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20lbs of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

May was a sort of "in between" month. We were in between tours and we were in between any one topic that dominated the press (say what you like about the Victoria's Secret blitzkreig - and I said plenty last month - it's good news for those of us who have to compile a monthly overview of Dylan press activity). Consequently, this time I shall be looking at the odds and sods that made the dailies and monthlies while Bob was relatively inactive. That said, for all I know he may have been recording a new album all through May (it's early June as I sit typing this), but somehow I doubt it. 

Before we leave the aforementioned Victoria's Secret debacle behind - and let's hope that's exactly what we're doing - USA TODAY fired the final salvo, courtesy of Theresa Howard, with more quotes from creative director Ed Razek; "He (Dylan) is an icon and gets noticed. And we get noticed." He does admit, however, that it's pretty easy for his company to get noticed anyway, what with them using young women in tiny scraps of fabric in all of their advertising; "It's part of the stategy, but at least it's for a lingerie company. We don't sell potato chips." The backlash, Howard notes, included many "puns" in the press headlines ("Tangled Up In Boobs" - ouch!), as well as one particular Google search registering 7,760 hits for "Bob Dylan Victoria's Secret" (mind you, that could have been one fan who kept going back for more - possibly his next search was "Kleenex tissues Mansize"). Consumers polled by USA Today's Ad Track revealed that 21% liked the ad "a lot" and 18% disliked it. Quite what the other 61% thought is not revealed here, perhaps they were too busy writing articles and letters for newspapers and magazines. 

Oh, and I cannot comfortably leave this topic without telling you that Mojo's Richard Jobes devoted a couple of pages to the ad (with special mentions of the release of the Chrome Dreams Weberman CD and Jack White sharing a Detroit stage for one song with Bob). His headline? "Nashville Pantyline". Supply your own comment. 

Meanwhile, reviews of Live 1964  were still coming through, most of them being nothing less than enthusiastically positive. However, there was one exception (isn't there always?). Michaelangelo Matos of The Village Voice didn't like it. Not one little bit. It is, he insists, a "useless piece of product" and "adds fuck-all to our knowledge of Dylan's artistry". Furthermore, the Bob Dylan presented here is a "pious folkie" and his songs are no better. Gates Of Eden suffers from "entropy", It's Alright Ma is "enunciated reeeeeeally slooooowly so we understand every word precisely, making it more meaningless than ever" and Who Killed Davey Moore is totally dismissed ("...a boxing indictment played to a folkie audience is as self-congratulatory as you'd imagine"). Matos' final warning is that Baez appears on four cuts and that all of the new material that Dylan played at this concert can be found as superior versions on the official albums. Oh yes, and it's audiences like the one Dylan played to that Halloween night that quickly made him turn towards polka-dot shirts and electric guitars. Yes, but other than that,......what have the Romans ever done for us? 

Franz Scholer, writing for Germany's Rolling Stone, had no such qualms and advised his readers to put away their bootlegs because this release has "more than passable mastering, beautiful liner notes and a great booklet". Similarly, Brandon Niemeyer of The Daily Mississippian reckons that this show should be on a "Most Famous Concerts" list, along with The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Stones at Altamont and Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. It is, he suggests, a great addition to any Dylan fan's collection. 

The Aspen Times' Stewart Oksenhorn recognised the Halloween 1964 Dylan as an artist who was beginning to move away  - and single himself out - from the general folkie pack and implies that the concert shows Dylan already beginning to transform into something special, though the transformation would not be so obvious until the middle of 1965. At that precise moment, of course - though Oksenhorn doesn't point this out - the folkie audience who would be booing less than a year later still loved him, and, transformation or not, he was still playing enough "finger-pointing" songs to keep them happy and make the transition from protest singer to singer/songwriter more palatable than the change into hip-suited electric rocker would be. If only those who were cosily laughing along to If You Gotta Go, Go Now knew what was around the corner, hey? 

Q's John Aizlewood awarded it four stars and suggests that, for all that Dylan would go on to accomplish after 1964, there is a sense, while listening to this album. that something would soon be lost, and his more child-like (ands less barbed and defensive) sense of humour is only part of what would soon be gone; "...Perhaps it's the sense of adventurous innocence that Dylan would never regain. Perhaps it's merely that there was no precedent for what this concert shows that he was ready to do. Perhaps it's that rare combination of genius (never a word to be used lightly, but unquestionably right here) and hindsight...Three months later, Dylan would enter Columbia Studio in Manhattan and nothing would ever be the same again." 

Rachel Khong of The Yale Herald also recognised that this Bob Dylan would soon be buried under the weight of the post-1965 Bob Dylan but, "on this night at least, Dylan is still folk's darling and King, crooning all by his lonesome to a mesmerised crowd fixed on his every word and slip-up. Not a single soul at the Philharmonic dared cry "Judas!", and rightly so. This is Dylan at his folk-saviour best." 

