JOTTING DOWN NOTES
Stories In The Press
In May there was a story that Bob is to star in an hour-long TV special on the American network HBO. The show is supposed to be a variety-like special featuring Dylan songs and comedy skits. It has written for Dylan by former 'Seinfeld' writer/producer Larry Charles. US entertainment industry magazine the Hollywood Reporter reports Charles saying: "It's Bob Dylan doing a TV show. Like Bob Dylan himself, it will be unpredictable, unsettling, distinctive, original and entertaining all at the same time. You'll walk away feeling satisfied." No broadcast date has been set, and the tracks Dylan will perform are not finalised. We wait with bated breath . Time will tell!
Around 5th May Bob used his studio time to record a track for an upcoming Sun Records tribute. The track is Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache, which he played couple times on the American Tour of 1986 with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Other artists due to be on the same album include Mark Knopfler and Bryan Ferry. Elvis Presley's former bandmembers Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana participated in the sessions for the first three songs at Abbey Road Studio. The Who, Elton John, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have all been asked to participate, but no official announcement has been made as yet.
Another tribute album being put together is in respect of the Grateful Dead. The album is called "Stolen Roses". This will feature a recording of Dylan doing Friend Of The Devil which will be a live performance from a recent live show. The album is due to be released in late July 2000.
Newport Again .
On Wednesday, June 7th 2000 at 10.00pm on BBC Radio 2 there was a programme entitled "Seven Days that Rocked the World". This programme examines how Bob Dylan shocked and thrilled the audience at the 1965 Newport Festival when he appeared on stage with a full electric band. Things would never be the same again as Dylan brought to pop a lyrical intensity it had not seen before. Included in the programme were contributions from Patrick Humphreys and C.P. Lee. In addition tracks were played from Newport which included Like A Rolling Stone. Quite an interesting but not essential programme.
Stand And Be Counted
There will be a two-part documentary broadcast on the Learning Channel on August 22nd and 23rd called "Stand And Be Counted" which is based on the book by David Crosby and David Bender about rock and roll activism. The documentary will focus on rock events that embraced various causes. Bob Dylan is among those interviewed in the programme.
Once again the re-masters of the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Blood On The Tracks were slated for release on the 30th June on Columbia/Legacy. They were to inlcude 4 or 5 extra tracks, photos and possibly new liner notes written by Dylan himself. But of course they didn't materialise, we can only go on hoping!
Down In The Groove
More Greatest Hits?
On the 8th May 2000 a new compilation the Best Of Bob Dylan Volume Two was released. The most notable inclusion on this album is the original version of Dignity, the out-take from the 1989 sessions for Oh Mercy. After it was left off the album the track, originally produced by Daniel Lanois, was given to Pearl Jam producer Brendan O'Brien who radically recast it for 1994's Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 with a new rhythm, various added sound effects in place of Dylan's piano and a muddy vocal pushed way down in the mix. The new album also features Things Have Changed, from the soundtrack of the new Michael Douglas film "The Wonder Boys" previously only available on the movie soundtrack. With some copies there was a free bonus CD featuring two live tracks Highlands and Blowin' In The Wind from Santa Cruz, 16 March 2000.
In Sweden on the same date the Very Best Of Bob Dylan album was released. Strangely, they have used the "old" Changing Of The Guards, not the remastered version as on the above CD.This is a Sweden only two CD, 32-track collection released to commemorate Dylan's Royal Swedish Academy of Music Polar Music Prize. Included is the live version from the 1998 Grammys of Love Sick. There is a twelve page booklet included and the liner notes are in Swedish.
On August 22nd , 2000 Folkways Records are to release "The Best of Broadside: Anthems of the American Underground From the Pages of Broadside Magazine". This will feature now classic songs of The 1960's Folk Era from a vital period in the history of American folk music which includes early songs by Dylan such as Blowin' In The Wind. This will be an 89 song 5 CD box set.
When he died suddenly Doug Sahm had just finished recording his first country album. "The Return of Wayne Douglas", due for release on Tornado Records in June. Besides new songs, the CD includes a liltingly beautiful country version of Bob Dylan's Love Minus Zero/No Limit.
