JOTTING DOWN NOTES
Dave Alvin - In Or Out???
According to Blasters Newsletter, Dave Alvin has issued an exclusive statement on September 11th to American Music about the 'Joining Bob Dylan's band' rumour. "I am not joining Bob Dylan's band. In Floater (Too Much To Ask), I only sat in with the band. Charlie (Sexton) is staying with the band for the rest of the year". So what happens for New Zealand in 2003???
George Harrison Tribute Concert
The George Harrison Tribute concert which took place on 29 November at the Royal Albert Hall, without Dylan. Is to be broadcast on the BBC early in 2003. The line-up consisted of: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne. It is a shame that the remaining Traveling Wilburys could not all make it!
The Bootleg Series Volume 5
Columbia/Legacy Records have released the latest in the Bootleg Series which is the Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 - Bob Dylan Live 1975: the Rolling Thunder Revue". This features Dylan and a group of collaborators during performances in Boston, Cambridge and Worcester, Mass., as well as Montreal in the months prior to the release of the album Desire. This is a double CD set with a bonus DVD featuring two songs, Tangled up in Blue and Isis from Renaldo & Clara, in video format for the first time. The CD features 22 songs.
Almost all the tapes circulating among collectors were mono, but this time it is stereo. Being able to listen to 1975 tour in excellent stereo is great. However, the album leaves a couple of things to be desired. If it were more carefully edited, we could listen to it as if it were one show rather than fading in and out between songs. Also, the album has This Land Is Your Land at the very end but it fades out immediately after the song begins. The CDs are in a slipcase which contains a 56-page booklet with previously unpublished images by tour photographer Ken Regan and a new essay by original tour chronicler Larry "Ratso" Sloman.
All of these tracks circulated previously but only Boston Music Hall, Boston, Massachusetts; 21/11/75 (2nd Show) was available as a soundboard, all of the rest were audience tapes. Tracks 3, 14 and 16 are available in Renaldo & Clara. This means that there was only one track previously officially available, Track 2, It Ain't Me, Babe. This was recorded at Harvard Square Theatre, Cambridge, Ma; 11/20/75 and was available on the Columbia promo 12inch EP 4 Songs From Renaldo & Clara, on the 1993 Japanese promo CD Mr. D's Collection # 3, the European Dignity CD singles 1995, and also the 2001 Japanese live compilation Bob Dylan Live 1961-2000: Thirty Nine Years Of Great Concert Performances and the Renaldo & Clara film. After a long gap we have had seven new and very interesting, additions to the tracks on bobdylan.com
Bob On The Net
73 Floater (Too Much To Ask), Berkeley, California, 11/10/02
74 Mutineer, Berkeley, California, 11/10/02
75 Tell Me That It Isn't True, Los Angeles, California, 15/10/02
76 The End of the Innocence, Los Angeles, California, 15/10/02
77 Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread, New York City, 11/11/02
78 You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, New York City, 13/11/02
79 Something, New York City, 13/11/02
Bob On The Net
Atlanta 9 February 2002 PA
This is another welcome addition to the line recordings collecton. This recently circulated recording is from the seventh show of this year. It is a soundboard recording in excellent quality with very little audience noise to be heard We get six songs from "Love And Theft" as well as Things Have Changed. This is one worth searching out.
