‘Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them.’ – Tom Waits.
My daughter was 5 when she first heard Tom Waits. I played Come On Up To The House while she was in the bath. I hung a speaker on the bathroom wall and would play her random songs while she sloshed about in the water.
Halfway through the song, I heard her calling, “Dad?”
“Is that The Grinch singing?“
“No, it’s a guy called Tom.”
“Oh. Can we go to his house?”
“Well, we could ask him but he doesn’t know us. Why do you want to go?”
“It sounds nice there.”
In my estimation, Tom Waits is up there with Dylan, Cohen and Joni Mitchell on the writer’s podium. In the song-writing Olympics – he gets gold. His songs, his stories, are cinematic in scope, with the zoom of acute detail, populated with flawed and beautiful characters.
I didn’t take to his stuff immediately, though. Like anchovies, Tom Waits’ voice took me a while to appreciate.
When I first heard him, at 18 or 19, I was a rampant and narrow-minded Dylan obsessive and pretty dismissive of anything else. Fortunately, my mate, James, persevered and played me Swordfishtrombones, Small Change, Foreign Affairs, the hilarious Nighthawks At The Diner and Blue Valentine.
It was the latter that finally broke my resistance. It was so brilliantly written.
Thirty five years later, Blue Valentineis in my top ten all-time classic list. It is a stunning collection of songs – a drunken homage to Romeo & Juliet – and the title track has one of my favourite guitar solos. A lesson in economy.
I grew up with a strong Irish side and find old Irish folk songs as natural and comforting as nursery rhymes – and I hear them in Tom Waits’ music. They have great melodies and a very human sentimentality that is deeply appealing to me. Waits’ characters are portrayed and parodied with absolute precision and empathy. He appears to understand the people he sings about.
He may even be some of them.
I have never met Tom Waits, but if I did, I would shake his hand and thank him. I think one of his songs saved my life.
I was having a hard time of life, and I listened to his album, Mule Variations, a lot. I particularly liked ‘What’s He Building In There?’ and ‘House Where Nobody Lives’ but I always skipped Come On Up To The House. I simply couldn’t bear it.
The song is an absolute diamond classic, but at the time, my addiction to alcohol and opiates was at its deepest and darkest and it physically hurt me to hear it. It was like opening the drapes on a vampire. The light would make me flinch, cover my ears and run off to hide in the darkness.
In the summer of 2003, I had lost another job, my first wife had (wisely and bravely) left me and I was being evicted from my house because I spent all the money I earned on booze and drugs.
I also had a great deal of bitterness because I hadn’t ‘made it’ as a musician. I hadn’t become the superstar I thought I deserved to be and it was everyone else’s fault.
On the morning of August 9th 2003, I was drunk by 8.30, which, sadly, was nothing new. I spent the afternoon punching all the framed photographs of my wife and me. My hands were cut from the glass and bleeding profusely. I used my blood to write obscenities about my wife on most of the walls and was passed out by early evening.
When I awoke, I bought more alcohol, locked the doors, closed the blinds and lay on the floor, forcing the drink down, smoking and retching. After two beers, I felt able to stand up and phoned my wife, demanding she come back, incredulous that she could leave me, but she said she “couldn’t take it anymore” and hung up.
I had no idea what she meant. I knew I drank a bit too much but, hell, I knew people who were much worse. I hadn’t beat her up and I was nice to her mother. I assumed she left me for someone with more money.
Enraged, I hurled all her treasured pot plants against the wall, screaming abuse as each one smashed and covered the white couch in soil, stones and broken pottery.
Apparently, I called my wife 57 times and left 8 threatening and abusive messages, though I have no recollection of this.
I woke up in the early hours of the morning to the horrific realisation that I only had one can of beer to get me through the night. And all the shops were closed. I took 4 codeine based painkillers and searched the house for anything that might have alcohol content. All I found was a bottle of cough medicine which I poured into the beer. I drank the mixture as fast as I could, crying and bewildered. I didn’t understand why I was in this situation.
I vomited and fell down, shivering and sweating under a blanket, terrified.
I put my headphones on and pressed play on the CD player. It was Tom Waits singing ‘Come On Up To The House‘.
For the first time, I listened to the words.
Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house
The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the house
All your cryin don’t do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I’m just a passin thru
Come on up to the house
There’s no light in the tunnel
No irons in the fire
Come on up to the house
And your singin lead soprano
In a junkman’s choir
You gotta come on up to the house
Does life seem nasty, brutish and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy
And you can’t find no port
Come on up to the house
By the time Charlie Musselwhite came in with the best harp solo I had ever heard, I felt broken, sober and hopeful. I can’t say exactly what happened, but I think I had a moment of clarity, a vision perhaps, and knew everything was going to be okay. This song that I had refused to listen to, suddenly acted as a beacon of hope:
There’s nothin in the world
That you can do
You gotta come on up to the house
And you been whipped by the forces
That are inside you
Come on up to the house
Well you’re high on top
Of your mountain of woe
Come on up to the house
Well you know you should surrender
But you can’t let go
You gotta come on up to the house
Instinctively, it made sense to me, even though I had no conscious idea what he was on about. Alcohol had, 25 years before, been my God, my best friend and now it was killing me. The song gave me courage.
I lay awake all night and listened to it many times. I hung onto it like a drowning man to a lifeboat.
In the morning, compelled by blind desperation, I called Alcoholics Anonymous. That night, I went to a meeting, sober.
I have not had a drink since that day, almost 11 years ago.
I have subsequently read about Tom Waits’ own trouble with alcohol and his sobriety:
‘Oh, you know, it was tough. I went to AA. I’m in the programme. I’m clean and sober. But, it was a struggle.’
I often wonder if he wrote the song sober, with ‘drunks’ in mind. It doesn’t matter – it had an effect on me, and I am very glad he wrote it and that I heard it when I did.
I don’t listen to it very often. Not because I am afraid of it, but because it is quite a special song for me and I find it very moving.
Now, I really have no idea about God. I have a vague but strong sense of a power much greater than me. When I manage to tap into that power, I think it is God, but that’s as much as I can fathom. Fortunately, I have learned that I don’t need to know, I just need to believe.
I have driven myself crazy, looking for some knowable, definite version of God – in churches, Bibles, ideologies – but have never found it there.
When I play or hear music, though, I quite often feel I am in the presence of something more than the sounds. That doesn’t mean that I think musicians are gods – far from it – but I am certain that God is in music.
It’s hardly a new idea, I know, but it was a vital discovery for me.
In Medieval times, for example, students started in higher education by learning grammar, logic and rhetoric. They proceeded then to mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music.
Music theory itself was considered a Christian study, appealing to other Christian truths as analogies or premises, and in turn was considered one of only seven foundational studies prerequisite to doctoral training in theology, medicine, philosophy, or law.
I can’t read a note of music, but I can play, compose and consider myself minorly musical, and I listen to it every single day.
I perceive no difference between Bach, Bonnie Prince Billy and Blind Willie McTell. To me, God is working through the lot of them.
One listen to Red House by Hendrix or Albert King’s I Believe To My Soul from Blues At Midnight…and I know something more than music is occurring.
Watch Bob Dylan performing What Can I Do For You? from 1980 at Massey Hall, or listen to Andres Segovia or Stevie Ray Vaughan. I have seen Spanish woodcutters raging the shit out of ancient flamenco or Lee Tyler Post create blessed magic in a hot New Jersey night…I could go on for hours.
I think that sometimes a divine spirit is harnessed through the human soul and body and flows through music. It is sacred. I don’t mean a stifled, restricted, denominational or religious sacred – I mean a joyous, sexy and soul-uplifting kind of sacred.
I believe music saved my life.
Tom Waits singing Come On Up To The House is on my 8 year old daughter’s favourite playlist, between One Direction and Miley Cyrus. She loves it.
I pray every day to my vague idea of a musical God and I pray with gratitude. For my life, my sobriety and music.
And for my little girl, who has never had to see me drunk.
There are few things I enjoy more than listening to melancholy.
Especially if it is delivered with cool detachment.
Which is why Citalopram (Part 2) is my favourite song right now.
It’s by a young British band called Lemon Garden.
They are based in Birmingham but are lining up a series of dates in London, and you will be hearing their name in the music press very shortly.
What do they sound like?
I guess I would reference the song Heart & Soul by Joy Division (from Closer, 1980) and Radiohead. Also, I keep hearing Eno, early Roxy Music and The Smiths, too.
I guess it would broadly be labelled as British Indie, but, like all great music, it is so much more than a label.
It’s brilliant – full of tension, understated energy and a couple of the songs are deceptively catchy. Take Far Away for example – it’s got more hooks than a slaughterhouse.
It’s a corker.
I hear early ‘grunge’ in places but they definitely sound British. And right now. Lemon Garden could not be from any other country or any other time.
There are layered guitars, bathed in golden reverb and odd, glittering synth sparks that sparkle over the rock solid bass and drums. Liquid silver.
Singer Ollie Simms has a wonderfully quirky, weary English remoteness to his voice that is cooler than a morgue. He is the perfect frontman for such sweet misery.
It’s not all gloom, though. There’s a dry, wry humour, too. New Wave has some great lines, like “Let me clean your dirty mind…because you look lonely from behind” that make me grin.
They have played a handful of local, low-key gigs and recorded only a few songs but I can’t wait to buy the debut album.
Remember that name, Lemon Garden, and be glad you found them before they got big. Give them a listen and let the garden grow.
Copyright © 2014 William Henry Prince.
I once saw a film called The Draughtsman’s Contract. I couldn’t tell you what it was about but it was visually stunning. The dialogue and costumes were very formal and straight-laced, but there was a violent and seething passion beneath the mathematical surface, behind the geometric topiary and in the strictly repetitive score by Michael Nyman.
Human Minds, Robot Hearts has a similar effect on me. It is beautiful. And the strict beats and rhythms of programmed machines are the structures inside which passion stirs and lifts.
I have looked forward to this EP for a while. I am a fan of Leaving Richmond and love to listen to them while travelling, particularly through cities. I find the music exciting and extremely uplifting and positive. It intensifies the simple, rhythmic joy of being alive.
I stood on the roof of a skyscraper right in the middle of New York, looking down at the teeming streets of Times Square as it grew dark and marvelled at the streams of coloured cars, lights, and the weaving rhythm of people. It all moved in a symmetry and there was necessary co-operation involved, to make it all move forward. I remember feeling a huge wave of affection for my species, and a rush of excitement that I would be down amongst them very soon.
This EP makes me feel like that.
I honestly don’t know what kind of music it is, and it really doesn’t matter. It has no singer, which is why it feels so wide and panoramic – because my ears aren’t drawn to one point. I’m not listening to a voice or lyrics. I am hearing just the rise and flow of the instruments, the propulsion, the journey.
There are shades of Low-era Bowie, some creaking Massive Attack, a little early Portishead and a touch of Cocteau Twins but…well, hopeful and positive without being twee.
If ‘instrumental rock’ isn’t your cup of tea, then buy this EP because it’s so much more than a label suggests. It is easily accessible, joyous and will make you want to travel.
It’s for sale on iTunes, so give it a go.
You won’t be sorry.
Happiness is but a state of mind. Anytime you want, you can cross the state line….
I have seen Bob Dylan ‘in concert’ quite a few times and he has always impressed me. Certain gigs stand out in my memory – as a kid in 1981, when he was my new hero; in 2000, in Cardiff, where he was swept along by the warmth of that small crowd, dancing, smiling, rocking and rolling and also his fantastic, hilarious, MC routine at the Hop Farm gig in 2012.
I never thought that I would see him, at 72, play the Royal Albert Hall, but life is like that. You just never know.
While travelling, I listened to Tempest again, as I knew he was playing a lot of material from that collection and I hadn’t heard it in a while. I like most of the songs and adore the actual sound of it. It sounds warm and noisy, like it was recorded on to tape, rather than onto a hard drive.
I had never been to the Royal Albert Hall before, so, after having a quick look at his ‘Mood Swings’ work at the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair, I took the tube to South Kensington and arrived early, getting a drink and a bite to eat, then had a nose around.
I had a seat in one of the Loggia Boxes, with an alright but distant view. It was the furthest I have ever been from the stage but the ticket was a surprise birthday present, so I was extremely grateful just to be there.
The ‘hall’ was gorgeous and filled with history, and it soon started to fill with people, too.
The guy next to me was a giant, drunk Slovakian who told me: “I want see him now because he die soon, yes?”
He thought that was hilarious.
He drank an entire bottle of Vodka in the time we were there, and talked to his two sons throughout the entire gig, which seemed like a waste to me, but each to his own.
At half past seven, the band walked on to a dimly lit stage to hearty applause and got into the positions they would remain in for the evening.
Stu Kimball strummed an acoustic guitar and then, from the shadows, emerged a head of grey curls, no hat, sharp suit and an ambling gait in pointy boots. The Royal Albert Hall erupted in raucous applause.
There he was. The man himself.
Things Have Changed is a good choppy opener and it gave me a chance to get used to the new sound via a well-known number.
Immediately, it was apparent that he was into it and standing cocky, in front of a centre-stage microphone, hand on hip, is a great way to start a gig.
He looked great – slim, sprightly and fully committed. Still funny, too. His legs make me laugh out loud. No-one moves like him – part cowboy, part Chaplin and part marionette but…cool.
He’s not embarrassing like Mick Jagger, breathlessly jerking around a stage like your Grandad dancing to hip-hop.
He has dignity and grace and carries himself the way the old blues guys do.
On his second record, he was quoted as saying:
“I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people.”
Well, he does now. He’s earned his position and knows it.
I watched the sound guys tweaking the faders and by the second half of the song, they’d got the sound spot-on, given that his voice is an engineer’s worst nightmare. Deep rumbling lows, harsh spiky highs. It was hard to decipher the words sometimes, but, well, that’s nothing new.
She Belongs To Me has a great new arrangement, allowing him to play with the timing and phrasing of the familiar lyrics. He even elongated the vowel howls – like the infamous 1966 ‘Royal Albert Hall’ version (although actually from the Manchester Free Trade Hall, of course).
He’s really got to grips with the character of his tired voice, and uses it to his advantage. The intricacies and nuances are kaleidoscopic. It’s a thing of cracked beauty and wonder. And as expressive as any soul diva.
His harmonica tonight was played straight into his vocal mic, not through a bullet, and sounded clear and stark. It was a treat to hear that lonesome, defiant edge un-effected.
He has a penchant at the moment for playing jazzy, off-beat piano riffs and I love it. I haven’t heard anything quite like it before. Occasionally he played a few bum notes and once or twice it seemed to clash with Charlie Sexton’s guitar runs, or Donnie Heron’s pedal steel, but it’s live music and that kind of stuff is fine with me.
I don’t go to a Dylan concert to hear slick.
On What Good Am I? he played a really interesting repeated lead riff that I thought worked well, then changed to chords for the chorus. His voice sounded particularly great on this one, half-whispering then tenderly caressing particular words, his piano stabs punctuating lines. It reminded me of the way Blind Willie McTell played guitar, replicating a vocal melody with single notes after he’d rasped out the words. It was brilliant, I thought. Very delicate and unusual.
It was a real birthday treat for me, as I’d never heard him play that song live.
Duquesne Whistle was a blast. He sang with confidence and obviously enjoyed it and the same was true of Pay In Blood, where, vocally at least, it sounded more vitriolic and searing than the album version.
Tangled Up In Blue was received particularly well, and is a great song, no matter how he does it. I couldn’t make out all the new words, but enjoyed it immensely, regardless. That was immediately followed by an even better Love Sick, with Dylan pounding those keys for all he was worth and singing it very, very well, especially as he raised the vocal register towards the end.
It may sound daft, but I liked that Dylan introduced the interval himself. I don’t know why.
The break gave me a chance to stretch my legs and munch a few hospitality sandwiches while wondering what further treats would follow from the stage.
As it turned out, there were plenty. On Simple Twist Of Fate, he played the piano beautifully, letting Charlie Sexton weave some nice sparkles around his almost conversational and surprisingly tender vocals.
And then, after the excellent, flat-out riffing of Early Roman Kings came the beautifully mournful Forgetful Heart.
Donnie’s dark, drone-like violin and Stu Kimball’s guitar were entrancing. Dylan’s broken voice and sobbing harp just about had me in tears.
It was ‘The Dylan Moment’, where, unannounced, something other-worldly happens that causes my senses to forget everything and feel like I’m standing in the light of something awesome and utterly lovely, divine even.
Like the alignment of the planets, but through music.
It’s not even a song I particularly like, and though the chords are fairly standard and emotionally manipulative in terms of Western patterns (F, Dm, and Am I think), something else happened and I was transported to a better place for a few beautiful moments – some kind of melancholic heaven.
The audience responded with standing applause and, again, the obvious love for the guy and his music was crystal clear.
Soon After Midnight is a lightweight favourite from ‘Tempest’. I find myself singing it a lot. I love the wry grin in the lyrics, the sheer audacity and wit. Bob Dylan has written hundreds of Class A songs, and is known to have penned a clever rhyme or two, so I love to hear him playing around with lines as simple as:
“Charlotte’s a harlot
Dresses in scarlet
Mary dresses in green
It’s soon after midnight
And I’ve got a date with the fairy queen”
Especially when preceded by lines like:
“My heart is cheerful
It’s never fearful
I’ve been down on the killing floors
I’m in no great hurry
I’m not afraid of your fury
I’ve faced stronger walls than yours”
Tonight’s version had the band create a subdued, stately sound, with Dylan clipping the vocal lines short while tickling one note melodies out of his baby grand. I loved it.
My one criticism of tonight would be this: why have a great, great player like Charlie Sexton in your band and hardly let him off the leash?
His rhythm work is excellent and he adds frills and sparks to the restrained, grown-up sound, but, Bob, let him loose to cause a little mayhem! I think it would add contrast, another dimension, an extra excitement and colour. I feel that way about the whole Tempest album really.
Towards the end of the show, something else struck me – there was no nostalgia. At all. No reminiscing or rose-tinting. Most of the songs tonight were relatively current, which is pretty gutsy given that his catalogue stretches back 50 years.
(For the anoraks like me, there were 7 from Tempest, 2 from Blood On The Tracks, 2 from Together Through Life, 2 from Love & Theft, 1 from Time Out Of Mind, 1 each from John Wesley Harding, Freewheelin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Modern Times, Oh Mercy! and the country waltz, Waiting For You, was written for the soundtrack of Callie Khouri’s 2002 movie, ‘Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’).
I saw Bowie a few years back and his show was strictly ‘hits’. There wasn’t much personality or risk involved, it was simply a very professional, crowd-pleasing, backward-looking exchange for your money.
There’s nothing wrong with playing accurate renditions of your hits, I guess, but Dylan seems unwilling to do that and, like it or not, it makes for a lively and challenging experience.
Personally, I love that he keeps his songs alive and kicking. Even tonight’s first encore, 1968′s All Along The Watchtower, sounded fresh and still ominous and, for once, Charlie Sexton got to bend a few strings and turn it up a little. Dylan’s voice and delivery enhanced the apocalyptic vibe, making it…yes, scary. I enjoyed the breakdown at the end and the interplay between the piano and guitar, too.
I have to confess that I haven’t liked Blowin’ In The Wind since I was a fifteen year-old kid and heard the version on Freewheelin’. I skip over it on gig recordings or albums but, again, the arrangement tonight was so good, and his performance so interesting, that I really enjoyed it.
I think there is room in the world for a touch of innocence, especially as a final encore from a 72 year-old Bob Dylan.
They played it as a slow gospel march and Dylan’s harp was ace. I’m a sucker for those few repeated, building notes he plays over the changing chords.
And then he stood with his band and soaked up the applause, turning and acknowledging the people who were sat behind the stage, and that was it. He was gone.
I left and enjoyed the cool night, walking with the chattering crowd through the street lights.
Some of the arrangements tonight were as different from the officially released versions as those on Budokan or Hard Rain.
He may be getting on, but he isn’t getting old and I really respect him for that.
I saw two people walk out tonight and heard a couple of grumbles (amid mostly very high praise) on the way to the tube station. I slowed my pace to be nosy and eavesdrop and I understood their complaints about his voice and arrangements, but silently disagreed with it.
If you like a bunch of Dylan’s old songs and want to hear them again for a sweet meander down memory lane, then it must have been a shock, a disappointment even, but he ain’t gonna stand with a Gibson acoustic and sing the early hits. That would be artistic death and, really, I’m not sure why anyone would expect Bob Dylan to do that anyway. It’s not like they haven’t been warned!
“They say sing while you slave/I get bored.”
“He not busy being born is a busy dying.”
With Bob Dylan, I think you either love him or you don’t. There ain’t nooooo neutral ground.
I love it all the way and tonight reminded me why.
Bob Dylan – vocals, piano, harp
Stu Kimball – guitar
Donnie Herron – steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin
Charlie Sexton – guitar
George Receli – drums
Tony Garnier – bass
Things Have Changed
She Belongs To Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
What Good Am I?
Waiting For You
Pay In Blood
Tangled Up In Blue
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Simple Twist Of Fate
Early Roman Kings
Spirit On The Water
Soon After Midnight
Long And Wasted Years
All Along The Watchtower
Blowin’ In The Wind
Andrea Orlandi for permission to use his photo; my Dad for the ticket; my brother for the hotel and Dag Braathen for being Dag Braathen.
“I’m not yet ready to hang my hat but I sure can see the peg.”
Leonard Cohen, 15th September, 2013.
At 15, I was innocent in almost every aspect of male-female relationships, except rejection, in which I had gained a wealth of experience.
Around this time, I was given a ragged book of poems by Leonard Cohen, and, bored one day, I opened it randomly, to find these perfect lines:
“I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb the stairs and clear his throat outside the door.”
My love of Leonard Cohen started at the end of those lines, in 1978, before I had heard any of his records. I knew the feelings he described and loved the way he wrote them.
The first Cohen record I heard was his 1967 debut The Songs Of Leonard Cohen.
Like many other people, I was initially entranced by Suzanne, with its slow beat romance, hypnotic vocal delivery, genre-defying musical landscape and memorable imagery:
Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror.
(from Suzanne, 1967)
Some of the pictures on that LP were startling – men with golden arms dispatching cards, highways that were curling like smoke above his shoulder, Sisters Of Mercy with dew on their hems – the whole record was just gorgeously written and it sounded, to me, in 1978, as though it was hundreds of years old.
The Stranger Song, in particular, had a very strong effect on me. I didn’t understand it entirely, but I recognized a certain dislocation, a sense of emotional slavery, of chasing an ideal at the detriment of what is before me.
Both Of Us Cannot Be Wrong made me laugh out loud and I still think it is one of the most brutally humourous comments on male jealousy, desire and ridiculousness ever written. I have been the drunken, anguished plea at the end of that record, many, many times.
I also enjoyed the Religious undertones. I had been brought up by a rabid Atheist and a secretly devout Catholic, so had a very odd relationship with the Divine – and I liked the references in his songs, as they seemed mysteriously linked to sex, which was very appealing.
It was intoxicating stuff.
The whole LP shepherded me into a little pen called ‘Fan’. I have lived there ever since.
I remember watching a VHS tape, sometime in the mid-1980s, that my friend James had compiled – just clips of Leonard Cohen over the years – and being utterly enthralled by this strange old man, so witty and graceful, weeping when disgruntled fans wanted their money back after a disrupted concert or singing drunkenly among friends on his Greek island getaway. He seemed like the kind of human being I longed to be.
On the 15th September 2013, I took my seat in London’s o2 arena with a very nervous stomach and plenty of tissues. I was asked by a friend to meet up, but I simply couldn’t do it. I was absolutely mute.
To me, Leonard Cohen is a holy man, a high priest, a cardinal in my cathedral of music and I would crawl through a hundred sewers to light his cigarette.
When I read that he had been ripped off and was almost broke, I actually re-bought his records to help generate an income. That is how much I like the guy.
That said, there are albums I don’t listen to much – Dear Heather and The Future leave me cold, despite repeated attempts to stoke a fire within, and even the superb I’m Your Man and Various Positions don’t sound good to me now – but I treasure them all the same.
In fact, the last Cohen album I liked the sound of (apart from the brilliant Old Ideas), was 1979’s Recent Songs.
Vocally and lyrically, though, he has never failed to impress, amuse and inspire me. My world has been greatly enriched by Leonard Cohen’s presence, and I have been deeply affected by his witty, respectful, romantic and masculine attitude towards women in his writing.
