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ALTERNATIVES TO COLLEGE

by Michael Crimmins

 

2004 Revisited

 

2004 was a good year for me personally, I got myself around the country a little bit and got done the things that I like to get done. 

It was around this time last year that John Stokes asked me if I might be interested in writing for Freewheelin’. I was interested, I still am interested, and most importantly I like it here.  I need to play music. I love to listen to music. I always want to talk about music. These are the things that I got done, and being around this Dylan territory helped me tremendously with the last of those listed priorities. Having completed my first year with Freewheelin’ I include my writing here, because I have enjoyed it so much, among my top ten. I will refrain, as last year, from using any chronological order in doing so, with no better excuse than it makes things easier. 

LIVE AID. 4 DVD BOX SET. ‘The Day The Music Changed The World’ July 13 1985.

Eight weeks ago the E.E.C. spent 265 million pounds in destroying 2 million tons of vegetables and fruit.
                           Bob Geldof July 1985 

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
              
                                    Bob Dylan  “Slow Train Coming” 1979 

Bob Dylan made a positive statement from the Philadelphia stage at the close of Live Aid on that very special day in 1985, and I’m not talking about his comments regarding possible aid for the American farmers! 

He sang  “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” ”When the ship comes in” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Only ‘’Blowin’ in the Wind’’ is included in the box set. 

Dylan’s performance from the Philadelphia stage that day in 1985 has been well and truly lambasted by all. By all I include the Dylan faithful and The Dylan writers, oh! And the media press was non-too impressed either!  A lot of artists truly enhanced their careers that day. That they managed to do this through raising money for one of the greatest causes ever was not a bad thing. Very few though, included material of an appropriate dimension. Dylan did! His first song “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” given that the plight of the American farmer was not really the point, was, at least, actually about starvation. 

“Your children are so hungry that they don’t know how to smile” 

“When the ship comes in” spoke of a time too late for contrition

“Oh the time will come up when the winds will stop.
And the breeze will cease to be a breathin’ “  

“Blowin’ in the wind”

“How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry”

“How many deaths will it take till he knows that too may people have died’’ 

Bob Dylan clearly then, at least, vocalising in context with the cause! If we take Ron Wood and Keith Richard out of the equation, the sound people did that anyway! And pay attention to the songs Dylan sang, noting that he, under great pressure, managed to get nearly every word of all three songs right, his contribution that day is surely a far greater one than he has ever been given credit for. Oh and the DVD’S are bloody marvellous, even without most of Bob’s contribution from that day. 

Madonna: I have never really been a fan. I have liked the odd record. But here, I found her all that any performing artist could be. Absolutely stunning! Her command of the stage, her confidence and colour compare only to entertainers such as Elvis and Fred Astaire. 

“For once in our bloody lives we won”  Bob Geldof 1985
 

Bob Dylan Performing Artist 1986*1990 & beyond. Mind Out Of Time.

Couldn’t wait for this one! I actually was looking forward to this publication more than I was to Chronicles by the old git himself! 

Paul Williams is easily my favourite Dylan writer. It’s his enthusiasm and lack of towering invulnerability that attracts me to him. He comes across as such an obvious fan. Williams places so much respect on Dylan in the context of his public performances, rather than just his studio work, that he can, in his honesty, be a hard observer to please. 

A dedication such as the one he penned for the second of his ‘Performing Artist’ series 1974*1986 (UK 1994 edition) only serves to highlight his sincere appreciation of the performing artist in general. 

this book is for the ones
who walk on stage
and open their mouths
       and sing

His book is yet another great read as he provides us with an even greater excuse for collecting even more Dylan performances. I was very taken with Paul’s breakdown of Dylan’s 1989 album ‘Oh Mercy’. He seems to have the uncanny ability, for instance, of almost placing himself next to Dylan, Lanois and company at the time of recording, such is his translation of felt mood/atmosphere that is apparent in his writing. Of course none of us, I’m sure, agree with everything we read, no matter how much we admire the writer. For example, I was very surprised to read Paul’s reaction to Dylan’s Travelling Wilburys song “Congratulations” where he describes the song as “agreeable filler” and also sees it as a “remarkably spiritless performance”. My surprise stemmed not from his expressed lack of enthusiasm for this song in particular, after all, as I have said, one of the reasons I like his writing IS because of his honesty!  No it is that he, this time, seems to miss the point, and by that I mean the overall Wilbury thing, which of course is Devil may care/ tongue in cheek (very). Having said that, it is quite probable that it is I who miss the point, because I know that Williams is very aware of Dylan’s strengths within humour. From my humble point of view, I would find it hard to describe any Wilburys song as filler, without calling them all filler! It would be akin to calling another track, Art for arts sake. Every track on Volume one is a very definite article, in as much that it is “Sylvia’s Mother” rather than “Idiot Wind”/ The Goons rather than Leonard Cohen. In another environment “Congratulations” through Dylan’s mischievous pen, has the added ability to become a totally different song. According to Williams Dylan has performed this song a few times, although not having heard these renditions I am unable to comment. Paul says that Bob sounds like he is reading from a cue card as he delivered the words “I’m sorrow bound” on the recording. To my ears the words ring like those of a pouting spoilt child collecting sympathy from its parents. Dylan deliberately over plays the wronged lover, using exaggerated phrasing. I find the recording rich in vitality, with an acute awareness and love of the over the top pop ballads of the fifties and early sixties

