The Guardian‘s Richard Williams offers a preview of the “new” “Bob Dylan” album, created along the lines of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Woody Guthrie records — old Basement Tapes-era lyrics, new music. ‘Everybody brought their A game,’ he said. ‘But you don’t record all 44 versions of these songs in 12 days by being precious about it.'”
New York Magazine music critic Jody Rosen argues Bob Dylan is having a laugh in his new Superbowl Chrysler ad. “Dylan hasn’t recorded a protest song in decades, but make no mistake: The car ad and the yogurt ad, they’re protests.”
“When Clint Eastwood did his Chrysler Super Bowl ad, he was introduced with a silhouette, and there was never any doubt; once Dylan appears the ad does everything short of superimposing a neon arrow labeled ‘Dylan’ and directed at him. At one point, he actually goes into a guitar store, stops, and brings his face close to a rack of books with his name and pictures on their covers.”
Meanwhile, The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson argues it was a dumb ad anyway. “It’s not even the best car ad Dylan has ever made; he did a better job for Cadillac.” (And for Victoria’s Secret, for that matter.)
Like Rosen, I think this was very much in keeping what Dylan does these days. And like Davidson, I thought the ad could have been better — Even the syncing of Bob’s voice and face seemed off.
My biggest issue, intentional or not, was that the sincerity of Bob’s pitch was completely undercut by the song in the background — “Things Have Changed”. It’s a little late in the day to try and repurpose Dylan’s existential classic, and an obvious riff off the almost snide self-assurance that Good Will Inherently Prevail in “The Times They-Are-A-Changin’,” into an upbeat marketing anthem.
“Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove…You can’t win with a losing hand…All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” Theoretically, Bob is telling us to Buy American, Buy Detroit, but all I could hear was the ode to not giving a good-goddamn about a broken world anymore. “Highway 61″ or the jaunty “Stuck Inside of Mobile” would’ve made more sense.
As making the rounds today: Forty-eight years after that trademark snare-shot first “kicked open the door to your mind,” as Bruce Springsteen once put it, Bob Dylan’s seminal “Like a Rolling Stone” gets a spiffy official interactive video. I clicked on this yesterday and didn’t even notice the lip-syncing on every channel. In my defense, I may have gone to the finest schools alright, but I only used to get juiced in them.
The Roots on New Years’ Eve notwithstanding, I’ve been derelict about posting on live entertainment I’ve seen this year, like Louis CK in Baltimore, The Motherf**ker with the Hat at Studio Theater, The Last Five Years in Shirlington, Dean Fields in Arlington and The Postal Service at Merriweather Post.
All that being said, since there’s an especially clear precedent here — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 — I shouldn’t neglect to mention I caught my tenth Dylan show two weeks ago, as part of the Americana Music Festival (with Ryan Bingham, My Morning Jacket, and Wilco). Here’s the setlist:
Things Have Changed | Love Sick | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Soon After Midnight | Early Roman Kings | Tangled Up In Blue | Duquesne Whistle | She Belongs To Me | Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ | A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall | Blind Willie McTell | Simple Twist Of Fate | Thunder On The Mountain | All Along The Watchtower | Ballad Of A Thin Man
Perhaps it’s because the setlists are fluctuating less this tour, or he’s playing a shorter set, or he’s just inspired by the bands he’s touring with, but this was actually the best I’ve heard Bob sound in awhile. He seemed animated and his voice, while always gravelly these days, sounded more mellifluous than it’s been in many a moon. “Things Have Changed” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are always favorites, but the highlight for me this time around was finally catching Blind Willie McTell live — You can see it as well above, thanks to Joanna’s Visions.
Also, due to the vagaries of having a job and all that — the festival started at 4:30pm over in Columbia, MD — we missed Ryan Bingham’s set and all but the last song of My Morning Jacket, but here was the evening for the Wilco-inclined (who were also very good):
Ashes of American Flags | Bull Black Nova | Blood of the Lamb | Christ for President | I Am Trying to Break Your Heart | Art of Almost | Jesus, Etc. | Can’t Stand It | Born Alone | Passenger Side | I Got You (At the End of the Century) | Heavy Metal Drummer | I’m the Man Who Loves You | Dawned on Me | A Shot in the Arm | The Lonely 1
Fifty years after his first album, and eleven years after a memorable 9/11 also brought forth Love and Theft, Bob Dylan’s Tempest drops today.
