JOTTING DOWN NOTES
Down In The Groove
Masked & Anonymous
The cast of this latested Dylan movie is a vertitable who's, who! Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson and Angela Bassett. Harris and Ribisi will take supporting roles, along with Steven Bauer, Bruce Dern, Laura Harring, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Mickey Rourke, Richard Sarafian, Christian Slater and Fred Ward. 'Seinfeld' veteran Larry Charles will directed the film, which is expected to be released in early 2003. It is a darkly poetic tale of a singer who has fallen from grace. The shooting was finished in July with Dylan recording a concert for the film in Los Angeles. Nascent firm Spitfire Pictures co-financed the movie with Intermedia Films and BBC Films, and co-produced with Destiny Prods. and the BBC.
Gods And Generals
Dylan has written and recorded a new song with his band for the above named Civil War movie. The song, which is about seven minutes long, is called, Crossing Over The Green Mountain and is described as being a haunting, moving ballad. It will be heard over the closing credits of the film, when it is released at Christmas and will be included on the soundtrack album due out at the same time.
Dylan recordings saved
Last year an album called 'The Best of Broadside 1962-1988: Anthems of the American Underground from the Pages of Broadside Magazine' was released. The album was nominated for two Grammys in 2001 - for liner notes and historical album. Thanks to a new grant from the organisers of the Grammy Awards some of the very first recordings of Bob Dylan are to be preserved. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is giving $22,600 to transfer the rare recordings from tape to CD. In the early 1960s Dylan joined folk stars Pete Seeger and Janis Ian to make their first records in the New York apartment of Agnes Cunningham and her husband, Gordon Friesen. They set up the magazine and recording studio, Broadside, in their living room, brought the struggling musicians together to record under its banner. Blowin' In The Wind was published for the first time in the Broadside magazine. The Broadside collection includes 1,000 to 1,500 songs, as well as interviews with several artists.
Some Hibbing residents have formed a task force to discuss what it would take to create a centre in Hibbing honouring Dylan and his music. The idea is that it would be more than a museum and possibly have performance areas. The proceeds would go to a scholarship fund for local fine arts students. Dylan's family has been contacted about the centre, and they have approved.
Dylan and the Dead Again!
The Grateful Dead Hour number 705 was broadcast on 25 March 2002 and it featured 28min of Dylan/Dead rehearsals from May/June 1987 plus interview and promos. The full details are:
Grateful Dead Hour promo/Interview with David Gans producer of Postcards Of The Hanging/All Along the Watchtower (Grateful Dead from Postcards Of The Hanging)/Interview continues/ Stealin'/Grateful Dead Hour promo/Oh Boy/John Brown/ Folsom Prison Blues/Gotta Serve Somebody/ Hideaway/CC Rider/Grateful Dead Hour promoOf the tracks featuring Dylan the information is as follows Stealin' and Oh Boy are the same as have previously circulated. John Brown was uncirculating it is different from the 2 tracks available because Bob repeats the "uniform an' all" line. Folsom Prison Blues and Gotta Serve Somebody are previously uncirculating, a stop and restart of the latter song, as well as some different lyrics confirm this. Finally, Hideaway/CC Rider is also newly circulating.
Eugene, Oregon 14 June 1999 SoundboardYet another soundboard recording and it's nice to hear this show in such superb quality. This concert showcases a pretty lively, upbeat Dylan presenting a good mix of songs mostly well performed. There is a lilting, beautiful version of Boots Of Spanish Leather and a most powerful Hard Rain which features a very strong vocal, massive chorus and an all-round spirited rendition. Also look out for an extremely jaunty Down Along The Cove, a dynamic Blind Willie McTell and a superb Not Dark Yet. This is a definite must-have.
Good Rockin' Tonight, Again!After the much delayed release of this tribute CD, which includes a Dylan version of Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache, very soon afterwards an unmastered version has emerged. All of the tracks are in the form of 'rough' mixes with the Dylan track being over a minute longer!
