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Dylan by A. Fortier
Portrait  by  A. Fortier

ALTERNATIVES TO COLLEGE

by Michael Crimmins
 


MY TOP TEN HAPPENINGS FOR 2003



Well to go and see the man in concert has got to be top of the agenda for any self respecting Bob Dylan fan. This being done and especially after finding him as sharp as a barbed wire fence, and as hot as blistering sun, Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield, November 20, 2003 has got to go into the top position of my top ten, for what to my mind ,with regards to Dylan, has been a very uplifting and fulfilling year. “Maggies Farm” came in as fresh as at Newport 65, although the timing was considerably better than on that night some thirty eight years earlier! Dylan was ‘on’ at Sheffield no doubt about it, vocally expressive would not sum up the delivery on “Desolation Row” and “Cry A While”, and Bob seems to have been delivering the goods all year round to very contented fans.

More recent years have brought forth disgruntled utterances from even the usually most faithful sources. Dylan is enjoying his piano playing ,more so in recent months, as he has become more comfortable with it as his full time stage ally.

Bob may not have made a conscious decision to play chords again but that is what he is doing, and I found it to be a most significant contributing factor of this very animated show. Basically he has reverted to what until the late eighties he had always done, backing his vocal with solid chording. He has thus freed himself from the almost constant guitar twiddling trap that he has been in for many a year now, not that it was all bad; in fact at times some of it was bloody good! However whether it be with guitar or piano the author of the songs has more intimate control over the proceedings in this way, leaving Larry or the excellent Freddie Koella to express the spirit of the music with the lead instrument. The Dylan body language or lack of it, has always been a strong indicator of his mood, and inextricably linked to the worth of a performance. How many reviewers have noted the shuffling feet? And what a joy to see one Dylan heel almost permanently off the floor once more. An all round warmth has returned to the performance, and most importantly you are watching and listening to Bob Dylan and his band not the Bob Dylan band.
 

 


 


This year saw the release of arguably the greatest cover album of all time, Gotta Serve Somebody The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan, Various Artists.

Although I find this fantastic collection to be a truly great album, it is listed here in my number two position for 2003 for another reason beside the actual record. It is here because, it gladdens my heart that the very people that Dylan respects and has worked among, have come together in such a rewarding project, to inadvertently validate Bob Dylan’s sincerity in writing, recording, and performing, these grossly underrated gospel songs in the first place.

Bob’s decision to join the proceedings and record a rewrite of “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” with Mavis Staples only serves to remind us of the spiritual awareness, main artery almost that has always existed within his work.

All of the eleven selections included in Jeffrey Gaskill‘s brainchild ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ are taken from ‘Slow Train Coming’ and ‘Saved’. It particularly pleased me that the greater number came from the ‘Saved’ album. ‘Saved’ has always been my favourite Dylan album apart from those untouchable s of the sixties. Dylan sang most of the songs featured on the most regular basis between November 1979 to May 1980, and while gaining himself the respect of new fans with this overtly Christian orientated music, he managed if only temporarily to disenchant and consequently lose a whole lot more.


Paul Williams one of my favourite Dylan writers, and one of the few who realize the inspirational greatness of Dylan’s, in the composing and performing of these songs, was less enthusiastic about the recordings of them, at least in the case of the ‘Saved’ album. Williams was witness to a lot of the Warfield shows, and claims that the material had lost a lot of it’s spark by the time it was put down on to tape, he also points to the fact that this was the first time Dylan had recorded with his touring band. That Williams’ opinion on the outcome of ‘Saved’ is shared by some of the actual people who recorded it, would seem to indicate then that this album does fall short of the great album that it could have been. Is it not possible however, that if the edge for recording these songs had been lost a little with over familiarity could not that same over familiarity also be influential towards the listeners more negative reaction? Surely this must be the case, because Williams is not so down on ‘Saved’ as he thinks ,in admitting that the title track is performed better on the album than at most of the concerts ,also in that he finds the recorded “Satisfied Mind” “absolutely magnificent” and that he also quite likes the recorded “Are You Ready”.

I believe ‘Saved ‘to be Bob Dylan’s most honest album, the depth of emotion displayed on “Covenant Woman” for example is unbelievable. A live equivalent of this performance is the Toronto 20/4/1980 “What Can I do For You” with THAT amazing harmonica solo.

A nice story to associate with the “Gotta Serve Somebody” album and a tribute in itself to the worth of The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, is the one told by it’s executive producer Jeffrey Gaskill who attended his first Bob Dylan concert at the age of seventeen, the venue The Memorial theatre, Worcester, Massachusetts, the year was 1980.

“The whole evening made a deep impression on me, it was the dramatic situation and conviction and bravery of what he was doing. A seed was planted that evening which began to take hold.”