Update: Been settling in with the album tonight, and it’s already my favorite since Time Out of Mind. It’s very dark — Bob’s in full-on Blind Willie apocalyptic mode. This is dead land, this is cactus land. Eliot’s in the captain’s tower & the Titanic sails at dawn.
Speaking of which, what with the 14-minute titular track about the Titanic, “Desolation Row” obviously comes to mind. But there’s a little John Wesley Harding here as well — My early favorites are “Scarlet Town” and “Tin Angel,” the latter very much a frontier tale like “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” or “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and the opening track and first single, “Duquesne Whistle,” is much like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” in that it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the album. Anyways, a few listens in, I really like it.
NPR’s All Songs Considered gets their hands on “Duquesne Whistle”, the first track from Bob Dylan’s forthcoming Tempest, due out September 11th. True, there is something Basement Tapesy about it upon first listen.
As breaking over the weekend, the Coens’ next project may well be a look at the sixties folk scene in Greenwich Village, based on the life of Dave Von Ronk — above, with Dylan and Suze Rotolo — and his memoirs, The Mayor of McDougal Street. He shouldn’t overpower the story, but I do hope Jack Rollins get his due.
As part of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday celebration in the pages of Rolling Stone — the actual date is May 24th — Bono, as one of many artists picking their favorite Dylan songs, sings the praises of the magazine’s namesake. Also of note: Sinead O’Connor on “Idiot Wind”: “The way he delivers the words is fantastic. This voice just snarling, not bothering to hide anything. The rest of us are all busy trying to be nice people, when actually we’re f**king bastards underneath it all – whereas he was quite comfortable letting the bastard hang out. He was way ahead of his time on that. The only people getting close to him now are rappers.“
And Rolling Stone isn’t alone with the encomiums: See also AARP Magazine’s 70th birthday tribute, which includes comment from Maya Angelou, Bill Bradley, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Shaffer, Bruce Dern, and a host of others. For example, here’s Nick Cave:
“I was sitting, on my own, in a bar, in New York — it was the first time I’d ever been to that city — and I went over to the jukebox to have a look at what was on offer. I saw a song, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan, and thought that that was a great title for a song, so I put it on, and that, as they say, was that. I was knocked down. What I heard seemed so simple, yet so full of ideas — chilling, funny, absurd, perverse, audacious, but heartfelt and mind-bendingly beautiful. I felt like grabbing the guy next to me and saying, ‘Did you hear that song?’ I felt like running out on the street and waving my arms around and yelling, ‘Hey! Has anyone ever heard of Bob Dylan?’ It was like I’d missed the moon landing or something.
So, I started a slow trawl backwards, down the years, through the records, and it was like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave — there it was, oceans of the stuff — all the terrible love and beauty you could ever want to hear.“
Suze Rotolo, author, activist, and Dylan muse, 1943-2011. “‘A Freewheelin’ Time’ is one of the first histories of the folk music years written from a woman’s perspective…it goes beyond gossip to ask a pointed question: How did it feel? Rotolo writes the era mattered because ‘we all had something to say, not something to sell.’“
What better way to celebrate eleven years of GitM than a ninth cuppa Bob (and my first in three years)? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) The freewheeling Bob Dylan continued his never-ending tour Saturday night at George Washington University, and while the haters are hatin’, I knew what I was getting into — Dylan croaking his way through rockabilly versions of his classics — and had a grand ole time. Here’s the setlist:
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 | Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power) | Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues | Just Like A Woman | Rollin’ And Tumblin’ | Tryin’ To Get To Heaven | Summer Days | Desolation Row | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Simple Twist Of Fate | Highway 61 Revisited | Ain’t Talkin’ | Thunder On The Mountain | Ballad Of A Thin Man
So, if you’re keeping score, that’s a full five tracks from 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited. For me, the highlights of the evening were Ballad of a Thin Man, from that album, and especially Senor, from 1978’s Street Legal — one of my top 10 favorite Dylan songs (and one I missed during Bob’s 2005 Beacon stand.)
As far as the new stuff goes, I’d rather have heard any other Time Out of Mind track over “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” (well, except “Make You Feel My Love“), and “Ain’t Talkin’,'” off of 2006’s Modern Times sounds to me like Dylan trying a bit too hard to be Dylanesque. That being said, “High Water (for Charley Patton)“, off of 2001’s “Love and Theft (is that album really a decade old now?) sounded as lean, mean, and vital as I’d ever heard it. It’s rough out there, high water everywhere…but it’s good to know Bob’s still keep on keepin’ on regardless.