"Swing Set" a five track CD from Ani Difranco features a cover of Hurricane. This is available on the Righteous Babe label.
This could really go under two sections as there is a Dylan contribution plus a cover as well as songs with close connections to his past! The soundtrack of the film "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack" will be released on Vanguard on the 15th August. This film chronicles his history and is directed by his daughter Aiyana. The soundtrack includes 20 tracks with an introduction by President Clinton, a previously unreleased duet of Elliott and Bob Dylan doing Acne and a cover of Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.
Dylan's Mirrors by A. J. Iriarte
"Els Miralls de Dylan" (i.e. Dylan's Mirrors) is the name of a de facto Catalan band specializing in cover versions of Dylan's songs, who have so far released two albums. Their first CD, titled precisely Els Miralls de Dylan (Música Global 28198/03) was actually released early in 1998 under the joint by-line of Gerard Quintana and Jordi Batiste, two well-known Catalan songwriters closer to folk than to rock. This first album, recorded live in concert in Barcelona, was probably intended as a one-off tribute of sorts but sold so well, albeit in Catalonia only, that Quintana and Batiste decided to cut more songs, in the studio and as a group this time, and released a second album, Sense Reina ni As (i.e. "Missing the Queen and the Ace") in April, 2000 (Musica Global 33000/03). This was very well received by the critics and achieved some notoriety in Spain, thereby prompting the "discovery" of the earlier effort. It must be said that the versions on both records are, as far as the text is concerned, mostly excellent, and very close to the original (although there are a few "free" versions); most of the adaptations are the work of Quintana or Batiste. The arrangements and performances are altogether quite a different story: with a "standard" folkie backing (acoustic guitars, violin, mandolin, recorder), and sticking very close to the original Dylan versions, Batiste and Quintana, who alternate on lead vocals, take no risks at all and are not precisely great singers. The final result is, frankly, a bit boring, and offers no new insights on Dylan's work. Predictably as well, most of the songs covered are from the sixties, although in all fairness it must be said that quite a few of these Catalan adaptations also hail from the sixties. For instance, "No et serveixo" (It Ain't Me, Babe) was first released by Jordi Batiste's brother, Albert in 1968; the versions of "La noia del país del Nord" (Girl Of The North Country) and "Els temps estan canviant" (The Times They Are A-Changin') are from the early seventies. A couple of curiosities may be worth mentioning. Thus, "Romanço del fill de vidua" (i.e. "Ballad of the Widow's son"), a cover of Tombstone Blues, was first released in 1967 and actually borrows only the tune from the song, the words being adapted by Jodi Batiste from a poem by Pere Quart. On another hand, both albums feature one or two "straight" covers, songs done in English -and awfully, too! For the record, these are One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below), Idiot Wind, and Romance In Durango. In conclusion, although honest enough endeavours, and competently performed, these versions do not really take off. More to the point, their main interest - the excellent Catalan texts - will be lost to most Dylan fans. However, collectors and completists interested in obtaining the CDs may try contacting the record company through its web site www.musicaglobal.com or e-mail at email@example.com.
Finally, for those who care for these details, here is the list of songs covered on both albums (only the original title is mentioned):
Els Miralls de Dylan: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall/You're A Big Girl Now/Don't Think Twice, It's All Right/Tombstone Blues/Simple Twist of Fate/All I Really Want To Do/One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below)/It Ain't Me,Babe/ Masters of War/Idiot Wind/The Times They Are A-Changin'/Girl Of The North Country/Like a Rolling Stone/With God On Our Side.
Sense Reina ni As: Forever Young/I'll Be Your Baby Tonight/ It's All Over Now, Baby Blue/Blowin' In The Wind/Stuck Inside Of Mobile/Sara/Shelter From The Storm/Visions Of Johanna/Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands/Romance In Durango/It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry /One Too Many Mornings/Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power).