His portrayal of men and women’s romantic entanglements have been a source of great admiration, laughter and comfort throughout my life and I am extremely grateful for that.
I have never had a relationship with a woman who did not like Leonard Cohen and most have admitted that they would love to be ‘won’ by the kind of ‘courting’ he describes in his songs.
So, when he walked onto the stage, I was unable to think, speak or move. I just stared.
Slowly, I surfaced from my catatonic state and began to hear the music his brilliant band were making and listened to his delivery of old and new songs.
He was as graceful, charming and witty as I had always imagined he might be and I was impressed at how much he seemed to love his songs, relishing some of the lines as if hearing them anew. He also made the ageing process seem appealing – which is a miracle in itself.
It was a beautiful evening and I will treasure it for the rest of my days.
Hallelujah is, for me, the most beautiful song ever written (and John Cale does a magical version). It is merely great on Various Positions, but to see and hear him perform it on stage that night was simply transcendental.
Did I weep? Yes. Did I care? No.
I wept for all that I have lost, for all I have found and for all the hope I see in my 8 year-old daughter’s eyes. I also wept because I was so happy to be hearing this great man singing his songs.
I left feeling uplifted, amused, exhausted and entertained.
Leonard Cohen, in my Tower Of Song, is up there already, at the top, smoking and coughing with Hank.
All The Tired Horses
“The singing is hypnotic enough to lure sailors to their deaths, and the instrumentation is pleasant enough. But Dylan’s nowhere to be seen, obviously. So forget this song.”
- Time Magazine, 2011
Bob Dylan: Seriously, if I want to find out anything, I’m not going to read Time Magazine… I’m not going to read any of these magazines. I mean, ’cause they’ve just got too much to lose by printing the truth! You know that.
–What is really the truth?
BD: Well, really the truth is just a plain picture.
- Don’t Look Back, 1965
In The Saddle
The needle dropped and, through a light crackle, women began to sing. An acoustic guitar played simple chords then a string section came in, followed by an organ and…and…horns…
I kept waiting for Bob Dylan to start singing and the words to change…but it just kept going. I thought it was great.
I was lucky. I had only just discovered Dylan and had no preconceptions, had read no reviews.
I had Freewheelin’, Nashville Skyline, John Wesley Harding and Desire. I had the open mind of a kid and simply listened.
Over the following 34 years, I have played this particular song fairly regularly, always enjoying it but remaining slightly puzzled and amused by it.
I would find myself wandering through different landscapes while it played, picturing these tired horses and inventing scenarios and vistas.
It seemed an odd and very funny idea – to begin an album called Self Portrait with a song that has only one line, sung by someone else.
Then, a week ago, I heard it without the overdubs on Another Self Portrait and it sparked off my curiosity – to find out where it came from.
All The Tired Horses began life on March 5, 1970, in Studio B, Columbia Recording Studios, New York, at the final Self Portrait session.The subsequent studio sessions were purely for over-dubs.
If the cue sheets reflect the order in which the songs were recorded, then it was the last song to be taped.
Present at the session were Al Kooper (guitar, organ and piano), Emanuel Green (violin), Alvin Rogers (drums), Stu Woods (bass) and David Bromberg (guitar).
According to the booklet that accompanies the Bootleg Series Volume 10: Another Self Portrait (the vinyl set), the guitars are played by Bob Dylan and David Bromberg, with Al Kooper on piano and Hilda Harris, Albertine Robinson, and Maeretha Stewart on vocals.
I have always loved the sound of the acoustic guitar which follows the women’s voices. It sounds to me like a fairly big bodied Gibson, but that is just a guess. It’s such a full, rich and lovely tone coming through.
After the basic tracks were recorded in New York City, the tapes were flown to Nashville, Tennessee for overdubbing.
The first overdubs were added on 11th March 1970, at Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville, at some point between 10 in the morning and 1.30 in the afternoon.
At this session were Charlie McCoy (guitar) and Kenneth Buttrey (drums).
Stallion or Gelding
(depending on your view)
The second and third overdub sessions for the song were on 17 & 30 March 1970 and these appear to be where the majority of the strings were added, as the players present on those days were:
Bill Walker (leader, arranger), with Bill Pursell (piano)., Gene A. Mullins (baritone horn), Rex Peer (trombone), Dennis A. Good (trombone), Frank C. Smith (trombone), Martha McCrory (cello), Byron T. Bach (cello), Gary van Osdale (viola), Lillian V. Hunt (violin), Sheldon Kurland (violin), Martin Katahn (violin), Marvin D. Chanty (violin), Brenton Banks (violin), George Binkley (violin), Solie I. Fott (violin), Barry McDonald (violin), Dolores Edgin, Carol Montgomery, June Page (background vocals) and then Charles E. Daniels (guitar), Karl T Himmel (sax, clarinet, trombone) and Bob Moore (bass).
The Blind Horse That leads You Around
“The evolution of song is like a snake with its tail in its mouth. That’s evolution. That’s what it is. As soon as you’re there, you find your tail.” – Bob Dylan to Paul Zollo, 1991.
I have read that because ‘riding’ sounds like ‘writing’, the song could be about Dylan’s struggle to write new material at the time.
It sounds plausible, given the comments of Roger McGuinn – “I asked him if he had any material to spare and he said no, that he was kind of hard up, that he hadn’t been writing as much as he used to”, and Al Kooper’s assertion that the three songs he wrote for Archibald Macleish’s play, Scratch, seemed to spark off a creative breakthrough – “…that got him writing a little more.”
Other theories include it being a musical wink to Donovan’s ‘Writer In The Sun’ from his 1967 Mellow Yellow album, which includes the line “I ponder the moon in a silver spoon” and a chorus of:
“And here I sit
The retired writer in the sun
The retired writer in the sun and I’m blue
The retired writer in the sun.”
Or a lullaby, along the lines of ‘All the Pretty Ponies in the Yard’…
One of my favourite theories is that Horses In The Sun is an acronym for HITS – as in hits of ‘recreational’ drugs! This particular theory, I found on a Wu-Tang Clan site.
Personally, I have always thought it was bemoaning the way that work (writing another album, fame, fans) got in the way of his family life.
The ‘tired horses in the sun’ are the pressures of work which stop him having fun (going ridin’).
At the time (1970), he was father to five young children and so probably wanted to enjoy his kids, rather than having to write songs for an album he was contractually obliged to produce.
I think its simplicity is absolutely brilliant, and the snippet on Another Self Portrait, is a real treat – hearing those beautiful voices so clear and intimate – but I will always prefer the original album version.
From the Horse’s Mouth
“It’s a great album. There’s a lot of damn good music there. People just didn’t listen at first.”
- Anthony Scaduto, 1971
“The reason that album was put out [was] so people would just at that time stop buying my records…and they did.”
- Bob Dylan, 1981
“I said, “Well, fuck it. I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. They’ll see it, and they’ll listen, and they’ll say, “Well, let’s get on to the next person. He ain’t sayin’ it no more. He ain’t given’ us what we want”, you know? They’ll go on to somebody else.
I knew somebody who had some paints and a square canvas, and I did the cover up in about five minutes. And I said, “Well, I’m gonna call this album Self Portrait.”
- to Kurt Loder, Rolling Stone, 1984
“It was an expression,” he said. He indicated that if the album had come from Presley or The Everly Brothers, who veered toward the middle of the road, it wouldn’t have shocked so many.”
- Robert Shelton, 1986
“I released one album–a double one–where I just threw everything I could think of at the wall and whatever stuck, released it.”
- Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, 2004
The Copyright Hurdles
Originally, the song was copyrighted (words and music) to Bob Dylan and Big Sky Music on 24th August, 1970.
At the time, Albert Grossman owned 50% of Dylan’s Songwriting catalogue (with Dwarf, Witmark and Big Sky).
At some point in 1979, Dylan ceased paying Grossman, who took legal action in 1981.
On 12th October, 1987, Dylan paid 2 million dollars to the estate of Albert Grossman, and on 13th October 1988, the copyright belonged solely to Bob Dylan/Big Sky Music.
On 30th April, 1998, a transfer of copyright and security agreement was assigned to Bob Dylan/Big Sky Music and Sara Dylan/Phantom Music.
If a horse gets tired and hot from the sun his body temperature rises, his heart can beat in an irregular pattern, or ‘thump’; his flanks ‘cave in’ and his skin loses elasticity. The horse will need rest and plenty of water. If the horse is dark haired, his coat may be cropped but not too short, as he may become sunburned.
A Nagging Feeling…
Romance In Durango
Soon the horse will take us to Durango
Cat’s In The Well
The cat’s in the well, the horse is going bumpety bump
The cat’s in the well, and the horse is going bumpety bump
Under The Red Sky
This is the blind horse that leads you around
He gave a string of horses
Man In The Long Black Coat
Somebody is out there beating a dead horse
Only A Hobo
To wait for your future like a horse that’s gone lame
Get on your horse and ride away
You’re A Big Girl Now
But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
Baby, I’m In The Mood For You
Sometimes I’m in the mood, I’m gonna sleep in my pony’s stall
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
I met a young child beside a dead pony
Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie
And you feel the reins from yer pony are slippin’
I had a pony, her name was Lucifer
I had a pony, her name was Lucifer
She broke her leg and needed shooting
I swear it hurt me more than it coulda hurted her
I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
Well, I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
She got great big hind legs
Long black shaggy hair hangin’ in her face.
All The Tried Sources
Thanks, once again, to Dag Braathen.
Dylan album liner notes
(but not The Bootleg Series)
1 – from Bob Dylan (1962)
Excitement has been running high since the young man with a guitar ambled into a Columbia recording studio for two sessions in November, 1961. For at only 20, Dylan is the most unusual new talent in American folk music.
His talent takes many forms. He is one of the most compelling white blues singers ever recorded. He is a songwriter of exceptional facility and cleverness. He is an uncommonly skillful guitar player and harmonica player.
In less than one year in New York, Bob Dylan has thrown the folk crowd into an uproar. Ardent fans have been shouting his praises. Devotees have found in him the image of a singing rebel, a musical Chaplin tramp, a young Woody Guthrie, or a composite of some of the best country blues singers.
A good deal of Dylan’s steel-string guitar work runs strongly in the blues vein, although he will vary it with country configurations, Merle Travis picking and other methods. Sometimes he frets his instrument with the back of a kitchen knife or even a metal lipstick holder, giving it the clangy virility of the primitive country blues men. His pungent, driving, witty harmonica is sometimes used in the manner of Walter Jacobs, who plays with the Muddy Waters’ band in Chicago, or the evocative manner of Sonny Terry.
Another strong influence on Bob Dylan was not a musician primarily, although he has written music, but a comedian — Charlie Chaplin. After seeing many Chaplin films, Dylan found himself beginning to pick up some of the gestures of the classic tramp of silent films. Now as he appears on the stage in a humorous number, you can see Dylan nervously tapping his hat, adjusting it, using it as a prop, almost leaning on it, as the Chaplin tramp did before him.
Yet despite his comic flair, Bob Dylan has, for one so young, a curious preoccupation with songs about death. Although he is rarely inarticulate, Dylan can’t explain the attraction of these songs, beyond the power and emotional wallop they give him, and which he passes on to his listeners. It may be that three years ago, when a serious illness struck him, that he got an indelible insight into what those death-haunted blues men were singing about.
Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941. After living briefly in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Gallup, New Mexico, he graduated from high school in Hibbing, Minnesota “way up by the Canadian border.”
For six troubled months, Bob attended the University of Minnesota on a scholarship. But like so many of the restless, questioning students of his generation, the formal confines of college couldn’t hold him.
“I didn’t agree with school,” he says. “I flunked out. I read a lot, but not the required readings.”
He remembers staying up all night plowing through the philosophy of Kant instead of reading “Living With the Birds” for a science course.
“Mostly ,” he summarizes his college days, “I couldn’t stay in one place long enough.”
Bob Dylan first came East in February, 1961. His destination: the Greystone Hospital in New Jersey. His purpose: to visit the long-ailing Woody Guthrie, singer, ballad-maker and poet. It was the beginning of a deep friendship between the two. Although they were separated by thirty years and two generations, they were united by a love of music, a kindred sense of humor and a common view toward the world.
The young man from the provinces began to make friends very quickly in New York, all the while continuing, as he has since he was ten, to assimilate musical ideas from everyone he met, every record he heard. He fell in with Dave Van Ronk and Jack Elliott, two of the most dedicated musicians then playing in Greenwich Village, and swapped songs, ideas and stylistic conceptions with them. He played at the Gaslight Coffeehouse, and in April, 1961, appeared opposite John Lee Hooker, the blues singer, at Gerde’s Folk City. Word of Dylan’s talent began to grow, but in the surcharged atmosphere of rivalry that has crept into the folk-music world, so did envy. His “Talkin’ New York” is a musical comment on his reception in New York.
Recalling his first professional music job, Bob says:
“I never thought I would shoot lightning through the sky in the entertainment world.
In 1959, in Central City, Colorado, he had that first job, in rough and tumble striptease joint.
“I was onstage for just a few minutes with my folk songs. Then the strippers would come on. The crowd would yell for more stripping, but they went off, and I’d come bouncing back with my folky songs. As the night got longer, the air got heavier, the audience got drunker and nastier, and I got sicker and finally I got fired.”
Bob Dylan started to sing and play guitar when he was ten. Five to six years later he wrote his first song, dedicated to Brigitte Bardot. All the time, he listened to everything with both ears — Hank Williams, the late Jimmie Rodgers, Jelly Roll Morton, Woody Guthrie, Carl Perkins, early Elvis Presley. A meeting with Mance Lipscomb, Texas songster, left its mark on his work, as did the blues recordings of Rabbit Brown and Big Joe Williams. He speaks worshipfully of the sense of pace and timing the great blues men had, and it has become a trademark of his work already. His speed at assimilating new styles and digesting them is not the least startling thing about Bob Dylan.
“I just want to keep on singing and writing songs like I am doing now. I just want to get along. I don’t think about making a million dollars. If I had a lot of money what would I do?” he asked himself, closed his eyes, shifted the hat on his head and smiled
“I would buy a couple of motorcycles, a few air-conditioners and four or five couches.”
The number that opens this album, “You’re No Good,” was learned from Jesse Fuller, the West coast singer. Its vaudeville flair and exaggeration are used to heighten the mock anger of the lyrics.
“Talkin’ New York” is a diary note set to music. In May, 1961, Dylan started to hitchhike West, not overwhelmingly pleased at what he had seen and experienced in New York. At a truck stop along the highway he started to scribble down a few impressions of the city he left behind. They were comic, but tinged with a certain sarcastic bite, very much in the Guthrie vein.
Dylan had never sung “In My Time of Dyin’” prior to this recording session. He does not recall where he first heard it. The guitar is fretted with the lipstick holder he borrowed from his girl, Susie Rotolo, who sat devotedly and wide-eyed through the recording sessions.
“Man of Constant Sorrow” is a traditional Southern mountain folk song of considerable popularity and age, but probably never sung quite in this fashion before.
“Fixin’ to Die,” which echoes the spirit and some of the words of “In My Time of Dyin’,” was learned from an old recording by Bukka White.
A traditional Scottish song is the bare bones on which Dylan hangs “Pretty Peggy-O.” But the song has lost its burr and acquired instead a Texas accent, and a few new verses and fillips by the singer.
A diesel-tempoed “Highway 51″ is of a type sung by the Everly Brothers, partially rewritten by Dylan. His guitar is tuned to an open tuning and features a particularly compelling vamping figure. Similarly up tempo is his version of “Gospel Plow,” which turns the old spiritual into a virtually new song.
Eric Von Schmidt, a young artist and blues singer from Boston, was the source of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.” “House of the Risin’ Sun” is a traditional lament of a New Orleans woman driven into prostitution by poverty. Dylan learned the song from the singing of Dave Van Ronk: “I’d always known ‘Risin’ Sun’ but never really knew I knew it until I heard Dave sing it.” The singer’s version of “Freight Train Blues” was adapted from an old disk by Roy Acuff.
“Song to Woody,” is another original by Bob Dylan, dedicated to one of his greatest inspirations, and written much in the musical language of his idol.
Ending this album is the surging power and tragedy of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s blues — “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The poignance and passion of this simple song reveals both the country blues tradition — and its newest voice, Bob Dylan — at their very finest.
- Stacey Williams (actually Robert Shelton)
From the New York Times, Friday, September, 29 1961
Bob Dylan: A Distinctive Folk-Song Stylist
By ROBERT SHELTON
A bright new face in folk music is appearing at Gerde’s Folk City. Although only 20 years old, Bob Dylan is one of the most distinctive stylists to play in a Manhattan cabaret in months.
Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers up with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent.
Mr. Dylan’s voice is anything but pretty. He is consciously trying to recapture the rude beauty of a Southern field hand musing in melody on his back porch. All the “husk and bark” are left on his notes, and a searing intensity pervades his songs.
Mr. Dylan is both comedian and tragedian. Like a vaudeville actor on the rural circuit, he offers a variety of droll musical monologues. “Talking Bear Mountain” lampoons the overcrowding of an excursion boat. “Talking New York” satirizes his troubles in gaining recognition and “Talkin’ Hava Negilah” burlesques the folk-music craze and the singer himself.
In his serious vein, Mr. Dylan seems to be performing in a slow-motion film. Elasticized phrases are drawn out until you think they may snap. He rocks his head and body. He closes his eyes in reverie, seems to be groping for a word or a mood, then resolves the tension benevolently by finding the word and the mood.
Mr. Dylan’s highly personalized approach toward folk song is still evolving. He has been sopping up influences like a sponge. At times, the drama he aims at is off-target melodrama and his stylization threatens to topple over as a mannered excess.
But if not for every taste, his music-making has the mark of originality and inspiration, all the more noteworthy for his youth. Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.
2 – from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
Of all the precipitously emergent singers of folk songs in the continuing renascence of that self-assertive tradition, none has equaled Bob Dylan singularity of impact. As Harry Jackson, a cowboy singer and a painter, has exclaimed: “He’s so goddamned real it’s unbelievable!” The irrepressible reality of Bob Dylan is a compound of spontaneity, candor, slicing wit and an uncommonly perceptive eye and ear for the way many of us constrict our capacity for living while a few of us don’t.
Not yet twenty-two at the time of this albums release, Dylan is growing at a swift, experience-hungry rate. In these performances, there is already a marked change from his first album (“Bob Dylan,” Columbia CL 1779/CS 8579), and there will surely be many further dimensions of Dylan to come. What makes this collection particularly arresting that it consists in large part of Dylan’s own compositions The resurgence of topical folk songs has become a pervasive part of the folk movement among city singers, but few of the young bards so far have demonstrated a knowledge of the difference between well-intentioned pamphleteering and the creation of a valid musical experience. Dylan has. As the highly critical editors of “Little Sandy Review” have noted, “…right now, he is certainly our finest contemporary folk song writer. Nobody else really even comes close.”
The details of Dylan’s biography were summarized in the notes to his first Columbia album; but to recapitulate briefly, he was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. His experience with adjusting himself to new sights and sounds started early. During his first nineteen years, he lived in Gallup, New Mexico: Cheyenne, South Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Phillipsburg, Kansas; Hibbing, Minnesota (where he was graduated from high school), and Minneapolis (where he spent a restless six months at the University of Minnesota).
“Everywhere he went,” Gil Turner wrote in his article on Dylan in “Sing Out,” “his ears were wide open for the music around him. He listened to the blues singers, cowboy singers, pop singers and others — soaking up music and styles with an uncanny memory and facility for assimilation. Gradually, his own preferences developed and became more , the strongest areas being Negro blues and county music. Among the musicians and singers who influenced him were Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton, Leadbelly, Mance Lipscomb and Big Joe Williams.” And, above all others, Woody Guthrie. At ten he was playing guitar, and by the age of fifteen, Dylan had taught himself piano, harmonica and autoharp.
In February 1961, Dylan came East, primarily to visit Woody Guthrie at the Greystone Hospital in New Jersey. The visits have continued, and Guthrie has expressed approval of Dylan’s first album, being particularly fond of the “Song to Woody” in it. By September of 1961, Dylan’s singing in Greenwich Village, especially at Gerde’s Folk City, had ignited a nucleus of singers and a few critics (notably Bob Shelton of the “New York Times”) into exuberant appreciation of his work. Since then, Dylan has inexorably increased the scope of his American audiences while also performing briefly in London and Rome.
The first of Dylan’s songs in this set is “Blowin’ in the Wind.” In 1962, Dylan said of the song’s background: “I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and they know it’s wrong. I’m only 21 years old and I know that there’s been too many wars…You people over 21 should know better.” All that he prefers to add by way of commentary now is: “The first way to answer these questions in the song is by asking them. But lots of people have to first find the wind.” On this track, and except when otherwise noted, Dylan is heard alone-accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica.
“Girl From the North Country” was first conceived by Bob Dylan about three years before he finally wrote it down in December 1962. “That often happens,” he explains. “I carry a song in my head for a long time and then it comes bursting out.” The song-and Dylan’s performance-reflect his particular kind of lyricism. The mood is a fusion of yearning, poignancy and simple appreciation of a beautiful girl. Dylan illuminates all these corners of his vision, but simultaneously retains his bristling sense of self. He’s not about to go begging anything from this girl up north.
“Masters of War” startles Dylan himself. “I’ve never really written anything like that before,” he recalls. “I don’t sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn’t help it in this one. The song is a sort of striking out, a reaction to the last straw, a feeling of what can you do?” The rage (which is as much anguish as it is anger) is a away of catharsis, a way of getting temporary relief from the heavy feeling of impotence that affects many who cannot understand a civilization which juggles it’s own means for oblivion and calls that performance an act toward peace.
“Down the Highway” is a distillation of Dylan’s feeling about the blues. “The way I think about the blues,” he says, “comes from what I learned from Big Joe Williams. The blues is more than something to sit home and arrange. What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat. What’s depressing today is that many young singers are trying to get inside the blues, forgetting that those older singers used them to get outside their troubles.”
“Bob Dylan’s Blues” was composed spontaneously. It’s one of what he calls his “really off-the-cuff songs. I start with an idea, and then I feel what follows. Best way I can describe this one is that it’s sort of like walking by a side street. You gaze in and walk on.”
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” represents to Dylan a maturation of his feelings on this subject since the earlier and almost as powerful “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” which is not included here but which was released as a single record by Columbia. Unlike most of his song-writing contemporaries among city singers, Dylan doesn’t simply make a polemical point in his compositions. As in this sing about the psychopathology of peace-through-balance-of-terror, Dylan’s images are multiply (and sometimes horrifyingly) evocative. As a result, by transmuting his fierce convictions into what can only be called art, Dylan reaches basic emotions which few political statements or extrapolations of statistics have so far been able to touch. Whether a song or a singer can then convert others is something else again.
“Hard Rain,” adds Dylan, “is a desperate kind of song.” It was written during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 when those who allowed themselves to think of the impossible results of the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation were chilled by the imminence of oblivion. “Every line in it,” says Dylan, “is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.” Dylan treats “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” differently from most city singers . “A lot of people,” he says, “make it sort of a love song-slow and easy-going. But it isn’t a love song. It’s a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better. It’s as if you were talking to yourself. It’s a hard song to sing. I can sing it sometimes, but I ain’t that good yet. I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. I sometimes am able to do it, but it happens, when it happens, unconsciously. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool-a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points. As for me, I can make myself feel better some times, but at other times, it’s still hard to go to sleep at night.” Dylan’s accompaniment on this track includes Bruce Langhorne (guitar), George Barnes (bass guitar), Dick Wellstood (piano), Gene Ramey (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums).
“Bob Dylan’s Dream” is another of his songs which was transported for a time in his mind before being written down. It was initially set off after all-night conversation between Dylan and Oscar Brown, Jr., in Greenwich Village. “Oscar,” says Dylan, “is a groovy guy and the idea of this came from what we were talking about.” The song slumbered, however, until Dylan went to England in the winter of 1962. There he heard a singer (whose name he recalls as Martin Carthy) perform “Lord Franklin,” and that old melody found a new adapted home in “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” The song is a fond looking back at the easy camaraderie and idealism of the young when they are young. There is also in the “Dream” a wry but sad requiem for the friendships that have evaporated as different routes, geographical and otherwise, are taken.
