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Comrades From The North

Welcome to this end-of-year issue of The Bridge. There has been a huge volume of activity in the Dylan universe since last we wrote. Dylan is touring right now and, although he began with a fresh song list in comparison to earlier in the year (probably because this was the ‘great gig in the sky’ at the Desert Trip extravaganza), he is slowly re-establishing the songs from the American songbook in the sets. Some like that, others don’t. As that touring progressed, Sony finally let loose the ‘complete’ live recordings from 1966 in a monster 36-CD set. Bob Dylan The 1966 Live Recordings is certainly comprehensive and most welcome. Listening right through requires time and effort but it is well repaid. There is a significant volume of previously unavailable material and it is now possible to follow through Dylan’s nightly struggles and towering successes on this gruelling tour as it happened. Let us be thankful for this wonderful set – which gives one of your editors the particular pleasure of re-living the concert from Newcastle through which he sat and marvelled at it all 50 years ago.

The goodie-box machine continues to reveal new riches as we learn that the next instalment of The Bootleg Series which is the thirteenth volume will feature material from his so-called Gospel period. In many ways this was controversial and confrontational as the 1966 tour (perhaps even more so) and featured a fired-up Dylan delivering music and messages in which he truly believed backed by a tight band just as in 1965/66.

Now we should comment on Dylan’s elevation to Nobel Laureate. Given the basis for the award, namely for creating “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” it is hard to argue against that since that is what Dylan has done in his best works but the nub of the argument is whether or not this is really literature. Your editors lean towards the school that believes it is not and whilst in no way wishing to begrudge the award, we feel that Dylan’s key influence has been in his words and music – his song-writing – rather than his prose or even his poetry and he has had his many awards for that activity. The argument about whether Dylan is a poet or not has been going on since the early 1960s and it is no surprise that the beat poets regarded him as just that whilst other, more mainstream poets did not. Clinton Heylin in his new book Judas! (reviewed elsewhere in this issue) reminds us of some of that claim and counter-claim and reprints the view given by Allen Ginsberg:

"It was an artistic challenge to see if great art can be done on a jukebox. And he proved it can"

Nothing will, or could, diminish his impact but that impact has been through the poetry-as-music tradition and it depends, therefore, if one accepts that as literature.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of John Bauldie’s untimely death. His impact and influence continues to be enormous and The Bridge still owes a great debt to one who was amongst the first to report, systemise and analyse information about Dylan and his work. We miss him still. You will find an illuminating piece on the early days by Ian Woodward in this issue.

As we were writing this it was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s music has been a background to the life and times of your editors and the poetic precision of his lyrics is undeniable. A well-respected author and poet, Cohen made his biggest impact in music. His most famous song, Hallelujah, was covered in concert by Dylan, of course, as it was by almost everyone else and it is a fine song indeed - one of very many which he authored. Like a bird on the wire, he tried in his way to be free – no-one can deny he made it. We wish you all the very best for the festive season and look forward to your continued support into the future.

May you climb on every rung ..........

Mike & John

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