train Coming” is a very powerful and influential statement.

What is so commendable in Sinead O'Connor's case is that she was only about 13 years old when she first heard this record. For this album to have such a profound affect on one so young is a statement in itself. Sinead was brought up with a staunch Catholic upbringing of course and felt that Ireland was run as a dictatorship by the Catholic Church. Sinead is also quoted as saying of the “Slow Train” album:

“As a young woman growing up in the last 20 years of that dictatorship, I found it incredible that somebody could make a spiritual record that was also sexy, that showed you could be in love with God and still be a sexual being”.

She loved the album so much she gave herself a mission.

“One day I’m going to meet everybody that played on this record, and I have, right down to one of the backing vocalists.

“This was the album that made me want to sing professionally. It also had an influence on my first album being called “The Lion And The Cobra” That Old Testament imagery And a certain spirituality that I was trying to bring to my songs.”

After the release of the “Slow Train Coming” album back in 1979 Dylan performed 3 of the songs live on the US “Saturday Nite Live” programme. He gave stunning performances of “Gotta Serve Somebody”, “I Believe In You” and “When You Gonna Wake Up”. I still maintain that these were better versions than on the album. But then Dylan was to deliver many more powerful versions of these and other songs from “Slow Train” on the 1979/1980 tours. He was on a surge of artistic creativity with his new found faith.

Dylan also never looked more vulnerable. Who could ever forget that moment right at the end of the “Saturday Nite Live” performance when host Eric Idle put his arm around Dylan almost to console him! When I first acquired a copy of the “Saturday Nite Live” video after one of the early Manchester Conventions I played it to death. It was never out of the machine! This was at a time when any video footage of Bob Dylan was very scarce to say the least. At the time stuff like the ‘cut’ version of the “Hard Rain” TV Special and camera copies of “Don’t Look Back” were circulating. We still thought they were great if you could manage to blag a copy from someone, but in reality the quality was crap!

Back to the plot though. Sometimes it takes a Leap Of Faith to get things going. Ooops, that’s another Bruce quote. The title of a song from his 1992 “Lucky Town” album. Springsteen is very much in vogue again at the moment with the release of “The Rising” album. An album of new songs written about his thoughts and reaction to the 9/11 atrocities. I have only just got a copy of this album and I really haven’t found the time it requires to listen to yet. I have over the last couple of weeks caught live TV performances of some of the songs. The “Letterman Show” and MTV broadcasts. I have to say that, as in most cases with me, I found that the slower more ballady numbers came over a lot more effective to me. I do find Bruce with the full E-Street a bit too over dramatic. I feel he is always at his best when he is away from the ‘Rockstar’ leading the band mode. I’m referring to classic songs like “Streets Of Philadelphia” and “Dead Man Walking” for example. Two of my favourite Springsteen albums are the acoustic “Nebraska” and “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” recordings. Likewise a lot of the songs from the “Lucky Town” album.

Over the years the critics have claimed that Dylan spoilt “Blood On The Tracks” because it was ‘under-produced’! I tend not to agree. I think this masterpiece is just that. The backing and the music are very minimal, but effective. Set against THOSE lyrics, what did it really matter?

A final footnote. The singer/songwriter Steve Earle has also just released an album called “Jerusalem” with songs relating to 9/11. These songs are not anti-American. I wonder how much attention Earl’s album will receive compared to that of Springsteen's?

I think we all know the answer. Shame really, as Steve Earle is a very talented songwriter, and can he sing! But Springsteen sells zillions whilst Earle sells ziltch.

That’s the way of the world. That’s how it goes.