20lbs of Headlines


We’ll begin this month with another trawl through some of the reviews of (deep breath) “The Bootleg Series Volume 5. Bob Dylan Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue” (hereafter known as “Live 1975” ) and we may as well kick off with the UK Press. 

Record Collector's Peter Doggett begins his review by repeating what many a Dylan fan has said (no, not “how much do you charge for full sex, Miss?”) mainly that this set is not representative of  a full RTR show or even a full RTR Dylan set and/ or that Columbia didn’t use the right show(s) , but does at least realize that “that’s the blinkered dream of a fanatic”. What it is, he concludes, is a close second to the 1966 tour and Dylan “never sung like this again, before or after; song after song is delivered in a majestic fury of emotion, totally without restrictions yet under complete control.” The Telegraph’s Caspar Llewllyn Smith simply found it to be “pure rock and roll and plainly magical…from an artist at one of his many creative peaks” whilst The Guardian’s Adam Sweeting awarded it a maximum five stars and appreciated that this “rejuvenated “ Dylan was far more impressive than the 1974 comeback version. “Where have they been keeping this stuff?” he asks. Exactly. Uncut’s Andy Gill dished out four stars and earns my critic of the year accolade for calling Joan Baez “obtrusive and annoying”. Mind you, does he mean just on this CD or in general? 

Mojo’s Chris Nelson is just as enthusiastic; “…Live 1975 is both of history and outside it. For sure, Dylanologists will seize it for study, but it demands repeated playing from anyone keen and exhilarated to hear life pour from their speakers.” A shame, then, that they decided to illustrate such a glowing review with a 1974 photo.  

Onto a few American reviews, beginning with the Music Box’s John Metzger; “…a stunning representation of Dylan’s 1975 touring canon ….Oddly enough, it’s not all that different from his tours of today, which while not including the friends and family sideshow atmosphere are loose, spirited and oh, so rewarding.” 

Jim Abbott of the Orlando Sentinel decides that “even if Dylan’s musical experiments don’t always hit the mark, they skillfully reflect his notion of the Rolling Thunder Revue as an updated vaudeville show…Dylan always commands attention through the sheer force of his presence.” 

The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jeffrey Lee Puckett awarded it four star (“the most interesting thing about the Rolling Thunder Revue is that Dylan’s vitality has been mirrored in his recent performances”) but is not impressed with the duets with Baez; “…Their voices sound awful together and always have.” 

The Star-Telegram’s Dave Ferman calls the RTR “a brilliant back-to-the-roots move” and reckons  that this release is as essential in it’s way as the earlier Live 1966 set. Laurence Station of thought he could  detect the roots of the Neverending Tour way back in 1975; “…After so much domestic tension, Dylan sought refuge on the road, moving from venue to venue night after night, guaranteeing he’s never overstay his welcome or have to deal with any messy morning-after encounters.” 

Svein Andersen, writing for Denmark’s Aftenposten, went so far as to suggest that “this may be the best concert  recording Dylan has ever released. The sound is brilliant, while the music lives and breathes.” 

Staying with Denmark, Avis L’s Erik Valebrokk reckons that it’s one of the most important retro releases of 2002; “…This is modern musical history at it’s most relevant.. There is no way past this; Live 1975 is a fantastic record” whilst Verdens Gang’s Tor Milde calls it “a musical experience that will be hard to surpass…this CD is a joy to the ear, as the accompanying booklet is a joy to the eye.”  

A knowledgeable Alberto Bravo previewed the release for Spain’s La Razon, even admitting that  he is aware of the shows that the set is culled from. Strangely, Louis Skorecki concentrated his review in France’s Liberation on the bonus DVD and then revealed that Bootleg VCDs of Renaldo And Clara are easily available on the streets of Paris, going so far as to say that, if the word “poetry” didn’t sound so contrived then it would apply perfectly to that movie. 

And finally, Maik Bruggemeyer of the German edition of Rolling Stone was also disappointed with (a) the non-inclusion of any of the other RTR performers and (b) the Baez duets, though he does conclude that “the album is an impressive document, showing how Dylan found his productive power of the 60’s onstage again.” 

Away from shiny discs and onto the printed page, there was a criminally brief review of Sloman’s On The Road With Bob Dylan by Richard Jobes in the normally reliable Mojo;  “…Never less than entertaining, it offers a rare glimpse into the world of Rocks most elusive figure.” 

Neil Corcoran’s Do You, Mr Jones was afforded somewhat  lengthier appraisals, not least in Scotland On Sunday where John McTernan advised “If you love Dylan, buy this book immediately, If you love America, popular music or literature, do the same.” The same book was reviewed by Robert Potts in no less than The Times Literary Supplement, though in not quite so enthusiastic terms: “…It isn’t that these theorists are used to illuminate Dylan, more that Dylan is being given a pat on the back  for seeming to enact theorists more famous propositions.” The Independent didn’t review it at all, but reprinted an extract of Simon Armitage’s essay instead. Still, it being one of the more readable and less pretentious chapters of the entire book, this  was perhaps not a bad thing. 

And, to finish this month, here’s a roundup of some other odds and sods that were hitting the inky page (and computer screen) during December 2002. Griel Marcus’ item on was called Real Life Top 10 and concentrated almost entirely on Dylan’s two October 2002 Madison Square Garden Shows. These range from the new lengthier stage introduction to performances of  Something, Summer Days, Yeah! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread and All Along The Watchtower (“it was impossible to imagine that Dylan ever played the song with more vehemence, or that, this night, six days after the midterm congressional elections, the performance was not utterly political, as much a protest song as Masters Of War”). 

Mojo presented an in-depth foray into the murky worlds of drugs and popular music and Andy Gill penned a lengthy and nicely written and illustrated study of how Dylan transformed from the (Warning! Tired old cliché ahead) cherubic choir boy of 1962 to the mad-haired “psychedelic visionary” of 1966. We know the story inside-out, of course, but for anyone who doesn’t (is there anyone?!!) this is as good a place to start as any. 

Finally, cartooning genius Mark Carter was interviewed by David Hannington for the Eastern Daily Press’ Saturday Magazine on December 21st, the eve of the publication of his latest masterpiece A Christmas Carol. Carter is admirably modest of his breath-taking talent (“It’s just a bit of Christmas Fun”) and finally reveals who the two Sad Dylan Fans are really modeled after; “..They’re modeled after me. Until quite recently, I was  that sad Dylan fan…. I had nine editions of Tarantula. Nine of them – and one was in Spanish”. Very sad, Mark, since I happen to know that you can’t even read the English version of Tarantula. 

And would Mark like to meet his musical hero Bobby Dylan? “I’m not sure I’d like to meet him. He’d  probably be scared of me. Not frightened. Just nervous..” No, Mark,  he’d be frightened, very, very frightened. 

And on that high note, it’s time to sign off this month and head up to Hushabye Mountain. Until next month, farewell. Keep a clean nose and always carry an oversized lightbulb. Mind you, you’ll look a twat.