Of “Oxford Town,” Dylan notes with laughter that “it’s a banjo tune I play on the guitar.” Otherwise, this account of the ordeal of James Meredith speaks grimly for itself.
“Talking World War III Blues” was about half formulated beforehand and half improvised at the recording session itself. The “talking blues” form is tempting to many young singers because it seems so pliable and yet so simple. However, the simpler a form, the more revealing it is of the essence of the performer. There’s no place to hide in the talking blues. Because Bob Dylan is so hugely and quixotically himself, he is able to fill all the space the talking blues affords with unmistakable originality. In this piece, for example, he has singularly distilled the way we all wish away our end, thermonuclear or “natural.” Or at least, the way we try to.
“Corrina, Corrina” has been considerably changed by Dylan. “I’m not one of those guys who goes around changing songs just for the sake of changing them. But I’d never heard Corrina, Corrina exactly the way it first was, so that this version is the way it came out of me.” As he indicates here, Dylan can be tender without being sentimental and his lyricism is laced with unabashed passion. The accompaniment is Dick Wellstood (piano), Howie Collins (guitar), Bruce Langhorne (guitar), Leonard Gaskin (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums).
“Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” was first heard by Dylan from a recording by a now-dead Texas blues singer. Dylan can only remember that his first name was Henry. “What especially stayed with me,” says Dylan, “was the plea in the title.” Here Dylan distills the buoyant expectancy of the love search.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Dylan isn’t limited to one or two ways of feeling his music. He can be poignant and mocking, angry and exultant, reflective and whoopingly joyful. The final “I Shall Be Free” is another of Dylan’s off-the-cuff songs in which he demonstrates the vividness, unpredictability and cutting edge of his wit.
This album, in sum, is the protean Bob Dylan as of the time of the recording. By the next recording, there will be more new songs and insights and experiences. Dylan can’t stop searching and looking and reflecting upon what he sees and hears. “Anything I can sing,” he observes, “I call a song. Anything I can’t sing, I call a poem. Anything I can’t sing or anything that’s too long to be a poem, I call a novel. But my novels don’t have the usual story lines. They’re about my feelings at a certain place at a certain time.” In addition to his singing and song writing, Dylan is working on three “novels.” One is about the week before he came to New York and his initial week in that city. Another is about South Dakota people he knew. And the third is about New York and a trip from New York to New Orleans.
Throughout everything he writes and sings, there is the surge of a young man looking into as many diverse scenes and people as he can find (“Every once in a while I got to ramble around”) and of a man looking into himself. “The most important thing I know I learned from Woody Guthrie,” says Dylan. “I’m my own person. I’ve got basic common rights-whether I’m here in this country or any other place. I’ll never finish saying everything I feel, but I’ll be doing my part to make some sense out of the way we’re living, and not living, now. All I’m doing is saying what’s on my mind the best way I know how. And whatever else you say about me, everything I do and sing and write comes out of me.”
It is this continuing explosion of a total individual, a young man growing free rather than absurd, that makes Bob Dylan so powerful and so personal and so important a singer. As you can hear in these performances.
– Nat Hentoff
3 – from The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
11 Outlined Epitaphs
By Bob Dylan
I end up then
in the early evenin’
blindly punchin’ at the blind
an’ blowin’ up
where t’ go?
what is it that’s exactly wrong?
who t’ picket?
who t’ fight?
behind what windows
will I at least
hear someone from the supper table
get up t’ ask
“did I hear someone outside just now?”
an hour ago
it came t’ me
in a second’s flash
an’ was all so clear
it still is now
yes it is
it’s maybe hidin’
it must be hidin’
the shot has shook
me up . . . for I’ve never
heard that sound before
bringing wild thoughts at first
now though they’ve leveled out
an’ been wrung out
leavin’ nothin’ but the strangeness
the roots within a washed-out cloth
drippin’ from the clothesline pole
useless an’ unnecessary
the blast it’s true
startled me back but for a spell
all pictures, posters an’ the like
that’re painted for me
ah but I turned
an’ the nex’ time I looked
the gloves of garbage
had clobbered the canvas
leavin’ truckloads of trash
clutterin’ the colors
with a blindin’ sting
forcin’ me t’ once again
slam the shutters of my eyes
but also me to wonderin’
when they’ll open
much much stronger
than anyone whose own eyes’re
aimed over here at mine
“when will he open up his eyes?”
“who him? doncha know? he’s a crazy man
he never opens up his eyes”
“but he’ll surely miss the world go by”
“nah! he lives in his own world”
“my my then he really must be a crazy man”
“yeah he’s a crazy man”
an’ so on spangled streets
an’ country roads
I hear sleigh bells
far into the field
sing an’ laugh
with flickerin’ voices
I stop an’ smile
an’ rest awhile
watchin’ the candles
of sundown dim
unnoticed for my eyes’re closed
The town I was born in holds no memories
but for the honkin’ foghorns
the rainy mist
the rocky cliffs
I have carried no feelings
up past the Lake Superior hills
the town I grew up in is the one
that has left me with my legacy visions
it was not a rich town
my parents were not rich
it was not a poor town
an’ my parents were not poor
it was a dyin’ town
(it was a dyin’ town)
a train line cuts the ground
showin’ where the fathers an’ mothers
of me an’ my friends had picked
up an’ moved from
t’ south Hibbing.
old north Hibbing . . .
with its old stone courthouse
decayin’ in the wind
windows crashed out
the breath of its broken walls
being smothered in clingin’ moss
the old school
where my mother went to
rottin’ shiverin’ but still livin’
standin’ cold an’ lonesome
arms cut off
with even the moon bypassin’ its jagged body
pretendin’ not t’ see
an’ givin’ it its final dignity
dogs howled over the graveyard
where even the markin’ stones were dead
an’ there was no sound except for the wind
blowin’ through the high grass
an’ the bricks that fell back
t’ the dirt from a slight stab
of the breeze . . . it was as though
the rains of wartime had
left the land bombed-out an’ shattered
is where everybody came t’ start their
town again. but the winds of the
north came followin’ an’ grew fiercer
an’ the years went by
but I was young
an’ so I ran
an’ kept runnin’ . . .
I am still runnin’ I guess
but my road has seen many changes
for I’ve served my time as a refugee
in mental terms an’ in physical terms
an’ many a fear has vanished
an’ many an attitude has fallen
an’ many a dream has faded
an’ I know I shall meet the snowy North
again-but with changed eyes nex’ time ’round
t’ walk lazily down its streets
an’ linger by the edge of town
find old friends if they’re still around
talk t’ the old people
an’ the young people
runnin’ yes . . .
but stoppin’ for a while
embracin’ what I left
an’ lovin’ it-for I learned by now
never t’ expect
what it cannot give me
In times behind, I too
wished I’d lived
in the hungry thirties
an’ blew in Woody
t’ New York City
an’ sang for dimes
on subway trains
satisfied at a nickel fare
an’ passin’ the hat
an’ hittin’ the bars
on eighth avenue
an’ makin’ the rounds
t’ the union halls
but when I came in
the fares were higher
up t’ fifteen cents an’ climbin’
an’ those bars that Woody’s guitar
rattled . . . they’ve changed
they’ve been remodeled
an’ those union halls
like the cio
an’ the nmu
come now! can you see’em
for a song
ah where are those forces of yesteryear?
why didn’t they meet me here
an’ greet me here?
the underground’s gone deeper
says the old chimney sweeper
the underground’s outa work
sing the bells of New York
the underground’s more dangerous
ring the bells of Los Angeles
the underground’s gone
cry the bells of San Juan
but where has it gone to
ring the bells of Toronto
strength now shines through my window
regainin’ me an’ rousin’ me
day by day
from the weariness
of walkin’ with ghosts
that rose an’ had risen
from the ruins an’ remains
of the model T past
even though I clutched t’ its sheet
I was still refused
an’ left confused
for there was nobody there
t’ let me in
a wasteland wind whistled
from behind the billboard “there’s nobody home
all has moved out”
I turned indeed
flinched at first
but said “ok
I get the message”
feelin’ unwanted? no
I felt nothin’
for there was nobody there
I didn’t see no one
t’ want or unwant
to love or unlove
maybe they’re there
but won’t let me in
not takin’ chances
on the ones the grittin’ of my teeth
for only a second
my mind has just been
an’ so I step back t’ the street
an’ then turn further down the road
poundin’ on doors
just out lookin’
no not a stranger but rather someone
who just doesn’t live here
never pretendin’ t’ be knowin’
what’s worth seekin’
but at least
without ghosts by my side
t’ betray my childishness
t’ leadeth me down false trails
an’ maketh me drink from muddy waters
yes it is I
who is poundin’ at your door
if it is inside
who hears the noise
where is our party?
where all member’s held equal
an’ vow t’ infiltrate that thought
among the people it hopes t’ serve
an’ sets a respected road
for all of those like me
“I am ragin’ly against absolutely
everything that wants t’ force nature
t’ be unnatural (be it human or otherwise)
an’ I am violently for absolutely
everything that will fight those
forces (be them human or otherwise)”
oh what is the name of this gallant group?
lead me t’ the ballot box
what man do we run?
how many votes will it take
for a new set of teeth
in the congress mouths?
how many hands have t’ be raised
before hair will grow back
on the white house head?
a Boston tea party don’t mean the
same thing . . . as it did in the newborn
years before. even the
meanin’ of the word
has changed. ha
ha . . . t’ say the least
yes that party is truly gone
but where is the party t’ dump the feelings
of the fiery cross burners
an’ flamin’ match carriers?
if there was such a party
they would’ve been dumped
long before this . . . who is supposed
t’ dump ‘em now?
when all can see their threads hang weak
but still hold strong
loyal but dyin’
fightin’ for breath
who then will kill its misery?
what sea shall we pollute?
when told t’ learn
what others know
in order for a soothin’ life
an’ t’ conquer many a brainwashed dream
I was set forth the forces on records an’ books
from the forces that were sold t’ me
an’ could be found in hung-up style
wanderin’ through crowded valleys
searchin’ for what others knew
with the eagles’ shadows
from high mountains
an’ me just walkin’
butterflies in my head
an’ bitter by now
(here! take this kid an’ learn it well
but why sir? my arms’re so heavy
I said take it. it’ll do yuh good
but I ain’t learned last night’s lesson yet.
am I gonna have t’ get mad with you?
no no gimme gimme just stick it on top
a the rest a the stuff
here! if yuh learn it well yuh’ll
get an A . . . an’ don’t do anything
I wouldn’t do)
and with each new brightnin’ phrase
till I found myself almost swallowed
deep in burden
but at last I heard
the eagle drool
as I zombie strolled
up past the foothills
an’ I stopped cold
“I don’t wanna learn no more
I had enough”
an’ I took a deep breath
an’ ran for my life
back t’ the highway
away from the mountain
not carin’ no more
what people knew about things
but rather how they felt about things
runnin’ down another road
through time an’ dignity
an’ I have never taken off my boots
no matter how the miles have burnt
my feet . . .
an’ I’m still on that road, Jim
I’m still sleepin’ at night by its side
an’ eatin’ where it’ll lead me t’ food
where state lines don’t stand
an’ knowledge don’t count
when feelings are hurt
an’ I am on the side a them hurt feelings
plunged on by unsensitive hammers
an’ made t’ bleed by rusty nails
an’ I look t’ you, Jim
where is the party for those kind of feelings?
how’re the gamblers that wheel an’ deal an’
shuffle ‘em around gonna be got outa the game?
from here in
an’ from now on
Al’s wife claimed I can’t be happy
as the New Jersey night ran backwards
an’ vanished behind our rollin’ ear
“I dig the colors outside, an’ I’m happy”
“but you sing such depressin’ songs”
“but you say so on your terms”
“but my terms aren’t so unreal”
“yes but they’re still your terms”
“but what about others that think
in those terms”
“Lenny Bruce says there’re no dirty
words . . . just dirty minds an’ I say there’re
no depressed words just depressed minds”
“but how’re you happy an’ when ‘re you happy”
“I’m happy enough now”
“cause I’m calmly lookin’ outside an’ watchin’
the night unwind”
“what’d yuh mean unwind?”
“I mean somethin’ like there’s no end t’ it
an’ it’s so big
that every time I see it it’s like seein’
for the first time”
“so anything that ain’t got no end’s
just gotta be poetry in one
way or another”
“yeah, but . . . “
“an’ poetry makes me feel good”
“but . . .”
“an’ poetry makes me feel happy”
“ok but . . . “
“for the lack of a better word”
“but what about the songs you sing on stage?”
“they’re nothin’ but the unwindin’ of
Woody Guthrie was my last idol
he was the last idol
because he was the first idol
I’d ever met
face t’ face
that men are men
shatterin’ even himself
as an idol
an’ that men have reasons
for what they do
an’ what they say
an’ every action can be questioned
leavin’ no command
untouched an’ took for granted
obeyed an’ bowed down to
forgettin’ your own natural instincts
(for there’re a million reasons
in the world
an’ a million instincts
an’ it’s none too many times
the two shall meet)
the unseen idols create the fear
an’ trample hope when busted
Woody never made me fear
and he didn’t trample any hopes
for he just carried a book of Man
an’ gave it t’ me t’ read awhile
an’ from it I learned my greatest lesson
you ask “how does it feel t’ be an idol?”
it’d be silly of me t’ answer, wouldn’t it . . .?
A Russian has three an’ a half red eyes
five flamin’ antennas
drags a beet-colored ball an’ chain
an’ wants t’ slip germs
into my Coke machine
“burn the tree stumps at the border”
about the sex-hungry lunatics
out warmongerin’ in the early mornin’
“poison the sky so the planes won’t come”
yell the birch colored knights with
“an’ murder all the un-Americans”
say the card-carryin’ American
(yes we burned five books last week)
as my friend, Bobby Lee,
walks back an’ forth
free now from his native Harlem
where his ma still sleeps at night
hearin’ rats inside the sink
an’ underneath her hardwood bed
an’ walls of holes
where the cold comes in
wrapped in blankets
an’ she, God knows,
ain’t there no closer villains
that the baby-eaten’ Russians
rats eat babies too
I talked with one
of the sons of Germany
while walkin’ once on foreign ground
an’ I learned that
as we here in the states
Robert E. Lee
fasten up your holster
an’ buy new bolts
for your neck
there is only up wing
an’ down wing
last night I dreamt
that while healin’ ceiling
up in Harlem
I saw Canada ablaze
an’ nobody knowin’
nothin’ about it
except of course
who held the match
Yes, I am a thief of thoughts
not, I pray, a stealer of souls
I have built an’ rebuilt
upon what is waitin’
for the sand on the beaches
carves many castles
on what has been opened
before my time
a word, a tune, a story, a line
keys in the wind t’ unlock my mind
an’ t’ grant my closet thoughts backyard air
it is not of me t’ sit an’ ponder
wonderin’ an’ wastin’ time
thinkin’ of thoughts that haven’t been thunk
thinkin’ of dreams that haven’t been dreamt
an’ new ideas that haven’t been wrote
an’ new words t’ fit into rhyme
(if it rhymes, it rhymes
if it don’t, it don’t
if it comes, it comes
if it won’t, it won’t)
no I must react an’ spit fast
with weapons of words
wrapped in tunes
that’ve rolled through the simple years
teasin’ me t’ treat them right
t’ reshape them an’ restring them
t’ protect my own world
from the mouths of all those
who’d eat it
an’ hold it back from eatin’ its own food
for all songs lead back t’ the sea
an’ at one time, there was
no singin’ tongue t’ imitate it)
t’ make new sounds out of old sounds
an’ new words out of old words
an’ not t’ worry about the new rules
for they ain’t been made yet
an’ t’ shout my singin’ mind
knowin’ that it is me an’ my kind
that will make those rules . . .
if the people of tomorrow
really need the rules of today
rally ’round all you prosecutin’ attorneys
the world is but a courtroom
but I now the defendants better ‘n you
and while you’re busy prosecutin’
we’re busy whistlin’
cleanin’ up the courthouse
winkin’ t’ one another
your spot is comin’ up soon
Oh where were these magazines
when I was bummin’ up an’ down
up an’ down the street?
is it that they too just sleep
in their high thrones . . . openin’
their eyes when people pass
expectin’ each t’ bow as they go by
an’ say “thank you Mr. Magazine.
did I answer all my questions right?”
ah but mine is of another story
for I do not care t’ be made an oddball
bouncin’ past reporters’ pens
cooperatin’ with questions
aimed at eyes that want t’ see
“there’s nothin’ here
go back t’ sleep
or look at the ads
on page 33″
I don’t like t’ be stuck in print
starin’ out at cavity minds
who gobble chocolate candy bars
quite content an’ satisfied
their day complete
at seein’ what I eat for breakfast
the kinds of clothes I like t’ wear
an’ the hobbies that I like t do
I never eat
I run naked when I can
my hobby’s collectin’ airplane glue
“come come now Mr. Dylan our readers want
t’ know the truth”
“that is the bare hungry sniffin’ truth”
“Mr. Dylan, you’re very funny, but really now”
“that’s all I have t’ say today”
“but you’d better answer”
“that sounds like some kind a threat”
“it just could be ha ha ha ha”
“what will my punishment”
“a rumor tale on you ha ha”
“a what kind of tale ha ha ha ha”
“yes well you’ll see, Mr. Dylan, you’ll see”
an’ I seen
or rather I have saw
your questions’re ridiculous
an’ most of your magazines’re also ridiculous
caterin’ t’ people
who want t’ see
the boy nex’ door
no I shall not corporate with reporters’ whims
there’re other kinds of boys nex’ door.
even though they’ve slanted me
they cannot take what I do away from me
they can disguise it
make it out t’ be a joke
an’ make me seem
the ridiculous one
in the eyes of their readers
they can build me up
accordin’ t’ their own terms
so that they are able
t’ bust me down
an’ “expose” me
in their own terms
givin’ blind advice
t’ unknown eyes
who have no way of knowin’
that I “expose” myself
every time I step out
on the stage
The night passes fast for me now
an’ after dancin’ out its dance
undresses leavin’ nothin’ but its naked dawn
I have seen it sneak up countless
times . . . leavin’ me conscious
with a thousand sleepy thoughts
an’ tryin’ t’ run
I think at these times
of many things an’ many people
I think of Sue most times
with the lines of a swan
as a fawn in the forest
by this time deep in dreams
with her long hair spread out
the color of the sun
soakin’ the dark
an’ scatterin’ light
t’ the dungeons of my constant night
I think love poems
as a poor lonesome invalid
knowin’ of my power
the good souls of the road
that know no sickness
except that of kindness
(you ask of love?
there is no love
except in silence
an’ silence doesn’t say a word)
ah but Sue
she knows me well
perhaps too well
an’ is above all
the true fortuneteller of my soul
I think perhaps the only one
(you ask of truth?
there is no truth
what fool can claim t’ carry the truth
for it is but a drunken matter
tragic? no I think not)
the door still knocks
an’ the wind still blows
bringin’ me my memories
of friends an’ sounds an’ colors
that can’t escape
trapped in keyholes
Eric . . . bearded Eric
far in Boston
buried beneath my window
yes I feel t’ dig the ground up
but I’m so tired
an’ know not where t’ look for tools
rap tap tap
the rattlin’ wind
blows Geno in
tellin’ me of philistines
that he’d run into durin’ the night
he stomps across my floor
an’ drink cold coffee an’ old wine
light of feelin’
as I listen t’ one of my own tongues
take the reins
guide the path
an’ drop me off . . . headin’ back again
t’ take care of his end of the night
slam an’ Geno
then too is gone
outside a siren whines
leadin’ me down another line
I jump but get sidetracked
by clunkin’ footsteps
down the street
(it is as though my mind
ain’t mine t’ make up
I wonder if the cockroaches
still crawl in Dave an’ Terri’s
fifteenth street kitchen
I wonder if they’re the same cockroaches
ah yes the times’ve changed
Dave still scorns me for not readin’ books
an’ Terri still laughs at my rakish ways
but fifteenth street has been abandoned
we have moved . . .
the cats across the roof
mad in love
scream into the drain pipes
bringing’ in the sounds of music
the only music
an’ it is I who is ready
ready t’ listen
a silver peace
becomes the nerves of mornin’
an’ I stand up an’ yawn
hot with jumpin’ pulse
for I am runnin’ in a fair race
with no racetrack but the night
an’ no competition but the dawn
So at last at least
the sky for me
is a pleasant gray
or meanin’ snow
constantly meanin’ change
but a change forewarned
either t’ the clearin’ of the clouds
or t’ the pourin’ of the storms
an’ after it’s desire
returnin’ with me underneath
returnin’ with it
it will guide me well
across all bridges inside all tunnels
never failin’ . . .
with the sounds of Francois Villon
echoin’ through my mad streets
as I stumble on lost cigars
of Bertolt Brecht
an’ empty bottles
of Brendan Behan
the hypnotic words
of A. L.. Lloyd
each one bendin’ like its own song
an’ the woven’ spell of Paul Clayton
entrancin’ me like China’s plague
drownin’ in the lungs of Edith Piaf
an’ in the mystery of Marlene Dietrich
the dead poems of Eddie Freeman
love songs of Allen Ginsberg
an’ jail songs of Ray Bremser
the narrow tunes of Modigliani
an’ the singin’ plains of Harry Jackson
the cries of Charles Aznavour
with melodies of Yevtushenko
through the quiet fire of Miles Davis
above the bells of William Blake
an’ beat visions of Johnny Cash
an’ the saintliness of Pete Seeger
strokin’ my senses
when I need t’ drown
for my road is blessed
with many flowers
an’ the sounds of flowers
liftin’ lost voices of the ground’s people
no matter what creed
no matter what color skin
no matter what language an’ no matter what land
for all people laugh
in the same tongue
in the same tongue
it’s all endless
an’ it’s all songs
it’s just one big world of songs
an’ they’re all on loan
if they’re only turned loose t’ sing
lonely? ah yes
but it is the flowers an’ the mirrors
of flowers that now meet my
an’ mine shall be a strong loneliness
t’ the depths of my freedom
an’ that, then, shall
remain my song
there’s a movie called
Shoot the Piano Player
the last line proclaimin’
“music, man, that’s where it’s at”
it is a religious line
outside, the chimes rung
are still ringin’
4 – from Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964)
Some Other Kinds Of Songs . . .
Poems by Bob Dylan
dressed in black
on her back
between the law
firescaped an’ substroked
lives by trade
sits an’ waits on fire plug
digs the heat
across the street
of bed springs
you ask of order
for a dollar an’ a quarter
dressed in black
about t’ crack
i’m givin’ you
myself t’ pawn
for françoise hardy
at the seine’s edge
a giant shadow
of notre dame
seeks t’ grab my foot
whirl by on thin bicycles
swirlin’ lifelike colors of leather spin
the breeze yawns food
far from the bellies
or erhard meetin’ johnson
piles of lovers
lay themselves on their books. boats.
clothed in curly mustaches
float on the benches
blankets of tourist
in bright red nylon shirts
with straw hats of ambassadors
(cannot hear nixon’s
dawg bark now)
will sail away
as the sun goes down
the doors of the river are open
i must remember that
i too play the guitar
it’s easy t’ stand here
more lovers pass
from the walls of the water then
i look across t’ what they call
the right bank
“i could make you crawl
if i was payin’ attention”
he said munchin’ a sandwich
in between chess moves
“what d’ you wanna make
me crawl for?”
“i mean i just could”
“could make me crawl”
“yeah, make you crawl!”
“humm, funny guy you are”
“no, i just play t’ win,
“well if you can’t win me,
then you’re the worst player
i ever played”
“what d’ you mean?”
