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Dylan by A. Fortier
Portrait  by  A. Fortier

ALTERNATIVES TO COLLEGE

by Michael Crimmins
 


In anticipation of The Bootleg Series Vol. 6

 

I used to write songs, like I’d say’ yeah what’s bad, pick out something bad, like segregation, OK here we go, and I’d  Pick out one of the thousand million little points I can pick and explode it, some of them I didn’t know about. I wrote a song about ‘Emmett Till’, which in all honesty was a bullshit song … I realize now that my reasons and motives behind it were phoney, I didn’t have to write it.

(Bob Dylan New York 1964) 

“When he sings and plays, his songs come to life as though he were painting them in the air in front of you, he has a power, a presence, that doesn’t yield to easy explanations”.

(Paul Williams/Performing Artist book one 1960-73) 

It’s the 31 October 1964 and it is Halloween. Bob Dylan is in a friendly talkative mood, some say stoned, I don’t! If Dylan has become a victim of his own success, in as much as everybody wants him to explain his songs, he made it rather clear tonight, that he isn’t about to explain anything. He wishes no complications or responsibility. It is really spooky to hear Mr Dylan deliver a darkly foreboding song, then the moment  the song ends, go into some amusing in between song rap. He completely distances himself from his songs by this, almost as if they had been written by another! After delivering an eerie version of a new song “Gates of Eden” Dylan announces, his voice crackling with mirth “Don’t let that scare you. It’s just Halloween – I have my Bob Dylan mask on --- I’m masquerading”. Your not kidding Bob!

Before delivering a seemingly heartfelt protest “Who Killed Davey Moore?” it was almost alarming to witness Dylan  disown the song. “This is a song about a boxer! It’s got nothing to do with  boxing, it’s just a song about a boxer! And it really doesn’t have anything to do with the boxer really. It’s got nothing to do with nothing!  I put all these words together that’s all”. 

Of course I wasn’t really there at the Philharmonic Hall in New York that night, truth is there was a lot of water separating  Bob and me, and I was only twelve at that time! Maybe though the above thoughts occurred to one or two that were present. 

Dylan does have a power and a presence that does not yield to easy explanation, I agree whole heartedly with this. I find it is interesting  none the less to speculate  on the concert dialogue in respect of remarks, as quoted above, that Dylan made, in an interview from around the same time. Does The  Halloween Concert  recording  soon  to be an official release, reveal Dylan’s inner struggle, with the weight of his pen and communicative skills acting almost as an ironic barrier to his future artistic freedom? Bob Dylan at this point was only months away from ‘going electric’. The electric instrument that shouldered a lot of the blame that night at Newport, was nowhere to be seen here, yet there was plenty of room for consternation as Dylan put himself through this process of self denial. Listening to the songs along with the dialogue (I hope it  released  so) is an extraordinary experience!. On one hand the songs are  perfectly delivered, respected and loved by the artist, and on the other (dialogue), they appear to be almost a source of embarrassment to him. 

Although an artist in turmoil is not always a bad thing for us, witness ‘Blood on the tracks”, I believe that Dylan went through  a dangerous period in regard to his health and even his own personal safety, especially around the time that he was regarded as having turned his back on social and topical matters. Another artist ,no stranger himself to  inner turmoil, Phil Ochs astutely voiced his opinion on Dylan’s precarious public position in 1965 “Dylan is very disturbing Dylan gets up there and sings great thoughts and poetry to everybody, and when you say everybody you mean also to neurotics, to immature people, to the lumpen proletariat ,to people not in control of themselves”. 

At one point, to be honest I cant remember when, Dylan said: “It is lonely where I am”. I can quite clearly, and to some degree with the help of hindsight, feel his isolation on this recording. The concert programme contained a new poem by Dylan ‘Advice for Geraldine on her miscellaneous birthday’, which I hope will be a part of the package that we will get, it heads off with “Stay in line. Stay in step. People are afraid of someone who is not in step with them”. 

This Bootleg Series vol 6 release, is a unique stepping stone to Vol 4 Live 1966 “Albert Hall”, that charts Dylan’s most transitional period. Though they are released in a strange order, I don’t complain, I am glad that they are there, in place, or soon will be, for all to hear. The music is an absolute treasure! all of it!! I unlike Uncut’s Andy Gill  find Joan Baez anything but  “Obtrusive and annoying”. 

Dylan and Baez perform four songs  together. Looks like I will finally get to hear the full  version of “Silver Dagger” from “The King and Queen”.



 

Bob Dylan/Joan BaezBob Dylan/Joan BaezBob Dylan/Joan BaezBob Dylan/Joan Baez

 

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