At Last South America 1991!As we often say, we don't detail audience recordings unless they are in some way unusual. That description certainly applies to this group of tapes. For eleven years these tapes have been talked about among collectors and now, at last they have circulated. The 1991 South American shows! These were known to have been recorded but they had never seen the light of day. We had recordings of 14, 17, 19 and 21 August, which varied in quality. What we get now are more consistent in quality but vary from partial to complete shows and are from 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17 and 19 August.. This means that we have a recorded example from each of the shows on this leg of the South American Tour. 1991 still remains the strangest year of the Never Ending Tour as there is so much information missing and still many tapes missing. Set lists of a couple of shows are still missing, namely, Savannah, Georgia, 30 April and Corpus Christi, Texas, 24 October. In addition we have no tapes of the four Mexican shows from the end of February and beginning of March, although we do have set lists! One interesting fact from these seven tapes is that no matter how incomplete the recording Wiggle Wiggle manages to be captured! This is in stark contrast to the most interesting song performed uniquely at Buenos Aires, 8 August, People Get Ready, which is missing! However, we do get the premier of Ring Them Bells at Buenos Aires, 10 August, so we have to be thankful for small mercies! An interesting collection of tapes but really for completists only.
Drew Emmitt, lead singer and mandolin player with popular US band Leftover Salmon, whose music has been described as 'polyethnic Cajun slamgrass', whatever that may be, has just released his solo debut, Freedom Ride (Compass Records), in which he revisits the bluegrass of his pre-Salmon days. The album includes original tunes and a few covers, one of them being Tangled Up In Blue recast in bluegrass mode, complete with fiddle breaks and banjo solos. It's worth checking out.
Released early this year but only recently come to our notice, is 'Gerry Murphy's Gerry Murphy Sings Bob Dylan', a self-edited CD-R featuring ten Dylan tracks performed in sparse acoustic arrangements by this Scottish artist. Murphy performs all ten songs solo on guitar with some double tracking. Murphy notes: "I've played and sang in some bands and also done solo work for a number of years and Bob Dylan's always been there somewhere! I've also been to see the great man a few times, the last being at Stirling Castle, Scotland, last year. At that time I had a Bob Dylan tribute band on the road which had just broken up, so after being blown away by his show, I decided I just had to do this album in tribute to a legend, a genius, a man for all times! (...) I tried really hard to get that 'thin wild mercury sound' on some tracks! ( ) I'm also at the moment working on more of my best loved Dylan songs for a future project and also to introduce them at up-coming gigs". Check out the artist's website dedicated to Dylan's songs and Murphy's versions of them at www.babylon-d.com; the album can be ordered directly from the artist or from CD Baby, at www.cdbaby.com. Full track listing follows: With God On Our Side/Tangled Up In Blue/Boots Of Spanish Leather/Simple Twist Of Fate/Shelter From The Storm/Forever Young/Mr. Tambourine Man/Girl Of The North Country/Angelina/Visions Of Johanna
Carla Olson's new album, The Ring Of Truth (out on Smile Records in the USA and on Evangeline Recorded Works in the UK) is the Texan's first release since 1994 and showcases her talent as producer, singer, songwriter and guitarist. She is backed on nine of the album's twelve tracks by Mick Taylor and Barry Goldberg, but that isn't the only Dylan connection, for the CD features a splendid version of Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?, an unusual choice. Also, John Sebastian plays harp on this track! According to Carla Olson's press release, the song was actually offered her by Dylan's publisher in the mid-eighties: "He sent me a version of the song that Jimi Hendrix did, but I just never felt like I had the right band to record it... until now. Mick actually remembers working on it with Dylan at one point, although they never played it together live".
Susan Tedeschi's long awaited third album, 'Wait For Me' (Tone Cool Records), was finally released in November. Produced by Tom Dowd, and featuring special guests Derek Trucks (Tedeschi's husband) and Col. Bruce Hampton, the album includes a powerful version of Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, the song Susan Tedeschi told The Bridge (see issue 11) she most wished to duet on with Dylan "someday". It's a great version, and an excellent blues album to boot.