I particularly enjoyed Williams’ short essay on ‘Love & Theft’. Paul is so obviously bursting at the seams with enthusiasm for his project, that it amused me to consider that the word –vignette- used in any kind of connection to his hero, must act as anathema to him. Also an interesting thought occurred to me when reading his words from the same essay featured in chapter 15:

“So supposing you were Bob Dylan and you read that”.

I don’t need to quote anymore than that, or to put those words in to any kind of context to tell you that I had to put the book down as I pondered on the very possible situation where Bob Dylan, who very possibly reads every word that Paul Williams writes, at the very moment of delivering a certain lyric in a concert situation, cannot help but bring another’s interpretative thoughts to mind-Time out of mind? That of course is only a possibility, but a possibility nonetheless, where two very different artists work can meet head on, without it being the intent of either. Accidental art if ever there was such a thing! Dylan has admitted that his songs are open to the listener’s interpretation, and as such can mean very different things to very different people. We all, after all, as we interact with each other in our daily lives, influence one another to a certain degree. I am not trying to imply any sort of Dylan/Williams song writing partnership here –ha ha- it is just my mad mind on the rampage again. Consider though Williams’ own words below. 

Chapter 14 from Performing Artist 3, was written in September 1997. It first appeared in- Crawdaddy! Under the title of “Sparkly- Eyed Master of the Highlands.’’ When it was reprinted in -On The Tracks- soon after that, I included at the start a “note to the reader’’ which said: “This review was written in mid–September, listening to the advance tape weeks before the album came out. I swear, I wrote paragraph 4, where I say the character who speaks in these songs who is like Dylan but ‘is no more like him than Hamlet is Bill Shakespeare,’ two and a half weeks before the -Newsweek-interview came out, in which Bob says, ‘I’m not the songs. It’s like somebody expecting Shakespeare to be Hamlet.’ ” 
 

Bob Dylan   Chronicles Volume One.

Brilliant! I love it. I think that it is part fictional, it is after all written by a man who says that he is only Bob Dylan when he has to be. The songs and the performance of them are what this artist is about and Chronicles is important because it’s author is phenomenal as the singer and songwriter. Whatever or whoever Bob Dylan is, it is he the creator of Dylan and the songs who decides!  So enjoy the tale.
 

The Fourth annual John Green day UK Bob Dylan Convention.

They really are something these events. The programme subtitled ‘re-uniting Friends’ just gets it in one! . This was my third John Green Day and the atmosphere was definitely one of being among friends. It is such a nice feeling to know that even though we all have our own favourite Bob Dylan albums, and that our opinions on the man himself and our reactions to his art may differ greatly, we can come together like this under the name of one so well loved by family and friends, irrespective of the fact of whether we knew John Green or not, to acknowledge that art and its creation is important and as such, as much of a sustaining factor in our existence as anything else.
 

Dylan with the Dead 12 July 1987.

Nothing to do with this year I know, except 2004 was the year that I finally got around to paying attention to Dylan’s first stint with The Grateful Dead.  A good friend gave me a DVD copy of the third show from the six in question. It was the 12th of July 1987 at East Rutherford in New Jersey in Giants Stadium. Seeing how this period is generally regarded, it seems, by all and sundry as the absolute nadir of Dylan’s career, perhaps you can understand why it took me so long to get to it. 

Regarding the East Rutherford performance, one reviewer was moved to report thus “Dylan’s performance was lame, tired, boring and full of as much enthusiasm as a post lobotomy victim”. Olof Bjorner a well respected Dylan enthusiast at his website lists the recommended number of shows from this tour as none. So sitting down to watch my bootleg DVD “Dylan Plays Dead” I was not expecting too much in the way of a great performance!  Why even our old friend Paul Williams in his ‘Mind Out Of Time’ who finds Dylan’s genius in regions where others fail to look, such as the soundtrack from ‘Hearts Of Fire’! Despairs for the Dylan and The Dead collaboration of 1987!  Bloody Nora this is gonna be a right pile I’m a thinkin’. 