Supper Club, 16th November 1993 Late ShowOne of four shows played at this intimate venue is now circulating as a soundboard recording and mighty fine it sounds too. In a word the sound is superb, up close and personal, even if the actual show itself is patchy. There are a couple of excellent readings (Jack-A-Roe, Ring Them Bells) balanced by a few wayward vocal efforts or dodgy Dylan guitar work. Nevertheless, it is an interesting song selection and certainly a worthwhile addition to the cache of soundboard recordings.
Rundown Rehearsal Tapes 1978This is an absolute treat. What you get is all of the previously circulating rehearsals from December 1977 and January 1978 now gathered together for the first time in (generally) excellent sound quality. Better yet there is also a whole bunch of previously uncirculated material making this the most complete audio collection of this wonderful preparation for the world tour of 1978. These recordings have everything: complete takes of songs which did or did not make the tour, examples of arrangements of songs being worked on, warm-ups, false starts and unreleased covers and originals. An absolutely essential addition to anyone's collection.
The soundtrack of the film 'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' features a new Dylan song. Waiting For You has Larry Campbell playing on fiddle and steel guitar and is in waltz time!
Also in time for the past Christmas season, the Spanish branch of Sony Music Media released yet another 'various artists' compilation inspired by a different radio show, M-80 Radio's 'La Gramola'. This double CD is titled 'Tú decides. El disco de La Gramola' (SMM 499931 2) and includes the original album version of Knockin' On Heaven's Door.
Howlin' At Your Window
In Clinton Heylin's book 'Day By Day' he states that in April 1993 in Austin, Texas, Bob co-wrote a song called Howlin' At My Window with "Texan singer-songwriter Jude Johnston". Finding any further information has been difficult although eventually the name of her record company was discovered. After contacting them a reply was received from Bob Burton, co-founder and also Jude's manager:
"The song title is Howlin' At Your Window not "My". Jude wrote the lyrics and Bob provided the music for the song several years ago. It has only been recorded as a pitch demo for other artists to cover, no takers yet. Jude is considering it for her next CD due in 2004. She has not performed it live, but you never know. I love the song and feel with the right production it's a very engaging tune. Stay in touch. Bob Burton, manager."
This gives us a little more informationTurning Japanese
The Midnight Special (Any Old Time) is a new Dylan tribute album by Tokyo Bob with Never Mending Tour Band. My Japanese not being what it was, I cannot decipher the majority of the sleeve notes, but this is certainly an attractive package, with a cardboard gatefold sleeve. How to describe Tokyo Bob's voice? Well, the opening and title track, a rather bizarre version of Lead Belly's Midnight Special, sounds like the REAL Bob Dylan singing in the style of Not Dark Yet after a few too many bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale. Million Dollar Bash has a fairly soundalike chorus; I Want You is given the lush, big band treatment; and, in what is the album's most surreal moment, You're Gonna Quit Me is transformed into a glitzy, soft-shoe shuffle supper club number, complete with a cheesy piano solo. Odd as this album sounds to English ears, it could easily become a cult classic among the Dylan cognoscenti. Despite the eccentricity of some of these interpretations, Tokyo Bob often puts more energy into the songs than the real Bob does these days. My favourite track is a spirited Jokerman recorded live at - I kid you not - Penguinhouse in July 2001.After You
Wendy Bucklew's new album 'After You', has been released on Motion City Records and has a live version of Buckets of Rain.
'Lord, She Took It Away to Italy, Italy'
by A. J. Iriarte
Original books on Dylan (not translations) are published in many languages but as most readers know, major works - be it biographies or discussions of Dylan's career or influence - have so far been (for obvious reasons perhaps) exclusively the work of English-language scholars. To be sure, the occasional significant essay has appeared here and there through the years in other languages, basically in German, but it is an indisputable fact that Italian (or Spanish or French, for that matter) contributions to Dylan literature have traditionally been rather scanty and of little, if any, merit. This is no longer true, for Alessandro Carrera's 'La voce di Bob Dylan' ('Bob Dylan's Voice'), published by Feltrinelli last year to tie in with Dylan's sixtieth anniversary, may be hailed deservedly as the first important book on Dylan to appear in Italy. Carrera teaches Italian Literature at New York University, where he's lived for the best part of the last decade. A PhD. in Philosophy, a musician and a poet, he has contributed learned essays on Schönberg, Leopardi and Nietzsche, among many other subjects (including popular music), to various academical journals in Canada, Italy and the USA.