One for completists, as it may prove difficult to obtain: Elliott Murphy has included a very nice, gently rocking version of If You See Her, Say Hello as a bonus track available only on the limited vinyl edition of his latest album, Soul Surfing, released in March 2002. There may still be copies available at www.bluerose-records.com
Also out by the time you read this is Julie Felix's double CD 'Starry Eyed and Laughing. Songs by Bob Dylan' (on Remarkable). Guest musicians feature, among many others, Danny Thompson, John Renbourn, John Paul Jones and Martin Carthy (who plays on Boots Of Spanish Leather and Ballad Of Hollis Brown). Julie Felix is touring in the UK this Fall, promoting the album, so keep an eye open in case she's playing somewhere near you. The album can be ordered directly through the artist's website, at www.juliefelix.com
Complete track listing is: Disc 1:
Chimes Of Freedom/Mr. Tambourine Man/Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands/Subterranean Homesick Blues/One Too Many Mornings/Romance In Durango/Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues/The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll/ Gates Of Eden/I Shall Be Released.
Masters Of War/Every Grain Of Sand/Love Minus Zero/No Limit/One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)/Boots Of Spanish Leather/It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)/ Ballad Of Hollis Brown/Visions Of Johanna/A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall/Not Dark Yet
Finally, Javier Sun is a songwriter from San Sebastián in Spain who tries to fuse highly literary lyrics with a marked Dylan influence with a British pop-rock sound. A long time Dylan fan, he wrote an article on the 1999 Spanish tour for a national daily, occasionally performs Dylan songs in his concerts, and has included an interesting Spanish version of Mr. Tambourine Man on his 2001 album, Absolutamente Real (on Bip Bip Records). Musically, his rendition is very close to The Byrd's classic recording, 12-string Rickenbacker and all. Sun had already included a very personal version of Like A Rolling Stone (as "Como un canto rodante") on an earlier album, Por la buena fortuna (Al.leluia Records). Both songs are an interesting approach to the Dylan canon, if you care for versions in other languages. The albums can be ordered directly from the artist, at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob On The Net
All Of F.Scott Fitzgerald's Books
By Terry Kelly
"to my students: I take it for granted that youve all read & understand freud - dostoevsky - st. michael - confucius - coco joe - einstein - melville - porgy snaker - john zulu the exam will be in two weeks - everybody has to bring their own eraser. your professor herold the professor " Bob Dylan, Tarantula
"It would be torture to read about myself. I would rather read about anybody else but me." Dylan interview with Edna Gundersen, USA Today, September 1997
THERE'S a funny, telling moment in Rolling Stone journalist Jonathan Cott's 1978 interview with Bob Dylan, usefully preserved on a CD of the exchange which surfaced recently. Cott fires an arsenal of quotations and references he finds relevant to Changing of the Guards at a typically taciturn Dylan. The loquacious Cott builds up to a tidal wave of feverish explication, peppered with Tarot card references, songwriting sub-codes and what he sees as Dylan's ability to use subconscious images to communicate with his listeners. He tells a still-silent Dylan that he believes each floor of "the palace of mirrors" contains another significant image or level of awareness. All of Cott's complex lit crit, however, elicits not even a grunt from Dylan and the journalist starts to nervously back-pedal on his complex theorising. After what seems like a lifetime of silence, Dylan eventually puts Cott out of his misery. "I think," Dylan mumbles, "you might be in some areas I'm not too familiar with." It's a wonderfully Dylanesque moment; a put-down framed as a piece of self-deprecation. Throughout his career, Dylan has expressed a distaste for all forms of criticism of his work. This is linked, I believe, with his lifelong distrust of and antagonism towards authority figures, in or outside the academy. Whether it's science students or Time magazine journalists or critical binman AJ Weberman, Dylan just doesn't accept that anyone has the right to peer into his life or work. "I just write 'em 'cos no one says I can't write 'em" was his exasperated cry during the remarkable Getting to Dylan filmed interview in 1986. His antipathy towards criticism of his music is perhaps part of the Garboesque shield he has erected around