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20 Pounds Of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

FEBRUARY 2003

A bit of a mixed bag of stuff this month as we take a look at the press from early 2002. Amazingly, there were still a couple of Love and Theft reviews creeping through. In the January 27th edition of The Victoria Advocate, Dale Martin reckoned that it – and Time Out Of Mind – were amongst his very best ever; “…In several published interviews he has admitted that he still feels as though his best work is yet to come. After listening to his last two albums, it’s hard to imagine how that can happen.” A month later – and a mere six months after it was released – Robert Wilonsky of the Houston Press decided that “Love and Theft contains the sound of a man unhinged and unhindered by legacy…The smile says enough: Bob Dylan is just happy to be alive.”

In what will probably be the final review of the February 2002 tour, Steve Cooper, of online magazine ESP, went along to Winston-Salem’s Lawrence Joel Coliseum where he heard the definitive “slow sizzling” version of Sugar Baby, which, if the rumoured live album appears, he feels should be definitely included.

In the Berkshire Eagle, Seth Rogovy interviewed Jeffrey Gaskill, who has spent the last six months producing a various-artists tribute to Dylan. Unlike other tributes, this one will feature covers of his Born-Again material and will be titled “Pressing On: The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan”. To give his seal of approval, Dylan has even contributed a song himself; a re-recorded version of Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking with vocal help from Mavis Staples. Gaskill first saw Dylan live at one of the 1980 gospel shows and still remembers the “deep impact” it had on him; “I recognised he was taking a stand and doing something highly unusual for someone in his position and I was amazed by that. I was drawn into that.”

Staying on the religious theme, Bjørn B. Olsen of Norway’s Fredrikstad Blad reported on a mass held in one of Norway’s largest churches that featured translations of Dylan songs. This may sound unusual unless you’ve ever watched Father Ted (especially the “Speed 3” episode), in which case it probably doesn’t.

The Isis Anthology, as published by Helter Skelter in December, finally received some press during Mach and April. Mick Middles, in Classic Rock, awarded it three stars out of five and concluded; “…Great, but better next to the toilet rather than on the bookshelf.” Uncut’s Ian MacDonald gave it four stars (“…Vignettes, then, are the order of the day, but these are good vignettes, by and large, and this book is worth any Dylan specialist’s money”) and Matt Bryden of tangents.co.uk decided that it “makes you want to dig out the albums, which is the mark of a successful music book. It makes you hungry for some Love and Theft criticism. Here’s to the next 100 issues.” Record Collector’s Peter Doggett succinctly summed up that “if you’re more than mildly obsessed with Bob, then this is an essential purchase”. He was almost as enthusiastic (but more confused) about John Gibbens’ The Nightingale’s Code; “…Sometimes the destination isn’t certain, but the scenery is always worth the ride.”

The same issue of Record Collector (March) also featured a lengthy tribute article on Johnny Cash to celebrate his 70th birthday again by Peter Doggett. Quite interesting, if you know as little about Cash as I do and, of course, all the expected Dylan references are firmly in place.

In the February issue of a maga zine that seems to be called www.creative (I have no idea why, since this is a “proper” paper-and- ink magazine) Fred Mills offers a positive (if even more belated than the Isis Anthology) review of Andy Muir’s Razor’s Edge (“the book offers a refreshingly opinionated assessment of Dylan the Performing Artist”) as well as a knowledgeable – and equally, and deservingly, positive – review of the excellent nine-CD bootleg box set called – Deep Breath – Genuine Never Ending Tour Covers Collection 1988 – 2000; “…It’s a handsome set…it’s the scope of the project that makes Genuine Covers a crucial artefact…At 162 songs, there’s a lot to absorb. Perhaps that suggests a further subtext of the set: Dylan the roving schoolmaster, an in-person variation on the old Alan Lomax archivist model, performing nightly from his American lectern.”