“i mean i lose all the time”
his jaw tightened an’ he took
a deep breath
“hummm, now i gotta beat you”
straight away an’ into the ring
juno takes twenty pills an’
paints all day. life he says
is a head kinda thing. outside
of chicago, private come down
junkie nurse home heals countless
common housewives strung out
fully on drugstore dope, legally
sold t’ help clean the kitchen.
lenny bruce shows his seventh
avenue hand-made movies, while a
bunch of women sneak little white
tablets into shoes, stockings, hats
an’ other hidin’ places. newspapers
tell neither. irma goes t’ israel
an’ writes me that there, they
hate nazis much more ‘n we over here
do. eichmann dies yes, an’ west
germany sends eighty-year-old
pruned-out gestapo hermit off t’
the penitentiary. in east berlin
renata tells me that i must wear
tie t’ get in t’ this certain place
i wanna go. back here, literate
old man with rebel flag above
home sweet home sign says he won’t
vote for goldwater. “talks too
much. should keep his mouth shut”
i walk between backyards an’ see
little boy with feather in his hair
lyin’ dead on the grass. he gets
up an’ hands feather t’ another
little boy who immediately falls
down. “it’s my turn t’ be the good
guy . . . take that, redskin” bang bang.
henry miller stands on other side
of ping pong table an’ keeps
talkin’ about me. “did you ask
the poet fellow if he wants
something t’ drink” he says t’
someone gettin’ all the drinks.
i drop my ping pong paddle
an’ look at the pool. my worst
enemies don’t even put me down
in such a mysterious way.
college student trails me with
microphone an’ tape machine.
what d’ you think a the communist
party? what communist party?
he rattles off names an’ numbers.
he can’t answer my question. he
tries harder. i say “you don’t
have t’ answer my question” he
gets all squishy. i say
there’s no answer t’ my question
any more ‘n there’s an answer t’
your question. ferris wheel runs
in california park an’ the sky trembles.
turns red. above hiccups an’ pointed
fingers. i tell reporter lady that yes
i’m monstrously against the house
unamerican activities committee
an’ also the cia an’ i beg her please
not t’ ask me why for it would take
too long t’ tell she asks me about
humanity an’ i say i’m not sure
what that word means. she wants me
t’ say what she wants me t’ say. she
wants me t’ say what she
can understand. a loose-tempered fat
man in borrowed stomach slams wife
in the face an’ rushes off t’ civil
rights meeting. while some strange
girl chases me up smoky mountain
tryin’ t’ find out what sign i am.
i take allen ginsberg t’ meet fantastic
great beautiful artist an’ no trespassin’
boards block up all there is t’ see.
eviction. infection gangrene an’
atom bombs. both ends exist only
because there is someone who wants
profit. boy loses eyesight. becomes
airplane pilot. people pound their
chests an’ other people’s chests an’
interpret bibles t’ suit their own
means. respect is just a misinterpreted word
an’ if Jesus Christ himself came
down through these streets, Christianity
would start all over again. standin’
on the stage of all ground. insects
play in their own world. snakes
slide through the weeds. ants come an’
go through the grass. turtles an’ lizards
make their way through the sand. everything
crawls. everything . . .
an’ everything still crawls
on the move
hits the street
between pillars of chips
springs on them like samson
is on the prowl
you’ll only lose
is a hard card t’ play
wrecked my hand
left me here t’ stand
little tin men play
their drums now
upside my head
in the midst of cheers
with pawed out hearts
they’re still good
but i should drop
an’ dean martin should apologize
t’ the rolling stones
young babies horseback ride
their fathers’ necks
two dudes in hopped-up ford
for the tenth time
have rolled through town
it’s your turn baby t’
cut the deck
on you’re goin’ under
stayed too long
down the way
says jack o’diamonds
(a high card)
(but ain’t high enough)
is a hard card t’ play
jack o’diamonds used t’ laugh at me
now wants t’ collect from me
used t’ be ashamed of me
now wants t’ walk ‘long side of me
wears but a single glove
as he shoves
the moon’s too bright
as he’s fixed mirrors
’round the room at night
it’s hard t’ think
there’s probably somethin’
in my drink
should pour it out
inside the sink
would throw it in his face
but it’d do no good
give no gain
just leave a stain
an’ all his crap
needs some acid
in his lap
what hour now
it feels late somehow
my hounddog bays
need more ashtrays
i can’t even remember
the early days
please don’t stay
gather your bells an’ go
(can open for riches)
(but then it switches)
a colorful picture but
beats only the ten
is a hard card t’ play
jack o’diamonds stays indoors
wants me t’ fight his wars
jack o’diamonds is a hard card t’ play
never certain. in the middle
commentin’ on the songs of birds
chucklin’ at screamin’ mothers
jack o’diamonds drains
raffles what’s left over
across the table
t’ little boy card sharks
who just sat down
t’ get off their feet
bad luck run’s all in fun
it’s your choice. your voice
run for cover
you choose t’ lose
(a king’s death)
(at the ace’s breath)
is a hard card t’ play
run go get out of here
go fit your battle
do your thing
i lost my glasses
can’t see jericho
the wind is tyin’ knots
in my hair
t’ be straight
no i shan’t go with you
i can’t go with you
on the brooklyn bridge
he was cockeyed
an’ stood on the edge
there was a priest talkin’ to him
i was shiftin’ myself around
so i could see from all sides
in an’ out of stretched necks
cops held people back
the lady in back of me
burst into my groin
“sick sick some are so sick”
like a circus trapeze act
“oh i hope he don’t do it”
he was on the other side of the railin’
both eyes fiery wide
wet with sweat
the mouth of a shark
rolled up soiled sleeves
his arms were thick an’ tattooed
an’ he wore a silver watch
i could tell at a glance
he was uselessly lonely
i couldn’t stay an’ look at him
i couldn’t stay an’ look at him
because i suddenly realized that
deep in my heart
i really wanted
t’ see him jump
(a mob. each member knowin’
that they all know an’ see the same thing
they have the same thing in common.
can stare at each other in total blankness
they do not have t’ speak an’ not feel guilty
about havin’ nothing t’ say. everyday boredom
soaked by the temporary happiness
of that their search is finally over
for findin’ a way t’ communicate a leech cookout
giant cop out. all mobs i would think.
an’ i was in it an’ caught by the excitement of it)
an’ i walked away
i wanted t’ see him jump so bad
that i had t’ walk away an’ hide
through all those people on
pants legs in my face
i don’t need no clothes
an’ cross the street
skull caps climb
by themselves out of manholes
an’ shoeboxes ride
the cracks of the sidewalk
i’ve suddenly been turned into
but does anybody
wanna be a fisherman
any more ‘n i
don’t wanna be a fish
down in new orleans
in new york city)
no they can’t make it
off the banks of their river
i am in their river
(i wonder if he jumped
i really wonder if he jumped)
i turn corner
t’ get off river
an’ get off river
still goin’ up
i about face
that i’m on another river
(this time. king rex
blesses me with plastic beads
an’ toot toot whistles
paper rings an’ things.
st. claude an’ esplanade
pass an’ pull
everything out of shape
joe b. stuart
white southern poet
holds me up
we charge through casa
get kicked out of colored bar
hypnotic stars explode
in louisiana murder night
arm in arm
must see you in mobile then
down governor nichel
ok i can get off this river too
on bleeker street
i meet many friends
who look back at me
as if they know something
i don’t know
rocco an’ his brothers
say that some people
are worse hung up than me
i don’t wanna hear it
a basketball drops through
an’ i recall that the
living theater’s been busted
(has the guy jumped yet?)
weave down sixth avenue
with colt forty-fives
stickin’ out of their
an’ for the first time
in my life
i’m proud that
i haven’t read into
any masterpiece books
(an’ why did i wanna see that
poor soul so dead?)
first of all two people get
together an’ they want their doors
enlarged. second of all, more
people see what’s happenin’ an’
come t’ help with the door
enlargement. the ones that arrive
however have nothin’ more than
“let’s get these doors enlarged”
t’ say t’ the ones who were
there in the first place. it follows then that
the whole thing revolves around
nothing but this door enlargement idea.
third of all, there’s a group now existin’
an’ the only thing that keeps them friends
is that they all want the doors enlarged.
obviously, the doors’re then enlarged
fourth of all,
after this enlargement
the group has t’ find
something else t’ keep
them together or
else the door enlargement
will prove t’ be
on fourteenth street
i meet someone
who i know in front
wants t’ put me
wants me t’ be on
in all honesty
he wants t’ drag
me down there
i realize gravity
is my only enemy
loneliness has clutched
hands an’ squeezes you
into wrongin’ others
everybody has t’ do things
keep themselves occupied
the workin’ ones
have their minds on
victims of the system
pack movie theaters
an’ who an’ of what
sadistic company is he
from that has the right
t’ condemn others as trivial
an’ who really is t’ blame
for one man carryin’ a gun
it is impossible that
slaves are of no special color
an’ the links of chains
fall into no special order
how good an actor do you have to be
and play God
(in greece, a little old lady
a worker lady
looks at me
rubs her chin
an’ by sign language asks
how come i’m so unshaven
“the sea is very beautiful here”
pointin’ t’ my chin.
an’ she believes me
needs no other answer
i strum the guitar
her bandana flies
i too realize that
she will die here
one the side of this sea
her death is certain here
my death is unknown
an’ i come t’ think that
i love her)
i talk t’ people every day
involved in some scene
good an’ evil are but words
invented by those
that are trapped in scenes
on what grounds are the
grounds for judgment
an i think also
that there is not
one thing anyplace
anywhere that makes any
sense. there are only tears
an’ there is only sorrow
there are no problems
i have seen what i’ve loved
slip away an’ vanish. i still
love what i’ve lost but t’ run
an’ try t’ catch it’d
be very greedy
for the rest of my life
i will never chase a livin’ soul
into the prison grasp
of my own self-love
i can’t believe that i have
t’ hate anybody
an’ when i do
it will only be out of fear
an’ i’ll know it
i know no answers an’ no truth
for absolutely no soul alive
i will listen t’ no one
who tells me morals
there are no morals
an’ i dream a lot
so go joshua
go fit your battle
i have t’ go t’ the woods
for a while
i hope you understand
but if you don’t
it doesn’t matter
i will be with you
nex’ time around
don’t think about me
i’ll be ok
just go ahead out there
right out there
do what you say
you’re gonna do
an’ who knows
someone might even
i used t’ hate enzo
i used t’ hate him
so much that i could’ve killed him
he was rotten an’ ruthless
an’ after what he could get
i was sure of that
my beloved one met him
in a far-off land
an’ she stayed longer there
because of him
i croaked with exhaustion
that he was actually makin’ her happy
i never knew him
sometimes i would see him
on my ceilin’
i could’ve shot him
the rovin’ phony
the romantic idiot
i know about guys for
i myself am a guy
poison swings its pendulums
with a seasick sensation
an’ i used t’ want t’ trample on him
i used t’ want t’ massacre him
i used t’ want t’ murder him
i wanted t’ be like him so much
that i ached
i used t’ hate enzo
michelangelo would’ve wept
if he saw but once where charlie slept
(whoa, charlie, i’m afraid you’ve stepped
beyond the borders of being kept)
what price what price what price disgrace
for sleepin’ on a cherub’s face?
an amazon chick
with an amazin’ pancho villa face
thumb out on highway
stands in the boilin’ sun
countin’ cars go by
yes i knew zapata well
some of my friends
my very best
have even looked
like the japanese
at certain times
i myself think they’re
grand . . . make great radios
do you ever see liz taylor
pack is heavy
there is ink
runnin’ down its dusty straps
am going there too
won’t need floor scrubbed
won’t need anything
a place fumbles in the sky
must make it t’ trinidad
a flyin’ saucer texan
covered in cuff links
ate his steak for breakfast
an’ now his car radiator
has blown up down the road
back here, a sixty-three
crashes into girl
an’ ten birds
the colorado border
johnny (little johnny)
with his father’s hammer
nailed five flies
t’ the kitchen window
trapped baby bumblebees
in orange juice bottles
rib whipped his
an’ stuck his sister’s hand
in the garbage disposal
dad’s football star
named all the girls
that did it
an’ never knew a
one that didn’t
sore loser johnny
bad in math
but his parents fixed it
got too drunk in bars
an’ his parents fixed
clean lived in
something his parents
could be proud of
no matter what the
cost to him
a structure of a manly duckling
but his parents
couldn’t buy him
into the college
where he wanted t’ go
here son have a car good boy
a couldn’t care less
his parents supported him still
they bought new hankies
an’ johnny got lots of flowers
an’ so as spoked prongs
pierce from perilous heights
through soft pillows,
there IS a sound
but you must be
aware of poor johnny
t’ hear it
you tell me about politics
you speak of rats.
geese. a world of peace
you stumble stammer
pound your fist
an’ i tell you there are no politics
tell me how much you care
you cheat the lunch counter man
out of a pack of cigarettes
an’ i tell you there are no politics
you tell me of goons’
graves. ginks an’ finks
an’ of what you’ve read
an’ how things should be
an’ what you’d do if . . .
an i say someone’s been
tamperin’ with your head
raise your voice
an’ gyrate yourself
t’ the tone of principles
your arm is raised
an’ i tell you there are no politics
in the afternoon you run
t’ keep appointments
with false lovers
an’ this leaves you
drained by nightfall
you ask me questions
an’ i say that every question
if it’s a truthful question
can be answered by askin’ it
i say it’s got nothin’ t’ do with
you turn your eyes
t’ the radio
an’ tell me what a
wasteland exists in television
you rant an’ rave
your fingers crawl the walls
the screen door leaves black marks
across your nose
your breath remains on
bullfight posters hang crooked above your head
an’ the phone rings constantly
you tell me how much i’ve changed
as if that is all there is t’ say
out of the side of your mouth
while talkin’ on the wires
in a completely different
tone of voice
than you had a minute ago
when speakin’ t’ me about something else
i say what’s this about changes?
you say “let’s go get drunk”
light a cigarette
“an’ throw up on the world”
you go t’ your closet
mumblin’ about the phoniness of churches
an’ spastic national leaders
i say groovy but
also holy hollowness too
yes hollow holiness
an’ that some of my best friends
know people that go t’ church
you blow up
say “can’t no one say nothin’ t’ you”
s say “what do You think?”
your face laughs
you say “oh yeeeeeaah?”
i’m gonna break up i say
an’ reach for your coat
‘neath piles of paper slogans
i say your house is dirty
you say you should talk
your hallway stinks as
we walk through it
your stairs tilt drastically
your railing’s rotted
an’ there’s blood at the
bottom of your steps
you say t’ meet bricks with bricks
i say t’ meet bricks with chalk
you tell me monster floor plans
an’ i tell you about a bookie shop
in boston givin’ odds on the presidential
i’m not gonna bet for a while i say
in the alley garbage pot
you say “nothin’s perfect”
an’ i tell you again
there are no
high treachery sails
its last wedding song
bang sing the bells
the low pauper’s prayer
rice rags in blossom
blow in a fleet
ribbons in the street
white as a sheet
(a Mexican cigarette)
the people’ve been set
t’ try t’ forget
whole life’s a honeymoon
i’m not gettin’ caught
by all this rot
as i vanish down the road
with a starving actress
on each arm
(for better or best
in sickness an’ madness)
i do take thee
i’m already married
so i’ll continue as one
ah fair blondy
ye lead me blindly
I am in the gravel
an’ down on the gamut
for our anniversary
you can make me nervous
clink sings the tower
clang sang the preacher
inside of the altar
outside of the theater
when treachery prevails
the forgotten rosary
itself t’ a cross
an’ rich men
stare t’ their
private own-ed murals
all is lost Cinderella
all is lost
5 – from Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
i’m standing there watching the parade/
feeling combination of sleepy john estes.
jayne mansfield. humphry bogart/morti-
mer snerd. murph the surf and so forth/
erotic hitchhiker wearing japanese
blanket. gets my attention by asking didn’t
he see me at this hootenanny down in
puerto vallarta, mexico/i say no you must
be mistaken. i happen to be one of the
Supremes/then he rips off his blanket
an’ suddenly becomes a middle-aged druggist.
up for district attorney. he starts scream-
ing at me you’re the one. you’re the one
that’s been causing all them riots over in
vietnam. immediately turns t’ a bunch of
people an’ says if elected, he’ll have me
electrocuted publicly on the next fourth
of july. i look around an’ all these people
he’s talking to are carrying blowtorches/
needless t’ say, i split fast go back t’ the
nice quiet country. am standing there writing
WHAAT? on my favorite wall when who should
pass by in a jet plane but my recording
engineer “i’m here t’ pick up you and your
lastest works of art. do you need any help
my songs’re written with the kettledrum
in mind/a touch of any anxious color. un-
mentionable. obvious. an’ people perhaps
like a soft brazilian singer . . . i have
given up at making any attempt at perfection/
the fact that the white house is filled with
leaders that’ve never been t’ the apollo
theater amazes me. why allen ginsberg was
not chosen t’ read poetry at the inauguration
boggles my mind/if someone thinks norman
mailer is more important than hank williams
that’s fine. i have no arguments an’ i
never drink milk. i would rather model har-
monica holders than discuss aztec anthropology/
english literature. or history of the united
nations. i accept chaos. I am not sure whether
it accepts me. i know there’re some people terrified
of the bomb. but there are other people terrified
t’ be seen carrying a modern screen magazine.
experience teaches that silence terrifies people
the most . . . i am convinced that all souls have
some superior t’ deal with/like the school
system, an invisible circle of which no one
can think without consulting someone/in the
face of this, responsibility/security, success
mean absolutely nothing. . . i would not want
t’ be bach. mozart. tolstoy. joe hill. gertrude
stein or james dean/they are all dead. the
Great books’ve been written. the Great sayings
have all been said/I am about t’ sketch You
a picture of what goes on around here some-
times. though I don’t understand too well
myself what’s really happening. i do know
that we’re all gonna die someday an’ that no
death has ever stopped the world. my poems
are written in a rhythm of unpoetic distortion/
divided by pierced ears. false eyelashes/sub-
tracted by people constantly torturing each
other. with a melodic purring line of descriptive
hollowness — seen at times through dark sunglasses
an’ other forms of psychic explosion. a song is
anything that can walk by itself/i am called
a songwriter. a poem is a naked person . . . some
people say that i am a poet
(end of pause)
an’ so i answer my recording engineer
“yes. well i could use some help in getting
this wall in the plane”
6 – from Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
On the slow train time does not interfere & at the Arabian crossing waits White Heap, the man from the newspaper & behind him the hundred Inevitables made of solid rock & stone — the Cream Judge & the Clown — the doll house where Savage Rose & Fixable live simply in their wild animal luxury . . . . Autumn, with two zeros above her nose arguing over the sun being dark or Bach is as famous as its commotion & that she herself — not Orpheus — is the logical poet “I am the logical poet” she screams “Spring? Spring is only the beginning!” she attempts to make Cream Judge jealous by telling him of down-to-earth people & while the universe is erupting, she points to the slow train & prays for rain and for time to interfere — she is not extremely fat but rather progressively unhappy . . . . the hundred Inevitables hide their predictions & go to bars & drink & get drunk in their very special conscious way & when tom dooley, the kind of person you think you’ve seen before, comes strolling in with White Heap, the hundred Inevitables all say “who’s that man who looks so white?” & the bartender, a good boy & one who keeps the buffalo in his mind, says, “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ve seen the other fellow someplace” & when Paul Sargent, a plainclothes man from 4th street, comes in at three in the morning & busts everybody for being incredible, nobody really gets angry — just a little illiterate most people get & Rome, one of the hundred Inevitables whispers “I told you so” to Madam John . . . Savage Rose & Fixable are bravely blowing kisses to the Jade Hexagram Carnaby Street & to all the mysterious juveniles & the Cream Judge is writing a book on the true meaning of a pear — last year. he wrote one on famous dogs of the civil war & now he has false teeth & no children . . . . when the Cream met Savage Rose & Fixable, he was introduced to them by none other than Lifelessness — Lifelessness is the Great Enemy & always wears a hip guard — he is very hipguard . . . . Lifelessness said when introducing everybody “go save the world” & “involvement! that’s the issue” & things like that & Savage Rose winked at Fixable & the Cream went off with his arm in a sling singing “summertime & the livin is easy” . . . . the Clown appears — puts a gag over Autumn’s mouth and says “there are two kinds of people — simple people & normal people” this usually gets a big laugh from the sandpit & White Heap sneezes — passes out & rips open Autumn’s gag & says “What do you mean you’re Autumn and without you there’d be no spring! you fool! without spring, there’d be no you! what do you think of that???.” then Savage Rose & Fixable come by & kick him in the brains & color him pink for being a phony philosopher — then the Clown comes by and screams “You phony philosopher!” & jumps on his head — Paul Sargent comes by again in an umpire’s suit & some college kid who’s read all about Nietzsche comes by & says “Neitzsche never wore an umpire’s suit” & Paul says “You wanna buy some cloths, kid?” & then Rome & John come out of the bar & they’re going up to Harlem . . . . we are singing today of the WIPE-OUT GANG — the WIPE-OUT GANG buys, owns & operates the Insanity Factory — if you do not know where the Insanity Factory is located, you should hereby take two steps to the right, paint your teeth & go to sleep . . . . the songs on this specific record are not so much songs but rather exercises in tonal breath control. . . . the subject matter — though meaningless as it is — has something to do with the beautiful strangers . . . . the beautiful strangers, Vivaldi’s green jacket & the holy slow train
you are right john cohen — quazimodo was right — mozart was right. . . . I cannot say the word eye any more . . . . when I speak this word eye, it is as if I am speaking of somebody’s eye that I faintly remember . . . . there is no eye — there is only a series of mouths — long live the mouths — your rooftop — if you don’t already know — has been demolished . . . . eye is plasma & you are right about that too — you are lucky — you don’t have to think about such things as eye & rooftops & quazimodo.
7 – from John Wesley Harding (1968)
There were three kings and a jolly three too. The first one had a broken nose, the second, a broken arm and the third was broke. “Faith is the key!” said the first king. “No, froth is the key!” said the second. “You’re both wrong,” said the third, “the key is Frank!”
It was late in the evening and Frank was sweeping up, preparing the meat and dishing himself out when there came a knock upon the door. “Who is it?” he mused. “It’s us, Frank,” said the three kings in unison, “and we’d like to have a word with you!” Frank opened the door and the three kings crawled in.
Terry Shute was in the midst of prying open a hairdresser when Frank’s wife came in and caught him. “They’re here!” she gasped. Terry dropped his drawer and rubbed the eye. “What do they appear to be like?” “One’s got a broken vessel and that’s the truth, the other two I’m not so sure about.” “Fine, thank you, that’ll be all.” “Good” she turned and puffed. Terry tightened his belt and in an afterthought, stated: “Wait!” “Yes?” “How many of them would you say there were?” Vera smiled, she tapped her toe three times. Terry watched her foot closely. “Three?” he asked, hesitating. Vera nodded.
“Get up off my floor!” shouted Frank. The second king, who was first to rise, mumbled, “Where’s the better half, Frank?” Frank, who was in no mood for jokes, took it lightly, replied, “She’s in the back of the house, flaming it up with an arrogant man, now come on, out with it, what’s on our minds today?” Nobody answered.
Terry Shute then entered the room with a bang, looking the three kings over and fondling his mop. Getting down to the source of things, he proudly boasted: “There is a creeping consumption in the land. It begins with these three fellas and it travels outward. Never in my life have I seen such a motley crew. They ask nothing and they receive nothing. Forgiveness is not in them. The wilderness is rotten all over their foreheads. They scorn the widow and abuse the child but I am afraid that they shall not prevail over the young man’s destiny, not even them!” Frank turned with a blast, “Get out of here, you ragged man! Come ye no more!” Terry left the room willingly.
“What seems to be the problem?” Frank turned back to the three kings who were astonished. The first king cleared his throat. His shoes were too big and his crown was wet and lopsided but nevertheless, he began to speak in the most meaningful way, “Frank,” he began, “Mr. Dylan has come out with a new record. This record of course features none but his own songs and we understand that you’re the key.” “That’s right,” said Frank, “I am.” “Well then,” said the king in a bit of excitement, “could you please open it up for us?”
Frank, who all this time had been reclining with his eyes closed, suddenly opened them both up as wide as a tiger. “And just how far would you like to go in?” he asked and the three kings all looked at each other. “Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there,” said the first chief. “All right,” said Frank, “I’ll see what I can do,” and he commenced to doing it. First of all, he sat down and crossed his legs, then he sprung up, ripped off his shirt and began waving it in the air. A lightbulb fell from one of his pockets and he stamped it out with his foot. Then he took a deep breath, moaned and punched his fist through the plate-glass window. Settling back in his chair, he pulled out a knife, “Far enough?” he asked. “Yeah, sure, Frank,” said the second king. The third king just shook his head and said he didn’t know. The first king remained silent. The door opened and Vera stepped in. “Terry Shute will be leaving us soon and he desires to know if you kings got any gifts you wanna lay on him.” Nobody answered.
It was just before the break of day and the three kings were tumbling along the road. The first one’s nose had been mysteriously fixed, the second one’s arm had healed and the third one was rich. All three of them were blowing horns. “I’ve never been so happy in all my life!” sang the one with all the money.
