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20lbs of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

This month I thought I'd play catch-up on some of the slightly older material that kind of got shunted out of the way by the European Autumn 2003 tour reviews, and this gives me a good chance to do it before we begin the USA 2004 tour review roundup next month. Lots of odds and sods that don't really have a theme as such but don't deserve to be entirely ignored either. 

Back in November 2003, Peter Doggett took a long lingering look at the SACD releases, beginning with an overview of Dylan's approach to recording (i.e. usually a very tentative approach, at best), which also includes a fairly detailed examination of the remastering process itself, and concluding with a discussion on the merits of the new discs themselves. Whilst admitting that Love And Theft and the 1999-remastered Street Legal bring very little new to the table, Doggett finds practically everything else to be an immense improvement, especially the acoustic discs and Desolation Row. "Bob Dylan's music," he concludes, "-arguably the most important catalogue in rock history - has never sounded so strong, or so real." 

Meanwhile, Masked And Anonymous was not getting quite such a glowing reception, and it’s release in the US on DVD meant that a whole new brace of critics could slag it off. This would certainly be true of some anonymous hack from The Boston Phoenix who awarded it a whole one star and somewhat grudgingly concluded that "without Dylan's music - and there are some creative modernisations of his classics - the whole tawdry spectacle might have been a Class A flop". Here in Blighty, John Patterson, writing in an unknown newspaper, praised it's "defiant hit-and-miss aesthetic" and reckoned that "it looks great, occasionally rising from incoherence into profundity and, for us Bob-heads (though probably not for anyone else), it's an absolute treat". 

Jesse Shanks of digitally obsessed.com was somewhat befuddled by the whole thing, but did reveal that "there are some interesting moments in Masked And Anonymous that almost make me want to figure out what it might all be about." And while he accepts that "the film is saved by the music" (unlike, say, Hearts Of Fire, this is not a movie that I'd necessarily consider needs saving, by music or anything else), he does reveal that "Bob can't act" (again, unlike HOP, while it may be true that Dylan can't act in the conventional sense, he can be the character he's playing, and I would suggest that he is Jack Fate, but never was -and never will be - Billy Parker). Of the DVD extras, Larry Charles' commentary is considered to be entertaining and informative about the actual making of the movie, but of no use to anyone hoping that he is going to reveal the whole meaning to the film, whilst the Masked And Anonymous Exposed featurette is dismissed as "a self-congratulatory piece of fluff'. Still, none of us really expected Dylan to contribute to the commentary or any specially-filmed DVD extras, did we? Did we? You did?? Bit daft, wasn't it? 

Meanwhile, back in July, The Word's Tony De Metur was reporting on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where Dylan is headlining on the Friday night and, unlike his last appearance there a decade ago, this time he's on form; "...That an artist who's been so present and influential for 40 years should still be on the cutting edge when he's into his 60s is a truly inspiring sight...his performance has a fire in it to match the late afternoon sun and completely blows away the massive crowd." 

Now, here's the first couple of Live 1964 reviews - there will be plenty more during the next couple of months, I can assure you! Thorn Jurek of All Music Guide awarded it four stars and claimed; "All of the songs are delivered with the confidence of the seasoned performer, a man who knows his audience and how to handle them. It's not cynical, not detached, just masterful...For those interested in the transition from acoustic to electric, this show is the seam." Uncut’s Nigel Williamson unsurprisingly heaped upon it the maximum five stars,calling Don't Think Twice "unbelievable” and his rapport with the audience "extraordinary" before concluding; "...Pretty soon he'd be cranking up his amp and angrily telling The Hawks to "play fuckin loud". But this live recording proves his genius crackled with electricity long before he ever plugged in." 

Mojo's John Harris related the history of The Basement Tapes in fairly lengthy detail, revealing nothing revelatory to us but providing a decent overview to anyone who might be new to one of the greatest periods of Dylan's life. He even provides a checklist of the 20 best unreleased Basement numbers, assuming, not unreasonably, that anyone interested enough in reading the entire article will probably already have them or, at least, know where to get them. 

Sticking with the Woodstock period, Angeiika Hager of Austria's Profit interviewed the 74 year-old Marlene Czernin who worked as housekeeper for the Dylans during the late 1960s and early 1970s. She reveals that the family loved animals and that cats, dogs and rabbits had the run of the house. Bob had a habit of leaving his clothes laying around the floor and mainly ate tuna fish that Sara prepared for him. She never got too close to her boss, and he even left the kitchen table once partway through his meal when Czernin sat down near him. "Don't take it personally," Sara told her, "He just can't stand it if people come too close to him." Amongst the garbage she recalls throwing out were handwritten drafts for Tarantula, a Triumph t-shirt (not the Triumph t-shirt, surely??!) and a parcel addressed, but never sent, to Joan Baez, containing "mutual recordings". Oh, what price that dustbin's contents nowadays? Eventually, she and her husband left their employment after Dylan let his dogs crap on a freshly cleaned wooden floor and rip up the upholstery. Bob's parting words were that she had done "a wonderful job". 

