Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One (Simon and Shuster, 2004), p. 13:
He was different from the rest of the teen idols, had a great guitarist who played like a cross between a honky-tonk hero and a barn-dance fiddler. Nelson had never been a bold innovator like the early singers who sang like they were navigating burning ships. He didn't sing desperately, do a lot of damage, and you'd never mistake him for a shaman.
Nosiree, Bob, no shaman was he. There is more interesting material on Nelson in the vicinity of this excerpt. Dylan discusses Ricky Nelson in connection with his 1961 hit, Travelin' Man. But the great guitar work of James Burton to which Dylan alludes was much more in evidence in Hello Mary Lou. The Dylan Chronicles look like they will hold the interest of this old 60's Dylan fanatic.
Here is a better taste of James Burton and his Fender Telecaster with E. P. And here he is with the Big O dueling with Springsteen. Here he jams with Nelson's sons. Orbison on Nelson.
It has been over twenty five years now since Nelson died in a plane crash while touring. The plane, purchased from Jerry Lee Lewis, went down on New Year's Eve 1985. That travelin' man died with his boots on -- as I suspect he would have wanted to. In an interview in 1977 he said that he could not see himself growing old.
Here is a passage from Thomas McGuane, Nothing but Blue Skies, Houghton-Mifflin, 1992, pp. 201-202, to which I have added hyperlinks.
He [Frank Copenhaver] turned on the radio and listened to an old song called "Big John": everybody falls down a mine shaft; nobody can get them out because of something too big to pry; Big John comes along and pries everybody loose but ends up getting stuck himself; end of Big John. Frank guessed it was a story of what can happen to those on the top of the food chain.
On to an oldies station and the joy of finding Bob Dylan: "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend." No one compares with this guy, thought Frank. I feel sorry for the young people of today with their stupid fucking tuneless horseshit; that may be a generational judgment but I seriously doubt it. Frank paused in his thinking , then realized he was suiting up for his arrival in Missoula. In a hurricane of logging trucks, he heard, out of a hole in the sky the voice of Sam Cooke: "But I do know that I love you." Frank began to sweat. "And I know that if you love me too, what a wonderful world this would be."
One of Dylan's great 'finger-pointing' songs. Live version.
Today Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught They lowered him down as a king But when the shadowy sun sets on the one that fired the gun He'll see by his grave on the stone that remains Carved next to his name his epitaph plain "Only a pawn in their game."
I was surprised, but pleased, to see that the late Lawrence Auster, traditionalist conservative, photo to the left, 1973, had a deep appreciation and a wide-ranging knowledge of Dylan's art. Born in 1949, Auster is generationally situated for that appreciation, and as late as '73 was still flying the '60s colors, if we can go by the photo, but age is at best only a necessary condition for digging Dylan. Auster's Jewishness may play a minor role, but the main thing is Auster's attunement to Dylan's particularism. See the quotation below. Herewith, some Dylan songs with commentary by Auster.
This Dylan song can seem amorphous and mystical in the negative sense, especially as it became a kind of countercultural anthem and meaningless through overuse. But the lyrics are coherent and profound, especially the first verse:
They say everything can be replaced They say every distance is not near But I remember every face Of every man who put me here.
The modern world tells us that everything is fungible, nothing is of real value, everything can and should be replaced—our spouse, our culture, our religion, our history, our sexual nature, our race, everything. It is the view of atomistic liberal man, forever creating himself out of his preferences, not dependent on any larger world of which he is a part. The singer is saying, No, this isn’t true. Things have real and particular values and they cannot be cast off and replaced by other things. And, though we seem to be distant, we are connected. I am connected to all the men, the creators and builders and poets and philosophers, and my own relatives and friends, who have come before me or influenced me, who created the world in which I live.