“Oh mighty thing!” said Vera to Frank, “Why didn’t you just tell them you were a moderate man and leave it at that instead of goosing yourself all over the room?” “Patience, Vera,” said Frank. Terry Shute, who was sitting over by the curtain cleaning an ax, climbed to his feet, walked over to Vera’s husband and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Yuh didn’t hurt yer hand, didja Frank?” Frank just sat there watching the workmen replace the window. “I don’t believe so,” he said.
8 – from Planet Waves (1974)
Back to the Starting
Point! The Kickoff, Hebrew
Letters on the wall, Victor Hugo’s
house in Paris, NYC in early
autumn, leaves flying in the park, the
clock strikes Eight. Bong – I dropped a
double brandy & tried to recall the events…
beer halls & pin balls, polka bands, barbwire
& thrashing clowns, objects, headwinds &
Snowstorms, family outings with strangers -
Furious gals with garters & Smeared Lips
on bar stools that stank from sweating
pussy – doing the Hula – perfect,
priests in OVERhauls, glassy eyed,
Insomnia! Space guys off duty with
big dicks & ducktails All wired up &
voting for Eisenhower, waving flags &
jumping off of fire engines, getting
killed on motorcycles whatever -
We sensed each other beneath
the mask, pitched a tent in the
Street & joined the traveling circus,
Love at first sight! History
became a Lie! The sideshow took
over – what a sight…the thresh-
hold of the Modern Bomb,
Temples of the Pawhee, the
Cowboy Saint, the Arapahoe,
snapshots of – Apache poets
searching thru the ruins for a
glimpse of Buddah – I lit out
for parts unknown. found Jacob’s
Ladder up Against An adobe wall &
bought A serpent from a passing Angel -
Yeah the ole days Are gone
forever And the new ones Aint far behind, the
Laughter is fading away, echos of a star,
of Energy Vampires in the Gone World going
Wild! Drinking the blood of innocewnt people,
Innocent Lambs! The Wretched of the Earth,
My brothers of the flood, Cities of the flesh -
Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Bismarck, South
Dakota, Duluth! Duluth – where Baudelaire Lived
& Goya cashed in his Chips, where Joshua brought
the house down! From there, it was straight up – a Little
jolt of Mexico, and some good LUCK, a
Little power over the Grave, some
more brandy & the teeth of
a Lion & a compass
9 – from Blood On The Tracks (1975)
In the end, the plague touched us all. It was not confined to the Oran of Camus. No. It turned up again in America, breeding in-a-compost of greed and uselessness and murder, in those places where statesmen and generals stash the bodies of the forever young. The plague ran in the blood of men in sharkskin suits, who ran for President promising life and delivering death. The infected young men machine-gunned babies in Asian ditches; they marshalled metal death through the mighty clouds, up above God’s green earth, released it in silent streams, and moved on, while the hospitals exploded and green fields were churned to mud.
And here at home, something died. The bacillus moved among us, slaying that old America where the immigrants lit a million dreams in the shadows of the bridges, killing the great brawling country of barnstormers and wobblies and home-run hitters, the place of Betty Grable and Carl Furillo and heavyweight champions of the world. And through the fog of the plague, most art withered into journalism. Painters lift the easel to scrawl their innocence on walls and manifestos. Symphonies died on crowded roads. Novels served as furnished rooms for ideology.
And as the evidence piled up, as the rock was pushed back to reveal the worms, many retreated into that past that never was, the place of balcony dreams in Loew’s Met, fair women and honorable men, where we browned ourselves in the Creamsicle summers, only faintly hearing the young men march to the troopships, while Jo Stafford gladly promised her fidelity. Poor America. Tossed on a pilgrim tide. Land where the poets died.
Except for Dylan.
He had remained, in front of us, or writing from the north country, and remained true. He was not the only one, of course; he is not the only one now. But of all the poets, Dylan is the one who has most clearly taken the rolled sea and put it in a glass.
Early on, he warned us, he gave many of us voice, he told us about the hard rain that was going to fall, and how it would carry plague. In the teargas in 1968 Chicago, they hurled Dylan at the walls of the great hotels, where the infected drew the blinds, and their butlers ordered up the bayonets. Most of them are gone now. Dylan remains.
So forget the clenched young scholars who analyze his rhymes into dust. Remember that he gave us voice, When our innocence died forever, Bob Dylan made that moment into art. The wonder is that he survived.
That is no small thing. We live in the smoky landscape now, as the exhausted troops seek the roads home. The signposts have been smashed; the maps are blurred. There is no politician anywhere who can move anyone to hope; the plague recedes, but it is not dead, and the statesmen are as irrelevant as the tarnished statues in the public parks. We live with a callous on the heart. Only the artists can remove it. Only the artists can help the poor land again to feel.
And here is Dylan, bringing feeling back home. In this album, he is as personal and as universal as Yeats or Blake; speaking for himself, risking that dangerous opening of the veins, he speaks for us all. The words, the music, the tones of voice speak of regret, melancholy, a sense of inevitable farewell, mixed with sly humor, some rage, and a sense of simple joy. They are the poems of a survivor. The warning voice of the innocent boy is no longer here, because Dylan has chosen not to remain a boy. It is not his voice that has grown richer, stronger, more certain; it is Dylan himself. And his poetry, his troubadour’s traveling art, seems to me to be more meaningful than ever. I thought, listening to these songs, of the words of Yeats, walker of the roads of Ireland: “We make out of the quarrel with others rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”
Dylan is now looking at the quarrel of the self. The crowds have moved back off the stage of history; we are left with the solitary human, a single hair on the skin of the earth. Dylan speaks now for that single hair.
If you see her,
She might be in Tangiers…*
So begins one of these poems, as light as a slide on ice, and as dangerous. Dylan doesn’t fall in. Instead, he tells us the essentials; a woman once lived, gone off, vanished into the wild places of the earth, still loved.
If you’re makin’ love to her,
Kiss her for the kid.
Who always has respected her,
for doin’ what she did…*
It is a simple love song, of course, which is the proper territory of poets, but is about love filled with honor, and a kind of dignity, the generosity that so few people can summon when another has become a parenthesis in a life. That song, and some of the other love poems in this collection, seem to me absolutely right, in this moment at the end of wars, as all of us, old, young, middle-aged, men and women, are searching for some simple things to believe in. Dylan here tips his hat to Rimbaud and Verlaine, knowing all about the seasons in hell, but he insists on his right to speak of love, that human emotion that still exists, in Faulkner’s phrase, in spite of, not because.
And yes, there is humor here too, a small grin pasted over the hurt, delivered almost casually, as if the poet could control the chaos of feeling with a few simply chosen words:
Life is sad
Life is a bust.
All ya can do.
Is do what you must.
You do what you must do,
And ya do it will.
I’ll do it for you,
Ah, honey baby, can’t ya tell?**
A simple song. Not Dante’s Inferno, and not intended to be. But a song which conjures up the American road, all the busted dreams of open places, boxcars, the Big Dipper pricking the velvet night. And it made me think of Ginsberg and Corso and Ferlinghetti, and most of all, Kerouac, racing Deam Mariarty across the country in the Fifties, embracing wind and night, passing Huck Finn on the riverbanks, bouncing against the Coast, and heading back again, with Kerouac dreaming his songs of the railroad earth. Music drove them; they always knew they were near New York when they picked up Symphony Sid on the radio. In San Francisco they declared a Renaissance and read poetry to jazz, trying to make Mallarme’s dream flourish in the soil of America. They failed, as artist generally do, but in some ways Dylan has kept their promise.
Now he has moved past them, driving harder into self. Listen to “Idiot Wind.” It is a hard, cold-blooded poem about the survivor’s anger, as personal as anything ever committed to a record. And yet is can also stand as the anthem for all who feel invaded, handled, bottled, packaged; all who spent themselves in combat with the plague; all who ever walked into the knives of humiliation or hatred. The idiot wind trivialized lives into gossip, celebrates fad and fashion, glorifies the dismal glitter of celebrity. Its products live on the covers of magazines, in all of television, if the poisoned air and dead grey lakes. But most of all, it blows through the human heart. Dylan knows that such a wind is the deadliest enemy of art. And when the artists die, we all die with them.
Or listen to the long narrative poem called “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts.” It should not be reduced to notes, or taken out of context; it should be experienced in full. The compression of story is masterful, but its real wonder is in the spaces, in what the artist left out of his painting. To me, that has always been the key to Dylan’s art. To state things plainly is the function of journalism; but Dylan sings a more fugitive song: allusive, symbolic, full of imagery and ellipses, and by leaving things out, he allows us the grand privilege of creating along with him. His song becomes our song because we live in those spaces. If we listen, if we work at it, we fill up the mystery, we expand and inhabit the work of art. It is the most democratic form of creation.
Totalitarian art tells us what to feel. Dylan’s art feels, and invites us to join him.
That quality is in all the work in this collection, the long, major works, the casual drawings and etchings. There are some who attack Dylan because he will not rewrite “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Gates of Eden.” They are fools because they are cheating themselves of a shot at wonder. Every artist owns a vision of the world, and he shouts his protest when he sees evil mangling that vision. But he must also tell us the vision. Now we are getting Dylan’s vision, rich and loamy, against which the world moved so darkly. To enter that envisioned world, is like plunging deep into a mountain pool, where the rocks are clear and smooth at the bottom.
So forget the Dylan whose image was eaten at by the mongers of the idiot wind. Don’t mistake him for Isaiah, or a magazine cover, or a leader of guitar armies. He is only a troubadour, blood brother of Villon, a son of Provence, and he has survived the plague. Look: he has just walked into the courtyard, padding across the flagstones, strumming a guitar. The words are about “flowers on the hillside bloomin’ crazy/Crickets talkin’ back and forth in rhyme…” A girl, red-haired and melancholy, begins to smile. Listen: the poet sings to all of us:
But I’ll see you in the sky above,
In the tall grass,
In the ones I love.
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go.***
– Pete Hamill, New York, 1974
10 – from Desire (1975)
Where do I begin…on the heels of Rimbaud moving like a dancing bullet thru the secret streets of a hot New Jersey night filled with venom and wonder. Meeting the Queen Angel in the reeds of Babylon and then to the fountain of sorrow to drift away in the hot mass of the deluge… To sing praise to the King of those dead streets, to grasp and let go in a heavenly way — streaming into the lost belly of civilization at a standstill. Romance is taking over. Tolstoy was right. These notes are being written in a bathtub in Maine under ideal conditions, in every Curio Lounge from Brooklyn to Guam, from Lowell to Durango oh sister, when I fall into your spacy arms, can not ya feel the weight of oblivion and the songs of redemption on your backside we surface alongside miles standish and take the rock. We have relations in Mozambique. I have a brother or two and a whole lot of karma to burn… Isis and the moon shine on me. When Rubin gets out of jail, we celebrate in the historical parking lot in sunburned California… (Bob Dylan)
SONGS OF REDEMPTION
Hurricane, the only innocent Hurricane. protest song: Pro (in favor) – Attest (testify for) the character case of Boxer Mr. Carter framed on bum rap Passaic County N.J. whom Dylan minstrel visited in jail. Doctor Poet W.C. Williams dying nearby said “A new world is only a new mind.” & spent life redeeming pure North Jersey language so later poets could sing “tough iron metal” talk rhymes
“They want to put his ass in stir
They want to pin this triple murder on him
…He coulda been the champion of the wooorld-”
& end plain as day
to live in a land where Justice is a game!”
so every Patterson kid will know News furthermore that
“Rubin sits like Buddha in a 10 foot cell.”
Big daily Announcement. song’ll hit the streets Supreme Courts’ll have coughed & weeped. Rubin Carter sprung pray God if there’s One in America – familiar harmonica pierces ears that just heard about
“criminals in their coats & ties…”
Old bards & Minstrels rhymed their years’ news on pilgrimage road – Visitations town to town singing Kings’ shepherds’ cowboys’ & lawyers’ secrets – Good Citizen Minstrel truth’s instantaneously heard. Big Sound in conscious generations. Local newsboy-prophet song echoes old youthful idealistic William ZanZinger poem. amplified alive. 1975. Dead protest? Woody Guthrie lineage road bards’ll still make us weep where there’s suffering to be sung.
Dylan’s Redemption Songs! If he can do it we can do it. America can do it. “It’s all right Ma I can make it.” Yes! with tough gold metal compassion. he’s giving away Gold again – but remember. good Anarchists. “To live outside the Law you must be honest.” Drunken aggressive beer bottles’ll never redeem anybody – But clear conscious song can. every syllable pronounced. every consonant sneered out with lips risen over teeth to pronounce them exactly to a T in microphone. snarled out NOT for bummer ego put-down but instead for egoless enunciation of exact phrasings so everyone can hear intelligence – which is only your own heart Dear.
Isis here recorded. the singer later developed onstage sung for weeks whiteface, big grey hat stuck with November leaves & flowers – no instrument in hand. thin Chaplinesque body dancing to syllables sustained by Rolling Thunder band rhythm following Dylan’s spontaneous ritards & talk-like mouthings for clarity. “It’s only natchural.” So you can hear it! With two-part dialogue! Big discovery. these songs are the culmination of Poetry-music as dreamt of in the 50′s & early 60′s – poets reciting-chanting with instruments and bongos – Steady rhythm behind the elastic language. poet alone at microphone reciting-singing surreal-history love text ending in giant “YEAH!” when minstrel gives his heart away & says he wants to stay. Dylan will stay here with us! “You may not see me tomorrow.” So he now lets loose his long-vowel yowls & yawps over smalltowns’ antennaed rooftops, To Isis Moon Lady Language Creator Birth Goddess. Mother of Ra. Saraswati & Kali-Matoo. Hecate. Ea. Astarte. Sophia & Aphrodite. Divine. Mother.
Oh Sister. who’s he talking about? Eternal sister? Good citizen sisters. he’s still tender friend – lost alone loved like a thin terrified guru by every seeker in America who’s heard that long-vowelled voice in heroic ecstasy triumphant. “How does it feel?” And now come down from that Mountain of Sound. singing like a Biblical mortal
“Oh sister am I not a brother to you
And one deserving of affection?
And is our purpose not the same on this Earth
To love and follow his direction?
We grew up together from the cradle to the grave
Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore.
You may not see me tomorrow.”
Follows the first City Narrative. solid facts beating foreward with drums & violins – like a jagged short story. ballad sung by hero making hero of unlikely sensitive gangster Gallo. hard iron metal Villonesque stoicism & sympathy, with long lamenting refrain over name anonymous in 25 years Joey. with dialogue movie panoramic cold suns over Brooklyn – and your inside news the papers didn’t interpret for the murdered outlaw.
Black Diamond Bay’s also a short novel in verse. oldfashioned Dylan surrealist mind-jump inventions line by line. except D. says he’s reading Joseph Conrad storyteller. so hear continuous succession of Panama Hat Necktie details, exploding boilers & characters disappearing in tornados – Suddenly a big dissolve & you’re sitting with minstrel Dylan in L.A. household watching the same poem Cronkited on TV news: bard sings the awful movie where everybody loses & what can you say? My father age 80 also bowed his head & said, “What can you do?” under his breath. Interesting, this long real-life spy hallucination tale opening the mind – suddenly put back into the Samsara tube with a cynic lament. it’s hopelessness – the condition of World on its own bummer. not ours or Dylan’s – we’re only 25% responsible the Crazy Wisdom Lama says.
By the time Dylan made the great disillusioned national rhyme Idiot Wind
“… Blowing like a circle round your skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol…”
he must’ve been ready for another surge of unafraid prophetic feeling – odd weeks seeking community he’d gone back to Other End Bleeker Street music house & jammed & drunk with ancient friend song improvisor Bob Neuwirth & also anonymous genius street studio guitarists drummers violin prodigies Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth & Botticelli-faced little David Mansfield from New Jersey – stopped his red car in East Village for ravenhaired Scarlet Rivera walking with her violin case – giant adolescent T-Bone Burnett materialized from Texas. Steven Soles from Blues New York – Half-month was spent solitary on Long Island with theatrist Jacques Levy working on song facts phrases & rhymes. sharing information seriousness – Lots of high rhythmic art. like the fast Mexican 11 syllables beginning Durango “Hot Chili Peppers in the blistering sun” masterpieces emerged – Song became conscious poetry. the best you can say in total rhythm. allowing for mother’s radiotalk. allowing for the singer to open his whole body for Inspiration to breathe out a long mad vowel to nail down the word into everyone’s heart – That’s where you get the funny syncopation – waiting to pronounce the line just right as the music marches by. free. hopeless. jumping in and out the fatal chords. “We not make it through the night.”
“But he’s still like an electric bullet.” the Buddhist boy said. where’s the great slowdown tenderness where everyone knows where Dylan’s at under his minstrel Hat? Two songs his own heart-life sings alone. total. One More Cup of Coffee for the Road – voice lifts in Hebraic cantillation never heard before in U.S. song. ancient blood singing – a new age, a new Dylan again redeemed. at ease – A little bit like America now. not paranoid any more. it’s the real Seventies – (every generation-decade flowers in the middle. Poetry Renaissance 1955. Peace Vietnam Berkeley 1965) – for now the congregation of poets sings across the land with new old soul-joy. shit burned out. ego recognized & allow’d its place. pleasure-lust put aside with suicidal pain. heart stilled & singing clear. cantillating like synagogue cantor. “’fore I go down to the Valley below.”
How far has he gone? All the way from scared solitude inner prophetics – building on that mind-honesty strangeness – to openhearted personal historical confession. As Coffee for Road’s Semitic mode. Sara. is profound ancient tune revealing family paradigm – telling Wife & World the last secrets of solitary weeping art:
“Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland for you”
Who woulda thought he’d say it. so everybody’d finally know him. same soul crying vulnerable caught in a body we all are? – enough Person revealed to make Whitman’s whole nation weep. And behind it all the vast lone space of No God. or God. mindful conscious compassion. lifetime awareness. we’re here in America at last. redeemed. O Generation. keep on working!
Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
York Harbor, Maine
10 November 1975
11 – from Bob Dylan At Budokan (1978)
The more I think about it, the more I realize what I left
behind in Japan – my soul, my music and that sweet girl in
the geisha house – I wonder does she remember me? If the
people of Japan want to know about me, they can hear this
record – also they can hear my heart still beating in Kyoto
at the Zen Rock Garden – Someday I will be back to reclaim it.
12 – from Biograph (1985)
The first glimpses of Bob Dylan come from friends and classmates in his hometown of Hibbing,
Minnesota. Most of them had a frame of reference that didn’t stretch much farther than the
small, gray mid-western mining town where they lived. Young Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman
on May 24 , 1941 looked mighty different around Hibbing. The explosive film Blackboard
Jungle had touched his life and so had the late-night rhythm and blues stations from Chicago.
When most of the other kids in Hibbing were still riding bicycles, Dylan was thinking about
leather jackets and motorcycles. He hounded the local record store for the newest singles from
Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf. John Lee Hooker and
others. Soon Dylan had formed his own bands, The Golden Chords, The Shadow Blasters,
Elston Gunn & The Rock Boppers. When he took the stage for a high school talent show, fellow
students were shocked at the slight kid who opened his mouth and came out wailing with a
fully-realized Little Richard howl. He would not be long for Hibbing, Minnesota.
“My family settled in Hibbing I think in about ‘46 or ‘47. My father had polio when I was very
young. There was a big epidemic. He lost his job in Duluth and we moved to the Iron Range
and moved in with my grandmother Florence and my grandfather who was still alive at the
time. We slept in the living room of my grandma’s house for about a year or two, I slept on a
roll-a-way bed, that’s all I remember. Two of my uncles, my father’s brothers, had gone to
electrical school and by this time had gotten electrician licenses. They had moved from
Duluth to up here where they operated out of a store called Micka Electric, wiring homes and
things… my father never walked right again and suffered much pain his whole life. I never
understood this until much later but it must have been hard for him because before that he’d
been a very active and physical type guy. Anyway, the brothers took him in as a partner, my
uncle Paul and my uncle Maurice, and this is where he worked for the rest of his life. Later,
they bought the store and started selling lamps, clocks, radios anything electrical and then
much later TV’s and furniture. They still did wiring though and that was their main thing. I
worked on the truck sometimes but it was never meant for me. This was not a rich or poor
town, everybody had pretty much the same thing and the very wealthy people didn’t live
there, they were the ones that owned the mines and they lived thousands of miles away:”
“I always wanted to be a guitar player and a singer.” Bob Dylan said recently on a break from
sessions for a new album. “Since I was ten, eleven or twelve, it was all that interested me.
That was the only thing that I did that meant anything really. Henrietta was the first rock n’
roll record I heard. Before that I’d listen to Hank Williams a lot. Before that, Johnny Ray. He
was the first singer whose voice and style, I guess, I totally fell in love with. There was just
something about the way he sang When Your Sweetheart Sends A Letter… that just knocked
me out. I loved his style, wanted to dress like him too, that was real early though. I ran into
him in the elevator in Sydney, Australia late in ‘78 and told him how he impressed me so
when I was growing up… I still have a few of his records.”
After high school graduation in 1959, Dylan traveled first to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He
enrolled in classes at the University of Minnesota but ended spending more time in the nearby
Bohemian district known as Dinkytown, where he played in a coffee house, The Ten O’Clock
Scholar. Dylan was taken in by the artistic community and it was there that he first became
acquainted in the rural folk-music of artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Roscoe Holcomb,
and the great Woody Guthrie. “By that time, I was singing stuff like Ruby Lee by the Sunny
Mountain Boys, and Jack O’Diamonds by Odetta and somehow because of my earlier rock n’
roll background was unconsciously crossing the two styles. This made me different from your
regular folk singers, who were either folk song purists or concert-hall singers, who just
happened to be singing folk songs. I’d played by myself with just a guitar and harmonica or as
part of a duo with Spider John Koerner, who played mostly ballads and Josh White type blues.
He knew more songs than I did. Whoa Boys Can’t Ya Line ‘M, John Hardy, Golden Vanity, I
learned all those from him. We sounded great, not unlike the Delmore Brothers. I could
always hear my voice sounding better as a harmony singer. In New York, I worked off and on
with Mark Spoelstra and later with Jim Kweskin. Jim and I sounded pretty similar to Cisco and
“Minneapolis was the first big city I lived in if you want to call it that,” remembered Dylan. “I
came out of the wilderness and just naturally fell in with the beat scene, the Bohemian, BeBop
crowd, it was all pretty much connected… St. Louis, Kansas City, you usually went from town
to town and found the same setup in all these places, people comin’ and goin’, nobody with
any place special to live. You always ran into people you knew from the last place. I had
already decided that society, as it was, was pretty phony and I didn’t want to be part of that…
also, there was a lot of unrest in the country. You could feel it, a lot of frustration, sort of like
a calm before a hurricane, things were shaking up. Where I was at, people just passed
through, really, carrying horns, guitars, suitcases, whatever, just like the stories you hear, free
love, wine, poetry, nobody had any money anyway. There were a lot of poets and painters,
drifters, scholarly types, experts at one thing or another who had dropped out of the regular
nine-to-five life, there were a lot of house parties most of the time. They were usually in lofts
or warehouses or something or sometimes in the park, in the alley wherever there was space.
It was always crowded, no place to stand or breathe. There were always a lot of poems
recited – ‘Into the room people come and go talking of Michelangelo, measuring their lives in
coffee spoons’… ‘What I’d like to know is what do you think of your blue-eyed boy now, Mr.
Death. T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings. It was sort of like that and it kind of woke me up… Suzie
Rotolo, a girlfriend of mine in New York, later turned me on to all the French poets but for
then it was Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti – Gasoline, Coney Island of the
Mind… oh man, it was wild – I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness
that said more to me than any of the stuff I’d been raised on. On The Road, Dean Moriarty,
this made perfect sense to me… anyway the whole scene was an unforgettable one, guys and
girls some of whom reminded me of saints, some people had odd jobs – bus boy, bartender,
exterminator, stuff like that but I don’t think working was on most people’s minds – just to
make enough to eat, you know. Most of everybody, anyway, you had the feeling that they’d
just been kicked out of something. It was outside, there was no formula, never was ‘main
stream’ or ‘the thing to do’ in any sense. America was still very ‘straight’, ‘post-war’ and sort
of into a gray-flannel suit thing, McCarthy, commies, puritanical, very claustrophobic and
what ever was happening of any real value was happening away from that and sort of hidden
from view and it would be years before the media would be able to recognise it, and choke-
hold it and reduce it to silliness. Anyway, I got in at the tail-end of that and it was magic…
everyday was like Sunday, it’s like it was waiting for me, it had just as big an impact on me as
Elvis Presley, Pound, Camus, T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, mostly expatriate Americans who
were off in Paris and Tangiers. Burroughs, Nova Express, John Rechy, Gary Snyder,
Ferlinghetti, Pictures From The Gone World, the newer poets and folk music, jazz, Monk,
Coltrane, Sonny and Brownie, Big Bill Broonzy, Charlie Christian… it all left the rest of
everything in the dust… I there knew I had to get to New York though, I’d been dreaming
about that for a long time.”
