20lbs of Headlines


A bit of a mixed bag this month, as we take a look at what was happening in the press during the early months of 2003, which includes the first confirmation (if any were needed) that Masked And Anonymous is not going to win any (a) Oscars, (b) critical praise or (c) paying audiences. Still, it may make us view Hearts Of Fire in a more favourable light for the first time since 1987. 

Anyway, firstly there's a few more pesky Live 1975 reviews to round up. The St.Louis Today's Daniel Durcholz concludes that, “in stark contrast to the haphazard 1976 document Hard Rain, Rolling Thunder reveals Dylan to be equal parts shaman and showman, a serious social critic capable of having some fun, too.” 

Eric Waggoner of the Seattle Weekly tries to come over all knowledgeable and smug whilst bemoaning what the CD set doesn't contain but doesn't seem to realise that he’s got his Rolling Thunders mixed up. “You won't hear,” he complains, “Deportees, Railroad Boy...the traditional show closer Gotta Travel On, or Burnett’s ghostly Silver Mantis, unless you score a bootleg of a full performance.” By which time, presumably, you will have noticed that your bootleg says - 1976 and not 1975. That said, this is a particularly positive review and worth reading; “...As a document of Bob Dylan's own mid-1970s cosmic workout, The Rolling Thunder Revue is essential. Later explorations would try to achieve the same scope - the underrated Street Legal, for instance - but this was the one moment when the spark caught and held - and then burned down the house.” In contrast, the New York Daily News' anonymous critic is largely unimpressed, claiming that it confirms what was thought of the shows back in 1975 - that they were a “sometimes shambling mix of overstated rock and clunky folk”.  Let me just say here that I have a pretty bulky 1975 cuttings folder and it contains not one review that goes so far as to even suggest such a thing. Still, that’s critical licence for you, I guess. Our nameless critic does admit, however, that Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You “has pep”, as does the “plot-driven classic” Simple Twist Of Fate. As for the rest, well it's “hardly the disaster we saw in Renaldo And Clara, the howlingly bad fictionalised film about the tour’s onstage and off­stage antics. But as history, Rolling Thunder is far more footnote than watershed."  Wrong. Wrong/ wrong/ wrong/ wrong/ wrong. 

Far better is the Canada Daily News Ron Foley Macdonald’s glowing review, which insists that “Live 1975 ranks right up there with Bob Dylan's very finest work. That puts it in the company of Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding and the marvellous Love And Theft.” He also recognizes that Sloman’s liner notes and Regan’s “extraordinary tour photographs” are an essential part of the package  and kindly points out that, for anybody wanting more, they should check out Sloman’s republished book. Finally, Wayne Bledsoe of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reckons that the bonus DVD tops off an already essential set and claims that, for anyone who has not heard a 1975 bootleg, “Live 1975 is a new treasure from an artist who continues to surprise - whether it’s new material or simply gems just coming out of the trunk.” 

In January 2003 Dylan attended the Masked And Anonymous premier at the Sundance Festival. To celebrate, he dressed as Compo from Last Of The Summer Wine in a donkey jacket, scarf and wool hat and simply scowled at the photographers until it was time to escape into the darkness of a movie theatre. Needless to say, his photo appeared in all of the UK,s daily rags (hilarious headlines include ‘It's Bob the Slob in the Daily Star and “Film job for Slob Dylan” in the Daily Mirror. Oh, be still, my splitting sides). Wearing what looks suspiciously like another wig under the hat, Dylan certainly fooled Hugh Davies of the Daily Telegraph. Davies assumed that it was his own hair dyed blonde for the movie (and straightened, presumably) and concluded that Dylan’s 14-year Neverending Tour had ravaged Dylan’s once youthful face (of course - he looked so healthy in 1987) and that, nowadays, “he rarely looks well...He had a haunted look”. As an aside, Davies informs us that Dylan’s life is to be filmed by Todd Haynes, who was responsible for the hit-and-miss Glam Rock celebration Velvet Goldmine. Back in the States Roger Ebert, writing for an unknown newspaper, amusingly reckoned that Dylan “looked as happy as a man unexpectedly delayed on his way to his execution.” Of the movie  itself, albeit in a rough version, Ebert was singularly unimpressed, especially with Dylan’s own performance. His dialogue is never longer than one sentence per shot and he fails to engage with his own Jack Fate character or with the cast or audience; “He occupies his scenes like a judge, gazing at the others as if measuring their worthiness to share the frame with him.” Whilst he enjoyed the music, Ebert considered Dylan’s involvement in the movie to be entirely wanting; “...How much wiser if a celebrity look-alike of Dylan had been used, and Jack Fate had been portrayed by somebody who came to play?” Meanwhile, the movie had been acquired for distribution by Sony Picture Classics, who were presumably already planning to write it off as a tax loss. 