During March The Observer’s David Benedict revealed that he thinks Dylan writes wonderful songs but cannot sing them. To that end, he recommends Barb Jungr (any relation to Barb Dylan?) who has just released an album of Dylan covers called every Grain of Sand; “…The effect is to deepen and darken songs but for the most part she has a blessedly light touch…I just hope that Dylan himself has a listen and starts writing for her direct. Cut out the middle man, I say.” Of course, by the time you read that he’s already also recommended Joan Baez’s version of Simple Twist Of Fate so it’s difficult – nay, impossible – to take the old twat seriously.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the Arizona And Republic’s David Leibowitz was receiving nasty e-mails (over 800) for criticising Dylan in the wake of his Grammy performance. The responses ranged from the politely indignant (“You, sir, are a moron… I think the answer is blowin’ in the wind, and that answer is you are an idiot”) to the unpleasant (“…Go listen to whatever it was you were listening to before…Eminem, or Kid Rock, or whatever, you freakin’ schmuck”) and onto the downright unpleasant (“Read your Dylan piece. Hope all the letters you’ll get make you feel bad. And I hope you die”, “You’ve officially graduated to fucking moron. Go electrocute yourself”). Isn’t it great to know that Dylan fans have got such a wonderful sense of humour and perspective. And people still ask me where I get the inspiration for my cartoons from.

The March edition of Q featured a piece entitled The Ten Tours That Changes Music. No room for the 1966 European tour, of course, (probably the only tour that really deserves such an accolade) but there is a two-page spread on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue by Phil Sutcliffe which is pretty concise and error- free and features some nice (if familiar) photos along with the expected amusing (sic) captions.

March’s Making Music reviewed the reissued Concert For Bangladesh, describing it as “well worthy of a place in your collection” and claiming that it is “a timely reminder to everyone currently lauding Dylan’s rebirth that he has still to record anything with a tenth of the depth, quality and passion of the songs to be found on here.”

David Bauder revealed that over 1,000 worldwide Internet fans were taking part in a pool built around what songs Dylan played at each concert, scoring less points for the regular numbers and more points for the rarer ones. Anyone who ever played the Freewheelin’ Fantasy League will be familiar with the concept of course. The prize is a bootleg CD box set and Elliott Mintz is pretty sure that Dylan won’t be taking part; “To my knowledge, he doesn’t spend any time online. He’s not a big computer guy.” Not only that, but surely Dylan would have an unfair advantage if he did take part? This story seems to have been widely syndicated in America, appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Journal News and the New York Post, to name but three.

Dylan’s unexpected appearance at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Oscar party was deemed worthy of mention in the soaraway Sun alongside a nice photo of Bob, Elt and Ryan Adams (Bob’s the one with cowboy hat and scowl) and several photos and reports appeared on the net, revealing that the guests went home with goody bags that contained, amongst other things, copies of Elton John’s CDs. Maybe that’s why Bob isn’t smiling on any of the photos.

April’s Record Collector featured a lengthy spread by – who else? – Peter Doggett on Dylan’s 1965 UK tour. All the facts are neatly summarised from the moment he stepped off the plane at Heathrow on April 26th through to the BBC television special on June 1st. New information comes courtesy of a bunch of papers rescued from Dylan’s Savoy Hotel room after he’d left (to be auctioned at Christie’s on April 30th 2002) and so we get to see letters and postcards to Bob from Nico, Joan Baez and Donovan (“I can’t make your concerts. Going to Spain. See you maybe.” writes the humiliated Leech, er, Leitch) as well as a previously unpublished questionnaire from Cambridge student paper Varsity, which Dylan obviously took seriously enough to fill in properly before presumably then binning it. The same issue also features reviews of the re-released Concert For Bangladesh by Andy Neil (“If you don’t own the set already, invest for the Dylan set alone”) and the reissued Judy Collins album Just Like A Woman by Peter Doggett (“…one song, Dark Eyes, emerged from it’s cover version with more credit than Dylan’s own self-conscious rendition.”).

The May issue of Uncut got in early with a four-star review, courtesy of Nigel Williamson, of the mouth-watering four-CD box set of The Last Waltz; “…We get one previously unissued Dylan track, a version of the neglected Hazel from Planet Waves…can you have too much of a good thing? With a line-up like this, of course you can’t.”

Finally, the March 8th issue of Goldmine contained a lengthy interview with D.A. Pennebaker by Harvey Kubernik which, while interesting, told us nothing new (after all these years, is there anything new left to say?) as well as a list of the most collectible Dylan records (the withdrawn Freewheelin’ now commands $30,000 in it’s stereo incarnation) and a fairly detailed history of the first pressing of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan ad why it’s now worth insane amounts of money by Tim Neeley.

And that’s it – I am up to date again. Although, as I write, the UK dates are just over a month away so it’s a situation that is unlikely to last. Even now, Uncut are promising yet another Dylan special for the June issue. When will the madness stop?

THANKS TO: GRAHAM A, TONY S, GRAHAM W, ANDY M, KIM L, SIMON H, MUM & DAD

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