Dylan mapped out his strategy. Then performing as a solo guitarist and singer, he was playing
at a St. Paul local coffee house and pizza parlor called The Purple Onion. The Purple Onion
was located next to the main highway heading out of town. It was owned by Bill Danialson,
who took a liking to Dylan and occasionally allowed him to sleep in the back room. It was a
particularly heavy winter in the Midwest and Dylan’s plan was to play at the club until the
snow subsided enough for him to hitch-hike East. It never happened.
Recalled Dylan, “I just got up one morning and left. I’d spent so much time thinking about it I
couldn’t think anymore. Snow or no snow, it was time for me to go. I made a lot of friends
and I guess some enemies too, but I had to overlook it all. I’d learned as much as I could and
used up all of my options. It all got real old real fast. When I arrived in Minneapolis it had
seemed like a big city or a big town. When I left it was like some rural outpost that you see
once from a passing train. I stood on the highway during a blizzard snowstorm believing in
the mercy of the world and headed East, didn’t have nothing but my guitar and suitcase. That
was my whole world. The first ride I got, you know, was from some old guy in a jalopy, sort of
a Bela Lugosi type, who carried me into Wisconsin. Of all the rides I’ve ever gotten it’s the
only one that stands out in my mind. People hitch-hiked a lot back then, they rode the bus or
they stuck out their thumb and hitchhiked. It was real natural. I wouldn’t do that today.
People aren’t as friendly and there’s too many drugs on the road.”
It would be several months before Dylan actually arrived in New York. He stopped first in
Madison, Wisconsin and fell in with the folk and blues community there. Then he moved on to
Chicago, where he had some phone numbers to try and ended up staying there for a couple of
months. Eventually Dylan got a ride to New York with a couple college kids. “They needed
two people to help drive to New York and that’s how I left. Me and a guy named Fred
Underhill went with them. Fred was from Williamstown or somewhere and he knew New
Dylan and Underhill were dropped off on the New York side of the George Washington Bridge
and immediately took a subway to Greenwich Village. It was the worst New York Winter in 60
years and the snow was knee-deep. “Where I came from there was always plenty of snow so I
was used to that,” said Dylan, “but going to New York was like going to the moon. You just
didn’t get on a plane and go there, you know. New York! Ed Sullivan, the New York Yankees,
Broadway, Harlem… you might as well have been talking about China. It was some place
which not too many people had ever gone, and anybody who did go never came back.”
The frail-looking Dylan was a voracious learner. Once in New York, he was at the center of all
the action. It was chance to actually see and sometimes meet the artists he’d come to admire,
including Woody Guthrie. Dylan listened to everybody and took it all in. “I was lucky to meet
Lonnie Johnson at the same club I was working and I must say he greatly influenced me. You
can hear it in that first record, I mean Corrina, Corrina… that’s pretty much Lonnie Johnson. I
used to watch him every chance I got and sometimes he’d let me play with him. I think he and
Tampa Red and of course Scrapper Blackwell, that’s my favorite style of guitar playing… the
harmonica part, well I’d always liked Wayne Raney and Jimmy Reed, Sonny Terry… ‘Lil Junior
Parker, ‘told you baby, bam bam bam bam, once upon a time, bam bam bam bam, if I’d be
yours, bam bam bam bam (foottap) li’l girl you’d be mine… but that’s all right… I know you
love some other man’… but I couldn’t get it in the rack like that or adjust the equipment to an
amplified slow pace so I took to blowing out… actually Woody had done it… I had to do it
that way to be heard on the street, you, now, above the noise… like an accordion… Victoria
Spivey, too, oh man, I loved her… I learned so much from her I could never put into words,”
Dylan soon developed a style that would synthesise many different folk influences. At the time
it was a bold move. Even the stodgiest standards sounded different Dylan’s way. Some purists
didn’t appreciate the irreverence. “I could sing How High The Moon or If I Gave My Heart To
You and it would come out like Mule-Skinner Blues.”
“There was just a clique, you know,” said Dylan, “Folk music was a strict and rigid
establishment. If you sang Southern Mountain Blues, you didn’t sing Southern Mountain
Ballads and you didn’t sing City Blues. If you sang Texas Cowboy songs, you didn’t play
English ballads. It was really pathetic. You just didn’t If you sang folk songs from the thirties,
you didn’t do bluegrass tunes or Appalachian Ballads. It was very strict. Everybody had their
particular thing that they did. I didn’t much ever pay attention to that. If I liked a song, I
would just learn it and sing it the only way I could play it. Part of it was a technical problem
which I never had the time nor the inclination for, if you want to call it a problem. But it
didn’t go down well with the tight-thinking people. You know, I’d hear things like ‘I was in
the Lincoln Brigade’ and ‘the kid is really bastardising up that song’. The other singers never
seemed to mind, although. In fact, quite a few of them began to copy my attitude in guitar
phrasing and such.”
Performing first at Village clubs like the Gas Light, The Commons, Café Rienzi and later Gerde’s
Folk City, Dylan had a quirky stage presence, equal parts humor and intensity. He also took
several jobs as a guitarist or harmonica player. One session was a record date with noted folk
artist Carolyn Hester. Rehearsing for the Hester session at the house of a friend, Dylan first met
the distinguished Columbia Records producer and talent-scout John Hammond (Aretha
Franklin, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and later Bruce Springsteen). Hammond kept young
Dylan in mind.
Dylan was soon to receive one of the most important reviews of his life, possibly the last one
that meant as much. Noted New York Times folk critic Robert Shelton had raved about Dylan’s
shows at Gerde’s Folk City, in an unprecedented review, for Dylan was merely the opening act
and not the main headliner (“… there is no doubt he is bursting at the seams with talent”)
Nineteen year old Dylan read and re-read the review, showing it to friends and re-reading it
again. By the next morning, Dylan was fresh and ready for his Hester session. The crinkled
review was still in his hand. It was only the second time he’s worked in a major studio, the first
being a short stint on harmonica for a Harry Belafonte record earlier that summer. Hammond
signed Dylan that afternoon.
“I couldn’t believe it”, said Dylan. “I left there and I remember walking out of the studio. I
was like on a cloud. It was up on 7th Avenue and when I left I was happening to be walking by
a record store. It was one of the most thrilling moments in my life. I couldn’t believe that I
was staring at all the records in the window, Frankie Lane, Frank Sinatra, Patty Page, Mitch
Miller, Tony Bennet and so on and so on. I, myself, would be among them in the window. I
guess I was pretty naive, you know. It was even before I made a record, just knowing that I
was going to make one and it was going to be in that window. I wanted to go in there dressed
in the rags like I was and tell the owner, ‘you don’t know me now, but you will’. It never
occurred to me that it could have been otherwise. I didn’t know that just because you make a
record it has to be displayed in a window next to Frank Sinatra, let alone they have to carry it
in the store. John Hammond recorded me soon after that.”
Dylan’s first album was recorded in a matter of hours. The session was over when they ran out
of tape and Hammond estimated the entire cost at $402. These were, indeed, the good old
days. All of the material was recorded and it’s important to note that Dylan would maintain that
spirit of studio spontaneity for the next twenty years. Most of the music included in this
collection was recorded in two or three takes.
“You didn’t get a lot of studio time then,” he said, “Six months to make a record… It wasn’t
even conceivable. My early records, all the way up to the late seventies, were done in periods
of hours. Days, maybe. Since the late sixties, maybe since Sgt Pepper on, everybody started to
spend more of their time in the studio, actually making songs up and building them in the
studio. I’ve done a little bit of that but I’d rather have some kind of song before I get there. It
just seems to work out better that way.”
Much was made in subsequent years of the fact that Dylan had only one of his compositions
(Song To Woody) on that album, “I just took in what I had,” he explained, “I tried a bunch of
stuff and John Hammond would say, ‘Well, let’s use this one’ and I’d sing that one and he’d
say. ‘Let’s use that one’. I must have played a whole lot of songs. He kept what he kept, you
know. He didn’t ask me what I wrote and what I didn’t write. I was only doing a few of my
own songs back then, anyway. You didn’t really do too many of your own songs back then.
And if you did… you’d just try to sneak them in. The first bunch of songs I wrote, I never
would say I wrote them. It was just something you didn’t do.”
The first album was released just before Dylan’s 21 birthday, and it sold an unremarkable
5,000 copies. While the executives fretted over whether their “rising young star” was still a
sound investment, Dylan was taking large steps in finding his songwriting voice. His live show
strengthened and deepened as he added more of his own material. He was able to take an
audience from laughter to thoughtful silence in a handful of sharply chosen words. Dylan’s
second album featured Dylan compositions and it was a success.
Along with the applause, remained the traditionalist doubters, as always. Blowin’ In The Wind,
first published in Broadside Magazine in 1962, did much to silence the opposition. It was an
indisputably strong song, simple and timeless from the first listening. It would become the
fastest selling single in Warner Brothers history in the hands of Peter, Paul and Mary, and the
first to bring a new social awareness to the pop charts. To this day it’s Dylan’s most covered
composition, from Bobby Darin’ to Marlene Dietrich. When folk music found it’s largest
audience it was because of this song.
The songs that followed during this period stung and inspired and often took their stories
directly from newspaper or word of mouth accounts. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll was
the actual story of a Baltimore maid mistakenly murdered by a drunken socialite. The socialite
escaped with a six-month sentence. Dylan wrote of the brutal injustice with a masterful touch,
never did it approach the heavy-handed. It was exactly this delicate quality that made Dylan’s
social commentary so original and his imitators so obvious.
“When I started writing those kinds of songs, there wasn’t anybody doing things like that,”
said Dylan. “Woody Guthrie had done similar things but he hadn’t really done that type of
song. Besides, I had learned from Woody Guthrie and knew and could sing anything he had
done. But now the times had changed and things would be different. He contributed a lot to
my style lyrically and dynamically but my musical background had been different, with rock
n’ roll and rhythm and blues playing a big part earlier on. Actually attitude had more to do
with it than technical ability and that’s what the folk movement lacked. In other words, I
played all the folk songs with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. This is what made me different and
allowed me to cut through all the mess and be heard. People with no definition of feeling and
that sort of thing, and there were too many of them… I remember when protest song writing
was big, Phil Ochs came to town, Tim Hardin was around, Patrick Sky, Buffy St. Marie, but
there never was any such thing. It was like the term ‘Beatnik’ or ‘Hippie’. These were terms
made up by magazine people who are invisible who like to put a label on something to
cheapen it. Then it can be controlled better by other people who are also invisible. Nobody
ever said, ‘Well, here’s another protest song I’m going to sing.’… Anyway, the guy who was
best at that was Peter LaFarge. He was a champion rodeo cowboy and some time back he’d
also been a boxer. He had a lot of his bones broken. I think he’d also been shot up in Korea.
Anyway, he wrote Ira Hayes, Iron Mountain, Johnny Half-Breed, White Girl and about a
hundred other things. There was one about Custer, ‘the general he don’t ride well anymore’.
We were pretty tight for a while. We had the same girlfriend. Actually, Peter is one of the
great unsung heros of the day. His style was just a little bit too erratic. But it wasn’t his fault,
he was always hurting and having to overcome it. Johnny Cash recorded a bunch of his songs.
When I think of a guitar poet or protest singer, I always think of Peter, but he was a love song
His work made a subtle, if pointed shift with Another Side of Bob Dylan. “Tom Wilson, the
producer, titled it that,” noted Dylan. “I begged and pleaded with him not to do it. You know,
I thought it was overstating the obvious. I knew I was going to have to take a lot of heat for a
title like that and it was my feeling that it wasn’t a good idea coming after The Times They Are
A- Changin’, it just wasn’t right. It seemed like a negation of the past which in no way was
true. I know that Tom didn’t mean it that way, but that’s what I figured that people would
take it to mean, but Tom meant well and he had control, so he had it his way. I guess in the
long run, he might have been right to do what he did. It doesn’t matter now.”
Wilson recalled at the time, “I didn’t even particularly like folk music. I’d been recording Sun
Ra and Coltrane and I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. This guy played like the
dumb guys but then these words came out. I was flabbergasted. I said to Albert Grossman, who
was there in the studio, I said, ‘if you put some background to this, you might have a white Ray
Charles with a message.’ But it wasn’t until a year later that everyone agreed that we should put
a band behind him. I had to find a band. But it was a very gradual process.” Wilson takes the
credit for Dylan going electric. “It came from me.”
The album, recorded in two nights, proved that Dylan was never simply a revolutionary or even
a political singer in the conventional sense. These were songs about the politics of love.
Throughout all the styles, periods and influences of his work, one of Dylan’s only constants has
been the love song. At composing them there are few as talented. He’s approached the subject
from all sides, from It Ain’t Me, Babe and To Ramona to Lay Lady Lay and Sweetheart Like You.
So strong was Dylan’s impact on the folk stages of America in the early sixties that when he
chose to move back to his original high school roots in rock and roll, even to dress differently,
there was an almost immediate uproar. For some time press conferences, articles and interviews
were filled with pointed questions like, “Does it take a lot of trouble to get your hair like that?”
“How do you feel about selling out?” and “How many folk singers are there now?” (Dylan’s
chain-smoking replies were, “No, you just have to sleep on it for about twenty years”, “I don’t
feel guilt”, and “136” respectively). Asked about his music, he said, “It’s mathematical… I use
words like most people use numbers. That’s about the best I can do.”
The songs were, as he once said, about objection, obsession or rejection. They had also begun
to cry out for instrumentation. While touring England, Dylan had met and heard the new wave
of English pop bands, from The Beatles to The Animals, The Pretty Things, Manfred Mann, The
Stones, The Who. By January, Dylan was recording his breakthrough Bringing It All Back Home
album. Half the album would feature a hard-edged rock and blues backing, the other half form-
bending solo acoustic music. The Byrds own electrified hit version of Mr. Tambourine Man,
taken from a Dylan demo tape, had become a single. Dylan was reaching a level of popularity
beyond even his own expectations. But there were still many folk purists in Dylan’s audience
and all signs were pointing to a showdown.
It would come in the Summer of 1965, at the Newport Folk Festival. Never one for
complacency, Dylan had shown up at the folk music capital of the world in a black leather
jacket, plugged in his Fender electric and began the prestigious Sunday night showcase
performance (the bill included Pete Seeger, and Peter, Paul and Mary) with an earsplitting
Maggie’s Farm. Dylan, fresh from having recorded Like A Rolling Stone, blasted through the set
with a vengeance. The reaction, by most accounts, was somewhat less than generous. The
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Dylan shrugged at a San Francisco press
conference in December ‘65. “They certainly booed, I’ll tell you that. You could hear it all
over the place. I don’t know who they were… they’ve done it just about all over… I mean,
they must be pretty rich to go some place and boo. I mean, I couldn’t afford it if I was in their
Typically, the controversy fuelled one of Dylan’s most famous periods. At this point he was
writing whole batches of songs in long, all-night sessions – in coffee houses, homes of friends,
on napkins and tablecloths. Dylan was firing on all cylinders. The prolific artist was even
coming in with songs he’d written on the way to the studio. Within minutes they became
records with only one criteria – feel. A story from Al Kooper’s fine book Backstage Passes helps
recall the atmosphere. Then-guitarist Kooper, an early Dylan fan, had wandered into the empty
studio where a session was due to begin. He asked producer Tom Wilson for a spot in the band
and Wilson advised Kooper to be there, guitar in hand, when Dylan arrived. Dylan soon
appeared with guitarist Michael Bloomfield in tow and Kooper was casually switched to organ.
Kooper did not play organ, but the musician kept quiet and improvised when Dylan counted
off his newest song, Like A Rolling Stone. After the take, Wilson objected to the organ playing.
Dylan asked that it be turned up. The next take, released five days later, bumped off The
Beatles Help to become Dylan’s first number-one single. At almost six minutes, it was then the
longest hit in history.
Country artist Johnny Tillotson stopped Dylan in the street to tell him Like A Rolling Stone had
gone to number one. Dylan was amazed. It was less than five years from the day he’d stared in
the window of the record store on 7th Avenue and the weight of that fact didn’t escape him.
Perhaps only Elvis Presley before him had been able to stir up public emotions and at the same
time redefine popular music. Before Dylan, Chuck Berry had been one of the only popular
artists to sing his own songs. After Dylan, singer-songwriters were no longer akin to
ambidexterity – interesting, but not necessary. “I didn’t know it at the time but all the radio
songs were written in Tin-Pan-Alley, the Brill Building,” Dylan recalled. “They had stables of
songwriters up there that provided songs for artists. I heard of it but not paid much attention.
They were good song writers but the world they knew and the world I knew were totally
different. Most of all the songs, though, being recorded came from there, I guess because
most singers didn’t write there own. They didn’t even think about it Anyway, Tin-Pan-Alley is
gone. I put an end to it. People can record their own songs now. They’re almost expected to
do it. The funny thing about it though is that I didn’t start out as a songwriter, I just drifted
into it. Those other people had it down to a science.”
Dylan’s concerts in the mid sixties grew to be strange and mysterious affairs. With Mike
Bloomfield off touring as part of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Dylan had settled on a new
band featuring drummer Levon Helm and a stunning new blues-and-rock guitarist, Jamie
(Robbie) Robertson. (Called Levon and The Hawks, the group would years later rename
themselves and go on to their own success as The Band). Dylan himself was exploring the
inner-limits of his songwriting ability and the outer limits of his stage presence. The result was
an amazing series of performances in 1965 and 1966.
Dylan onstage and the tumultuous ‘66 tour of the British Isles are well documented in this
collection. Following wrestlers and carnivals into halls where rock had never been before (or
since), every stop was another drama. Another show on the same tour was released in
underground circles as The Royal Albert Hall Concert and it’s still a cherished recording. The
show actually took place in Manchester but an amazing bit of audience-and-artist dialogue
(Audience member: “Judas!” Dylan: “I don’t believe you… you’re a liar.”) was taken from the
Albert Hall concert days later. These concerts with Bob Dylan and The Band are now thought
to be highlights in rock history but they booed at the time.
Remembers Robbie Robertson today, “That tour was a very strange process. You can hear the
violence, and the dynamics of the music. We’d go from town to town, from country to country
and it was like a job. We set up, we played, they booed and threw things at us. Then we went
to the next town, played, they booed, threw things, and we left again. I remember thinking,
‘This is a strange way to make a buck.’”
“I give tremendous credit to Bob in that everybody at the time said, ‘Get rid of these guys
they’re terrible’: They said it behind our backs, and they said it with the group standing right
there. Dylan never did anything about it. He never once came to me and said, ‘Robbie, this is
not working…’ The only reason tapes of those shows exist today is because we wanted to
know, ‘Are we crazy?’ We’d go back to the hotel room, listen to a tape of the show and think,
‘Shit. That’s not bad. Why is everybody so upset?’”
(It’s an interesting footnote to music history that along an early English tour, Dylan would visit
the home of John Lennon and the two would pen a song together. “I don’t remember what it
was, though,” said Dylan. “We played some stuff into a tape recorder but I don’t know what
happened to it. I can remember playing it and the recorder was on. I don’t remember
anything about the song.”)
Lennon would later comment on their relationship. “I’ve grown up enough to communicate
with him… Both of us were always uptight, you know, and of course I wouldn’t know whether
he was uptight because I was so uptight, and then when he wasn’t uptight, I was -all that bit.
But we just sat it out because we just liked being together.”
Back in the States, Dylan had reached household name status. Not only was he an unlikely hit-
singles artist, Bob Dylan was now a culture hero and a conversation piece. He was a genius.
He was a sellout. He was a poet, he wasn’t a poet. He was straight. He had to be on something.
It’s conceivable that the artist himself never scheduled a moment to reflect on all the
commotion. He continued writing and touring, even while recording Blonde on Blonde in
Nashville. It has remained as one of the most artful albums in modern music, and one that
came closest to Dylan’s truest musical intentions. He told Ron Rosenbaum in a ‘78 Playboy
interview, “It’s that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold, with whatever
that conjures up. That’s my sound. I haven’t been able to succeed in getting it all the time.”
Those present for the Blonde on Blonde sessions remember it as an unlikely setting for
greatness. Compared to the circus-quality of the live shows, this was a twilight zone of
complacency. While struggling songwriter and then-janitor Kris Kristofferson cleaned the
ashtrays, Dylan recorded with a band that was made up of traditional Nashville studio
musicians and several New York favorites like Robertson and Kooper. “Blonde on Blonde was
very different from what we were doing out on the road,” said Robertson. “This was a very
controlled atmosphere. I remember the Nashville studio musicians playing a lot of card games.
Dylan would finish a song, we would cut the song and then they’d go back to cards. They
basically did their routine, and it sounded beautiful. Some songs pushed it somewhere else, like
Obviously Five Believers where we had four screaming guitar solos.”
“The sessions happened late at night,” recalled Kooper. “The afternoons were mostly for
songwriting.” Dylan sometimes worked on his hotel piano, other times at a studio typewriter.
Songs like Visions Of Johanna (original title: Seems Like A Freeze-Out) and Sad-Eyed Lady of the
Lowlands would make it to acetate stage and Dylan would often take the discs with him on the
road to play for others. “How does this sound to you?” he would ask. “Have you ever heard
anything like this before?” Usually they hadn’t.
Dylan’s singing – once the quality Woody Guthrie liked best about him – had also gotten more
expressive. Part rocker, part wounded romantic, part cynic and part believer, he had learned to
make records now, and the rush was felt on radios all over the world. Like A Rolling Stone,
Positively 4 Street and I Want You were classic singles as well as songs. John Lennon said in a
Rolling Stone interview in 1970, “You don’t have to hear what Bob Dylan’s saying, you just
have to hear the way he says it.”
More than a few artists, from Bruce Springsteen to David Bowie, have been saddled with the
phrase “the new Bob Dylan” at one time or another in their careers. But for Dylan himself,
there weren’t many examples to look at. As his momentum doubled and redoubled, the still
somewhat frail Dylan charged forward. He amped and pushed himself to the limits of personal
stamina. He worked constantly, rarely ate, rarely stopped. Like James Dean before him, Dylan
left behind a wake of peers who stood in awe of his talent and in fear for his safety and health.
Late in July of 1966, their worst fears nearly came true. While joyriding in Woodstock, the back
wheel locked on Dylans Triumph 500. He was thrown from the seat and drilled into the
pavement, suffering a concussion, a number of facial cuts and several broken vertebrae in his
neck. It could have been much worse. Amid macabre Deanish reports that he was either dead,
paralyzed, cryogenically frozen or retired, Dylan quietly recuperated for several months. It was
much-needed time to regroup but long after the wounds healed, he would still be working to
regain his personal equilibrium.
While Dylan laid low at his then-home in upstate New York, The Band was recording at the
nearby basement tape studio they had dubbed Big Pink. Dylan was writing a wide range of new
songs and the idea was to record them at a leisurely pace, possibly as demos for other artists.
The sessions stretched through several months of the down-time, and over the period Dylan
and The Band recorded a large group of songs that ran from the seminal I Shall Be Released to
the jaunty story-telling of Million Dollar Bash, to a number of songs too bawdy to even record.
There new characters, new rhythms… and when what Robertson called “a tape of a tape of a
tape of a dub of a tape” slipped out, the world soon had it’s first bootleg album. This, of course,
didn’t much please the victims of the theft. Even though the mood of The Basement Tapes, as
they were called, was forbidden and exciting, (Neil Young for years kept a mastertape copy and
played it during the breaks in his own sessions often) the songs stayed on the shelf until 1975.