On to less depressing topics. Steven Hart penned a knowledgeable and excellent article on the bootlegged Bob Dylan for in which he correctly suggests that Dylan owes the bootleggers a greater debt than he will ever admit; “...for well over half his career, Dylan’s art has been better served by the bootleggers than by his own label – or, indeed, by Dylan himself...the underground releases must get a good share of credit for sustaining interest in Dylan as a continuing creative force.”  A nice, worthwhile article but one that will undoubtedly put Hart straight on Dylan’s Shit List at number one. 

Sean Wilentz produced an equally enjoyable essay that turned up on concentrating on the Newport Folk Festival then and now and, in particular, Dylan’s August 2002 appearance; “...At one point, while going through the ritual of introducing the band, Dylan paused for half a second, looking as if he just might say some­thing to mark the occasion/ as if the words were coming to him....If he was to say anything, he would say it now; and for a moment, beneath his get-up, Dylan seemed to be thinking it over. But instead he smiled and twitched and went back to playing, letting his masked theatrical self speak for itself, an entire festival in just one act.” 

In Australia, Nui Te Koha was reporting in the Herald Sun that Dylan's backstage requirements for his February tour only consist of hot and cold running water, a toilet, seating for four guests, clean towels,  a full-length mirror, a banquet table, a bar of soap and two ashtrays. Two ashtrays??! These pampered rock stars just don’t live on the same planet as the rest of us, do they? Also in the Herald Sun, Mick Jagger, who is dragging the Rolling Stones pantomime down under in February, was telling Dino Scatena how the Stones have played Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and Dylan has played Brown Sugar. He hints/threats that a duet with Dylan at one of their shows might be a possibility. Did no one learn their lesson last time? 

During January, Q launched a special magazine titled 100 Singles That Changed The World. The Byrds clocked in at number 51 with Mr Tambourine Man and Dylan showed up at number 7 with Like A Rolling Stone. The four pages devoted to him included some relevant (if familiar) pics and a lengthy article by John Harris tracing the song’s history from it’s conception to it’s artistic peak at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1966. A list of the Top 20 songs also appeared in several daily newspapers, with one or two hardy souls even questioning the validity of the choices or why Q bothered to do it in the first  place. 

January’s Uncut included a two-star review of Mary Lee’s Corvette’s version of Blood On The Tracks by Nigel Williamson. Essentially a remake of the album from a female perspective, “the sequence and musical contours of Dylan's original 1975 masterpiece are followed so exactly that any fresh insight lies almost entirely in the transposition to the voice of a woman.” 

There was also a brief report on the Sundance Film Festiva, which, we are told, will feature the premier of Dylan’s movie Masked And Abandoned - perhaps a Freudian slip on the project’s inevitable conclusion. 

February’s Mojo featured a two-page spread on Eric Von Schmidt who, due to throat cancer, now spends his time mainly painting old blues singers at his Connecticut studio. Numerous Dylan references abound but Von Schmidt will only say; “Dylan was a great guy. We stayed close until 1970.” 

And in Mojo's Collections section was a two-page spread featuring just a few bits and pieces of Dylan ephemera that nowadays commands more money than – let’s face it –it’s worth. For instance, a London Evening Standard newspaper celebrating Dylan’s 1969 Isle Of Wight appearance will set you back £35 and a 1981 Earls Court ticket now comes complete with a fifteen quid price tag.  Most impressive is a rhinestone-encrusted jacket with Christian imagery so garish it makes the Saved sleeve look positively understated. Mojo’s Fred Dellar insists that it originates from Dylan’s 1980 Born-Again phase and that he gave it to Kinky Friedman when he reconverted to Judaism, but I'm positive that he bought it at the time of the 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue. There's just no way he would’ve worn anything that tacky during the early 1980s. You’ve only got to look at his 1981 silk jacket with the dragon design to know that. Anyway, if you want to buy the jacket, you’d better not expect any change from £8,000. Mind you, it does come with a certificate of authenticity. And if you’re contemplating buying it, that’s just what you need - to be certified. 

See ya next month.