20lbs of Headlines


This month we’ll cast an eye over the press coverage of Dylan’s return to the Newport Folk Festival in 2002. You remember; the one where he dressed up as one of the Beverly Hillbillies. 

The Providence Journal’s Shelia Lennon didn’t really enjoy it, beginning with the stage announcement requesting that the audience should not take photos and to think of it as Carnegie Hall (“Carnegie Hall? I’m outdoors on the lip of the Atlantic Ocean in the blazing sun, next to a falafel stand”) and especially Dylan’s performance which was “all cowboy feel, rockabilly without the rock, an apparently deliberate attempt to keep us from dancing” and culminating with a version of Mr. Tambourine Man  in which “Dylan turned the anthem into a spoken-word parody of William Shatner’s truly awful version”. In conclusion, she writes; “…There was no magic in the music. We had never danced, not once. ’65 was better.” 

Karen Lee Ziner, also of the Providence Journal, spent most of her time interviewing the audience (I won’t repeat the comments here – you’ve read them a zillion times before), though it did seem she did enjoy Bob more than Lennon did. The Hartford Courant’s Roger Catlin enjoyed Bob as much as he always does, especially the band and Dylan’s refusal to allow the audience to sing along. However, by the time Blowin In The Wind  inevitably rolled around, the masses were determined to have their fun; “…By the chorus, the 2002 audience picked up on it. Crowd members sang along to the chorus and hushed during the verses, as they were witnessing the history they were so desperate to capture on film.” 

Joan Anderman of the Boston Globe also used most of her article repeating the same old tired  audience comments, though she does reveal that he played “a tasteful and restrained electric set that spanned the years”. 

The Newport Daily News managed to snap a photo of Bob, looking, according to Daily News scribe James J. Gillis, “like a Hassidic cowboy”. Former Vice President Al Gore had fewer security guards than Dylan and Dylan’s guests also included a crew of Hells Angels. Dylan himself was in good voice, as far as it goes (which, let’s be honest, isn’t very far these days) and, Gillis ponders, perhaps he no longer wants to be Woody Guthrie “but maybe instead wants to be Muddy Waters, a gutsy musician playing distinctly American-flavoured rootsy music in pre-retirement age. As Dylan finished All Along the Watchtower and left the stage for good, the sound system played Frank Sinatra’s nostalgic lament of the long-ago,  It Was A Very Good Year. It was, in fact, a very good show.” 

The L.A. Times’ Paul Lieberman noted that Dylan was greeted with cheers, rather than jeers, this time around and then devoted the rest of his article to the 1965 appearance. Similarly, Vaughn Watson, again of The Providence Journal (did the entire staff go for the day  out?) compared this years Dylan with the 1965 younger model, though he at least had the sense to realize that Dylan’s fake hair and beard was Dylan’s acknowledgement that he realized that that is exactly what would happen. 

Dabiel Gewertz of the Boston Herald claimed that Dylan “sang a typically generous set”, even though he didn’t enjoy the acoustic sets (“with Times done as a roughly crooned waltz”). He enjoyed the electric numbers, however, especially Cry Awhile and Summer Days which “were sung with heat” and, best of all, “a countrified You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, sung with authentic feeling”. 

Over in Europe, Spain’s Enric Gonzalez, writing for El Pais, claimed that Dylan had returned to the festival that kicked him out 37 years ago and that, in 1965, he “played a folk classic song, Maggie’s Farm, in a rock version”. El Mundo’s Carlos Fresneda, possibly failing to recognize the disguise, claimed that Dylan returned “transformed into a Texan Christ”. Indeed, if the American critics seemed to mostly realize that Dylan was wearing false hair and beard, their UK counterparts appeared to be totally fooled. The Daily Mirror’s brief text seemed to be pilfered from US reports and, inevitably, they featured photos of Dylan onstage at Newport in both 1965 and 2002 to invite our comparison, yet failed to recognize the irony of Dylan’s disguise or, indeed, even that it was a disguise. 

The Sun, not surprisingly, were totally taken in, captioning their photo “Slob Dylan” and claiming that he  looked like “A straggly haired American Indian”. To be helpful,  they reproduced a pic of Dylan “as fans know him”. Unfortunately, it was a still from 1975’s Pat Garrett movie and we don’t know him like that anymore. 

The Daily Telegraph's Simon English traveled over to see Dylan at the festival and noted how America had changed since 1965; “The flag that flew above the stage on Saturday night might have been in danger of being torn down by belligerent fans then. Dylan was cheered like a homecoming hero. So was the celebrity guest Al Gore. Times they have a-changed.” 

Meanwhile, away from all the Newport nonsense (and, believe me, per square column inch, most of it was nonsense), the press on both sides of the Atlantic were still concentrating on the filming of Masked And Anonymous, with Mickey Rourke’s quote that “Dylan is doing an incredible fucking job” being repeated more than once. Mojo featured a couple of welcome on-set colour pics different to those usually seen and’s Richard Johnson reckoned that, if Mickey Rourke is right about Dylan, then it will surprise the critics. The UK’s leading movie magazine Empire also reported on the filming, astutely realizing that, despite an impressive cast, with Dylan in tow, the movie could go either way (“will audiences have forgiven Bob for his last movie, 1987’s  frankly appalling Heart Of Fire?”).

Rolling Stone’s Random Notes section reproduced two familiar shots of Dylan with Penelope Cruz. Also in Empire, Rupert Everett sat down for a question-and-answer session with the readers and was asked how  Hearts Of Fire managed to get made: “A lot of mediocre films get made, and it got made, you know?..I did it because I wanted anything, including Bob Dylan, who I was a big fan of, so that’s how it happened. In Hollywood they weren’t very good at being hip at that time. Now they’re better at presenting something more credible.” 

Finally, Dylan’s pre-Newport show at Worcester’s Palladium was warmly greeted by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette’s Scott McLennan, who called the show “inspired” and Dylan’s voice “the perfect clarion call for the Dylan devoted”. “Dylan’s stature”, he concludes, “as a great performer and perhaps the greatest songwriter shot up a few more notches in Worcester last night.” 

And then there’s Gene Santoro’s lengthy article in The Nation, where he uses Dylan’s appearance at Newport to recall his own history with Dylan.  It’s a familiar tale; how he lost his faith during the 1970’s (Blood On The Tracks excepted) and found it again during the late 1980’s (perversely enough beginning with 1988’s Dylan And The Dead). His faith continues with the Newport performance and, more importantly, with Love And Theft; “…Bye And Bye finds him croak skipping blithely, limberly, through sardonically high-stepping swing, recalling nothing more than Armstrong’s vocals without the heft, somewhere near Billie Holliday’s late singing…Moonlight is a suave torch song – Dylan as Astaire – tinged with threat.” It’s a nice enough article but one that leaves me strangely unmoved, and yet years ago I would probably have loved it. Perhaps I’ve just been in this game too long. 

See ya next month.