Well you have guessed it, haven’t you? That I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised. Sure there are ragged endings, and Bob gets a little tongue twisted here and there, especially on “John Brown”, but these minor flaws have got nothing at all to do with Dylan’s generally reported disinterest. In fact I would say that the polar opposite of that, in this case, is what constitutes some great performances!  If it is indeed a fact that Dylan, as first reported by Howard Sounes, actually wanted to join The Dead, then maybe I’m not too far off in thinking that with a little more leadership in both rehearsal room and on stage, Dylan and The Dead might have achieved a level of performance at least somewhere near to those 1966 performances with The Hawks. I would go even further to say that this line up had more of a grasp of a particular sound that Dylan was looking for, a sound that he had only really achieved in the studio, and in particular on ‘Highway 61 Revisited”. The story of course goes that Dylan looked to Jerry Garcia to help him reconnect to his own material, at a time when he felt unable to sing his old songs anymore. Judging by the evidence of the period provided in the ‘Hard to Handle’ video, which catches Dylan and Tom Petty &The Heartbreakers in concert just months prior to the Dylan & The Dead shows, I find this very hard to believe. Having said that and not wishing to contradict myself, while watching/listening to ‘Dylan Plays Dead’ I found myself constantly having to remind myself that this was filmed in 1987, it has an almost spiritual link back to the time when these songs first appeared! Four songs in particularly made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. They were “Queen Jane Approximately” “Chimes Of Freedom” “It’s all over now, baby blue” and “The Wicked Messenger”. 

Anyway if I be mad, just to prove that I am not totally alone, and lest we forget that Paul Williams quite likes the “Queen Jane Approximately” Eugene19/7 performance, from the dreaded album(yes I admit it) ‘Dylan &The Dead’, and also that he finds the whole of the concert it comes from as “a real pleasure to listen to from start to finish” can I finally  point to Andrew Muir of ‘Razors Edge’ fame, who even though he views the collaboration as having “unfortunate results”, found more than one performed version of “Chimes of Freedom” “sublime”.
 

Cambridge Bob Dylan Society 20th Anniversary.  Friday, 24 Sept, 2004.

After 20 years of monthly meetings, The Cambridge Bob Dylan Society and it’s organisers, John Nye, Chris Cooper, John Stokes and Keith Agar, decided to mark the occasion with a rather special celebration. 

That is what transpired, a very very special occasion. There was a cake, complete with Bob on top of course. I along with a few of my mates got to sing a few Bob type songs, people begged us not to, but they didn’t really have the heart to stop us! There was loads of beer around, Oh yeah! And that reminds me of the superb performance by the absolute king of sarcastic blather Mr Keith Agar. With Bob up there on the big screen, it really could only have been improved upon if the man himself had turned up. Oh and by the way Richard, thank you for your kind comments in Freewheelin’ in response to the Dylanesque performance.  Also in answer to your query. ‘’Billy’’ was dedicated to John in response to his ‘’Cowboy Angel’’ article. ‘’Jokerman’’ was for Karen Macdonough. 

The turnout, close on a hundred people?, was a lovely thank you to the perseverance of the people who make the Cambridge meetings and Freewheelin’ possible.
 

60 Minutes. 

I thought Bob was more relaxed as the interview progressed. I read as to how Dylan visibly winced when asked certain questions. I did not notice it if he did!  I enjoyed the interview because the subject was Bob Dylan. I do not take much notice to what Bob says in these situations. He’s a poet. Always appears to me to be floating. There does not seem to be much point in an interview with Dylan other than being able to observe him. Most people on film sets, in particular, have noted that this can be a very rewarding experience! His voice is great, so I like to hear him talk anyway.
 

Joni Mitchell BBC2 in concert 1970   ‘’Joni Sings Joni’’.

‘’Some of these bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff’’ 

I searched for years to get hold of video of this superb show. So I had to include it my top ten, because it really did help to make this year a special one. Bootleggers take a lot of stick, don’t they? But in this day and age when we now have easy access to everything, it is worthwhile reflecting on this question. Where would we be if these ‘illegal profiteering monsters’ had not bothered risking their necks in the first place? Our Bob Dylan collections would be seriously depleted that is for sure! 

Chelsea Morning
Cactus Tree
My Old Man
For Free
California
Big Yellow Tax
Both Sides Now.
 

Reviewing the Situation. 

To conclude my list of happenings for 2004 I would just like to say that more recently I have been more than a little disillusioned with society! I had come to view it-- well to quote Bob’s mate George as a very ‘’I Me Mine’’ situation. However the lightening response we have seen from the British public in providing financial aid in response to the disaster of the Indian Ocean earthquake and it’s terrible consequence, has restored my faith in my fellow man. Even though the disaster will be around about one month old when you read this, if you think it makes a difference, I do! And I’m sure Lucky does, Please pray for these departed souls and their grieving relatives. 

Best wishes for 2005  Forecast: The year of Bob’s solo acoustic tour. 

I wish!

 

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