Unplugged Rehearsal 15/16th November 1994
Here we have one of the most interesting tapes in this issue. It is in excellent quality and one definitely worth tracking down. Most of the performances are complete songs with some chat between them and there are a number of tries at the ending of Tombstone Blues. We are also treated to a sublime version of Hazel, unfortunately there is only half of the song. The full track listing is:
I Want You/Tombstone Blues/Tombstone Blues(inst) x 3 /I Want You/ Don't Think Twice, It's All Right/Desolation Row/Hazel/Everything Is Broken/The Times They Are A-Changin'/Love Minus Zero/No Limit/Dignity/With God On Our Side
Is It Rolling Bob?
In 1966 There was....
Recently, a box set of 1966 shows circulated and we only intend detailing the new material included. The two areas are complete sets from shows where only some tracks have been available before. They are from 14th May, Liverpool and 16th May, Sheffield. From Liverpool the complete electric set is available which means that the last three songs are new: One Too Many Mornings, Ballad of A Thin Man and Like A Rolling Stone. From Sheffield the full acoustic set is now available adding She Belongs To Me, 4th Time Around, It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Desolation Row, Just Like A Woman to the already extant Visions Of Johanna and Mr. Tambourine Man.
Sydney, Australia, 15th April 1992 PA
This is a partial PA recording which unfortunately fades into the first live peformance of Delia. The vocal is quite low down in the mix which detracts from the listening enjoyment. The full track listing is:
Delia/Union Sundown/Just Like A Woman/Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again/I'll Be Your Baby Tonight/If Not For You/Love Minus Zero/No Limit +/ Little Moses +/It's All Over Now, Baby Blue +/A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall +/Cat's In The Well/Idiot Wind
Live Aid Rehearsal July 1984
The quality of this recording is good but there is only one full song: the first Ballad Of Hollis Brown which is probably the best 'performance'. However it's a pleasure to hear Dylan introducing Dark Eyes to the others. There is some doubt expressed about the money raised getting to the Ethiopians which leads into Careless Ethiopians song. They work through various atempts at Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Blowin' In The Wind and When the Ship Comes In. Not essential.
Although, we don't normally report audience tapes the next few represent some missing tapes from the past!
Porto Allegre, Brazil, 14th August 1991
This sounds like a radio broadcast version of the show with a great deal of intrusive chat from the DJs. Most of this show is extant but this version is complete which means that, for the first time, the two encore songs. The Times They Are A-Changin' and Ballad Of A Thin Man are available. Quality is not great and not essential except for completists.
Madrid, Spain, 19th July 1995
Previously, this show circulated as an incomplete tape in poor sound quality. Now the full show is available in very good sound, and although not a spectacular set list it does feature Obviously Five Believers.
São Paulo, Brazil, 13th April 1998
This is the first Dylan set to emerge from the South American shows with the Rolling Stones. The show lasts about one hour and except for the fact that the quality is better than most tapes we have from South America it is unremarkable!
Darwin, Australia, 28th August 1998
Another lost Australian show rears its head but this one is for completists only. The sound quality is quite poor making it too difficult to enjoy or review with any worth.
Salt Lake City, 9th June 1999
This is the first Dylan tape to come out of Salt Lake City and this only includes the duets with Paul Simon. What a shame it isn't from the 1976 show!
Atlanta, Georgia, Sound Checks 1st December and 2nd December 1997
Most sound checks played now don't include Dylan but he is certainly present on these two. The quality is reasonable for this type of recording but only completists need worry about seeking out copies. There are a few work throughs of White Dove which was premiered on 2nd December 1997 along with attempts at Cocaine, Stone Walls And Steel Bars, You're A Big Girl Now, You Ain't Goin' Nowhere and Lonesome River plus a few instrumental outings including one of Standing In The Doorway!
Like a Bullet of Light - The Films of Bob Dylan
This book by C. P. Lee, published by Helter Skelter, for the most part concentrates on the five main films that Dylan has been involved with, Don't Look Back, Eat The Document, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, Renaldo and Clara and Hearts Of Fire. He compares the films in their style, content and approach but doesn't try provides a definitive summary of Dylan's involvement with the camera. However, he does, within some of the chapters cover many important areas and at the end gives an chronological list of each occurrence. This is a very interesting book worthy of investigation.