First off, some comments of mine on the video which accompanies the touched-up Blonde on Blonde track. The video is very cleverly constructed, providing a synopsis of milestones in Dylan's career. The first girl the guy with the acoustic guitar case is walking with is a stand-in for Suze Rotolo, the girl 'immortalized' on the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album cover. But now we see the pair from the back instead of from the front. She is replaced by a second girl representing Joan Baez. (Dylan's affair with Baez helped destroy his relationship with Rotolo.) Then the guy gets into a car and emerges on the other side with an electric guitar case. This signifies Dylan's going electric in '65 at the Newport Folk Festival, a change which enraged the die-hard folkies and doctrinaire leftists who thought they owned Dylan as a mouthpiece for their views. A quick shot of a newpaper in a trash can with the headline "Dylan Goes Electric" appears just in case you missed the subtlety of the auto entry-exit sequence. After that we see a downed motorcycle representing Dylan's motorcycle accident, an event that brings to a close the existentialist-absurdist-surrealist phase of the mid-60s trilogy, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. After the accident Dylan is further from the mind and closer to the earth. Dylan the psychedelically deracinated returns to his roots in the Bible and Americana with John Wesley Harding. The girl in the brass bed is an allusion to "Lay Lady Lay" ("lay across my big brass bed") from the Nashville Skyline album. Dylan then colaesces with the man in black (Johnny Cash), and steps over and through the detritus of what remains the hippy-trippy 60's and into the disco era, his Christian period, marked by the 1979 Slow Train Coming and a couple of subsequent albums, his marriage to a black back-up singer, and on into the later phases of the life of this protean bard on never-ending tour.
By the way, that’s the first time I’ve seen “judge” rhymed with “grudge” since Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” from Blonde on Blonde. Here’s the recording.
Dylan’s lyric (not for the first time) is pretty appropriate to our situation:
Well the judge He holds a grudge He’s gonna call on you. But he’s badly built And he walks on stilts Watch out he don’t fall on you.
There is now on the U.S. Supreme Court an intellectually sub-par Puerto Rican woman whose entire career has been essentially founded on a grudge against whites, a judge who makes her pro-Hispanic, anti-white agenda an explicit element in her judging. “The judge, she holds a grudge.”
Sotomayor is not the first of that kind, however. Another Supreme Court sub-competent, Thurgood Marshall, openly stated to one of his colleagues that the philosophy behind his judging was that “It’s our [blacks’] turn now.”
Thinking about the murder of motivational speaker and “positive, loving energy” guru Jeff Locker in East Harlem this week, where he had been pursuing an assignation with a young lady not his wife but got himself strangled and stabbed to death in his car by the damsel and her two male accomplices instead, I realized that this is yet another contemporary event that Bob Dylan has, in a manner of speaking, got covered. Here is the recording and below are the lyrics of Dylan’s 1964 song, “Spanish Harlem Incident,” where the singer, with his “pale face,” seeks liberating love from an exotic dark skinned woman, and is “surrounded” and “slayed” by her. The song reflects back ironically on the Jeff Locker case, presenting the more poetical side of the desires that, on a much coarser and stupider level, led Locker to his horrible death. By quoting it, I’m not making light of murder, readers know how seriously I take murder. But when a man gets himself killed through such an accumulation of sin and gross folly, a man, moreover, whose New Agey belief in positive energy and transformative love apparently left him unable to see the obvious dangers he had put himself in, there is, unavoidably, a humorous aspect to it.
SPANISH HARLEM INCIDENT
Gypsy gal, the hands of Harlem Cannot hold you to its heat. Your temperature is too hot for taming, Your flaming feet are burning up the street. I am homeless, come and take me To the reach of your rattling drums. Let me know, babe, all about my fortune Down along my restless palms.
Gypsy gal, you’ve got me swallowed. I have fallen far beneath Your pearly eyes, so fast and slashing, And your flashing diamond teeth. The night is pitch black, come and make my Pale face fit into place, oh, please! Let me know, babe, I’m nearly drowning, If it’s you my lifelines trace.
I’ve been wonderin’ all about me Ever since I seen you there. On the cliffs of your wildcat charms I’m riding, I know I’m ‘round you but I don’t know where. You have slayed me, you have made me, I got to laugh halfways off my heels. I got to know, babe, ah, when you surround me, So I can know if I am really real.
