(Of The Way We Were)
by Mark Carter
Well, a 2004 Top Ten shouldn't be too difficult, should it? Even for someone like me who couldn't bring himself to attend any of the shows and has, by and large, given up collecting current shows (the thought of listening to them - even for the perfunctory one play through before they get consigned to The Shelf to sit and gather dust forever more - does not excite me in the slightest. Am I saddened by this? Sort of, but I'm realistic to know that time - and shelf space - is too precious to waste on a bunch of CDs that I don't want to hear.
So, what to put in the Top Ten, then? Well, let's go for the usual; a bit of Bob and some other non-Bob items, which would, I guess, accurately reflect that (a) I'm writing this for a Bob Dylan magazine and (b) he still occupies a fair part of my life but not as much as he once did. Onwards, then.....
1) MY SECOND CHILDHOOD. Jamie has this year discovered, through the miracle of DVD, "Dr. Who", "Thunderbirds", "Captain Scarlet" (and "Stingray", not to mention "Shrek" 1 and 2 and various other treasures. This means that I get to watch them all over again and reflect that, almost 40 years later, the programmes that once delighted me as a six year-old are delighting a new generation (he's even converting his friends at school!). For Christmas, he's asked Santa to bring him a remote-controlled Dalek - guess who'll be playing with that on Christmas day!?? - and is probably looking forward to next year's revamped new series of "Dr. Who" as much as I am.
2) CHRONICLES. A wonderful surprise to someone who was either expecting "Tarantula part 2", a continuation of the sparsely punctuated "World Gone Wrong" liner notes or the ramblings of an old, tired, befuddled mind. Like 99% of the critics and the fans that I've spoken to, I have no problem at all with the fact that it jumps backwards and forwards through time and ignores (so far!) the bike crash, the divorce(s) and the Born Again period. What we do get reminds me of an old man relating his story to an audience of adoring grandchildren, starting off on one subject before veering off onto another - maybe years or decades apart – because one memory has kick-started another one.
I found it immensely enjoyable and, if not as factually informative as most autobiographies (though who knew that he suffered a bad hand injury during late 1986/early 1987 or just how close he came to throwing in the towel later that same year?), it was informative in allowing me a little glimpse inside that amazing brain of his; to see how it works, what it thinks and feels and how it views history - its own as well as America's. Put it beside Joan Baez's spiteful 1986 life story and see which author emerges with their dignity not only intact, but magnified a thousand times.
3) MASKED AND ANONYMOUS. I first watched it on b***leg DVD towards the end of last year, but it was lovely to be able to finally buy the official DVD, complete with extras (even if most of them featured a succession of talking heads telling us how wonderful Bob is) and a Director's Commentary that proved to be entertaining and interesting without actually reverting to "what we really meant here was.....”
This is a criminally undervalued movie, both in America and Europe, where it was lazily written off as "Renaldo And Clara 2002". Thank goodness we now have the DVD to remind us that most great art - like most great artists - is ignored or ridiculed (or both) in the rush to find the latest "Pop Idol" winner.
Special mention for the soundtrack, which is one of those CDs that I never tire of listening to, and the Dylan tracks are only part of what keeps drawing me back to it.
4) EXPECTING RAIN. A wonderful website and one that has single-handedly allowed me to keep "20 Pounds" afloat. It's no lie to say that, if we hadn't finally succumbed to pressure and become part of the Computer Generation this year (God help us!), then "20 Pounds" would have folded around about February, when the last of my old contacts finally bit the dust. As I've said before, I think that "20 Pounds" (in its new incarnation, at least) and "Expecting Rain" are totally dissimilar, and can co-exist quite happily within the same collecting sphere. "20 Pounds" can't hope to be as complete and up-to-date as the website (it was once, briefly, between 1988-1990), but "Expecting Rain" misses out on the humour and personality of my column (at least, I hope it contains humour and personality!).