From Germany, Fritz Werner Haver of the Thuringer Allgemeine called it a "historic concert" and a "turning point in Dylan's career" and speaks of him playing in front of a "spellbound audience" who were hearing, for the first time, songs containing "a flood of surrealistic images" that were a million miles from his earlier protest material. 

There were several reviews in the Spanish press also, and all of them positive. Our old mate Diego Manrique praised it in El Pais, though I am reliably informed that, as usual, he didn't quite know what he was talking about. A few days later, in the very same newspaper, he presented an even longer review, though, again, my correspondent warns me that it is "quite stupid". Also begging to be filed under "quite stupid" would be a lukewarm review in Ruta 66 by Ignacio Julia, who admits that he dislikes Dylan's work and is therefore pretty unfamiliar with it. A nice unbiased opinion there, then. The Spanish edition of Rolling Stone was kind to it, as was La Razin's Alberto Braso, who talks about Bob's "amphetamine folk". Finally, there was a positive response from Francisco Garcia in Efe Eme and, by the by, the same issue also carried an enthusiastic review of the Unplugged DVD, courtesy of Juan Puchades, complete with a 1993 photo. Well, you can't have everything. 

Also supplying a brief review of Unplugged was the German edition of Rolling Stone, awarding it three stars and concluding; "...the audience is happy, the DVD buyer is not: only twelve tracks, no extras." Yep, can't argue with that. 

Meanwhile, the One Hundred Magazine (the weekly supplement of my local daily newspaper The Eastern Daily Press) thought it was still 2001, claiming that Bob celebrated his 60th birthday in May and reviewing the Essential Bob Dylan double CD set, advising us all to rush out and buy it because it is, indeed, essential and because, of all the many Dylan compilations, this one is "right up to date". Despite the fact it's now three years old, I guess they're right; the collection is still more or less up to date, unlike One Hundred Magazine. 

Record Collector was more up to date, resurrecting the quiet-of-late Patrick Humphries to review Chrome Dreams' latest budget CD release "The Weberman Tapes". Though Humphries warns that "you may feel guilty for eavesdropping", he seems to be advising all Dylanologists to buy it (which, of course, we all did, even though we've got it two or three times already), if only to sample those heady days of the 70s when there was "a contest between Dylan and A.J. to see who can say "man" most often" and when fans foolishly "believed that idols like Dylan - and Lennon and Jagger - really could save the world. It was all a very long time ago." You're right there, Pat, and it was a more innocent age in some ways. Still, there ain't no going back. 

April's edition of Goldmine belatedly reviewed some of the SACD releases, though they were not quite so behind the times as One Hundred Magazine. Gillian G. Gaar concentrated on Freewheelin', Highway 61, Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks, Slow Train Coming and Love And Theft, calling them the "six key releases" and obviously recommending them all "if you're a fan". By the time she reaches Love and Theft, she finds an artist who is "comfortable in his own skin" and concludes; "Vocally, Dylan's rough voice shows just what a long, strange trip it's been". Yep, and it's getting longer and stranger. 

April and May also saw a couple of reviews of the DVD release of Mickey Jones' 1966 "home movies" footage, though Mr. Jones should perhaps not count on these particular ones earning him too many extra sales. Uncut awarded it a paltry one star, though did grudgingly concur that, despite there being very little Dylan footage, "Dylanologists will still be fascinated by Jones' eyewitness account as he talks us through the electrifying events all over again." 

Mojo's Sylvie Simmons  could also only muster up a single star and concluded that 90 minutes of Jones mainly talking about himself and a few fleeting shots of Dylan ("barely more exciting") are not worth paying for. 

Away from the world of shiny discs and ladies' undergarments, April and May brought forth a few decent book reviews. Michael Gilmour's Tangled Up In The Bible was pretty favourably received by James T. Keane in America (which is, so we are informed, "the National Catholic Weekly"). Keane especially appreciates the "valuable" 28-page index of biblical references and parallels, which, though not exhaustive, he finds very helpful; "...No listener misses the allusion when Dylan sings "she took my crown of thorns", but how many would recognise Mt 22; 1 - 14 in the gun-toting father of the groom in Stuck Inside Of Mobile?" For all that, Keane faults the book at length for it's ignorance of how Dylan's biblical themes have evolved throughout the years; "...he approaches a huge body of work synchronically, and so sometimes treats these biblical themes as a static constant rather than as an evolving, dynamic artistic strategy...To read these allusions without reference to time pretends that there is no growth or alteration in the artist's perspective - a dangerous conceit indeed with so notorious a shape-shifter as Dylan." 

