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20lbs of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

MARCH 2003

Before we cast a jaundiced eye over the April/May 2002 press coverage, I’ve just received a batch of Spanish Love and Theft reviews which I’ll round up here for the sake of completeness.

Our old mate Diego A. Manrique (Spanish for “pretentious twat”) entitled his review in El Pais de Las Tentaciones “The Awakening Of A Genius: A Splendid Album By The Minnesota Songwriter” and insists that the album “proves that when he feels like it, he can deliver what nobody would have thought he still had in him; playful stories and intense letanies… Impetuous songs covered by the dust of the crossroads where the devil used to buy bluesman’s souls and tavern singalongs.”

Amazingly, Manrique does not take the Uninformed Tosser crown this month. That dubious award goes to Popular 1’s Sergio Martos, even though he dishes out nothing but praise and awarding the album 9 out of 10 stars and the Album Of The Month moniker. For starters, he seems to think that Dylan previewed several of the songs during his August tour of the States and that, “a few days later”, Daniel Lanois had been replaced as producer by Jack Frost. Frost, we are reliably informed, is an old friend of Dylan’s and “it is very fortunate that Frost and Dylan have understood each other so well because the songs are extraordinary, and any other producer might perhaps not have achieved the best results.” So far so total bollocks, but wait until Martos gets into a bit of song analysis. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum is an “Amazonian hymn, thanks to David Kemper’s percussion”, Bye And Bye is “a wonderful cabaret charleston”, Lonesome Day Blues is “clearly connected to the legendary Rainy Day Women” and Honest With Me is “fabulous, and follows close in the tracks of earlier works such as Street Legal”. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up, could you?  Well, actually you could, and Martos clearly has.

In contrast, Jordi Bianciotto of Rock de Lux, simply considers Love And Theft to be better than Dylan’s 1992/93 acoustic albums and the over-produced Lanois albums and that it “brings him back in full splendour.”

Ruta 66’s Angel Maeztu also enjoyed the album, even if he doesn’t quite consider it to be the masterpiece that others clearly do; “…However, the album proves that Dylan is in top creative form and that, at sixty, he can still give us songs at the very least remarkable, and in the best instances, simply extraordinary: listen to Mississippi, High Water or Sugar Baby. It is obvious that very few active musicians of his generation can do the same.”

Finally, France’s Le Monde were also surprisingly kind to old Bob. An article titled “Sixty And Full Of Talent” featured not only a positive album review by Sylvain Sicler (“…Most of the songs on this album deserve to be counted amongst his greatest works”) but also a nice thoughtful piece by Bruno Lesprit which concentrates on Dylan’s recent activities and how he is still prepared to take risks for the sake of his art.

Meanwhile, flashing forward to Spring 2002, Dylan was still popping up all over the place. The March edition of Mojo asked various musicians to name their favourite hero. Nick Cave selected Dylan (“…Slow Train Coming is one of the great Dylan records, a howl from the depths”) as did Tim Burgess; “…What influence has Dylan had on me?...I think the freedom of playing, really, and believing in yourself through everything, through the boos and through the applause. I admire his longevity.” The same issue also featured a review of the reissued Concert For Bangladesh by Charles Shaar Murray, who recalls the heady days when both the concert and the triple album were highlighted by Dylan’s return to the stage; “…This was his first major performance since before his motorcycle crash in 1966…the prophet returned from a wilderness of his own making.”

Speaking of reissues, The Band’s Last Waltz was beginning to receive a fair amount of press, thanks to it’s reissue as a four-CD box set and a DVD. Geoff Edgers of the Boston Globe reported on the recent New York screening of the new print, attended by Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson, as well as Walter Cronkite and Harvey Keitel. Levon Helm – still smarting from the way Robertson assumed leadership of the group and then effectively destroying it – couldn’t make it, and wouldn’t have done even if he could. “I can’t sit through it,” he admits, “It’s just another way to fuck The Band.” Hudson is less abrasive;  “…I didn’t participate in the same way that Levon did with those songs. He sang them. I didn’t sing. For me, it was a good job and I have benefited from the experience.”