the creative artist we know as 'Bob Dylan' over a 40-year career. Like a musical Houdini, perhaps he's afraid critics will unpick the secrets of his songwriting sleight-of-hand to find art merely composed of tricks and illusions. Perhaps, as the son of hard-working Jewish parents with few if any intellectual pretensions, he simply suffers a lifelong embarrassment at being extolled as the great rock 'n' roll poet of modern times - or any kind of poet at all. Perhaps he just wants to be an old rock and roller playing music in a back street bar. But it's Dylan's own fault - he created all these wonderful songs and unforgettable lyrics which continue to resonate in our minds and hearts down the years. Anxiety about the appropriateness of using literary criticism to examine Dylan's work is expressed by poet Simon Armitage in one of the many impressive essays included in 'Do You, Mr Jones?' Bob Dylan with the Poets and Professors (Chatto and Windus, £17.99). Before exploring Armitage's doubts, however, it's right and proper to firstly praise what is one of the most ambitious, impressive and essential books ever published about Bob Dylan. In terms of the depth, quality and persuasiveness of the writing, it wins a place in the Dylan critical pantheon next to Michael Gray's numero uno Song & Dance Man III. Editor Neil Corcoran has assembled some of the finest critical minds on both sides of the Atlantic to explore Dylan's overall achievement, in often illuminating detail. But back to Armitage's anxieties. In one of the book's most eminently readable responses to Dylan's work, the Northern poet known for forging streetwise language with a uniquely contemporary sense of literary style says this: "Tangled Up In Blue is a great song. But peering in to it like this tells us that it's something of a mess, or that literary criticism is the wrong tool when it comes to the analysis of song lyrics." After expressing doubts about Dylan's lyrics on the printed page, Armitage expands on his theme: "But lest we forget, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, and Bob Dylan doesn't need the literary establishment to accredit his writing. He doesn't need to be seen in that light or spoken of in those terms. His virtue is in his style, his attitude, his disposition to the world and his delivery of his words Broadly speaking, his lyrics are beyond the ordinary: he has wide vocabulary, a storyteller's ear, and the eye of someone who paints wonderful pictures. Those things alone are enough to separate him from the vast majority of his colleagues and competitors." This is well said and a far more memorable summation of Dylan's art than is to be found in some of the more conventional essays by the book's assembled literary critics. Although Armitage is - as Neil Corcoran admits elsewhere in this issue of The Bridge - decidedly "off-message" by seemingly undermining the raison d'etre of the book and questioning the validity of calling Dylan "a poet," his words will surely strike a chord with many serious fans not convinced by the lit crit approach to Dylan's work. In this respect, the question - what would Bob Dylan would make of this book? - seems neither flippant nor impertinent. While I suspect the critical attentions of Greil Marcus or Christopher Ricks or John Updike may flatter his ego, I cannot seriously see Dylan poring over books quoting French literary theoreticians to determine the ludic qualities of Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread. In certain moods, I feel some Dylan criticism is ultimately a form of intellectual wishful thinking, with academics discerning literary structures and intentions, tropes and apparent lyrical significance which are more truly the result of happenstance, serendipity, plain good luck and the exigencies of rhyme than part of any grand artistic game plan. (Didn't even true believer Christopher Ricks rather hedge his literary bets when he called Dylan a great "user" of words, rather than a great poet?). Further, some may feel there is even a whiff of cultural appropriation about the whole business of literary critics turning their attentions from Joyce, Keats or Romanticism to Dylan; a case of the academy encroaching even further into the realms of popular culture, with one academic volume on Bob Dylan begetting yet more heavy duty criticism. But the writers in this volume could justifiably counter that they are also serious Dylan fans, some of almost 40 years' standing. They've bought the official albums, tracked down the bootlegs and even braved the concerts, just like all the rest of us. And in most cases, the quality of the criticism is its own justification.