Christopher Rick's book Visions Of Sin received a delayed publication in the USA (some six months after Europe) and one of the first reviews to appear was by Eric Orsmby in The New Criterion. He is pretty impressed with what he reads, though somewhat unconvinced by Ricks' stance that Dylan can do (hardly) no wrong; "...Ricks' fatal penchant for exaggeration in everything to do with Bob Dylan the artist and the man mars his book, for all it's learning and ingenuity and occasionally superb explications of certain songs." Even so, he recommends it to all Dylan fans who come fresh from the songs and without any literary preconceptions ("he is incapable of writing a dull page") and concludes; "...If too often you hear the dim crunch of a butterfly being broken on a wheel, you forgive Ricks because of the deep, if immoderate, affection he holds for his subject." 

Ben Eyre of the Oxford Student had no reservations about Ricks' book and claims that it serves Dylan and his music well; "...The book confirms Dylan's status as a master of the modern lyric, but it is Ricks' achievement that is most astounding" 

Onto other odds and sods, beginning with Mojo's rundown of the "100 Greatest Protest Songs". Surprisingly, Bob only appears once, but it is at number one so I guess that redresses the balance somewhat. Masters Of War proudly takes it's place as the most powerful protest song of all time ("Although recorded with just a solo guitar, the song's angry power foreshadowed all the rock 'n' roll and turbulence to come") and is rightly recognised as being as frighteningly relevant now as it was forty years ago; "...Masters Of War's venomous, mad-as-hell passion makes more sorry sense a full four decades after it was recorded - when JFK reigned over Camelot before his appointment in Dallas. It's now being sung to Donald Rumsfeld." 

David Ward of The Guardian informed us that Manchester's (in)famous Free Trade Hall has now been turned into a five-star hotel called the Radisson Edwardian. This is Radisson's first five-star hotel outside of London and many of the suites acknowledge the venue's famous and illustrious history by being named after Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey, Rudolf Valentino and a host of other names from the worlds of music, politics and literature. There is, of course, a Bob Dylan suite and, if you fancy staying there the next time Bob plays in or around Manchester, then be warned; it's a penthouse suite and will set you back 1,400 per night. At those prices, I'd doubt whether even Bob could afford to stay there. Or would want to. 

April's Record Collector carried an interview with Bob Johnston by L.E. McCullough, primarily to promote his new record label JAM Records, but also toucing upon his time spent in the studio with Bob, especially when he was at the helm of the Dylan/Cash Nashville sessions. Unlike Cash, who was rumoured to be mortified when they were bootlegged, claiming that there were only two or three releasable numbers on the tape at best, Johnston would still like to see the session get an official release; "...Columbia would never release them. I've been trying to get them released and recently talked to Columbia and they said; "We've got ten of those tracks, but they aren't any good", That was the same reason they gave 35 years ago." According to Johnston, Columbia's reason for proclaiming them as no good is solely because Dylan and Cash don't sing together in harmony, but, he insists, that was intentional ("...that's the style...they deliberately weave in and out") and that the whole session was so off-the-cuff that Johnston had to set the whole studio up while Dylan and Cash went to dinner; "..."when they came back, I had everything set up; mics, stands, lights, guitars. They just looked at each other and grinned and went out and four hours later they had about 30 sides cut." Interestingly, he reckons that he still has about 15 songs that no one has ever heard. Come on, then - if Columbia don't want to do anything with 'em, leak 'em to the bootleggers! 

In the same issue, Gavin Martin looked more closely at the session and of the history between the two icons before they eventually recorded in Nashville. He reckons that Cash likened the session to the legendary 1955 Sun Studio recordings of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Cash himself, but Martin fails to be convinced; "...the feisty charge and competitive energy that made The Million Dollar Quartet so riveting is replaced in the Cash/Dylan sessions by a deferential, relaxed air - two troubled souls seeking calm after the stormy decade." After Nashville, though the two men remained friends, there is very little - bar the public appearances - to give any indication of this. One reason, Martin speculates, is that the pair held each other in so high regard that they guarded and protected their friendship closely. Alternatively, he speculates; "...it could indicate that Dylan, having failed to find his creative fire during the Johnston sessions, moved on to other pastures, remembering the old adage about meeting your idols being bound to end in disappointment." My vote is for the former, in case you're interested. 

