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Dylan by A. Fortier
Portrait  by  A. Fortier

ALTERNATIVES TO COLLEGE

by Michael Crimmins

 

Now You're Telling Me That You're Not Nostalgic…
 

“For me none of the songs I’ve written has really dated. They capture something I’ve never been able to improve on, whatever their statement is…  People say they’re ‘nostalgic’ but I don’t know what that means really. ‘A tale of two cities’ was written one hundred years ago-is that nostalgic? This term ‘nostalgic’ it’s just another way people have of dealing with you and putting you in some place they think they understand. It’s just another label” 

                                                                    Bob Dylan, Hamburg, 1984
 

Before we can accuse an artist of living on the past, let us not forget that first he or she, has to create that past, and it has to be one of note, at least!  If the artist is described as being hoist by his own petard, it is because he has one to carry!   If it is an artist who is constantly hoist by his own petard, then it must be that he is constantly carrying it. Ironic is it not? 

The word nostalgia is indeed a funny commodity. We can’t use it in connection with the future or the present. Any new Bob Dylan song or arrangement of an older one comes at us like a stranger around a corner.  It is so easy to look back with affection and this is of course is no bad thing, but when attending, especially a Dylan concert, we must be alert and aware of the moment. We should be grateful, shouldn’t we? Of this ongoing creativity. Even these days when Dylan’s vocals are not what they were, we should ask ourselves, would we change the way that ‘Time Out Of Mind’ sounds, would we want the voice from 1966 to sing the songs on “Love and Theft”. I think the answer to that one, would be that we would no more want that, than we would want to change the way that ‘Blonde on Blonde’ sounds.’ We DO get these songs from these great albums in concert these days, and we also get brilliant new arrangements, such as those for “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol” “Ring Them Bells” “Don’t Think Twice”. It is important that we the fans, especially those who are the first to admit to being so well nourished, stay focused in a concert situation.  To let the warm feeling for good things past (nostalgia)exist is no bad thing, as long as it does not act as a barrier between us and the artist now- who, in Dylan’s case at least, stands before us night after night creating and recreating. Is it not a shame that because Dylan’s music IS still so accessible to us, and not only in a live situation, but with the exhilarating albums of recent years, not to mention the ‘Masked &Anonymous’film, that he IS constantly hoist by his own petard!  What an experience a Dylan gig can be. What is that magic that occurs? Is it the son of Zeus passing bits of Bob and his band to the willing recipients in the audience? Whatever the magic is, it is very rarely found listening to a CDR of a concert…

BOB ALMIGHTY? 

Every now and again though there is an exception. I received a copy of the concluding ‘Barrowland, Glasgow 24/6/04 gig of Bob’s most recent tour. I wasn’t in attendance for this one; I surely wish that I could have been! One reviewer, Damien Love for the Sunday Herald/on line, proclaimed “Bob Almighty” in his header of a glowing report in which he stated that it was the best concert that he had ever been to! 

Listening to this one is an incredible magical experience for a Bob nut like me. To know that it is all still there to be mined at this level is a heart warming thing indeed. If you’re not too sure or you have grown bored with collecting and listening to the shows, then you owe it to yourself to find this one out and pay it your undivided. 

“Drifters Escape” is first up. Dylan has been playing this up tempo rhythm and blues arrangement for a few years now, but it one that I never tire of hearing. Quite often toward the end of this one, Bob will pull out a harp and play a staccato three note tattoo, that like Bob’s electric guitar work is often is often mistaken for incompetence! Here though tonight Dylan blows some blues, he means business! Another JWH song follows in “I’ll be your baby tonight” The four “Love &Theft” songs performed at Barrowland are all album standard, and you can’t moan about that, can you?  “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum” is for me, at least, the best of these. 

It is with the fourth performance on this recording where the hairs on the back of the head start to stand up. “Just Like A Woman” performed here close to it’s original arrangement, is perhaps a hard one for Bob Dylan to get to these days, but he manages not just an alright effort, but a superb gut wrenching one. A performance such as this besides being rare and full of feel, displays an obvious love for the song and whatever it takes him back to. This truly must have been a great place to have been on the 24th of June, Stu Kimball how lucky you are!   The acoustic arrangement that Bob is using on “Girl of The North Country” these days, and especially here, is one that captures perfectly the original aching atmosphere of the Freewheelin’ version. The descending and ascending structure of this version has a real ethereal and aesthetic beauty present.  I would suggest that more than a little nostalgia IS present here even as the song lives in the moment with this fantastic arrangement. “Most likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” is straight from ‘Blonde on Blonde’. By this point Bob Dylan’s voice is undergoing some sort of magical change, more and more of that wolf like sound falls away. The arrangement for “Ballad of a Thin Man” has very rarely changed over the years and rarely has it been performed better than it is here! 

The absolute show stopper though is “It Ain’t Me Babe”. This one has a dark foreboding feel, that along with its halting rhythm, I felt more suitable to perhaps “Masters of War” or “A Hard Rain’s-A-Gonna Fall” but listening for the second time, I realise that I was wrong. The genius that is Bob Dylan got it right! And that genius is right here in all its glory!  Dylan’s grip, on this occasion, with “Like a Rolling Stone” is so intense, and as the peddle steel can’t really punch; it would have been beneficial to have more of Stu Kimball’s excellent guitar involved. That of course is just a minor gripe, overall, the song has not sounded this fresh in a long while. 

In last month’s Freewheelin’ 226, Chris Cooper in his Magnetic Movements corner, when featuring the Barrowland, Glasgow video, said: “This was going to be THE show right? Well it was certainly a good performance with some great singalongs” It certainly was Chris. It is nice to know that a DVD of this one is in circulation, even if it does contain only six of the performances. Thank you to whoever is responsible for filming.   Apparently by all reports the previous night's show at the S.E.C.C., Glasgow was a bit warm also. 

The theme of my writing this month has pretty much carried on over from my last Freewheelin’ piece “Of poachers and game old birds” and I make no excuse about that. Dylan has given so much! His incentive to do so doesn’t really enter into it as far as I’m concerned, though when he says things like “I do it because I’m driven to do it” I can understand and believe that.  I do have to be honest and admit that when I read disparaging articles and reviews about Dylan, It does make me ask myself questions, like- is my current evaluation of Dylan’s live work influenced to a certain degree by loyalty. To say that it isn’t would not be entirely true, because that loyalty is openly expressed when I say “Dylan has given so much”!  It is good to bear in mind that this would still be a true statement if Dylan had retired ten years ago and if we didn’t have ‘Time out of Mind’ “Love and Theft” and “Masked and Anonymous” BUT we do! 

And what is more, these are not just among some of Dylan’s greatest moments, BUT are, arguably, among some of the greatest moments in recording and film making.

Nuff said about Lucky. I’m off to Spain.


 

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