Despite a family environment of church goers, Gaskill claims to have been a non believer. Dylan’s “conviction and bravery” turned things around for him.
 

 


 


It is of immense relief to me, when I go down to the local boozer to hear the noise of The Who coming at me as is the usual in this particular watering hole of mine. I do not hear the once seemingly ever popular leader of the gang shouts, or stories of how everyone has gone to the moon! So I presume that the public has made it’s mind up that
Pete Townshend is innocent, innocent that is of being a paedophile.

TOWNSHEND CLEARED OF BEING IN POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

Yes, Who fans around the globe will have heaved a sigh of relief at that announcement. Quite rightly Townshend received a caution from the Police, with his name unfortunately entering onto a sex offenders list where it will remain for a minimum of five years.

The Police unconditionally accepted Pete’s story. The tabloids who made much of Townsend's arrest had very little to say about the outcome of the four month investigation, what a surprise! I believe Pete Towshend to be totally innocent of the charges, and at the same time accept that I really did want to believe that from the outset.

The Observer on 28 December featured an interview with Towshend by Sean O’Hagan, if you have not read it, it is well worth a look. A link was posted on Expecting rain on the 31 December entitled “Wont get fooled again”.
 

 


 


What do Alias, Renaldo, Billy Parker, and Jack Fate, besides all being portrayed on film by Bob Dylan, have in common? The answer: They all look decidedly uncomfortable.


Just being himself and doing what he does in “Dont Look Back” and the actual concert footage from “Renaldo &Clara” Dylan commands the screen, he brings to it all the uncommon might of his charisma.

Obviously there is a vast difference between playing a dramatic role and being the subject of a documentary. Dylan’s apparent ease in front of the camera in “Dont Look Back” and “Eat The Document” contrast sharply to his jumpy looking dramatic roles.


Masked & Anonymous


Dylan is not a great actor and I hardly think that this statement is going to shatter anybody’s illusions to the contrary. The fact that Dylan does not portray Jack fate with ease, leads me to believe that Dylan is not Fate, no more than he was Alias. Ha!! so everything is OK then, it was Fate that sang “Dixie” Phew !!! that was a close one!!

“You cant open your mind up to every conceivable point of view” and of course that Dylan line is true, and sometime two heads are better than one. This is my way of saying that while I find Jack Fate in some way’s closely aligned with Dylan; I do not think that he is Dylan. Some reviewers would have us believe that “Masked and Anonymous” is in some way auto biographical. I found the film very enjoyable, I am not so sure how I would view it if I were not a Dylan fan. Still “You cant open your mind up to every conceivable point of view”. The film could be described as a more audacious version of “When The Ship Comes In” it is set possibly anywhere in southern America, and all we know for sure is that a benefit concert is being staged for all the wrong reasons. It highlights power and greed and the unimportance of ordinary people.


The film is full of statements, like: “Does Jesus have to walk on water twice to make his point” and “For everything you do in life sweetheart there's a price to pay, you pay it up front at the beginning or you pay it at the back end”. The music is masterful, and I include the cover versions in saying that. My favourites as performed by Dylan / Fate are “I’ll remember you” which I find superior to the ‘Empire Burlesque’ version and “Blowin in The Wind” which comes close to the end of the film and which every word of, acts as a summary to the film.
 

 


 


On the 17 May 2003, I saw Carolyn Hester & David Blume in concert for the very first time, and of course that was the date of the third annual John Green Day held at the Moat House in Northampton. It was a fantastic event and one that will stay in my memory for a long time.


I did not know John Green but from what I have heard about him, I would say that this was my loss. I thought it was a very nice touch by Carolyn to actually mention john during her rendition of “I have a dream” a song that was written by David Blume and Jerry Keller on the night that Martin Luther King was murdered.


Carolyn and David’s set in Northampton was an extraordinary link to the very bohemian Greenwich Village scene of the early sixties, that Dylan became such a huge part of. She told an amusing story of one of her first meetings with Bob at Gerde’s Folk City, of how Mike Porco would revert to his native Italian, when the subject of money came up. Richard Farina Carolyn’s first husband and another Bob link, was the author of the her first number “Pack up Your Sorrows” after which we were treated to a live version of a song that is featured on the recently discovered Westinghouse film ‘Folk Songs, and more Folk Songs’ “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”.

Carolyn and David performed only one Dylan composition in “Playboys and Playgirls” a song that she performed way back in 1965 at The New York Town hall, where she added an improvised verse concerning Ringo Starr, the track was subsequently featured on her live album ‘Carolyn Hester at The Town Hall’.

The previous year's John Green Day, also at The Moat House, featured a very moving tribute to John, that somehow made John’s gentleness manifest. Featured on two large screens, a simultaneous showing of John Green’s family snapshots, and the Sinatra birthday tribute from 1995, with Bob singing a fittingly gentle version of “Restless Farewell”.
 