Missed Encounters With Bob Dylan by A. J. Iriarte
This book, a long time in the making, has quaintly raised quite a few expectations among the Dylan community that it unfortunately does not live up to. When first talked about, it was described as an attempt to collect, in their own words, the experiences of those fans who, through the years and all over the world, have had a chance to meet Dylan - or rather cross paths briefly with him - and, in a manner of speaking, give these anonymous concert-goers the chance to step into the spotlight and have their say. 'Encounters With Bob Dylan' has been compiled and edited by Tracy Johnson, a San Francisco freelance writer and a fan in her own right, we are told. It also includes a foreword by "Isis" editor, Derek Barker, in which he describes the book as "unique". It probably is, although it might be argued that David Henderson's "Touched By The Hand of Bob" shares a somewhat similar concept.
As finally published, this volume consists of fifty first-person accounts ranging in length from half a page to eight pages, of which, it must be said, ten or so are not the work of anonymous fans, but of fairly well-known participants, in varying degrees, in Dylan's career (Mimi Fariña, Rob Stoner, Nat Hentoff, David Grisman, among others), whose statements or interviews, however, add little or nothing to what was already known about their onetime personal or professional relationship with Dylan. It looks as if the publishers thought that the inclusion of these testimonies by "heavyweights" would help push the book's sales. It might be, but even if most of these accounts are interesting in their own right, they look somewhat out of place in a book by and for the John Doe fans.
What cannot be denied, it is true, is that the bulk of the book is formed by precisely such stories, but therein lies the greater problem, for, apart from revealing the personality of their authors, do these sketches present any real interest, do they offer any insight on Dylan, however slight, or at the very least pay heartfelt tribute to the man? Sadly, this is generally not the case. Most of the fan-penned accounts consist of the description of trivial experiences ("he looked at me", etc.) which, no matter how dear to the narrator, scarcely present any originality and bear little retelling unless it is over a couple of pints at the pub, after the shows. And haven't we all gone through it? Other stories deal (and how appallingly!) with their various narrators proudly confessing how they've pestered Dylan: by jumping on stage to dance around or, even "better", by getting to touch or kiss him ("and I really hope to do it again sometime soon", says one of the culprits), calling him "Zimmy" or other funny names, asking him stupid questions in a bar, simply being rude to him, trying to crash his parties, or chasing him on the streets. Other fans seem, incredibly so, more intent on trespassing on their hero's property, and getting stoned out of their heads with Dylan's Malibu gardener (!) or (the mind boggles) proudly "visiting" his Minnesota farm -was there no caretaker?- and peeking through the windows. To be honest, these first-person accounts are irritating, saddening, or both, and leave a most unfavourable, truly dispiriting impression on the reader. No wonder Dylan is reclusive; judging by most of these fans' accounts, he ought to have his minders beat up anyone who makes so much as a gesture to approach him.
Other stories, it is true, are not as obnoxious or embarrassing as the aforementioned. Unfortunately, they are either too ordinary (reports of having seen a concert, and "boy, wasn't it thrilling, I had been waiting all my life for this day", etc.) or downright silly. Others still seem simply incredible. A case in point may be the very unlikely tale of the Hare Krishna devotee who, in 1974, witnessed Dylan's (temporary, like Achilles?) conversion to "the beautiful teachings of Krishna", in a parking lot in Denver, of all places. To be fair, however, having been a witness myself to the surrealist episode, also described in this book, of Dylan signing an autograph on a religious card while on stage in Madrid, in 1995, it would perhaps be wiser to refrain from casting any doubts on the verisimilitude of the more preposterous stories herein included. Be warned, however, that some seem tall indeed.
Not to be too critical, it should be stressed that a few people really have funny or moving little anecdotes to share with the reader, and these, by contrast with the rest of the stories in the book, seem the more endearing. This handful of accounts saves the book from being a complete waste of time. However, amusing or touching as these stories may be, they reveal very little about Bob Dylan or even his attitude towards his fans. He is shown as a shy, gentle, and caring person - which, frankly cannot be expected to come as a surprise. Thus, when we read how he picked up a bouquet of flowers from the stage and offered it to a quadriplegic girl in the first row, we may be moved to tears, but expect nothing less. It is a pity the book's compiler hasn't included more stories in this vein, it would have made the volume more rewarding to read.