5) REDISCOVERING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. If the acquisition of a PC has done one thing, it's enabled me to connect with the English language in a way that I don't think I've managed for the best part of two decades. Suddenly, writing "20 Pounds" has ceased to be a chore and has become something of an enjoyable pastime - something I haven't been able to call it, in all honesty, since at least 1995 or thereabouts. The offshoot of this, as you've no doubt noticed, is that the column has tripled in length and become, hopefully, a more eloquent piece of work. It may still get voted into the "take it or leave it” section of the next "Isis" poll, but at least I can now continually tweak it and refine it every month until it says what I want to say, rather than the close approximation that the manually typewritten version always seemed to end up being. Now, at least, I finish every month thinking; "Yep; that's pretty good", rather than; "That is not really what I meant, but - oh, sod it! - I can’t be arsed to retype it". However, merely writing a monthly article on the press reaction to Bob Dylan is not nearly enough to satisfy my reawakened creative urges, and, unfortunately, I can't always channel them into a "Freewheelin" piece simply because I can't always think of anything new or interesting to write about Bob (the most interesting article I wrote this year, if memory serves, was my zealous defence of Lowestoft rock deities The Darkness). So, I've finally started to get down some of the stories that I've been carrying around in my head for years and years. The first was a modest affair; a mere 19,000 words, give or take. The second, begun during August, is currently weighing in just shy of 150,000 words, and it's not finished yet. What I'll do with it when I've finished it, I don't know for sure. Presumably, I'll stick it away and move onto the next one, and return to it afresh after a few months to begin the revisions for the second draft. And then we'll see........
6) HALLOWEEN PART 2. I finished this 110-page cartoon epic during the early summer, and it marks the end of my heavyweight cartoon projects, at least for the foreseeable future. Partly, this is because, as I've outlined above, my current enthusiasm for the written word has overshadowed my former enthusiasm for the witty cartoon, but also because I seem to be suffering from that good ol1 Writer's Block. For proof, check how many 2004 issues of this magazine have not carried a single cartoon - more than during the past ten or fifteen years put together, I'll wager. It may be that all the decent ideas, scenarios and punchlines have been used (17 years of almost non-stop cartooning is apt to exhaust whatever warehouse all my best ideas come from, however large it might be), and part of it, I guess, is that Bob Dylan, with his cracked voice now sounding older than time itself, and his current preference for appearing in advertisements next to young girls wearing nothing but their skivvies, does not so much lend himself to my lampooning as to embrace it himself. The irony, then, is this; he has now become the character I've been drawing ever since 1987. So "Halloween 2", whilst no masterpiece, allowed me to bow out with a decent sized project in which I collected up my few remaining jokes and dumped them all into that. If you've read it and not found it particularly amusing, then you'll realise just how close to the bottom of the barrel I've been scraping. If, on the other hand, you enjoyed it or, at least, found that it passed away an hour or so in reasonable comfort, then that's good, 'cos it may be the last. And yet The Sad Dylan Fans lay uneasy in their graves. Sometimes I can hear them calling to me, insisting that their time was not up, that there was still so much they wanted to do. Of course, they're dead, and, like Conan Doyle after he killed Sherlock Holmes or Terry Nation after he wiped out the Daleks at the end of their very first TV appearance, how do you bring something back when it's dead? Well, if you're Stephen King, you simply bury them in the Pet Cemetery, of course. But I don't want to do that - bury them in the Pet Cemetery, that is. And yet......
And yet, like in that old song, some nights when the cold wind moans, in a long black veil, I stand o'er their bones.