Editor Neil Corcoran, whose passion for Dylan was fired after hearing the Freewheelin' album and later seeing the man himself at Newcastle City Hall in 1965, touches on Armitage's assertion that "literary criticism is the wrong tool" for assessing Dylan's work in his introduction. His response is that he and other like-minded critics believe that Dylan's lyrics can stand up to the kind of scrutiny normally applied to what he calls "complexly organised poems." But he also concedes that his critical difference of opinion with fellow contributor Patrick Crotty over Dylan's use of rhyme suggests there are limits to what conventional literary criticism can achieve with the lyrics. Corcoran further admits that most of the essays are literary explorations. While he rather uncharitably defines Michael Gray's treatment of Dylan's music in Song & Dance Man III as "impressionistic rather than musicological" - in fact, Gray's book gave an authoritative account of Dylan's musical antecedents in the blues - Corcoran has to own up to a similar limitation in his own book. Indeed, there's little exploration of what happens when performance and lyric interact in Dylan's recordings; the sense in which we often cannot disassociate the sound Dylan makes with his voice while singing in the studio or in concert - and the accompaniment of his backing musicians - with the words themselves and their ultimate meanings. (With this in mind, one serious omission in the book is any in-depth exploration of the unique fusion of voice and nonsense poetry to be found in The Basement Tapes). While warming to Aidan Day's use of the definition "song poems" to describe Dylan's art and the sense in which his work blurs the rules of poetic convention, Corcoran believes that even this "hybrid" definition allows for the use of the conventional techniques of literary criticism and interpretation. Primarily moved by Dylan's words, Corcoran puts the case for criticism generally focusing on the lyrics in a rather tentative fashion, stating "that if Dylan's songs are not always, exactly, poems, they almost always have poetry in them, and the varied techniques of literary criticism and interpretation may be satisfactorily and illuminatingly applied to them." Of course, given the provisional nature of Dylan's treatment of his own lyrics, in which some songs are repeatedly subjected to lyrical overhaul, this makes for fundamental problems for critics faced with radically different texts. (Even Corcoran admits at one point that Dylan is his own initial critic by editing his own songs on stage. Dylan can also be an appalling meddler into his own work, as some of the absurd redrafting of lyrics in Writings and Drawings (1973) and Lyrics 1962-1985 (1987) sadly proved). As the American poet Ed Dorn told critic Donald Davie (quoted in Trying to Explain, 1980), England and the USA really ARE two nations divided by a common language: "Our articulation is quite different from other people's; we arrive at understanding and meaning through massive assaults on the language, so no particular word is apt to be final. It's rapidly rerun all the time." That latter sentence almost contains a lyrical echo of Dylan's line in If You See Her, Say Hello: "Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past." Writers arguably need to find the critical equivalent of a Blairite Third Way, a compound incorporating literary criticism, musicology, biography and other elements, to fully understand Dylan's work. The rear cover of 'Mr Jones' features a previously unseen picture of Dylan receiving his honorary doctorate of music at Princeton University on June 9, 1970, which inspired Day of the Locusts. Dylan is pictured nervously smiling as he fingers his scroll, like the eternal college drop-out on his best behaviour. Tricksy post-modernist poet Paul Muldoon picks up this memory in his rather prosaically titled but characteristically slippery opening poem, Bob Dylan at Princeton, November 2000, which dovetails images from the two college appearances, thirty years apart, in a series of eight knowing couplets:
"His last time in Princeton, he wouldn't wear a hood. Now he's dressed up as some sort of cowboy dude."
There's a nice irony here, of course, in that Muldoon is not only the Professor of Poetry at Oxford, but also Howard G.B. Clark Professor at Princeton University. Muldoon, a big Dylan fan, who has previously published a poem inspired by Oh Mercy, would have presumably been one of the professors castigated by the young Dylan in Ballad Of A Thin Man, in the song that gives the book its title. The 1965 track neatly encapsulates Dylan's anti-authoritarian and even anti-intellectual stance, when he spat out and elongated the phrase "F Scott Fitzgerald's books," as though someone had just poured cod liver oil into his mouth. Muldoon concludes that it's the songwriter's "disquietude" which makes Dylan shuffle, mangle and rearrange everything from The Times They Are A-Changin' to Things Have Changed.