Although final responsibility for each account must perforce be laid on its individual author, a few words of criticism about the editor's work are unavoidable. Tracy Johnson has tried to be unobtrusive, and it is true she has managed to keep each author's voice distinctly his or her own. However, out of respect for her contributors and readers alike - not to mention Dylan - one would have expected her to have carefully checked and double-checked the basic facts in each story. If she has, one must conclude it has been done pretty carelessly indeed, for the book includes far too many howlers (misspelt names, wrong dates, factual mistakes) which, alas, point far more to lack of knowledge of the subject matter than to sloppy proof-reading, and this is not being too fussy, as a few examples will prove.
No self-respecting, conscientious editor of a book on Dylan would expect to get away with monstrously misspelling the names of Allen Ginsberg (as "Ginsburg" on p. 23), John Berg (unrecognizable as "Byrd" on p. 36) or the Pantages, and not "Pantagious" Theater in Hollywood, where Dylan played a seven-night residency in May, 1992 (p. 132). What is the point of mentioning Karl Erik Andersen's excellent "Expecting Rain" site and then adding in brackets... another URL, that of Bill Pagel's "Bob Links?" We also get many wrong performance dates, no matter how well documented these may be. Thus, the Oct. 26, 1997 Mobile show is misdated Oct. 24 (p. 156), and the first of two concerts in Athens, on Oct. 28 and 29, 1997, is clearly identified as such, yet wrongly dated Oct. 26th (p. 158).
Trivial mistakes? Maybe, but was it so difficult to get this right and furthermore, to date precisely a few more of the concert-centred stories in a book which, to make matters worse, purports to follow a chronological order? Photographer Rowland Scherman may have forgotten it, but the Washington, D.C. Dylan concert at which he took the photo that would become the cover of the Greatest Hits album took place on Nov. 28, 1965, not "in 1967" (p. 35). One would expect the editor to silently correct this; it could hardly be considered an uncalled for manipulation of the witness's story - which, on the other hand, is quite well known. Other cases may perhaps have required a more deft handling, but even if the author of the story truly believes, and makes it a central point of his narrative, that Bob Dylan played Like A Rolling Stone as the closing number at the L.A. Forum in 1974 (p. 146), a footnote at least is called for to remind the readers that he most definitely did not. However, the most awful mistake of all, and the one which proves without a doubt that Tracy Johnson has, at best, a superficial knowledge of Dylan's life and work, is dating Veronica Lambert's story (pp. 107-109) in 1985, when it clearly takes place in 1993 and 1995, at the time of Dylan's Barcelona concerts - the dates of which are correctly given, except for the year. No fan, not even the more casual and uninformed one, can be unaware that, with the exception of his participation in Band Aid and Farm Aid, Bob Dylan played no concerts in 1985. After two or more years' work on the project, how can such an error, probably arising from a typo, have remained uncorrected? Is this what Tracy Johnson calls editing a book?
All in all, therefore, with the exception of a handful of stories, this book can hardly be said to achieve any of its goals, and is best avoided. Although it is indeed most refreshing to read, every now and then, something different on Dylan, to temper the more frequent analysis with the warmth of anecdote, this is not the book to choose. Unless the reader has an admirable - or twisted - sense of humour, most of what he will find here will probably only irritate him, to say the least.