“The bootleg records,” Dylan commented, “those are outrageous. I mean, they have stuff you
do in a phone booth. Like, nobody’s around. If you’re just sitting and strumming in a motel,
you don’t think anybody’s there, you know… it’s like the phone is tapped… and then it
appears on a bootleg record. With a cover that’s got a picture of you that was taken from
underneath your bed and it’s got a striptease type title and it cost $30. Amazing. Then you
wonder why most artists feel so paranoid.”
It would be a while before Dylan officially re-emerged on record with a quietly thoughtful
Nashville album called John Wesley Harding. In his recuperation period, he had watched his
own influence take rock in an explosive new direction. Rock was more topical and meaningful,
the form had been stretched and now studio techniques were changing too. The Beatles
released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Rolling Stones answered with Satanic
Majesties and now the pop world was waiting on Dylan. Dylan was waiting on Dylan, too. Did
he feel confident about meeting the challenge?
“Not really,” he smiled, “I didn’t know the studio like those guys did. They had obviously
spent a lot of hours in the studio figuring that stuff out and I hadn’t. And not only hadn’t I, but
I didn’t really care to and I’d lost my (studio) contacts at that point. I’d been out of
commission for a while. All I had were those songs that I’d just sort of scribbled down.”
“We recorded that album, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Lots of times people will get
excited and they say, ‘this is great, this is fantastic.’ But usually they’re full of shit. They’re just
trying to tell you something to make you feel good. People have a way of telling you what
they think you want to hear – anytime I don’t know something and I ask somebody, I usually
know less about it after I ask than before. You’ve got to know or you don’t know and I really
didn’t know about that album at all. So I figured the best thing to do would be to put it out as
quickly as possible, call it John Wesley Harding because that was one song that I had no idea
what it was about, why it was even on the album. I figured I’d call the album that, call
attention to it, make it something special… the spelling on that album, I just thought that was
the way he spelled his name. I asked Columbia to release it with no publicity and no hype
because this was the season of hype. And my feeling was that if they put it out with no hype,
there was enough interest in the album anyway, people would go out and get it. And if you
hyped it, there was always that possibility that it would piss people off. They didn’t spend any
money advertising the album and the album just really took off. People have made a lot out of
it, as if it was some sort of ink blot test or something. But it never was intended to be anything
else but just a bunch of songs, really, maybe it was better ‘n I thought.”
Nashville Skyline continued Dylan’s string of albums recorded at the CBS studio in the country
music capital of the world. His voice, sweetened by a brief break from cigarettes, Dylan
produced one of his biggest single hits in April of 1969. Written for the movie Midnight
Cowboy, Lay Lady Lay missed the deadline for inclusion on the soundtrack. The producers used
Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ instead. Dylan released Lay Lady Lay himself and it is that love
song that became one of his longest lasting hits. “I don’t know what made me sound that way.
Today I don’t think I could sound that way if I wanted to. Clive Davis really wanted to release
that song as a single. Actually I was slightly embarrassed by it, wasn’t even sure I even liked
the song. He said it was a smash hit… I thought he was crazy. I was really astonished, you
know, when he turned out to be right.”
Dylan’s next release was 1970’s Self Portrait, a double album of standards and several live
tracks from his concert at the Isle of Wight. Criticized as trivial at the time, now revered by
critics looking for an argument, the album seemed to make a simple statement – he enjoyed
singing other people’s material – but it also further signaled that Bob Dylan had no
responsibility toward the vocal few who still demanded to know why he stopped writing
“protest songs.” One man, A. J. Weberman, had even become famous for going through
Dylan’s garbage for “clues”.
“Self Portrait,” Dylan explained recently, “was a bunch of tracks that we’d done all the time
I’d gone to Nashville. We did that stuff to get a (studio) sound. To open up we’d do two or
three songs, just to get things right and then we’d go on and do what we were going to do.
And then there was a lot of other stuff that was just on the shelf. But I was being bootlegged
at the time and a lot of stuff that was worse was appearing on bootleg records. So I just
figured I’d put all this stuff together and put it out, my own bootleg record, so to speak. You
know, if it actually had been a bootleg record, people probably would have sneaked around
to buy it and played it for each other secretly. Also I wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet and
I figured this record would put an end to that… I was just so fed up with all that who people
thought I was nonsense.”
It would be his last work of the sixties, a decade that Dylan had largely spent in a spin-cycle of
touring and recording. He had become a part of everybody else’s sixties experience but did he
feel like he’d had one of his own?
“I never looked at it that way,” answered Dylan. “I didn’t even consider it being the sixties.
People who were in it, it never occurred to anybody that we were living in the sixties. It was
too much like a pressure cooker. There wasn’t any time to sit around and think about it. Not
like what we’re living now is the eighties where everybody says, ‘These are the eighties and
ain’t it great.’ In the sixties they didn’t say that. Nobody wanted to say that. There were a lot
of people who jumped on the bandwagon who didn’t know it existed before. As far as I know,
they’re the only ones who made a big deal about it. People like to think of themselves as being
important when they write about things that are important. But for people who were active, it
didn’t matter. It could have been the twenties. Nobody really figured it out until the late
sixties that something happened. I remember Joe Strummer said that when he first heard my
records, I’d already been there and gone. And in a way that’s kind of true. It was like a flying
saucer landed… that’s what the sixties were like. Everybody heard about it but only a few
really saw it.”
Dylan soon released New Morning, a confident album of originals. It was another critically
heralded return for a man who’d never really left. He’d simply learned to work at his own pace,
a pace that tended not to interfere with the raising of his family.
Dylan spent the next few years in New York, popping up only occasionally with performances
like Concert for Bangladesh or a single like Watching The River Flow or George Jackson. In
1973, Kris Kristofferson talked Dylan into joining him on the Durango, Mexico set of the late
Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. Dylan ended up not only scoring the movie,
but turning in a clever performance as Alias, sidekick to Billy the Kid. Knockin’ On Heaven’s
Door, one of Dylan’s most successful singles was released from the soundtrack album. The film
featured Peckinpah’s trademark violent and unpolished beauty, and the music fit it perfectly.
The project seemed to signal a new period of activity. “I think he’s getting ready for
something,” said co-star Kris Kristofferson at the time. “He sat down at the piano the other
night. He had that look in his eyes…”. Said Dylan, “actually, I was just one of Peckinpah’s
pawns. There wasn’t a part for me and Sam just liked me around. I moved with my family to
Durango for about three months. Rudy Wurlitzer, who was writing this thing, invented a part
for me but there wasn’t any dimension to it and I was very uncomfortable in this non-role.
But then time started to slip away and there I was trapped deep in the heart of Mexico with
some madman, ordering people around like a little king. You had to play the dummy all day. I
used to think to myself, ‘Well now, how would Dustin Hoffman play this?’ That’s why I wore
glasses in that reading part. I saw him do it in Papillon. It was crazy, all these generals making
you jump into hot ants, setting up turkey shoots and whatever, and drinking tequila ‘til they
passed out. Sam was a wonderful guy though. He was an outlaw. A real hombre. Somebody
from the old school. Men like they don’t make anymore. I could see why actors would do
anything for him. At night when it was quiet, I would listen to the bells. It was a strange
feeling, watching how this movie was made and I know it was wide and big and breathless, at
least what was in Sam’s mind, but it didn’t come out that way. Sam himself just didn’t have
final control and that was the problem. I saw it in a movie house one cut away from his and I
could tell that it had been chopped to pieces. Someone other than Sam had taken a knife to
some valuable scenes that were in it. The music seemed to be scattered and used in every
other place but the scenes in which we did it for. Except for Heaven’s Door, I can’t say as
though I recognized anything I’d done for being in the place that I’d done it for. Why did I do
it, I guess I had a fondness for Billy the Kid. In no way can I say I did it for the money.
Anyway, I was too beat to take it personal. I mean, it didn’t hurt but I was sleep walking most
of the time and had no real reason to be there. I’d gotten my family out of New York, that was
the important thing, there was a lot of pressure back there. But even so my wife got fed up
almost immediately. She’d say to me, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’ It was not an easy
question to answer.”
Much in music had changed over the previous few years. Bob Dylan could now look around to
see a world of rock megatours, chartered 747’s, mega-platinum artists, rockers on the cover of
world news magazines and more. Dylan, who first left Minnesota at a time when rock and roll
was still a forbidden entity, was about to venture back at a time when it had become the
In 1974 he reunited with The Band and began recording a batch of new songs in Los Angeles.
First titled Ceremonies of the Horseman and later re-titled Planet Waves, the album (and the
first single, On A Night Like This) set the tone for a high-spirited return. Dylan’s first coast-to-
coast US tour was announced. The seats sold out in hours but the event brought on board a
number of new questions. What would Dylan be like? Could he match the intensity of his early
days in huge arenas? Would he mean as much?
The questions were dispensed with in short order. Dylan appeared at full strength, with an
adrenalin charged voice and powerful backing from The Band. The concerts were cheered like
victory parties. Remembers Robbie Robertson, “We were hoping to do an extremely different
kind of show. But we rehearsed and eventually settled on a show that wasn’t dissimilar from
our last tours (in ‘65-’66). But this time when we played, everybody loved us. I don’t know if
we needed it but it was a kind of a relief.”
All the while, Dylan had some problems with myth-making proportions of the tour. “I think I
was just playing a role on that tour,” he said. “I was playing Bob Dylan and the Band was
playing The Band. It was all sort of mindless. The people that came out to see us came mostly
to see what they missed the first time around. It was just more of a ‘legendary’ kind of thing.
They’ve heard about it, they’d bought the records, whatever, but what they saw didn’t give
any clue to what was. What got it to that level wasn’t what they saw. What they saw you
could compare to early Elvis and later Elvis, really. Because it wasn’t quite the same, when we
needed that acceptance it wasn’t there. By this time it didn’t matter. Time had proven them
all wrong. We were cleaning up but it was an emotionless trip.”
“Rock-and-roll had become a highly extravagant enterprise. T-shirts, concert booklets,
lighting shows, costume changes, glitter and glamour… it was just a big show, a big circus
except there weren’t any elephants, nothing really exceptional just Sound and Lights, Sound
and Lights, and more Sound and Lights. That’s what it had become and that’s what it still is. It
is like those guys who watched the H bomb explode on Bikini Island and then turn to each
other and say, ‘Beautiful, man, just incredibly beautiful.’ That’s what this whole scene had
become. The only thing people talked about was energy this, energy that. The highest
compliments were things like, ‘Wow, lotta energy, man.’ It had become absurd. The bigger
and louder something was, the more energy it was supposed to have. You know, like knock
me out, drive me to the wall, kick my brains in, blow me up, whip me ‘til it hurts, that’s what
people were accepting as heavy energy. Actually it was just big industry moving in on the
music. Like the armaments manufacturers selling weapons to both sides in a war, inventing
bigger and better things to take your head off while behind your back, there’s a few people
laughing and getting rich off your vanity. Have you ever seen a slaughter-house where they
bring in a herd of cattle? They round them all up, put them all in one area, pacify ‘m and
slaughter them… big business, brings in lots of bucks, heavy energy. It always reminds me of
that. The greatest praise we got on that tour was ‘incredible energy, man’, it would make me
want to puke. The scene had changed somewhat when we stepped into that picture. We were
expected to produce a show that lived up to everybody’s expectations. And we did it. It was
“What they saw wasn’t really what they would have seen in ‘66 or ‘65. If they had seen that,
that was much more demanding. That was a much more demanding show. People didn’t know
what it was at that point. When people don’t know what something is, they don’t understand
it and they start to get, you know, weird and defensive. Nothing is predictable and you’re
always out on the edge. Anything can happen. I always had those songs though and so I
always figured everything was alright.”
When the tour was over-commemorated by a cover in Newsweek, the same magazine that
once questioned his authorship of Blowin’ In The Wind, Dylan responded in surprising style.
Just as he had cultivated his most public performing style yet, he reversed himself, contacted
several acoustic musicians and told his label he was going to record some “private songs.” He
wanted to do them quickly, in a small way.
He began recording what is often recognised as his finest album of the seventies, Blood On The
Tracks. Reportedly inspired by the breakup of his marriage, the album derived more of it’s style
from Dylan’s renewed interest in painting. The songs cut deep and their sense of perspective
and reality was always changing. This was acoustic soul music and clearly not the work of an
artist intent on staying in arenas touring on the strength of his own myth.
“I’m not concerned with the myth,” Dylan said in a 1977 interview, “because I can’t work
under the myth. The myth can’t write the songs. It’s the blood behind the myth that creates
the art. The myth doesn’t exist for me like it may for other people. I’d rather go on, above the
After Blood On The Tracks, Dylan stayed in New York. He recorded one of his most successful
albums, Desire, with a new group of musicians led by Scarlet Rivera. Dylan had seen her
playing on a street comer and invited her to join the band. Her violin helped characterize
Hurricane, the unreleased Abandoned Love and many other songs from this period.
Dylan also began popping up, in clubs around Greenwich Village, on some of the same stages
where he started out. More than a few visitors in the Village, accustomed to seeing the early
photos of a long-gone Dylan still pasted in the windows, did a triple take when they actually
saw Dylan back again on stage. Slowly, those club performances grew to include others like
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson and others.
Those shows built into the Rolling Thunder Revue, a bicentennial tour of small to mid-size halls
that was documented in a TV special, a number of books and later in Dylan’s own film Renaldo
and Clara. In what was now Dylan’s third or fourth wave of popularity, even candidate Jimmy
Carter was campaigning for president with a speech that quoted Bob Dylan.
By the time of Renaldo and Clara’s release, Dylan was already past it. He had relocated to a
converted rehearsal hall in Santa Monica, California and was rehearsing musicians for a band
he could both tour and record with. The resulting eleven piece group was one of his biggest
and most precise. They toured the world in 1978 and also recorded the underrated Street Legal
album. The sound of this period was something close to the dense precision of Blonde on
Blonde, with a measure of gospel-blues added. Street Legal defined Dylan’s work for the next
several years. Said Dylan, “The critics treated this record spitefully… I saw one review that
accused me of going ‘Vegas’ and copying Bruce Springsteen because I was using Steve
Douglas, a saxophone player… the Vegas comparison was, well you know, I don’t think the
guy had ever been to Vegas and the saxophone thing was almost slanderous… I mean I don’t
copy guys that are under fifty years old and though I wasn’t that familiar with Bruce’s work,
his saxophone player couldn’t be spoken of in the same breath as Steve Douglas who’d played
with Duane Eddy and on literally all of Phil Spector’s records… I mean no offense to Clarence
or anything but he’s not in the same category and the guy who reviewed my stuff should have
known it… anyway people need to be encouraged, not stepped on and put in a straight
After his world tour, reports would soon circulate that Dylan had become a born-again
Christian. The next album told the bigger story. Dylan was inspired with religious thought but
he’d also struck a smoldering studio groove with celebrated rhythm and blues producers Jerry
Wexler and Barry Beckett. This partnership produced one of the most finely recorded albums of
Dylan’s recording career. Slow Train Coming was both a critically praised and successful work.
Dylan received his first Grammy and the album went platinum. It also won the Dove Award for
Inspirational Album of 1979. The follow-up album Saved, with it’s Biblical inscription on the
outer sleeve, fared less well. Religious themes have had a place in his music from the
beginning, but for a time the media searched these songs for clues to his commitment.
Although the messages might have been too much for pop music mentality, the meaning
behind the songs did not fall entirely upon all deaf ears. “Yes mon,” said Bob Marley,… “that is
a good verse too, a revelation, a link-up with a Rasta, as Haile Selassie is the Conquering Lion
of the house of Judah. And me like his song Serve Somebody quite a bit as well… I glad him do
it, too, y’know, because there comes a time when an artist just cannot follow the crowd. If you
are an artist like Bob Dylan, you got to make the crowd follow you. I can tell you that it doesn’t
mean anything to him that people might not like what he is doing. Him still do it. And that is
the most important thing. Him still do it.”
Shot of Love, a somewhat more secular LP recorded in Los Angeles, was produced by Dylan
and Chuck Plotkin (with the help of Bumps Blackwell on Shot of Love).
The range of influence was wider, the music was technically improved from earlier days but the
feel could have been 1966. This was raw Dylan, live in the studio, scrambling to get to the
heart of his new songs. “People didn’t listen to that album in a realistic way. First of all, Shot
of Love was one of the last songs Bumps Blackwell produced and even though he only
produced one song I gotta say that of all the producers I ever used, he was the best, the most
knowledgeable and he had the best instincts… I would have liked him to do the whole thing
but things got screwed up and he wasn’t so called ‘contemporary’… what came out was
something close to what would have come out if he was really there… also Clydie King and I
sound pretty close to what’s all the best of every traditional style so how could anybody
complain about that… and the record had something that, I don’t know, could have been
made in the ‘40’s or maybe the ‘50’s… there was a cross element of songs on it… the critics, I
hate to keep talking about them, wouldn’t allow the people to make up their own minds… all
they talked about was Jesus this and Jesus that, like it was some kind of Methodist record. I
don’t know what was happening, maybe Boy George or something but Shot of Love didn’t fit
into the current formula. It probably never will. Anyway people were always looking for some
excuse to write me off and this was as good as any… I can’t say if being ‘non commercial’ is a
put down or a compliment.” The next album, Infidels, was a critical and artistic success that
also ushered Dylan into the video age with Sweetheart Like You and Jokerman.
“I don’t feel like I know what I’m going to do even next week, or not do.” Dylan said of the
future. “Mostly I just write songs, make records, and do tours, that takes up most of my time,
so I just expect it to go on that way. I started a book awhile back called Ho Chi Minh in
Harlem. I’d probably like to finish that. Maybe write some stories the way Kerouac did, about
some of the people I know and knew, change the names – New developments, new ideas? I
guess I’d like to do a concept album like, you know, Red Headed Stranger or something,
maybe a children’s album, or an album of cover songs but I don’t know if the people would
let me get away with that … A Million Miles From Nowhere, I Who Have Nothing, All My
Tomorrows, I’m In The Mood For Love, More Than You Know, It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie… I
guess someday I’d like to do an album of standards, also, maybe instrumentals, guitar
melodies with percussion, people don’t know I can do that sort of thing. I can get away with a
lot more in a show than I can on record… I mean I’m aware of sythesisers and drum machines
but they don’t affect my stuff to any great degree. There’s a great temptation to see how false
you can be. I can see where pretty soon the human voice will be synthesised, become totally
unreal. You know, like put in Paul Anka and get him sounding like Howlin’ Wolf or vice versa.
I guess it don’t matter but it’s irritating, it’s a cheap substitution for reality, stimulating little
boys and little girls with sex in a bottle, it’s all got the soul of a robot, your mind thinks its
true but your heart knows it’s wrong. Too much chaos on the airways for the senses to take,
assault on the all too fragile imagination as it is… fill up everything, put in every color, clog it
all up… if you wanna make things clear, you’ve got to leave other things out… like that’s why
the old black and white movies look better than color movies, they give your eye and your
imagination something to do, well, that’s one of the reasons, same thing with the old music
and the new music… probably too much progress or something, I don’t know.”
While Dylan had often deflected artistic inquiries in the past, on this day he was almost earnest
in his observations. Bob Dylan’s perspective in the mid eighties is a valuable one, one he
seemed inspired to have gained.
“No, I really don’t have a plan. You know what I mean, if you’ve heard my records and know
what was going on at the time I turned them out. A lot of the styles and lyrical dynamics that I
use I feel I have invented myself or stumbled into accidentally. Either back in the sixties or
even in the late seventies or eighties using certain combinations that have never come up
before, so I work mostly in that area. I can’t stop doing it just because a whole lot of other
people have taken certain elements of it and used it for their own thing. I mean Muddy
Waters didn’t stop playing just because the J. Geils Band started making records. I noticed
that George Jones didn’t roll over just because Merle Haggard appeared. It’s actually quite
complimentary to witness your own influence in someone else’s success. But I don’t know, I
guess it can be taken the other way too… look at what happened to Lefty Frizzell. Link Wray
invented heavy metal music but who knows it? T-Bone Walker is really the essence of city
blues, can wipe B. B. Jones off the map but who can tell you that? Isn’t Bessie Smith rock n’
roll? People forget. You have to know there’s always someone else that’s gonna come along
after you. There’s always going to be a faster, bigger and younger gun, right? Pop music on
the radio? I don’t know. I listen mostly to Preacher stations and the country music stations
and maybe the oldies stations… that’s about it. At the moment I like Judy Rodman, I’ve Been
Had By Love Before, more than anything happening on the pop stations. I don’t think of
myself really as a pop singer anyway, so what do I know.”
For a man often credited with helping to define rock, Dylan was careful to point out that he
was never owned by it.
“The thing about rock n’ roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough, Tutti Frutti and Blue
Suede Shoes were great catch phrases and driving pulse rhythms and you could get high on
the energy but they weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I
got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more
despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings…
My Bonnie Love Is Lang A Growing, Go Down Ye Bloody Red Roses even Jesse James or
Down By The Willow Garden, definitely not x stuff. There is more real life in one line
than there was in all the rock n’ roll themes. I needed that. Life is full of complexities and rock
n’ roll didn’t reflect that. It was just put on a happy face and ride sally ride, there was nothing
even resembling Sixteen Snow White Horses or See That My Grave Is Kept Clean in even the
vaguest way. If I did anything, I brought one to the other. There was nothing serious
happening in music when I started, not even the Beatles. They were singing Love Me Do and
Marvin Gaye… he didn’t do What’s Going On until the ‘70s.”
What did he think of the new music?
“Nothing is new. Everybody just gets their chance – most of it just sounds recycled and
shuffled around, watered down. Even rap records. I love that stuff but it’s not new, you used
to hear that stuff all the time… there was this one guy, Big Brown, he wore a jail blanket,
that’s all he ever used to wear, summer and winter. John Hammond would remember him too
– he was like Othello, he’d recite epics like some grand Roman orator, really backwater stuff
though, Stagger Lee, Cocaine Smitty, Hattiesburg Hattie. Where were the record companies
when he was around? Even him though, it’s like it was done 30 years before that… and God
knows when else. I think of Luke the Drifter as rap records and as far as concept and
intelligence and warring with words, Mighty Sparrow was and probably still is king. You go
see him and in the audience there’s people just standing up and arguing away with him about
every kind of thing… politics, sex, outer space, whatever, he answers ‘m all back, never breaks
stride, all in his poetry, his shows are like prize fights and he always come out on top, all this
and a fifteen or twenty piece band just blasting away … Calypso King… Mighty Sparrow… he’s
fantastic. Rock n’ roll, I don’t know, rhythm and blues or whatever, I think it’s gone. In its
pure form. There are some guys true to it but it’s so hard. You have to be so dedicated and
committed and everything is against it. I’d like to see Charlie Sexton become a big star, but
the whole machine would have to break down right now before that would happen. It was
easier before. Now it’s just rock, capital R, no roll, the roll’s gone, homosexual rock, working
man’s rock, stock-broker rock, it’s now a highly visible enterprise, big establishment thing.
You know thing’s go better with Coke because Aretha Franklin told you so and Maxwell
House coffee must be OK because Ray Charles is singing about it. Everybody’s singing about
ketchup or headache medicine or something. In the beginning it wasn’t anything like that, had
nothing to do with pantyhose and perfume and barbecue sauce… you were eligible to get
busted for playing it. It’s like Lyndon Johnson saying ‘We shall overcome’ to a nation-wide
audience, ridiculous… there’s an old saying, ‘If you want to defeat your enemy, sing his song’
and that’s pretty much still true. I think it’s happened and nobody knows the difference. In
the old days, there’s that phrase again, you paid the price to play. You could get run out of
town or pushed over a cliff. Of course there was always someone there with a net. I’m not
trying to paint just one side of a picture. But, you know, it was tough getting heard, it was
radical. You felt like you were part of some circus side-show. Now it’s the main event. You
can even go to college and study rock and roll, they turn out professors who grade your
records. There’s enough dribble, magazine articles, proclamations, declarations, whatever,
written about it to keep you guessing for a lifetime but it’s not in reading and writing about it,
it’s in doing it… the best stuff was done without the spotlight before the commentaries and
what not… when they came to define it I think they killed something very important about it.