Barb Jungr, having just released her album of Dylan covers called Every Grain Of Sand, revealed to The Times’ Clive Davis how she changed her opinion on Dylan’s voice from “nasal and whiny” to “really good”. “There’s a lot of subtlety in his singing that I wasn’t aware of before,” she says, “…The more I heard the more I realised I was wrong about his voice…If you listen to a song like Isis, for instance, you find he’s doing this extraordinary thing which you hear in a lot of blues performers.  He’s going through these tiny glissandi all the time.  If you scored it all out, you’d be amazed.” Her album doesn’t concentrate solely on the “classic” Dylan periods but also includes a version of Sugar Baby, which is, she insists, one of the finest songs she has heard in the past 25 years.

An exhibit in St. Paul’s Minnesota History Center called Sounds Good To Me: Music In Minnesota features a sculpture based on Dylan’s backstage requirements during a gig on June 26th 1986 at the Metrodome along with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.  Among the items in the sculpture are one hot coffee service, one hot water service for tea, three dozen Styrofoam cups, one gallon of milk, 12 fresh lemons with a sharp knife, 30 dark-brown bath towels, two white bath towels, four white hand towels, eight quarts of Gatorade, five packs of Marlboro cigarettes, five packs of Marlboro Lights, two cases of Hansen’s natural assorted drinks, two six-packs of Diet 7-Up, two six-packs of Diet Coke and Fresh fruit and raw vegetables for 12 people (“plus whatever Tom and the boys are having.”). Interesting enough, but is it art? On the strength of the photo on the Minnesota Historical Society website, I’d have to say; “No, it’s just a pile of old junk sprayed silver”.

The start of the April/May European tour produced a couple of English-language reports. Michael Gray, writing for The Daily Telegraph here in the UK, went along to the Stockholm show and was unimpressed with what he saw. If the audience, made up of long-time fans along with their children (“These children have the heavy weight upon them of sharing their parent’s musical taste, and they know that in some wider psychic space they are going to have to account for themselves”) depresses him before the show even starts, then Dylan himself only reinforces that depression; “…Where his concerts were events, in which an artist of genius lived in the dangerous moment, now he plays safe and seems to have no reason to be there. Where he didn’t care what the audience thought because he had his own vision and was ahead of us, now he doesn’t care what the audience thinks because he thinks it’s a gullible rabble…He wants fresh meat: young people who don’t remember how incomparably better he once was.” Having released Love And Theft, an album Gray considers “a work of such excellence, a work so alive and such fun”, he imagined the show would be similarly revitalised and unpredictable. “Not so,” he moans, “He’s so held in, a little wooden figure not so much going through the motions as being conveyed along them like an object on an assembly line.”  Whilst I might take umbrage at Gray presuming to know what Dylan thinks and what motivates him (and what doesn’t), I can’t help but suspect that he may well be at least partially correct and that, by the time most of you read this, the shows will have again stagnated into predictability after their glorious rebirth during October and November 2001.

In direct contrast, sonicnet.com’s Teri VanHorn enjoyed the later Berlin concert, especially a “vivacious” cover of Not Fade Away. “Dylan and the musicians exchanged glances like card partners anticipating each other’s next move, but they couldn’t hold their poker faces for long. With the game so clearly belonging to them, they couldn’t help but grin.”

The Norwegian press were equally enthusiastic. Geir Rakvaag of Dagsavisen reckoned that Bob was “in good, old form” and titled his review “Bob Of The Best Quality”. Aftenposten’s Robert Hoftun Gjestad was slightly less enthralled by the Oslo Spektrum show, claiming that there were only brief glimpses of Dylan’s excellence.

Øyvind Rønning’s five-out-of-six review for Dagbladet of the same concert (accompanied by a stunningly huge onstage photo, by the way) likened the show – which he considers to have started slowly and then exploded into life – to Dylan having sex (an image I am reluctant to dwell upon for any great length of time. I mean, I like the guy but there are limits); “…Bob Dylan is a man who takes an unusually large time engaging in foreplay but when the release comes, the whole assembly quivers.” A novel way to review a gig, but I hope it won’t start a trend.

Also at the Spektrum, Verdens Gang’s Espen A. Hansen again awarded it five out of six and headed one paragraph “Heavenly inspiration”, so he must have enjoyed it. Various Norwegian celebrities are invited to give their views. Alas, no translations are available here but the accompanying photographs show them all smiling, so I guess they must have enjoyed it.

As I type this, the European tour isn’t even halfway through and I daresay there will be more reviews to come.  So I’ll leave it here for now, photocopy what I’ve done and continue in a few weeks on a fresh page. See you later.

THANKS (SO FAR) TO: GRAHAM A, KIM L, ANTONI0 J.I., GRAHAM W

 
 

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