 


 


On the fourteenth day of December 2003, a baby girl 8lb 6oz, came into this world, Hollie Louise is our second grandchild.
 

 


 


2003 was also the year that I received an invitation from John Stokes to join in the fun at Freewheelin-on-line. I was very pleased to be asked and accordingly maybe I should introduce myself. I will beg off doing so for the moment, if that’s all the same, maybe a word or two next month.
 

 


 


TROUBADOUR Early & Late Songs of Bob Dylan, by Andrew Muir.

I liked this book! The introduction was a breath of fresh air to me. Air that I wish a lot of other writers, and not just those who write things Dylan, would inhale.

Andrew Muir opened his introduction with the following: “For those unfamiliar with any previous writings I have done, I would like to explain my critical stance. I defined it in my first magazine on Dylan, ‘Homer, the slut’, as ‘analytical but understandable’ but the best explanation of it comes from elsewhere. There is a series of books entitled ‘Literature in Perspective’ whose general introduction states ‘...the critics and analysts, mostly academics, use a language that only their fellows in the same discipline can understand. Consequently criticism, which should be ‘as inevitable as breathing’ - an activity for which we are all qualified - has become the private field of a few warring factions...’


I myself have described the work of those “few warring factions” as a smokescreen of intellectualism, so Andrew’s introduction warmed me for the writing to follow. Please don’t get the idea that just because Andrew’s view on a writers analytical persuasions or rather how they are delivered, concur with mine, to be the sole reason for my enjoyment of his work, far from it, his previous book ‘Razor’s Edge’ is one that I have read more than once.

The honesty that I found so attractive in the introduction of ‘Troubadour’ was present in the previous work, especially in his account of coming face to face with, and he makes no bones about it, his idol. The account in itself, and its downright honesty, gives the reader security, trust in what this author writes. Although the whole point of any critical analysis, is the writer’s point of view, too much immediate emphasis can be placed upon it by the reader. Therefore to absorb the reader in a point of view and not to alienate in any dictatorial manner I feel to be of the utmost importance. To fully achieve this writer needs to establish his integrity in the early stages of his book. I think that this is achieved in ‘Troubadour’.
 

 


 


Johnny Cash was much more than just a country singer, he wrote his songs, mostly from an honest and humane standpoint. His gospel music was never sanctimonious, and his protests very often able to see both sides of the argument. Like his great friend Bob Dylan, Cash cannot be categorized. June Carter Cash, who won a Grammy for her solo acoustic album ‘Press On’ in 1999, and her beloved husband Johnny, died, romantically, five months apart from each other. June who was 73, passed away on May 15 with Johnny 71 following on September 12, 2003. Both were taken from The Baptist Hospital, Nashville, Tenn. This of course, was one of the sadder Dylan related events of the past year, Johnny and June Carter Cash leave us though the wealthy legacy of their great music.
 

 


 


It is only a quarter of a century ago, that the Internet was hidden from view. Outside of scientific laboratories and for the use of corporate information, only real enthusiasts were in the know. These days there is a global network of millions of computers, a lot of them in domestic use. The technology has served us well, not least the Dylan fans .Perhaps not as far back as fifteen years ago, the circulation of concert tapes among fans was non existent, in comparison to these days, when nearly all Bob Dylan shows are taped, and quite a lot are filmed also. The Internet allows for all the constant swapping of information, on what is happening, what songs are being played, what shows we have got hold of, and of course the postal service does the rest.

So what is the point in telling you this that you already know! None other than to take stock, and to realize maybe that we are spoilt rotten!!

Bob Dylan on Hybrid Super Audio CD (SACD)

Another reason to celebrate the year 2003 was the release of these discs. “This is more than a gift. It’s a dowry” said Bill Flanagan of CBS News.com (he was referring to the Sony box set release). It can be argued that these technological advanced items are just an excuse by Sony to make us buy the same old thing again, and maybe it is. - Oh all right then, it is!! But we don’t have to buy, and it is always there as the ultimate luxury, should we decide to. Let’s be grateful that Dylan’s people are finally chucking this stuff at us by the bucket load. Everybody does not have access to the Internet, or indeed own a computer. All the more reason then to take note and be thankful of all the extra releases that are coming our way these days, even if a few of them should have been released years ago. If you are reading this now, it is most likely, unless you have nipped in next door, or are in the local library, that you do indeed own a computer and have access to the Internet, and consequently you are sat in a room bursting at the seams with Dylan related paraphernalia.


I have decided against any numerical order in the above accounts. Placing the birth of my granddaughter in a 1 to 10 situation could get me into hot water! Whether that be with Dylan people or my family I will leave you to guess.


Happy New Year



 

For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.
 
 
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