Dylan talks about Clayton in the former's Chronicles, Volume One, Simon and Shuster, 2004, pp. 260-261.
Mark Spoelstra is also discussed by Dylan somewhere in Chronicles. While I flip through the pages, you enjoy Sugar Babe, It's All Over Now. The title puts me in mind of Dylan's wonderful It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Comparing these two songs one sees why Spoelstra, competent as he is, is a forgotten folkie while Dylan is the "bard of our generation" to quote the ultra conservative Lawrence Auster.
Ah yes, Spoelstra is mentioned on pp. 74-75.
About Karen Dalton, Dylan has this to say (Chronicles, p. 12):
My favorite singer in the place [Cafe Wha?, Greenwich Village] was Karen Dalton. She was a tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry. I'd actually met her before, run across her the previous summer outside of Denver in a mountain pass town in a folk club. Karen had a voice like Billie Holliday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it. I sang with her a couple of times.
Understated topicality also characterizes A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, written during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, lending it a timeless quality absent in a blatant 'finger-pointing' song such as Masters of War. The Baez version is probably the best of the covers.
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right in the outstanding PP & M version. Another permanent addition to musical Americana. Said to be inspired by Suze Rotolo, the girl on the album cover.
In her memoir, A Frewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties (Broadway Books, 2008, p. 277-8), Suze Rotolo says this about her mother Mary Rotolo:
I remember her informing me that the career army man an older cousin was married to had lost out on a promotion that involved security clearance because of my appearance on the cover of Bob's album. I was astounded.
True, the times they were troubled. Protest against the escalating war in Vietnam was on the rise, draft cards were being burned, and colleges were erupting with discontent. Blues, bluegrass, and ballads no longer defined folk music, since so many folksingers were now writing songs that spoke to current events. Bob Dylan was labeled a "protest singer." But the absurdity of my mother, Marxist Mary, trying to make me feel responsible for a military man's losing a security clearance because I am on an album cover with Bob Dylan, a rebel with a cause, left me speechless. And that was all she said to me about the cover or the album in general.
Linda Ronstadt, 1967, Different Drum. Cf. Henry David Thoreau: "“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
On this Day in Duluth in 1959, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Richie Valens, Jiles Perry “the Big Bopper” Richardson, Dion and the Bellmonts [sic], and others played to a sell-out crowd at the Duluth Armory for a “Winter Dance Party” promoted by Duluth’s Lew Latto—three days before Holly, Valens, and Richardson perished in a plane crash. In the audience, as the famous story goes, was a young Robert Zimmerman, who became so inspired he picked up a guitar and changed his name to Bob Dylan.
The hunt for Dylan in Dylan songs is a mug’s game. Dylan is a genius; he’s also the greatest bullshitter and jive-talker in popular-music history. He began laying boobytraps for his exegetes before he even had any, and they—we—have never stopped taking the bait. Today Dylanology is a midrashic enterprise rivaling Talmudism and Shakespeare Studies, and it’s worth remembering its origins: it started with the hippie gadfly A .J. Weberman, who took to “reading” toothbrushes recovered from garbage bins outside of Dylan’s MacDougal Street townhouse.
[. . .]
The original Dylanological sin is to focus too much on the words, and too little on the sound: to treat Dylan like he’s a poet, a writer of verse, when of course he’s a musician—a songwriter and, supremely, a singer. “Tempest” reminds us what a thrilling and eccentric vocalist he is.
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth. And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with such heed. . . . And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief, "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth, None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke, "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate, So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too. Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl, Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
The absurdist sensibility of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde gave way, after the July 1966 motorcycle accident, to a renewed seriousness. Life is no joke. We've been through that. No more talking falsely now, the hour is getting late.
While I was making dinner, Susie put on a CD of Pete Seegar [sic] songs. I was struck once again by the oft-remarked fact that for half a century, the left has had all the good songs. That cannot be irrelevant.