The essays include contextual studies, poet Mark Ford exploring the idea of American artists like Dylan, with the shadow of Emerson and Whitman falling over their work, being inspired to live outside the law in order to be artistically honest. Editor Neil Corcoran sees Dylan's sense of mortality as an often guiding artistic principle within the canon, alluding at one point to Philip Larkin's late poetic chiller, Aubade, to show how an equally acute sense of mortality stalks Dylan's songs. Bryan Cheyette, meanwhile, looks at Dylan's various religious conversions. While some Dylan fans will doubtless baulk at the fairly frequent use of the kind of theoretical or literary terminology which used to leave Larkin snorting into his beer, I would urge readers to bear with those stretches of the book which are hard on the eye and the vocabulary, because there's real gold among the essays. Poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw, for example, takes a wonderfully offbeat look at Nashville Skyline, examining how the idea of vocal and musical delay in Dylan's performances haunted her childhood (the poet was only seven when the album was released). Greenlaw was entranced by Lay, Lady, Lay's resonant image of the "big brass bed," commenting: "I wasn't interested in the drama of the man asking a woman to spend the night with him. I was captivated by the emblematic vision of that huge, golden, shining empty bed." Her talent for acute but unexpected critical illuminations made this reader wish more poets like Greenlaw, Armitage and Ford had joined the professors between hard covers. In what struck me as the most off-the-wall but brilliantly apropos adjective in the book, Greenlaw describes Dylan's and Cash's vocals during their ragged duet on Girl Of The North Country, before signing off by noting how "this arrangement has a discrete ending, in this case the tiredest drum roll I've ever heard." I love that "tiredest," which seems not only a brilliantly apt description, but a justification for the whole business of letting real poets loose on Dylan's work. (But Greenlaw does blot her copybook somewhat by inexplicably calling the transcendent John Wesley Harding album a "far more formulaic work"). There are also insights aplenty in Daniel Karlin's study of nomenclature within Dylan's work, beginning with the idea of 'Bob Dylan' himself as the creation of the former Robert Allen Zimmerman and continuing with the dozens of memorable personae, real or imagined or re-imagined, and the many places, actual or fictional, populating Dylan's songs; from Woody Guthrie to Hattie Carroll to George Jackson to Lenny Bruce to Blind Willie McTell; through Mobile and Memphis and Mozambique to Mississippi. And despite their often strong literary leanings and language, the essays are composed with the unmistakable passion of Dylan fandom.
One major reservation I do have about the book is that the coverage of Dylan's albums across the whole span of his long career does seem rather unbalanced, with only scant analysis of, chronologically speaking, The Basement Tapes, Self Portrait, New Morning, Planet Waves, Street Legal, Infidels, Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Down In the Groove, Under the Red Sky, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. Obviously, critics have to make qualitative judgements, based on personal taste and their perception of what is major or minor Dylan work, but I do feel the book's focus is too heavily directed towards the more obvious and critically lauded albums of the 1960s and 70s, with a perhaps inordinate emphasis on the folk and early electric period. (For example, there are more than a dozen pages of close textual analysis of Hattie Carroll, but only stray references to such major Dylan songs as Jokerman, Every Grain of Sand, New Danville Girl and Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat), while other notable songs, including Ring Them Bells, barely get a look in. Plus, a landmark release like the Bootleg Series, 1 - 3 (1991) surely merits more than a solitary mention. And points must also be deducted for a sometimes partial index, occasionally omitting albums or songs mentioned in the text. (Mark Ford quotes from Foot Of Pride on P.31, for example, but there's no index reference). But I want to end on a grateful and positive note about a volume that deserves its place at the very top of the Dylan critical bookshelf, next to a small and elite band of peers. Editor Neil Corcoran has more than fulfilled his original intention as outlined in his introduction, by assembling a book "in gratitude for a lifetime of pleasure from the variety, breadth and weight of Bob Dylan's work."