All in all, however, this is a pretty good book, and a valuable addition to Dylan studies, but it is not an easy one to read and (language barrier aside) cannot be readily recommended to everybody. The text just does not "flow" well, and in spite of Carrera's intentions, his essay does not really manage to offer a clear ensemble picture of Dylan's art. It can also be pretty boring at times, mostly on account of the author's fairly highbrow digressions, often extraneous to the subject. The volume includes an excellent, almost exhaustive, bibliography, an official discography and a useful index to songs discussed in the text. The cover features a beautiful 1984 Guido Harari photo: I suspect that this will be what collectors will most appreciate.
Alessandro Carrera, "La voce di Bob Dylan. Una spiegazione dell'America", G. Feltrinelli Editore, Milano, 2001 (P/B, 304 pages, 14,46 euros, ISBN: 88-07-49012-9).
DID THE NEEDLE JUST SLIP?
by A. J. Iriarte
Anthony Varesi is a Canadian lawyer whose first book, The Bob Dylan Albums, pretends to be, in the author's own words, "a comprehensive study of Dylan's individual albums". Varesi affirms that the best way to appraise Dylan's unparalleled body of work consists of looking at each album on its own, instead of systematically comparing it to its landmark predecessors. This approach, the author argues, permits us to reassess adequately Dylan's work and particularly those of his albums that have suffered the most from being referred to such universally accepted touchstones as Blonde On Blonde or Blood On The Tracks, and deserve a higher recognition. So far, so good, and the method appears sound enough even if hardly original. Unfortunately, the author's research is rather shaky, with the occasional mistake popping up here and there. To mention but a few: he inverts the sequence of the two last songs performed at Newport in 1965 (p. 55); when discussing Desire he affirms that "the majority of the songs were recorded in one take" (p. 128). And this is how he describes the final moments of the 1966 Manchester Like A Rolling Stone, as released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Live 1966: "When the song ends, the crowd applauds, and Dylan groggily replies, 'thank you', drained but victorious. A second of 'God Bless America' (sic), perhaps a final poke at the European audience, ends the concert" (p.74). The quality of Varesi's commentary also leaves much to be desired, so that instead of "A Critical Study", as the book's subtitle reads, what we have here is a sort of 'Dylan for beginners'; worse still, The Bob Dylan Albums has little to offer even from this more modest point of view, for it turns out to be nothing more than a descriptive guide to the Dylan canon, undone by its pedestrian approach and the banality of its analysis, made up in equal parts of clichés and purple prose. This, for instance, is what Varesi has to say about Blood On The Tracks: " the record has an emotional force unprecedented for a music album. The lyrics are brilliant, using a wide range of narrative techniques ( ) Dylan's singing comes from the heart, bringing forth deep human feelings" (p. 118). Superficial analysis occasionally gives place to pure inanities, such as this: "The most promising aspect of Oh Mercy is not its musical content, but the fact that it proves Dylan still capable of writing first-rate songs" (p. 190). At other times, Varesi's 'analysis' is simply silly, as when speaking of Love Minus Zero/No Limit, of which he affirms that the raven is "not the only nod to Edgar Allan Poe in the song", for it also includes "spooky lines that Poe would have been proud of" (p. 51).