"Encounters With Bob Dylan. If You See Him, Say Hello", ed. by Tracy Johnston and published by Humble Press (San Francisco, 2000), ISBN 0-9647009-2-1, is available through My Back Pages. The publishers' web site is at: www.humblepress.com
Bob And Allen: Ties That Bind by Terry Kelly
It is arguable that Allen Ginsberg had a profound influence on the artistic development of Bob Dylan. That influence can be felt most obviously in the songs Dylan produced in his annus mirabilis of 1965-66. Tracks like Gates of Eden, It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and Desolation Row - to name just the obvious examples - bear the imprint of Ginsberg's poetic influence all over them. Dylan also adopted something of a hip, iconoclastic Beat attitude from Ginsberg, plus the latter's unashamed, long-lined poetic confidence. On a more basic level, Dylan was urged to read this or that writer by his poetic mentor. Ginsberg was a great advocate and teacher and pressed the young singer-songwriter to devour volumes by William Blake or William Burroughs. Even when Dylan was convalescing from his motorcycle accident in 1966-67, Ginsberg turned up at his Woodstock home - with a bag of books. But although Dylan obviously had a tremendous amount of respect for Ginsberg, he was not above bringing the great Beat bard down to earth. (The drunken See You Later, Allen Ginsberg from the Basement Tapes is a famous example). Dylan almost seemed to toy with the hip notion of having the legendary poet hanging around in a project like Renaldo and Clara. When Ginsberg suggested getting Burroughs involved in the movie, Dylan rather brusquely asked : "But what can he do?" And despite Ginsberg's considerable learning and standing as an international literary celebrity, theirs was not an equal relationship. The bottom line about Ginsberg was that he was an incorrigible Dylan groupie. Not, I hasten to add, in a sexual sense (although some have suggested the homosexual Beat poet harboured hopes in that direction), but on a more star-struck, adulatory level, which manifested itself in an almost wholly uncritical and hyperbolic attitude towards Dylan. Reading Ginsberg on Dylan, it's almost as if he sees his famous musical friend as a charismatic combination of Homer, William Shakespeare, Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Jack Kerouac and Elvis Presley all rolled into one - but only better.
Some of this Dylan-inspired hyperbole is evident in Ginsberg's fascinating posthumous volume, "Deliberate Prose - Selected Essays 1952-1995" (Penguin, £7.99). In an essay on Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself", Ginsberg makes a highly fanciful, not to say farfetched link between a section of the poem and Dylan's "begging scene" in Renaldo and Clara. In a 1969 appreciation of the poetry of his father, Louis Ginsberg, there is this sweeping literary generalisation: "Ezra Pound's scholarly intuitions came true after the mid-century when a third generation of minstrel poets, including Bob Dylan, sang their poems aloud in contemplative rooms, black alleyways or bardic halls thru microphones " Apart from instantly summoning up images of "minstrel" Dylan dressed in green velvet and picking madrigals on a lute, my gut reaction to this kind of literary puffery is: "Ah, come on now, Allen!" It also evokes the true story of Ginsberg playing the aged Pound recordings of Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Absolutely Sweet Marie and Gates Of Eden on a trip to the poet's hideaway in Venice in the '60s. Pound's response? He tapped his ivory-handled cane, but passed no comment.
Writing about literary censorship in 1993, Ginsberg states unequivocally: "In a couple of hundred years when they make anthologies, Dylan will, I think, be the dominant poet of this half-century." (Did Allen never hear Wiggle, Wiggle?). Further, on frankly scant biographical evidence, Ginsberg often makes dubious creative links between Dylan and various American poets. In a previously unpublished piece about Michael McClure from 1971, Ginsberg claims the San Francisco poet influenced Dylan towards what he calls "intellectual poetry" (whatever that means). He further claims Dylan responded in kind by presenting McClure with a harmonica in the late '60s, thereby turning on the latter to the possibilities of merging rock music and poetry. Threadbare conclusions on the wall, or what?
