by Mark Carter (again)


Since writing the article you have just (hopefully) read, I've received a few more 2004 USA shows and have listened to them carefully, lest I should be accused of writing current Bob off without enough proof to strengthen my convictions (it wouldn't be the first time, though I have never - to my knowledge, at least - been less than positive about any current Bob without first having enough proof to satisfy myself that my opinion is valid). 

I have to say that I have heard nothing to allay my initial fears that his voice has deteriorated horrendously even since the end of last year and has certainly deteriorated a frightening amount since the turn of the century. Whether it's because of this that he seems to be structuring these shows more towards straight out rock 'n' roll, I don't know, but it does seem as though his voice is only now really comfortable when he's attacking Cry Awhile, Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dum or even a pretty impressive Get Out Of Denver (but the less said about his and Jack White's take on Ball And Biscuit the better, hey?). The rare occasions when he does undertake a ballad or something that requires less than a hoarse, phlegmy shout seem special when they work and pitiful when they don't. The most interesting thing about the whole tour - to my ears and mind - is the radical rearrangement of It Ain't Me Babe; a rearrangement that conjures up memories of the audacity of the 1975 revamp of the same song. Of course, it's not in the same league as that but it's a step in the right direction and proves that - whatever else is lacking in 2004 - his willingness to reinvent and keep things slightly fresh remains at least partly intact. 

I enjoyed the shows more than I expected - but, then, I did not really expect to enjoy them at all - and Bob did not seem to be coasting as much as I'd heard from some quarters, but unfortunately I heard very little that made me want to listen to them again. I'll file them on the shelf with all of the others, and I'm glad I've got them so that I at least have an indication of how a Bob show sounds and runs in 2004, but I don't feel the need to get any more and, if anything, the notion that I did the wisest thing in missing the recent UK tour is only reinforced. I've heard various reports about some of those shows; some suggest they were excellent, others that they were so-so and others still that they were pretty dire. I guess you pays your money and you takes your choice. 

As I said - and Dylan would hate reading this - Bob Dylan the Legacy far outweighs and overshadows 2004 Bob Dylan. What keeps me interested is that very legacy - plus the odd newsworthy story such as his recent "damned if you turn up, damned if you don't" St. Andrews University Doctorate appearance (about which you will read more in a future 20 Pounds) or the Victoria's Secret furore which was a godsend for 20 Pounds and allowed me to foam at the mouth at length (again, you'll read it in a future 20 Pounds soon enough, but, in case you're wondering, I was on Bob's side) - and, let's face it, there's enough work contained within that legacy to sustain me for a long while to come. 

Acquiring our own PC (at last!) at the beginning of the year has meant that I'm enjoying writing these articles - and especially 20 Pounds - more than I ever have before. It's also given me the impetus to start getting down in black and white some of the stories and ideas that I've carried about for so long that don't - or won't – lend themselves to the cartoon format. Whether anything will come of it, who knows, but I work with a guy who publishes his own fiction, as well as that of others, and perhaps there will be a chance to do something completely different. Last year, he came second in some prestigious Fantasy Author Award (or something) in London - and even beat Stephen King in the process! - so if just a little of his luck and/or talent rubs off onto me, then I'll be quite pleased. I don't expect to be able to ever give up the day job but I've been cartooning on and off all my life - and almost constantly for Freewheelin' for nigh on 20 years - and I fear that I might finally be running out of ideas and, anyway, the change will do me good. 

On the other hand, a cartoon can sometimes speak a million words, so you're not off the hook yet, Bob!