“Since then, Dylan has changed, nearly died, been reborn, gone electric, gone Christian, and gone back to his roots. But this recording captures him before all of that has happened, at age 22, eager, in a hurry, and alone in a tiny room on 51st Street in Manhattan.“
Slate columnist and Dylanologist John Dickerson spends some time with The Witmark Demos. “There are secret songs that would never be published and storytelling of a kind he later abandoned. We get to sit in on the sessions where his songwriting evolved, as he takes on the subjects of love, death, and war first from one angle and then another. And some of the songs are beautiful.“
“Songs performed by Dylan on this new album include, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Must Be Santa.” Put away the Mannheim Steamroller — In order to help Feeding America, the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan will release a holiday album, Christmas in the Heart, October 13. “It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone — 12 million of those children – often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I…hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.“
“Motorists who follow Dylan’s directions, however, may take some time to reach their destination. “I think it would be good if you are looking for directions and you heard my voice saying something like, ‘Left at the next street…. No, right… You know what? Just go straight.’ He added: ‘I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place – Lonely Avenue.’” By way of a friend, Bob Dylan plans to voice a satellite navigation system. Yes, please.
“Ask Muhammad All why he fights one more fight. Go ask Marlon Brando why he makes one more movie. Ask Mick Jagger why he goes on the road. See what kind of answers you come up with. Is it so surprising I’m on the road? What else would I be doing in this life — meditating on the mountain? Whatever someone finds fulfilling, whatever his or her purpose is — that’s all it is.” As a companion to Douglas Brinkley’s recent cover story on “Bob Dylan’s America”, Rolling Stone publishes excerpts from their various interviews with Dylan over the years. (I haven’t read the Brinkley article — it’s not online — but that “United States of Bob” conceit is one Greil Marcus already pretty thoroughly explored in The Old, Weird America (nee Invisible Republic) — listen to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” for a good intro on the subject, or consider how much antebellum history Dylan was able to squeeze into three verses in “As I Went Out One Morning.”)
In other Bob news, and in keeping with the trickster on the borderlands” persona Dylan adopts for much of the zydeco-flavored Together Through Life, there’s a thin line between love and hate in the surprisingly violent new video for “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” exclusively over on IFC. “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” it isn’t. At best, you can consider it in keeping with a traditional murder-ballad-type ditty like “Delia’s Gone,” I guess. But those who believe Dylan has serious problems with women are going to find plenty of ammunition here. (And that’s before they even get to “My Wife’s Home Town.”)
“There didn’t seem to be any general consensus among my listeners. Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite. Some people prefer my songs from the nineties. I see that my audience now doesn’t particular care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that. Images don’t hang anybody up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.” On the official site, Bob Dylan talks about his new album, Together Through Life, due out April 28.
“Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide —
the chance won’t come again.” As in the original comic, two Dylan songs bookend Zack Snyder’s ambitious, admirable, and flawed adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, the critically-acclaimed tale of the rise and fall of Cold War superheroes (which I’ve now seen twice.) The first, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” comes direct from Dylan himself, and scores the impressive, easter egg-filled opening credit montage that is one of the highlights of the film. Here, Snyder has taken the world of Watchmen, fused it with some quality Bob, and made something transporting and uniquely filmic. (Fanboys and fangirls, note the original Nite Owl saving the Waynes. By the way, Dylan, US History, and superheroes — yes, this sequence is easy for me to love.)
On the other hand, over the end credits, we get a a truly terrible version of “Desolation Row” by My Chemical Romance, whom I’m not particularly familar with but who, on the basis of this cover, would seem to be derivative, talentless hacks. Now, I’m not averse to Dylan played fast and loud. To hear it done right, check out Rage Against the Machine excavating the angry heart of “Maggie’s Farm”, or the White Stripes’ live takes on “Isis” or “Lovesick”, or, of course, Jimi’s “All Along the Watchtower” (also in the movie, right where it is in the book.) But MCR have completely missed both the power and the poetry of “Desolation Row,” and just play it fast, sloppy, and nu-punk like the faux-Green Day cover band (which makes them faux-faux-Pistols) they seem to be.