7) "ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST" FINALLY RELEASES ON DVD. There have been many fine DVD releases this year, allowing me to continue to stock my library with all of those classic movies that have been missing from my collection for years. "Once Upon A Time in the West" -quite possibly Sergio Leonne's masterpiece - sits proudly alongside his other contender for "movie masterpiece", "Once Upon A Time in America" and is a timely reminder of the grandiose panoramic scope of his vision. From the opening 25 minutes, in which nothing happens except three gunmen sit and wait for a train to arrive and water drips and flies buzz and time slowly ticks by, through to the majestic camera sweep high over the little Western town where much of the three-hour movie will be set, and on to the final Biblical shootout between a surprisingly good Charles Bronson and a chillingly evil
Henry Fonda (deliberately cast against type as the movie's black-garbed psychotic killer), this is a true epic painted on a huge canvas. As good as it is, though, it would not be so artistically successful - so complete- if it didn't have the godlike Ennio Morrocone providing a wonderfully atmospheric and moving soundtrack. This double-DVD pack features no less than three hours of sheer movie bliss and has a host of excellent extras, to boot.
8) THE VICTORIA'S SECRET ADVERT. I eventually got this on DVD, which means I can now Fast Forward through the Dylan shots and get straight to the good bits.
Seriously, though, it was a godsend for "20 Pounds" because it encapsulated what the column should be about nowadays. I could spend a whole issue concentrating on the media response to what is, at the end of the day, a fairly modest piece of advertising (you should refer back to the old Cadbury's Flake ads if you want to see real soft porn being used to sell something). Over here, if it was mentioned at all, it was in a kind of "Oh well, that's Bob for you. Never know what he's gonna do next" way. On the other side of the pond, however, where priorities seem to have gone badly askew since 9/11 - four more years of George W. Now, that’s worth getting hot under the collar over - the reaction ranged from the "Oh, my God! He's let us all down so badly! My 1960s ideals have been raped and pillaged!" to the "Who cares? It's his life and it's up to him". I found the whole thing in equal parts hilarious and scary. If Michael Moore is looking for the follow-up to "Bowling For Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11", then tell him I've got just the thing.
9) PETER KAY. A comic genius, no less. This year, I purchased on DVD both series of the so-funny-it-hurts "Phoenix Nights" plus his two officially released stand-up shows, which actually get funnier every time you watch 'em, and the series that started it all "That Peter Kay Thing" (so named because he knew everyone would say; "Did you see that Peter Kay thing on telly last night?"). And now, as the year rolls to a close, we've got the "Phoenix Nights" spin-off "Max And Paddy's Road To Nowhere" on Channel 4, which is currently proving that success hasn't dulled his talents yet.
Special mention, also, for "The Office" Christmas specials, which were - and still are - an object lesson in how to finish when you're at the top, and "Boa
Selecta! Volume 3", which I find (mostly) hilarious, though I'm buggered if I could tell you exactly why. So, all in all, a good year for comedy, then, and that's without taking into consideration series four of "Teachers" and the sometimes hidden delights of "The Smoking Room", "Little Britain" and "Nighty Night". It's proper bo, I tell thee.
10) LIVE 1964. While not as historically important as "Live 1966" or as downright "it- doesn't-get-any-better-than-this" essential (says I) as "Live 1975", this is a welcome addition to the official canon. I doubt whether it will ever demand as much listening time as its 1966 and 1975 counterparts, but I, for one, would rather have it than not have it, and, however sonically impressive the bootlegs have been, it's gotta be a notch or two up on even the best of them, right?
DOWNERS OF THE YEAR
1) THE LIVE SHOWS. I don't want to dwell on this, but, from what I've heard; they really haven't been much cop, have they? Come on, be honest now.
2) NO NEW STUDIO ALBUM. A familiar complaint, but at least it looks as though we may get the follow-up to "Love And Theft" at some point in 2005. I certainly hope so, and I hope that, in twelve month's time, I'll be sitting here compiling my Top Ten and sticking it very firmly near the top position, if not the top position. Who knows; its eventual release may revitalise the live shows in 2005, also. Let's face it; a live version of "Tweedle bum And Tweedle Dee" was very exciting in 2001, now it's just tedious.
3) DYLAN NOT WINNING THE 1960s SECTION OF CHANNEL 4's "UK ROCK 'N' ROLL HALL OF FAME". 'Nuff said. He should have been made an honorary member, anyway.
And that's it for another year. See you in the funny papers.
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