Onto books, where Mike Marqusee's Chimes Of Freedom: The Politics Of Bob Dylan's Art received three stars courtesy of Nigel Williamson in November's Uncut and The Guardian's Richard Williams also praised it, despite not agreeing with everything that Marqusee writes; "...His small errors are redeemed, however, by the diligence with which he evokes an era of high ideals and the achievments of it's fugitive poet." 

November's London Review Of Books carried a massive review of Christopher Ricks' Dylan's Visions Of Sin by Thomas Jones, during which he reveals that, while it may not be the ultimate study of Dylan's words (step forward Michael Gray for that accolade, suggests Jones), it is certainly not the worst. I'd have to agree with him on that score - it's not the worst book on Dylan's writing. Just one of them.

In January, Q published the first instalment in it's 50 Years Of Rock 'n1 Roll series, this one covering the 1960s. Dylan is, of course featured prominently, covering (again) his transition from acoustic folkie to electric rock 'n1 roller. Nothing that need detain us, of course, but it's factually correct, nicely illustrated and free from any amusing (sic) photo captions. 

February's Record Collector featured a tongue-in-cheek article on the most over-rated acts in rock (designed, no doubt, to provoke a slew of "How dare you include such-and-such in your article?" letters. Which it did). Dylan is one of them ("...Please retire with what little dignity you have left. And blow your damned nose, for Pete's sake") but he's in good company, along with Bowie, Lennon, Zappa, Prince and the Sex Pistols. I'd even go so far as to agree with one entry; Van Morrison (described here, quite succinctly, as "a miserable c***"). In the same issue, Gavin Martin penned an entertaining and informative piece on the 1992 recording sessions with David Bromberg, presumably in light of the fact that a tape has recently surfaced - a tape that Martin has obviously heard, given the glowing review it receives here. Indeed, Martin reckons that Dylan's post-1990 writer's block may have even begun to be...er, unblocked during those sessions, especially during the recording of one particular song; "...Just how important Catskill Serenade was in Dylan conquering his writer's block is hard to gauge. But it's even possible to detect it's influence in his most recently released original song, the eight-minute epic 'Cross The Green Mountain...it undoubtedly emerges from the same haunted realm." Martin then veers off to discuss briefly Masked And Anonymous and the legendary November London shows, before concluding that Dylan's career revival continues apace, and, bringing us around full circle, suggests that it may have all begun back at the Bromberg sessions; "...it seems clear that the sessions, and particularly Catskill Serenade, served their purpose. In his creative 2nd personal life, Dylan had known the feelings of loss, fear and abandonment expressed in the lyric. Only by facing up and bearing witness to them could he conquer his demons and move on." 

March 2004's Word carried a piece called 'The Man Who Loved Women" and is, as you might expect, a lengthy article on Bob's 40-year dalliance with various ladies, ranging from various wives, well-known girlfriends (Suze, Joan Buyezz) and those whom he only had perhaps the odd knee-trembler with (Bette Midler, Dana Gillespie, Edie Sedgwick). No revelations here of yet more "secret wives" but it does feature a couple of more rarer photos and provides a fascinating potted history into what appears to be Bob's favourite offstage activity. 

When not touring or chasing women, Dylan seems to still enjoy shopping for clothes. The Duluth News Tribune reported that Dana Cosier, co-owner of Duluth's Bullseye Silkscreen shop is "99.9%" certain that he visited her shop on January 13th and bought two shopping bags full of shirts. The mystery shopper was accompanied by a woman (yeah, sounds like Bob) and was dressed in a winter coat with hood and a cap pulled down over his face (yeah, definatelv sounds like Bob). The woman said that the shirts were for gifts and Cosier refrained from asking for his autograph because "I wanted to respect his privacy...It was pretty clear he didn't want to be noticed." 

During January, John Walsh interviewed Joan Baez for The Independent and she was quite willing to describe her legendary affair with Dylan, which, she claims, only lasted three months. He was, she admits, not the most hygenic of people; "...He's...sloppy. But if you're crazy about someone, it doesn't matter. As soon as you're not crazy about them, it becomes obnoxious pretty fast. You can take some artistic liberties, and all of us do to some extent -but he takes them all....But put it this way - when people say to me; 'You're going to be linked to him in history forever,I think that's a pretty fucking honourable place to be." 

Finally for this month, actor David Carradine was interviewed for Uncut by Damien Love and revealed that he taught Dylan a bit of kung fu during the 1970s when it was all the rage; "...Bob took some lessons. He didn't really stick with it, but it was fun....Bob knows how to take care of himself. I know he seems like just a little wimpy guy, but he's an amateur boxer. As a matter of fact, he used to spar with Quentin (Tarantino), who's an amateur boxer himself...Bob showed aptitude for kung fu. Kind of a natural, actually. But I don't think it interested him enough’. 

And if the image of Bob sparring with Quentin Tarantino is going to haunt your every waking moment, then I'll sign off for this month and let you get on with it. 

Tee tee ef en.

THANKS TO: DEREK BARKER and JENS WINTER.

 
 
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