Modern Art

by Richard Lewis

I’ve just bought two new CDs by two of my favourite singer-songwriters, Neil Young and Tom Russell, who each refer to Bob Dylan in one of their new songs. On the autobiographical title track of his new album “Modern Art” Tom Russell sings about seeing the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and then sings: 

And that’s where I saw Bob Dylan’s show,
When he sang “Desolation Row”,
And somehow I was never quite the same.

On his website “Blood Shots” Russell talks a bit more about seeing Dylan: 

I’ve never met him but I did see him sing “Desolation Row” and I was moved and astounded, artistically speaking. Later I saw him in Santa Monica, when he was still approachable, sitting in a car behind a venue waiting to get paid or something and he asked us, me and my friends, where the nearest liquor store was.

Another time I have the recollection that we chased his station wagon down the Santa Monica Freeway, and he pulled over and danced round our car. I know it sounds crazy and weird now, but I think it happened.

As well as his own songs he also puts a tune to a Charles Bukowski poem and sings songs by Emmylou Harris, Warren Zevon, Dave Alvin, Michael Smith and Nanci Griffith who sings three duets with him. Worth checking out. 

Just after Neil Young finished his acoustic European tour in May my friend Bill sent me a 3CD bootleg of the Amsterdam show. As you may have read, at these shows Young started off each show by singing 10 brand new songs about a fictional town called “greendale”. After the first song Young tells us a bit about greendale and the people who live there. Some of these bits of background last for 4 or 5 minutes. I know some Neil Young followers are not too keen on “greendale” but I really enjoyed listening to Neil talk and sing about it on this triple bootleg. On holiday in Ireland earlier this month I kept playing it. On one track that I now know is called “bandit” he sings: 

Nobody can touch you now

But I can touch you

You’re invisible, you’ve got too many secrets
Bob Dylan said that, something like that
Someday you’ll find everything you’re looking for.

When the official CD came out I went and got it straight away. I had thought that he might have left the line about Dylan out but there it was. In the booklet that comes with the CD instead of printing the lyrics Young puts down some of the background that he had given between songs in concert. If you read the booklet from cover to cover you will get some idea of both what goes on in Greendale and what goes on in Young’s mind. It is a fascinating read. He starts off by warning us:

…there’s a lot going on in Greendale that i don’t know about either. Can you imagine? i mean, i made it up and i don’t know what the hell is going on. so don’t feel bad if you feel a little out of it with this. no one really knows….

Young keeps throwing in little asides like 

 .. this is a test. I don’t know if I’m gonna pass or not. But I already passed that cortez test. I’d like to take it again someday, maybe today. But for a minute I’d like to stay in Greendale……… 

Carmichael is a policeman who gets shot dead so Young says  

…he had a story to tell, but he’s not around anymore, so i’ll tell you a little bit about him and that’s it. it’s not worth it too spend too much time on him, since he doesn’t have a future. carmichael had a terrible argument with his wife that morning as he was leaving to go to work. so that was kind of too bad, ‘cause she never saw him again. so it kind of makes you think about always try to be nice to the one you love because you never know what’s gonna happen. so i learned that from this song. i don’t care if you learn it, i learned it. 

My favourite bit in the booklet comes in the notes to “bandit” where he tells us what happens while he plays his guitar at the end of the song. Then he writes 

…i tell you all this because you can’t tell by listening to the songs, you have to listen to the instrumentals to get this. anyway, so when you see somebody like eric clapton up there playing guitar and closing his eyes it could be anything. It could be anything. 

If you haven’t got a copy of Greendale yourself then try and borrow one and take the time to read the booklet. 

I also just bought the soundtrack to “Masked and Anonymous” but I will have to write about that next time, as I need to finish my Literacy and Numeracy planning for Year 6 Set 3!


Bob Dylan