Fans still eagerly await the publication of Christopher Ricks's critical book about Bob Dylan. Originally earmarked for publication by Viking on February 27, 1999, the book was unexpectedly put on ice. Ricks has subsequently lectured on Dylan, but has so far declined all offers for pre-publication extracts to be published (see Neil Corcoran interview elsewhere in this issue). In the meantime, there are some Dylanesque morsels to be found in Ricks's latest book of essays, Allusion to the Poets (OUP 2002, £20). Scattered among the book's dozen literary essays, exploring the role of poetic allusions in literary history, are several Dylan references. An essay about Robert Burns contains the following footnote: "Bob Dylan begins his song Highlands with the words of Burns ('My heart's in the Highlands'); in Lay, Lady, Lay he shows himself the heir of Burns in the loving comedy of a third person/first-person turn: 'Stay, lady, stay with your man awhile/Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile'. Robert Burns puts in an appearance in Tarantula". In an essay exploring Loneliness and Poetry, Ricks comments on Dylan's use of the word "lonely" in both Like A Rolling Stone and Sign On The Window. Finally, in an analysis of the literary and biblical significance of Judas, Ricks comments: "Bob Dylan and Jorge Luis Borges have this much in common, that both have pondered whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side".
Meanwhile, in a recent issue of the American literary journal, ZYZZYVA, poet Michael McClure recalls an incident with the late Allen Ginsberg from a Dylan concert in California on 12 December 1965: "I love Allen because I remember us running guard like football players with Bob Dylan between us, as a mob of threatening-seeming fans began pursuit in the dim back-passages of the San Jose Civic Auditorium".
Talking in the Name of Religion? By A. J. Iriarte
A J Iriarte
Among the many things that have managed to alienate fans and critics alike throughout Dylan's forty year-long career, pride of place must surely be granted to his much publicized conversion to Christianity in 1979 and, generally speaking, to his complex personal religious stance. However, one may legitimately wonder why so many people, simply because they happened to appreciate Dylan's work, felt themselves entitled at the time to judge -and loudly condemn- his faith and the way he chose to express it. Surely, following the release of John Wesley Harding, Dylan's deep spirituality must have been no secret to anyone (at least, to "all those who have eyes and all those who have ears"). Moreover, by 1979 one would have expected most people had learnt the only lesson that matters as far as Dylan, like any true artist, is concerned: just because you like his stuff doesn't mean he owes you anything, to paraphrase Dylan himself. Johnny Cash summed it up very nicely back in 1965: "Shut up and let him sing". After all, isn't this all supposed to be about the music? Alas, not really, of course: the audience's expectations are outrageously ample, and as we all know, Dylan's 'going to Jesus', singing 'God-awful gospel" -as one witty hack put it back then-, and releasing three 'religious' albums in a row lost him more fans and did more harm to his career than any other move or change of his. It wasn't hip, or whatever. Twenty years down the line, inarticulate and rash dismissals of Dylan's gospel period are unfortunately still more frequent than serious attempts at analysis, even restricted to the musical aspect. Sadly, whenever critics or fans find something worthy of praise in that period (which, after all, saw Dylan write several of his greatest songs ever and give some of his more awesome performances on stage), they formulate it with reservations: "What a great song this could be were it not about God". And the only reason for this self-righteous and enduring obduracy, as this excellent little book by Scott Marshall (with the assistance of Marcia Ford) conveniently comes to remind us, is intolerance -that bastard sibling of religion.
In spite of its relative brevity (less than 200 pages), 'Restless Pilgrim' may well be the first serious and comprehensive study of Dylan's complex religious evolution since his conversion. Extremely well documented and painstakingly researched, it leaves virtually no stone unturned, and is clearly and concisely written. It is certain!
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