Of interest to anyone who is convinced that 1975 is one of the greatest years of the half dozen or so really great years of Dylan's career - possibly even the greatest (so that'll be me, then) - will be Dave Conlin Read's interview with an anonymous friend of Mama Frasca (whose Dream Away Lodge hosted The Rolling Thunder Revue for one wonderful afternoon during November, as featured heavily in both Renaldo And Clara  and Larry Sloman's On The Road With Bob Dylan). The interview has already seen the light of day in truncated form in Q magazine's Maximum Bob special a few years ago - it was actually conducted in 1998 - but is presented in it's entirety for the first time on the newberkshire.com website. Much of what went down we already know because of the book and the movie, of course, but he does add a few nice images, such as that of Ginsberg walking around reading from Moby Dick because he knew that Melville wrote his book in the area, and of Dylan hanging onto Mama's every word as she told him; "With love you're like the egg - without love, you're like the hollow egg, without yolk, all white." Also, they all had a bit of a sing-song and belted out a version of Be Bop A Lulla ( "...I was right there beside him, singing - he was getting into that.").  After a while, it all got a bit too intense and Dylan escaped for a breath of fresh air by climbing out of a window. The window frame had been freshly painted and he left a footprint behind and the next day a couple of the locals made a sign reading "Bob Dylan's footprint", which they left hanging up for quite a while. All in all, a nice bit of additional background to the greatest rock 'n' roll tour that ever was or ever will be. 

A month or so before it would be mentioned the length and breadth of America and Europe for entirely different - and unexpected - reasons, Bob's 1970s Doctorate from Princeton University was in the press (albeit on a much smaller scale) in connection with what is, I suppose, one of Mother Nature's minor miracles. The periodical cicada only appears every 17 years, spending that amount of time beneath the soil as a nymph before finally burrowing to the surface. Trillions of them are expected this summer and will cover most of the eastern region of North America from late May onwards until their density reaches up to 40,000 per acre. Melisa Gao of the Daily Princetonian reports that their overwhelming singing will be in full force by the time of Princeton University's Reunions and Commencement ceremony this year, just as they were during 1987 and 1970. John Loose, a student in 1970, recalls; "You literally had to shout to talk to people, even if you were walking next to them." Their numbers were so great that another student, Gregg Lange, reveals how they "crawled all over everybody's mother in the senior class" and how Dylan was so disturbed by the noise that he wanted to leave the processional. "It was eerie," agrees Loose, "It was like the twilight zone." So, the next time you play New Morning, give a bit of thought to the locusts in Day Of The Locusts  -  they're not based on your common or garden annual cicadas; these ones only put in an appearance every 17 years. A year either side and Bob would never had written the song. Funny how things work out. 

In England On Sunday - the Church Of England newspaper - the splendidly named Le Roux Schoeman put forward the theory that, using Time Out Of Mind,  Love And Theft and especially Masked And Anonymous as examples, Dylan seems so lowdown and dispirited nowadays that he might well be suffering from "Messiah burnout". This is not a new theory, of course; Dylan as Christ figure has been a regular talking point throughout the ages and I believe it was no less a writer than Paul Williams who once put forward the suggestion that Dylan may have, during the 1970s, even begun to identify with Christ. This is a pleasantly readable article, though, because it draws so much on Masked And Anonymous; a movie so rife with images and possibilities that every theory tells a story. Schoeman may well be right, too - Dylan seems to have spent the past two decades trying to prove that, despite what people thought during the 1960s and 70s, he wasn't - to quote from Monty Python's Life Of Brian - the Messiah; he was a very naughty boy. 

Finally, I must mention Paul Winner's article on maisonneuve.org which provides one of the most readable dissections of an April 2004 Dylan show that I have read (it's titled "Bob Dylan, From The Latin", if you're interested in finding it). Though it's not 100% enthusiastic, this is obviously written by a fan - one who admits to not knowing a world without Bob Dylan in it - and the sense of excitement tinged with sadness is more palpable here than in a dozen reviews penned by jaundiced hacks, even if they do proclaim to be real fans. There is sadness, of course, because for all of us who have never known a world without Bob Dylan, we all realise that, in his live shows nowadays, we are not witnessing the best of him or anything near it; "...High Water ends; the applause is warm and grateful. The next song sounds very much like the last one. People seem to appreciate it anyway. I wonder why. I wonder what they expected." Though Winner appreciates that Dylan still cuts a figure onstage - "Slim Whitmanesque" - in his cowboy duds, the appreciation is again tinged with sadness because - and this brings 20 Pounds full circle to where we came in - "in a few weeks the moustache and gaunt figure will turn up on television for women's lingerie in this very outfit. He will never have looked older." I do urge you to seek this out if you are still interested in reading articles on Dylan that are not either superficial or fawning, but actually leave you thinking about their contents long after you've finished them. 

That'll do it. See ya.


THANKS TO: EXPECTING RAIN,  THE ISIS WEBSITE (where you can access the latest Dylan news with regular 15 minute updates),  JENS WINTER,  ANTONIO J. IRIATE,  BRYAN GREY

 
 
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