Most of the author's opinions are closely modelled on what one may describe as the general consensus on Dylan's work, and this trivial exposition of such a hackneyed discourse makes for very dull reading indeed; when Varesi offers 'personal' viewpoints, such as revindicating Desire as an unjustly underappreciated album, these are as trivial as the rest. When he turns his attention to individual songs, Varesi has a gift for penning most peculiar 'summaries' of the songs' arguments: according to his mood, the reader can see these as either puzzling or outrageously funny. Who would ever recognize On A Night Like This in the following outline: " a sexy, laid-back song about a fling with an old acquaintance" (p.112)? One might just see it like that, I guess. But isn't the author's imagination running loose when he describes Call Letter Blues as "a song about a man lured into a bordello while thinking about his estranged wife" (p. 199)? One must allow a certain latitude in literary interpretation, of course, but it is apparent that most of the time Varesi simply does not understand what he hears or reads, else how can he affirm that the second verse of One Too Many Mornings "has the narrator leaving his love at dawn" (p. 36)? But then, the author is not free either from ocasionally misquoting the lyrics he is intent on analysing: this happens at least with My Back Pages (p. 43); Tears Of Rage (p. 83) and Foot Of Pride (p. 200).
Solid, informative introductions to any artist's body of work are most valuable and necessary publications, but as far as Dylan's career and works are concerned, Varesi's The Bob Dylan Albums most assuredly is not one. When all is said and done, the most remarkable thing about this book must be the truly hideous cover painting (or is it a collage?) by one Hono Lulu. Best avoided.
Anthony Varesi, The Bob Dylan Albums. A Critical Study, "Essay Series" No. 44, Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2002 (ISBN:1-55071-139-3; 264 pages; $18 Canada; $15 USA).
Mark Brend, 'American Troubadours. Groundbreaking Singer Songwriters of the 60s', foreword by Tom Rapp, Backbeat Books, San Francisco, 2001 (176 pages, $19.95, ISBN: 0-87930-641-6).
Oh Yes, Another Bob Dylan Book!
Perhaps it's time to call a moratorium on critical books about old Bobby. The Dylan critical genre is safe in the capable hands of Michael Gray, Paul Williams or (forthcoming) Christopher Ricks, but such premiership division Dylan writers are few and far between. Robin Witting's Desire - Songs of Redemption, from the somehow appropriately named Exploding Rooster Books, requires a lot of patience to stay with its 321 pages. Contrary to popular belief, one CAN judge a book by its cover and so the dodgy, cheap book artwork doesn't bode well. The brief foreword gives fair warning that the author will explore the Desire album in the light of everything from the Bible to Joseph Conrad to Medieval mystery plays. Witting informs us such material led him along "strange and novel avenues, though always ending up back on the main arterial road." Some readers may wish someone had tampered with the road signs as Witting reproduces large chunks of The White Goddess to prove Dylan was obsessed with the moon as a potent symbol. In fact, Witting quotes for England, but there's no real attempt to do very much with his sources other than reproduce them and draw simplistic or far-fetched conclusions about Dylan's meaning or influences. His diction is often arch - Carl Jung doesn't write, rather "expounds thus" - and Witting often indulges in a kind of catch-all, slightly hysterical commentary: "Son of Whitman, he (Dylan) has striven to synthesise the stew that encapsulates modern America." The book contains its fair share of typos, including missing full stops and at least one song called I Drteamed Dreamed I St Augustine (sic), and I wish those who profess an interest in modern literature would eventually realise that TS Eliot's The Waste Land is three words, not two. All in all, this book is too much like hard work.
In Double Act - A Life of Tom Stoppard (Methuen, 2002, £25), biographer Ira Nadel revealed that the writer constantly played Like A Rolling Stone and Subterranean Homesick Blues while writing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1966), the play which established Stoppard as a leading playwright. Meanwhile, the Department of English and Drama at Loughborough University, England, will host a weekend seminar called Radical Soul on Saturday, October 19. Bryan Cheyette will deliver a lecture called Slow Train Coming: Bob Dylan's Religions.