But apart from the hyperbole, the book contains a wonderful unpublished Ginsberg reminiscence from 1977, in which he recalls taking some literary friends and Hell's Angels to see Dylan at one of his San Francisco concerts in late 1965. (Ginsberg doesn't say so, but he must mean one of the December shows at the Masonic Memorial Auditorium, SF). Dylan gave Ginsberg 40 free tickets for the show (the ultimate priority booking, right?) and the celebrated poet was joined in the first few rows by his boyfriend, Peter Orlovsky, Beat legend Neal Cassady, novelist Ken Kesey, poet Michael McClure and the aforementioned Hell's Angels. When the conversation turned to a planned anti-Vietnam protest march, Dylan - as recalled by Ginsberg - exhorts the Hell's Angels: "Why don't you come to New York and we'll put you on at Carnegie Hall. But you gotta get your show together, get your shit together. Do you have any songs? Can you recite poetry? Can you talk? If you want to extend yourselves, you can't make it by hanging around Oakland beating up on your image." The Hell's Angels presumably filed out in an orderly fashion, suitably chastened by Dylan's sermon. Around the same time, Dylan tells Ginsberg that famed anti-Vietnam activist, Jerry Rubin (1938-1994) had asked him to lead a protest march. According to Ginsberg, Dylan agreed, with the following proviso: "Except we ought to have it in San Francisco, right on Nob Hill where I have my concert, and I'll get a whole bunch of trucks and picket signs - some of the signs will be bland and some of them have lemons painted on them and some of them are watermelon pictures, bananas, others will have the word Orange or Automobile or the words Venetian Blind "For once, Ginsberg identifies a touch of Dylan leg-pulling, guessing Dylan offered his backing to the protest march "somewhat ironically." You don't say, Allen, you don't say!
Apart from the copious Dylan references, 'Deliberate Prose' is a tremendous source book for anyone interested in radical politics or poetics since 1945 and the role of the late, much-lamented and irreplaceable Allen Ginsberg in the whole shebang.
Nashville Skyline Rock by Terry Kelly
Sporting a great colour photograph from Rolling Thunder Revue on its cover, Peter Doggett's "Are You Ready For The Country - Elvis, Dylan, Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock" (Viking, £12.99) is a highly readable overview of the links between the Nashville Sound and mainstream rock music. Doggett, Managing Editor of the essential "Record Collector" magazine, sees Dylan's role in the emergence of the musical hybrid known as country-rock as pivotal. He pinpoints the release of Nashville Skyline in 1969 and Dylan's appearance with Johnny Cash at the Grand Ole Opry around the same time as significant cultural watersheds. After Dylan made pedal steel guitars and "moon" and "June" rhymes hip, the rock music establishment sat up and took notice. Although rock historians will rightly point out that groundbreaking country albums by the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers predated the release of Nashville Skyline, their commercial and cultural impact was minimal, until Dylan entered the fray.
It's easy to forget how large Dylan loomed as a cultural icon in the late 1960s. Just three weeks after the release of Nashville Skyline, Dylan's appearance on the televised Johnny Cash Show was widely perceived as either a surreal act by rock music's most famous chameleon or a deeply ironic gesture, by a man considered a musical seer. As Doggett reveals, Dylan was extremely uncomfortable assuming the mantle of conventional country balladeer at the famous Ryman Auditorium, and only the support of his long-time friend, Johnny Cash, persuaded him to deliver nervous versions of I Threw It All Away, Living The Blues and their duet on Girl Of The North Country. The book describes how Nashville Skyline opened the gates to the cross-fertilisation of rock and country music. Further, when Dylan embraced country, he was also inevitably espousing the values of the Southern states embodied in the music, values which had been consistently derided and lampooned since the end of the American Civil War. Running for less than half an hour, the album also saw Dylan swapping Rimbaud for Hank Thompson, by simplifying his songwriting style and appealing to blue collar workers, instead of his normal student, hippy and middle class intellectual audience, an artistic volte-face crystallised in this line from Lay, Lady, Lay: "His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean." Thirty years on, it's easier to view the album as an example of Dylan's natural contrariness and of his ability to subvert the expectations of his audience. More simply, he possibly found country music something of a soothing creative refuge after the high-risk storm of 1966.
Unusually for the normally meticulous Peter Doggett, there are a couple of unforced errors in the Dylan section of his book. Lyrics from Absolutely Sweet Marie are wrongly attributed to the John Wesley Harding album and he still has Johnny Cash duetting with Dylan on I Still Miss Someone in London during the 1966 tour, when the general consensus is that the stoned encounter took place in Cardiff. Doggett writes with clarity and obvious passion about the roles of Dylan, Elvis, Gram Parsons and many others in the development of country-rock, making this book an essential purchase.
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