By the way, the old commie's name is 'Seeger' not 'Seegar.' In the ComBox, some guy confuses him with Bob Seger! The Left has had all the good songs over the last 50 years? Nonsense. Here are 50 counterexamples.
The really interesting case is Bob Dylan. The Left can of course claim the early topical songs such as Only a Pawn in Their Game and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. (Not that we contemporary conservatives don't take on board all that was good in these critiques of racism and Jim Crow.) But it wasn't long before Dylan distanced himself from politics and leftist ideology, a distancing documented in My Back Pages. And then came the absurdist-existentialist-surrealist phase represented by the three mid-'sixties albums, Bring It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. After that, the motorcycle accident and another attitude adjustment culminating in a couple of masterful albums, John Wesley Harding and New Morning, in which religious and conservative themes come to the fore.
Build me a cabin in Utah Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout Have a bunch of kids who call me 'Pa' That must be what it's all about That must be what it's all about.
To appreciate the full conservative flavor of this song, listen to it in the context of "Masters of War" from the protest period and It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) from the absurdist-existentialist-surrealist period.
He deserves it for the hundreds of unforgettable songs ineliminable from the soundtrack of so many of our lives over the past 50 years: 1962-2012.
"Blowin' in the Wind" is the most famous of his anthems. You may be surprised to learn that London Ed uploaded this outstanding rendition by Alanis Morissette. Another of Dylan's great anthems is "Chimes of Freedom" here sung by the Byrds, and here by Dylan and Baez, or is it Dylan and Osbourne? (I say it's Baez)
This year we celebrate 50 years of Dylan's music. 1962-2012. Here is a sampler. The kid who put together this video is to be commended for his excellent selections. A good intro to Dylan, but it only scratches the surface of his many-sided genius.
A plausible ranking!Blonde on Blonde is numero uno as it should be. Bob's debut album, Bob Dylan (1962), comes in at only 26th place. Admittedly, this album was Dylan before he was Dylan, but I would have ranked it higher.
In the '60s I argued that there was and could be no such thing as a bad Dylan album. Then I was a fanatic, now I am but a fan.
"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
Purdue philosopher Jan Cover appears to maintain a Music = Dylan Identity Thesis. I wouldn't have gone that far even in the '60s. (Though I was a bit of a fanatic. I wrote for a high school 'underground' newspaper under the pen name 'Dylan's Disciple.') Cover's Dylan page is short but well worth a look.
One difference between these two websites is that the first exists while the second doesn't. It borders on a paradox: two major countercultural influences, Kerouac and Dylan, display significant conservative tendencies in their art. I recommend RWB's post Times Changin' with its links to First Things articles and to a very nice Dylan performance in which 'another side' of his vocal styling is made manifest. This bard's one protean cat.
Dylan nestled his guitar on his lap and began strumming a C chord in three-quarter time. He repeated it until the small room hushed, then he slid into the opening of "With God on Our Side." By the end of the song's nine verses, Joan Baez was no longer indifferent to Bob Dylan or irked by his crush on her sister Mimi. She was startled by the music she heard and fascinated with the fact that the enigma in the filthy jeans had created it. "When I heard him sing 'With God on Our Side,' I took him seriously," said Joan. "I was bowled over. I never thought anything so powerful could come out of that little toad. It was devastating. 'With God on Our Side' is a very mature song. It's a beautiful song. When I hear that, it changed the way I thought of Bob. I realize that he was more mature than I thought. He even looked a little better." Social consciousness as an aphrodisiac? [. . .]
Dylan played a few more of his topical songs, including "The Death of Emmett Till,""A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall," and "Masters of War." They astounded Spoelstra, who had not kept up with his old Village cohort's development as a songwriter, and they seemed to overwhelm Baez. (In one interview, Baez recalled "The Death of Emmett Till," not "With God on Our Side," as the Dylan song that changed her view of him and prompted her to take up protest music; "I was basically a traditional folksinger," she said. "I was not 'political' at that time. When I heard 'Emmett Till' I was knocked out. It was my first political song. That song turned me into a political folksinger."