The corporate world, when they figured out what it was and how to use it they snuffed the
breath out of it and killed it. What do they care? Anything that’s in the way, they run over like
a bulldozer, once they understood it they killed it and made it a thing of the past, put up a
monument to it and now that’s what you’re hearing, the headstone, it’s a billion dollar
business. I don’t know, I guess it’s hard to find flaws with this. Used to be they were very
much afraid, you know, like hide your daughters, that sort of thing… Elvis, Little Richard,
Chuck Berry… they all struck fear into the heart. Now they got a purpose sort of… to sell
soap, blue jeans, anything, it’s become country club music… White House… Kentucky Fried
Chicken… it’s all been neutralised… nothing threatening, nothing magical… nothing
challenging. For me I hate to see it because it set me free, set the whole world on fire, there’s
a lot of us who still can remember, who’ve been there. What I’m telling is no lie but then
again who wants to hear it? You just get yourself worked up over nothing.”
Dylan considered the thought.
“The truth about anything in this society, as you know, is too threatening. Gossip is King. It’s
like ‘conscience’ is a dirty word. Whatever is truthful haunts you and don’t let you sleep at
night. Especially anybody who’s living a lie gets hurt. You get a lot of ugly reactions from
people not familiar with it. A lot of times you don’t even bother. Not that I’m an expert or
anything but I’ve always tried to stick that into my music in some kind of way or at least not
to leave it untouched. The old stuff stayed in your head long after it was over, you know, even
something as simple as ‘to know, know, know him is to love, love, love him’, it became
monumental in some kind of way, now it’s just blabbering noise and after you shut it off
you’ve forgotten about it and you’re glad – Some Like It Hot. Oh mercy! Spare me please!
These things are just hooks, fish hooks in the back of your neck… nothing means anything,
people just showing off, dancing to a pack of lies – lotta people gotta be dead first before
anybody takes notice, the same people who praise you when you’re dead, when you were
alive they wouldn’t give you the time of day. I like to wonder about some of these people who
elevated John Lennon to such a mega-god as if when he was alive they were always on his
side. I wonder who they think he was singing to when he sang ‘just give me some truth. ‘
Everything is just too commercial, like a sprawling octopus, too much part of the system.
Sometimes you feel like you’re walking around in that movie Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
and you wonder if it’s got you yet, if you’re still one of the few or are you ‘them’ now. You
never know do you? When people don’t get threatened and challenged, I mean in some kind
of way, they don’t get confronted, never have to make decisions, they never take a stand, they
never grow, live their lives in a fishtank, stay in the same old scene forever, die and never get
a break or a chance to say goodbye. I have views contrary to all that. I think that this world is
just a passing-through place and that the dead have eyes and that even the unborn can see
and I don’t care who knows it. I don’t know, I can go off on tangents… things that got nothing
to do with music… The great folk music and the great rock n’ roll, you might not hear it again.
Like the horse and buggy. Sure, a horse and buggy is more soulful than a car but it takes
longer to get where you’re going and besides that, you could get killed on the road.”
Sitting across from Bob Dylan on this afternoon, one could see his influences very clearly. His
speech sometimes flecked with the country-isms of his youth, a leather jacket draped on his
shoulders, a sharp hand gesture with a cigarette barely holding its ash… for all the years of
who-is-Bob-Dylan analysis, the answer seemed obvious. He still is, as he always has been, a
lone figure with a guitar and a point-of-view.
“Basically, I’m self taught. What I mean by that actually is that I picked it all up from other
people by watching them, by imitating them. I seldom ever asked them to take me aside and
show me how to do it. I started out as a traveling guitar player and singer,” Dylan reflected.
“It had nothing to do with writing songs, fortune and fame, that sort of thing. You know what
I mean. I could always play a song on a concert-hall stage or from the back of a truck, a
nightclub or on the street, whatever, and that was the important thing, singing the song,
contributing something and paying my way. The most inspiring type of entertainer for me has
always been somebody like Jimmie Rodgers, somebody who could do it alone and was totally
original. He was combining elements of blues and hillbilly sounds before anyone else had
thought of it. He recorded at the same time as Blind Willie McTell but he wasn’t just another
white boy singing black. That was his great genius and he was there first. All he had to do was
appear with his guitar and a straw hat and he played on the same stage with big bands, girly
choruses and follies burlesque and he sang in a plaintive voice and style and he’s outlasted
them all. You don’t remember who else was on the bill. I never saw him. I only heard his
records. I never saw Woody Guthrie in his prime. I think maybe the greatest of all those I ever
saw was Cisco Houston. He was in his last days but you couldn’t tell – he looked like Clark
Gable and he was absolutely magnificent… I always like to think that there’s a real person
talking to me, just one voice you know, that’s all I can handle – Cliff Carlysle… Robert
Johnson, for me this is a deep reality, someone who’s telling me where he’s been that I
haven’t and what it’s like there – somebody whose life I can feel… Jimmie Rodgers or even
Judy Garland, she was a great singer… or Al Jolson… God knows there are so few of them, but
who knows? Maybe there are just enough. I always thought that one man, the lone balladeer
with the guitar could blow an entire army off the stage if he knew what he was doing… I’ve
seen it happen. It’s important to stay away from the celebrity trap. The Andy Warhol fame-
for-a-minute type trip. The media is a great meatgrinder, it’s never satisfied and it must be fed
but there’s power in darkness too and in keeping things hidden. Look at Napoleon. Napoleon
conquered Europe and nobody even knew what he looked like… people get too famous too
fast these days and it destroys them. Some guys got it down – Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady, Lou
Reed, secret heroes, – John Prine, David Allen Coe, Tom Waits, I listen more to that kind of
stuff than whatever is popular at the moment, they’re not. just witchdoctoring up the planet,
they don’t set up barriers… Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it
would last forever. Pop culture, what is it? IBM, Calvin Klein, General Motors, Mickey Mouse,
and that whole kind of thing, conformity to fashion, ideas, conformity to other people’s
opinions, conformity in the mirror, lots of singers who can’t even deliver live on stage, use
tapes and things… Van Gogh never sold but a few paintings while he was alive, incredible, as
far as he was concerned he was a failure. I don’t think for a minute though that he’s having
the last laugh cause that’s not what I think it’s about. Artists should remember that – There’s a
tremendous hypocrisy in this thing.”
From the demos, to the songs, to the hits and the never-heards, this is a collection of music that
anyone should take the time to listen to in sequence. And when the last notes of Forever Young
disappear, consider this: Dylan’s influence continues to be heard all around us, from his own
work to the music of artists like Springsteen, The Clash, The Pretenders, U2, The Blasters, Tom
Petty and The Heartbreakers and many others. Fan sponsored publications like Telegraph and
Wanted Man pour over set lists from twenty years ago, as well as Dylan’s movements of today.
To many, Dylan’s life is already the stuff of myth. To Dylan, it’s a life only half begun. Just listen
to the fire in his impassioned vocal on the USA for Africa single of We Are The World. A hero
to many, Bob Dylan has his own definition of the word.
“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with
his freedom, someone who’s not afraid to jump in front of a freight train to save a loved one’s
life, to draw a crowd with my guitar, that’s about the most heroic thing that I can do. To play
a song to calm the king, well everybody don’t get to do that. There’s only certain things a King
wants to hear. And then if he don’t like it, he might send you to the gallows. Sometimes you
feel like a club fighter who gets off the bus in the middle of nowhere, no cheers, no
admiration, punches his way through ten rounds or whatever, always making someone else
look good, vomits up the pain in the backroom, picks up his check and gets back on the bus
heading out for another nowhere. Sometimes like a troubadour out of the dark ages, singing
for your supper and rambling the land or singing to the girl in the window, you know, the one
with the long flowing hair who’s combing it in the candlelight, maybe she invites you up.
Maybe she says ‘Sing me another song, sweetness, sing me that song about the cat and the
fiddle, the knave and the long sea voyage’ or maybe she don’t. You gotta be able to feel your
dream before anyone else is aware of it. ‘Your parents don’t like me they say I’m too poor’…
Gotta learn to bite the bullet like Tom Mix, take the blows, like the song says. Or like Charles
Aznavour, ‘you must learn to leave the table when love is no longer being served’ but that’s a
hard thing to do. You got to be strong and stay connected to what started it all, the inspiration
behind the inspiration, to who you were when people didn’t mind stepping on you, it’s easy to
say but the air gets thin at the top, you get light-headed, your environment changes, new
people come into your life…”
Bob Dylan stood and walked to a nearby window, he stared out at a small courtyard. A cat
shrieked from an over-hanging balcony. Dylan was restless and ready to go. I asked him he
viewed his impact upon modern culture. He shrugged.
“In the big picture, on the big stage, I’m not too sure, to take yourself seriously or to take
seriously what other people are thinking, you know that could be your downfall. I mean it’s a
weakness. I know I’ve done some important things but in what context, I don’t know, and also
for who. It’s hard to relate to fans. I mean I relate to people as people but people as fans, I’m
not sure I know what that means and don’t forget John Lennon was murdered by a so-called
fan – I know it gives them all a bad name but so what? I don’t think of myself as a fan of
anybody, I am more of an admirer, so why should I think of anyone as a fan of me? If they like
you, they do and if they don’t, well that’s their business – nobody owes anybody anything.
And anyway fans are consumers, they buy products and the company tries to please the
consumers. That type of thing can rule your life. If the fan don’t like you he becomes
somebody else’s fan, like the Paul Simon song, Got To Keep The Customer Satisfied – I’m not
gonna live and die behind that – I’m not selling breakfast cereal, or razor blades or whatever.
I’m always hearing people saying how ‘Dylan should do this and do that, make an album like
he did in the sixties. ‘ How the hell do they know? I could make Blonde on Blonde tomorrow
and the same people would probably say its outdated… that’s the way people are. As far as
the sixties go, it wasn’t any big deal. Time marches on. I mean if I had a choice I would rather
have lived at the time of King David, when he was the high King of Israel. I’d love to have
been riding with him or hiding in caves with him when he was a hunted outlaw. I wonder
what he would have been saying and about who – or maybe at the time of Jesus and Mary
Magdalene – that would have been interesting huh, really test your nerve… or maybe even
later in the time of the Apostles when they were overturning the world … what happened in
the ‘60’s? Wiretapping? What was so revolutionary about it? You know, there was a time
when people thought the world was flat and that women didn’t have souls… you can say how
ridiculous and how could they have been so stupid but nevertheless people did think it to be
truth just like right now a lot of what’s thought to be truth will later be proved false… actually
I’m amazed that I’ve been around this long, never thought I would be. I try to learn from both
the wise and the unwise, not pay attention to anybody, do what I want to do. I can’t say I
haven’t done my share of playing the fool. There was never any secret. I was in the right place
at the right time. People dissect my songs like rabbits but they all miss the point. I mean have
you ever seen ‘something’s happening but you don ‘t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones’
played over the war in Lebanon? Or the Aids epidemic. Or Mengele’s bones? Sometimes I
think I’ve been doing this too long. I can understand why Rimbaud quit writing poetry when
he was 19… How would I change my life? Yeah, well, sometimes I think that I get by on only
50% of what I got, sometimes even less. I’d like to change that I guess… that’s about all I can
13 – from World Gone Wrong (1993)
ABOUT THE SONGS (what they’re about)
BROKE DOWN ENGINE is a Blind Willie McTell masterpiece. it’s about trains, mystery on the rails-the trains of love, the train that carried my girl from town-The Southern Pacific, Baltmore & Ohio whatever-it’s about variations of human longing-the low hum in meters & syllables. it’s about dupes of commerce & politics colliding on tracks, not being pushed around by ordinary standards. it’s about revival, getting a new lease on life, not just posing there-paint chipped & flaked, mattress bare, single bulb swinging above the bed. it’s about Ambiguity, the fortunes of the priviliged elite, flood control-watching the red dawn not bothering to dress.
LOVE HENRY is a “traditionalist” ballad. Tom Paley used to do it, a perverse tale. Henry-modern corporate man off some foreign boat, unable to handle his “psychosis” responsible for organizing the Intelligentsia, disarming the people, an infantile sensualist-white teeth, wide smile, lotza money, kowtows to fairy queen exploiters & corrupt religious establishments, career-minded, limousine double parked, imposing his will & dishonest garbage in popular magazines. he lays his head on a pillow of down & falls asleep. he shoulda known better, he must’ve had a hearing problem.
STACK-A-LEE is Frank Hutchinson’s version. what does the song say exactly? it says no man gains immortality thru public acclaim. truth is shadowy. in the pre-postindustrial age, victims of violence were allowed (in fact it was their duty) to be judges over their offenders-parents were punished for their children’s crimes (we’ve come a long way since then) the song says that a man’s hat is his crown. futurologists would insist it’s a matter of tatse. they say “let’s sleep on it” but they’re already living in the sanatirium. No Rights Without Duty is the name of the game & fame is a trick. playing for time is only horsing around. Stack’s in a cell, no wall phone. he’s not some egotistical degraded existentialist dionysian idiot. neither does he represent any alternative lifestyle scam (give me a thousand acres of tractable land & all the gang members that exist and you’ll see the Authentic alternative lifestyle, the Agrarian one) Billy didn’t have an insurance plan, didn’t get airsick yet his ghost is more real and genuine than all the dead souls on the boob tube – a monumental epic of blunder and misunderstanding, a romance tale without the cupidity.
BLOOD IN MY EYES is one of two songs done by the Mississippi Sheiks, a little known de facto group whom in their former glory must’ve been something to behold. rebellion against routine seems to be their strong theme. all their songs are raw in the bone & are faultlessly made for these modern times (the New Dark Ages) nothing effete about the Mississippi Sheiks.
WORLD GONE WRONG is also by them & goes against cultural policy. “strange things are happening like never before.” Strange things alright-strange things like courage becoming befuddled & nonfundamental. evil charlatans masquerading in pullover vests & tuxedos talking gobbledyook, monstrous pompous superficial pageantry parading down lonely streets on limited access highways. strange things indeed – irrationalist bimbos & bozos, the stuff of legend, coming in from left field-infamy on the landscape-”pray to the Good Lord” hit the light switch!
JACK-A-ROE is another Tom Paley ballad (Tom, one of the New Lost City Ramblers) the young virgin follows her heart (which can’t be confined) & in it the secrets of the universe. “there was a wealthy merchant” wealthy & philosophically influential perhaps with an odd penchant for young folk. the song cannot be categorized-is worlds away from reality but “gets inside” reality anyway & strips it of its steel and concrete. inverted symmetry, legally stateless, travelling under a false passport. “before you step on board, sir…” are you any good at what you do? Submerge your personality.
DELIA is one sad tale-two or more versions mixed into one. the song has no middle range, comes whipping around the corner, seems to be about counterfeit loyalty. Delia herself, no Queen Gertrude, Elizabeth 1 or even Evita Peron, doesnt ride a Harley Davidson across the desert highway, doesnt need a blood change & would never go on a shopping spree. the guy in the courthouse sounds like a pimp in primary colors. he’s not interested in mosques on the temple mount, armageddon or world war III, doesnt put his face in his knees & weep & wears no dunce hat, makes no apology & is doomed to obscurity. does this song have rectitude? you bet. toleration of the unacceptable leads to the last round-up. the singer’s not talking from a head of booze. Jerry Garcia showed me
TWO SOLDIERS (Hazel & Alice do it pretty similar) a battle song extraordinaire, some dragoon officer’s epaulettes laying liquid in the mud, physical plunge into Limitationville, war dominated by finance (lending money for interest being a nauseating & revolting thing) love is not collateral. hittin’ them where they aint (in the imperect state that they’re in) America when Mother was the the queen of Her heart, before Charlie Chapin, before the Wild One, before the children of the Sun-before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces-before all the ancient & honorable artillery had been taken out of the city, learning to go forward by turning back the clock, stopping the mind from thinking in hours, firing a few random shots at the face of time.
RAGGED & DIRTY one of the Willy Browns did this – schmaltz & pickled herring, stuffed cabbage, heavy moral vocabulary – sweetness & sentiment, house rocking, superior beauty, not just standing there-the seductive magic of the thumbs up salute, carefully thought out overtones & stepping sideways, the idols of human worship paying thru the nose, lords of the illogical in smoking jackets, sufferers from a weak education, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle-taking stupid chances-being mistreated just so far.
LONE PILGRIM is from an old Doc Watson record. what attracts me to the song is how the lunacy of trying to fool the self is set aside at some given point. salvation and the needs of mankind are prominent & hegemony takes a breathing spell. “my soul flew to mansions on high” what’s essentially true is virtual reality. technology to wipe out the truth is now available. not everybody can afford it but it’s available. when the cost comes down look out! there wont be songs like this anymore. factually there aren’t any now. by the way, don’t be bewildered by the Never Ending Tour chatter. there was a Never Ending Tour but it ended in ’91 with the departure of guitarist G.E. Smith. that one’s long gone but there have been many others since then. The Money Never Runs Out Tour (fall of ’91) Southern Sympathizer Tour (early ’92) Why Do You Look At Me So Strangely Tour (European ’92) The One Sad Cry Of Pity Tour (Australia & West Coast American ’92) Principles Of Action Tour (Mexico-South American ’92) Outburst Of Consciousness Tour (’92) Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Tour (’93) & others too many to mention. each with their own character and design. to know which was which consult the playlists.
“Self Portrait is beautiful to listen to, an evolution in attitude and sound that works as well as anything Dylan has ever done.” – Rolling Stone, 1970
“…a portrait of a generation. Self Portrait is as much a portrait of you and me as it is of Bob Dylan.”
- Bob Chorush, Los Angeles Free Press, 1970
I first listened to Self Portrait in 1979.
I was 16 and Dylan was my hero, my musical lexicon and the inspiration to express myself through words.
Self Portrait was in a ‘Sale’ in the local record store for $2.00, so I bought it, along with New Morning, which was the same price.
Without knowing the ‘furore’ surrounding it, I put it on and listened with an open mind.
I really liked his versions of Blue Moon, Let It Be Me, Copper Kettle, Early Morning Rain and especially It Hurts Me Too. I thought The Boxer was hilarious, and assumed it was Dylan simply having a laugh.
The album also made me realise that he actually had a sweet voice – like on ‘Corrina, Corinna’ off ‘Freewheelin’.
I wasn’t keen on the Isle Of Wight tracks – they seemed muddy, lumbering and lacklustre.
New Morning sounded like another side of Self Portrait and, apart from If Not For You and Father Of Night, I liked every song.
They were all different and really interesting – like If Dogs Run Free, with the strange woman singing over it; the cool, spoken observations of Three Angels; the sweet sorrow of Sign On The Window and the rough masculinity of One More Weekend or The Man In Me.
At the time, the albums made a nice interlude between listening to the heavy wordiness of 1978’s Street Legal and the scary apocalyptic Slow Train Coming.
A lot of time has passed since I was 16.
Life’s rich tragedies, comedies and maladies of love have followed me all over the world and I have played, seen and listened to a lot of music.
Central to my soundtrack, of course, has been a vast body of work by this Bob Dylan character. Though not my favourite Dylan records, I always listened to those two albums, because they were friendly, happy and so well performed.
And now suddenly, unexpectedly, the Sony vaults drop ‘Another Self Portrait’ into my iPod – a staggering array of covers, demos, stripped-down alternate takes and the entire 1969 Isle Of Wight gig, remixed and remastered.
It has been such sweet agony – waiting for it to arrive, waiting for the opportunity to sit and finally listen to it.
No distractions, no expectations, just a quickening pulse and open ears.
Sometimes life is great.
A personal set of first reactions.
1 – Went To See The Gypsy (Demo)
The intimacy is startling. Dylan’s rhythm guitar sounds great and Bromberg grows in confidence as the song evolves, finding his way and delivering some lovely licks.
Dylan’s voice is just wonderful.
2 – Little Sadie
Breathless and eager, with sweet acoustic runs by David Bromberg.
3 – Pretty Saro
I adore the freedom of his voice – like wandering horses, wild in raining fields. The flutters and swoops, delicate then brash, are fantastic.
This is definitely a favourite.
4 – Alberta #3
Love the piano and the girls. It rolls along brilliantly.
5 – Spanish Is The Loving Tongue
What a great singer. His voice has a timbre so full of expression and soul – soft, harsh, funny and sad. Very natural – which is why I like it.
There is no artifice, nothing between that voice full of heart and my ears.
6 – Annie’s Going To Sing Her Song
Doesn’t do much for me really, but it’s not unpleasant.
7 – Time Passes Slowly #1
Love the sound of the start. It’s got that earthy masculinity that makes me want to go and chop logs.
8 – Only A Hobo
As a big fan of ‘loose’, I am surprised to find myself wishing they’d done another take and weaved the two voices together a little better.
9 – Minstrel Boy
This makes me picture old film footage…some rarely seen animal…the commentator excitedly whispering “and here he is…in his natural habitat…singing without restraint…”
10 – I Threw It All Away
My favourite off Nashville Skyline and this version is good but not really better. I prefer the singing in the original.
11 – Railroad Bill
The playing and recording is fantastic and Dylan clearly enjoys the vocal – sounding warm and weary, travelled and beery. He can find the essence of any song, it seems.
12 – Thirsty Boots
Dylan hits just the right feel with this song. He is charming and treats the song with great respect. His voice sounds wise and innocent at the same time.
My only wish with this lovely recording is that he had not blown his harp but allowed the guitar runs to have a little space…but I guess no-one is going to say ‘Hey, Bob, easy on the harp there…”
13 – This Evening So Soon
Although I like the guitar and piano, this doesn’t do it for me. I can’t stand the sound of the harmonica and the song leaves me pretty cold.
14 – These Hands
The interplay between voice and guitar is wonderful in the first few bars. It reminds me of some of the performances on Good As I Been To You – just younger and a little sweeter on the ear. You can tell, just by the guitar playing, that it is the same guy.
Bromberg’s guitar work is tremendous too.
15 – In Search Of Little Sadie
It’s nice to hear the raw whooping voice and Dylan’s excellent rhythm guitar, as well as Bromberg’s embellishments. I prefer it to the original.
16 – House Carpenter
This would be at home on John Wesley Harding. It has the same style of keening vocal and shrill harp. It even fits thematically. I like the way it builds, with a loping, ominous drive, like a funeral march up a steep old hill.
There’s a touch of mountain call, some country preacher and a taste of the Hebraic cantillation that Ginsberg spoke of in the notes to Desire.
17 – All The Tired Horses
Lovely to hear those women’s voices so close…
18 – If Not For You
I have not heard a version of this song that I like…until now.
It’s odd, definitely, but works because of the commitment Dylan has in his voice. The fiddle is lovely and compliments the molasses in Dylan’s lower tones.
It is a simple love song and this treatment compliments such a pure volition.
19 – Wallflower
Again, I think this is better than any other version I’ve heard.
The version with Doug Sahm is great, but I like this more. Perhaps it’s the intimacy, the sparse arrangement and slower tempo…but it works for me.
20 – Wigwam
Da da da da da….
21 – Days Of 49
I never enjoyed this song on Self Portrait. It sounds way better stripped down, with the piano, guitar and voice working together to create a dramatic tension.
22 – Working On A Guru
This sounds like they had a blast. George Harrison’s unrehearsed soloing is cool, with Dylan’s laughter at the end sounding beautiful.
23 – Country Pie
It’s a funny song but Dylan doesn’t seem to be grinning too much. The released version has more wit, more energy to my ears. The band is great though, just great .
26 – Copper Kettle
Again, this naked version is a joy to hear. The over-dubs hid it to some degree.
The organ is just awesome! Kooper has summoned a playful, ghostly spirit that runs around and laughs through it.
27 – Bring Me A Little Water
I adore this track. Dylan’s lusty, throaty rasp is filled to the brim with blind confidence and the arrangement is sublime.
He could have done it this way on the 1978 tours.
28 – Sign On The Window
What a strange experience. Like seeing your uncle in drag – you smile with recognition and then realise he’s wearing a dress, a wig, pearls and too much make-up.
I can’t decide whether to give him a hug or walk away…
The whole thing is brilliant and crazy but, like Cohen’s ‘Death Of A Ladies’ Man’, or The Beatles ‘Let It Be’, I don’t think the horns, strings, bells and whistles really help the songs, but it sure sounds interesting.
29 – Tattle O’Day
I’m still in shock from the previous track…but this surreal farmyard tale is sounding good.
30 – If Dogs Run Free
I love the guitars, the vocals, and the chorus of heavenly women. I can hear Elvis humming in the background.
31 – New Morning
Hearing these over-dubbed versions now is like watching a film of Jackson Pollack painting…backwards.
I prefer the work without everything layered on, but it is really interesting.
32 – Went To See The Gypsy
I’m a big fan of electric piano and enjoy this immensely. It’s a beautiful song in any disguise.