The "Lovesick Blues" of Emmett Miller
by A. J. Iriarte
Nick Tosches is perhaps more famous as a 'rock writer' than as a novelist or poet. For the past thirty years or so, his books have delved deep into the roots of American popular music, particularly early rock and roll. His latest book to date, 'Where Dead Voices Gather', purports to be a biography of latter-day black-face minstrel showman and artist extraordinaire Emmett Miller, the original 'blues yodeller' (before Jimmie Rodgers? A moot point), the man who first adopted 'Lovesick Blues' as signature tune (Hank Williams modelled his own version of the song on Miller's recording), and one of the many figures woven into the rich tapestry that forms the back-drop to Dylan's "Love And Theft". As is often the case with Tosches' books, setting down the facts in Miller's life turns out to be mostly a pretext to expound in a dazzling prose his passionately wrought considerations on the musical miscegenation which gave rise to American popular music. Like in earlier books of his such as 'Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll' (1977), 'Hellfire' (a life of Jerry Lee Lewis, 1982) or 'Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years Before Elvis' (1984), 'Where Dead Voices Gather' is a study in origins, roots, interdependence and influences; far more than on Miller himself, it dwells on "the black stealing from the black, the white from the white, and the one from the other; (on) Tin Pan Alley songs culled from the air and taken into the pines and the fields, gone feral and misperceived as primitive folk expression" (p. 33); or put another way, Tosches shows how, at the core of the best popular music (blues, jazz or r'n'r) lies "often in truth a brilliance of lyrical theft or variation" (p. 207), a concept that seems strikingly familiar. After all, "To look behind, with eyes that are right, is to look ahead" (p. 204). To set the scene, the book's first 30 pages or so offer a potted history of black-faced minstrelsy and vaudeville and of their interplay with jazz and blues: pretty fascinating stuff. Then, the author proceed to outline the life and long and chequered musical career of Emmett Miller with many parentheses and digressions that go all the way from the historical background of old popular songs through black vocal quartets to the variety of slang terms for female genitalia and their use in blues lyrics; from Jimmie Rodgers through the origins of rock and roll to Bob Dylan.
The book has received much praise, but it also appears to have its detractors (see for instance 'Bamboozled', Jonny Whiteside's hatchet job in 'L.A. Weekly', Jan. 18 to 24, 2002), and these point out that Tosches offers no new biographical data on Emmett Miller, that he has undertaken no personal research worthy of that name, relying on second hand sources instead, and that not only does he perpetuate mistakes elsewhere corrected, but fails to give credit where credit is due. However, unless the reader already is a Miller specialist (and admittedly there cannot be many), he simply will not be able to know how much truth there is in these disqualifications. Although some appear to be indisputable, most seem pettish and actually based on a misunderstanding of what the book is really about. This is no standard biography, of course, and should not be read as one.
In a way, this discussion is quite pointless here, for the book's main interest for a Dylan fan lies precisely in aspects quite extraneous to this family feud between Miller scholars, but quite unique to Tosches' writing. On the one hand, his considerations on the roots and development of American popular music are not only richly suggestive, but also singularly applicable to Dylan's approach to music-making; on the other, the aforementioned digressions that liberally pepper his discourse (and which somehow bring Greil Marcus to mind) offer deep insight into a rich variety of subjects that are, in spite of what Tosches' detractors affect to believe, intimately related to his real subject: the music of America, occasionally embodied in Emmett Miller. As was perhaps to be expected, Dylan turns up very frequently in these digressions, which are generally quite fascinating to read, and also outrageously funny on occasion. To mention but a few choice ones, take the beautiful excursus -almost a short essay- on cocaine and cocaine songs, which manages to bring together not only Dylan, Reverend Gary Davis and a cast of obscure blues singers, but also Sherlock Holmes (pp. 110-114), or the one on Dylan, r'n'r, Highway 61, Highway 61 Revisited and - believe it or not - Empedocles (pp. 215-217); equally wonderful are the ones dedicated to Furry Lewis and the Delta blues, with guest appearances by the Rolling Stones, Jim Dickinson and Dylan (pp. 210-213), to the origin of the term 'wop' (pp. 220-221), and to William Faulkner, blackface humour and monkey glands as a remedy for impotence (pp. 235-240). At times, of course, one or the other of these excursuses can be irritating: a tedious tirade on Homer's 'Odyssey', Linear B and Ezra Pound's 'Cantos' comes instantly to mind.
Tosches may perhaps be no 'serious' Miller scholar (it is a pity the book includes no discography or bibliography) and the small coterie of Emmett Miller fans may loathe him, but his reflections on the essence and development of
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