I had forgotten how good these old songs from Donovan Leitch's initial folk phase sound, before he went 'psychedelic.' Catch the Wind.Colors. Some have noticed a similarity between Catch the Wind and Dylan's Chimes of Freedom (1964) which antedated it. I just now discovered this version of Chimes which is the best I've heard. It's a duet with a gal named Joan. But is it Baez or Osbourne? And that does sound like Al Kooper on organ.
Remember Dave van Ronk? I haven't heard his version of "Cocaine" in maybe 45 years. Enjoy it before it is pulled. Last Saturday I reminded you of Fred Neil. Here is another delightful tune of his, I've Got a Secret. Based loosely on Elizabeth Cotten's Shake Sugaree. And then there was a young cat who named himself after a Welsh poet, a callow youth who in his early days played guitar and harmonica much better than in later days and sang better too as you can hear in his versions of Cocaine and Rocks and Gravel. But the Zeitgeist chose the unlikely Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota as its avatar, and you know the rest of the story
Mary Travers of the popular 1960's folk trio "Peter, Paul and Mary" passed away on Wednesday, from leukemia, at age 72. Travers and Co. did perhaps as much as anyone to popularize the songs of the young Bob Dylan. The best known of them is 'Blowin' in the Wind," which became an anthem of the civil rights movement.
Unlike Travers and Joan Baez, who knew how to make Dylan's songs sound beautiful -- as witness this version of "Farewell Angelina" -- Dylan soon distanced himself from the politics of the Left as he 'explains' in "My Back Pages" an electrified and electrifying version of which is here. "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."
It would be a mistake to think that the Left owns Dylan. The case for Dylan as conservative is argued at RightWingBob.com.
Though the news accounts don't mention it, Mary Travers was a red diaper baby. Here is another red diaper baby, David Horowitz, on Travers and her fellow travelers:
At a Freedom Forum conference on 1968, Life magazine editor and former Sixties activist Robert Friedman claimed that most student protestors were not simply trying to avoid the draft (a thesis I have elsewhere maintained), but were "motivated by something beyond that was weighing on us." Folksinger (and former Sixties activist) Mary Travers explained the "something" as idealism. Then she said this:
"I think sometimes that that was the last generation who believed in the American dream and its myths. These kids had gotten involved in the civil-rights movement and they were on the side of the angels, they were going to make America the country that it’s always said it was."
Referring to oneself in the third person is a characteristic evasion, but it is only the beginning of the bullshit. Come off it Mary. Your diapers were red. Your father was a hack novelist for the Communist Party, USA. When other kids were going to Frank Sinatra concerts you were headed for the Party’s annual May Day parade to march against the Wall Street war-mongers and to show your solidarity with the peace-loving commissars of the Soviet police state and their beneficent leader Joe Stalin. In the Sixties, you didn’t believe in the American dream. You lusted after the vision of a Communist utopia, mid-wived by armies of bearded guerrillas or carried on the wings of a MIG-21. Why all the liberal fol-de-rol? Why can’t you just tell it like it was?
Although the music of the 1960's was great, the idealism was much of it tainted and misdirected. Some sober reflection on what really 'went down' during those heady years is a salutary counterbalance to the misty-eyed nostalgia we '60s veterans are wont to indulge in as our heroes fall one by one into oblivion.
Dylan is an artist not an ideologue, arguably America's greatest troubadour. For a taste of Left-Right polarity in Dylan's work already in the 1960s compare Subterranean Homesick Blues with Father of Night. The Weatherman faction of the SDS got its name from the line, "It don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" from the former. It is worth noting that Dylan's farewell to ideology came early, in 1964, in My Back Pages, thus a year before "Subterranean Homesick Blues." If you can't stand Dylan's voice, give a listen to this high-powered version of "My Back Pages" featuring Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Neil Young, et al.
"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."