If I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about these two Dylan songs at the onset instead of Watchmen, it’s because they mirror the dichotomy present in the film. In certain sequences like the opening credits, Snyder manages to catch lightning in a bottle and really bring elements of the graphic novel to life, albeit in truncated form. There are moments in the movie, usually involving Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan, where I was struck by the sheer sensation of seeing the book leap off the page. (Short plot summary for the uninitiated: In an alternate-America 1985, on the eve of what appears to be nuclear Armageddon, one of a dwindling band of ex-superheroes is murdered in (and then out of) his New York City apartment. Rorschach, a borderline-psychotic right-wing vigilante who dresses like Philip Marlowe and rasps like Christian Bale, wants to know why. It’s a dangerous question.) The altered ending notwithstanding, it’s somewhat amazing to me that we got a Watchmen movie this close to the source material, and, by all accounts, Snyder had to fight tooth and nail with the studio suits for every cynical, resolutely uncommercial facet of it.
But, at other times, Snyder’s bad habits sadly leak through and undeniably taint the end product, most notably in the gratuitous violence present here. In interviews, Snyder can sometimes come off as a geekier version of the white fratboys in Harold and Kumar. (“Dude, that’s so extreme!“) And that better-harder-faster mentality results in some serious whiffs along the way in Watchmen, when Snyder ratchets up the gore and bone-breaking at the expense of the story. However close the movie gets to gorgeously capturing Manhattan’s reveries on Mars (although I wish the Doc’s living in an endless now was better emphasized.), it basically drops the ball completely on Rorschach’s “origin” (which I quoted in my pre-movie post), mainly because Snyder sidesteps the existential horror of Kovacs’ story to amp up the violence of it. In the comic, Kovacs has pierced the veil of the sheltering sky and discovered all is blackness. In the movie, he just seems to be on a torture-porn killing spree. Same goes for a scene involving Dan (Nite-Owl) and Laurie (Silk Spectre) getting jumped by the Top Knots gang in a dark alley. It’s bone-crushingly brutal when it doesn’t need to be, actually has these two kiling people Rorschach-style, and seriously detracts from the more interesting scene it’s intercut with, that of Dr. Manhattan inadvertently exposing his disinterest in humanity in an interview with Ted Koppel.
Now, as with loud, angry Dylan covers, I’m not averse to gore or over-the-top violence when it serves the narrative. To take an example, there’s a scene involving human entrails stuck to the ceiling (don’t you want to see this now?) which is also overly Snyderish, but I think works in context. (The voiceover is making Hollis Mason’s point that, with the arrival of Dr. Manhattan (i.e. the advent of atomic weaponry), the superhero game has forever changed — it’s no longer gallantly nabbing bankrobbers and pursesnatchers with a few “Wham! Pow!” four-color blows, but something much darker and more lethal.) But Snyder’s Watchmen is unnecessarily violent at the wrong times (see also Big Figure’s henchmen), and then inexplicably goes soft at the moments when gore is virtually required. I’m referring here to the consequences of the Big Plan, which feel strangely weightless in the movie, partly because (in this cut) no characters we’ve been following are anywhere close to Ground Zero and partly because, unlike every other action sequence in the movie, it’s all very PG-13 all of a sudden. (Contrast this with the opening of Chapter 12 in the comic, which is basically several pages of horrific imagery, unlike anything we’ve yet seen in the story.) Now, I’m willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that 9/11-squeamish studio types were unyielding about the soft-pedaling of the climax here (which, by the way, is elegant in its own way even without the squid.) Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that, while Moore and Gibbons used violence in their tale to comment on its awfulness (and the awfulness of The Plan), Snyder often just uses it because it’s like, totally extreme.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no idea how it plays to people unfamiliar with the comic, but for the rest of us, there’s a lot to like here. Even notwithstanding some godawful, cringe-inducing age and Nixon make-up (I guess everyone was busy on Benjamin Button) and one of the worst movie sex scenes in recent memory (I’m offended on behalf of Leonard Cohen), Watchmen is a better film than some of the critical pans make it out to be. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is especially dead-on, and is rightfully drawing most of the acting kudos right now — This should be a career-defining role for him. But Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan and, surprisingly, Patrick Wilson’s Nite-Owl are also pretty close to note-perfect. (So too is Matt Frewer’s Moloch, who absolutely nails his big moment — “You know that kind of cancer that you get better from eventually? Well, that ain’t the kind of cancer I got.”) And Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian and Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias grow on you, even if Ozy seems a bit charisma-starved compared to his comic counterpart. (As for Malin Ackerman’s Silk Spectre…uh, well, let’s just say she’s in it too.)
So, in short, I liked the movie, would recommend it to readers and non-readers alike, and thought even more of it the second time around when I was less burdened by expectations. (Yes, it’s wayyyy better than 300, and I’m looking forward to the 30-minute longer cut, which is rumored to spend more time with Rorschach’s shrink and the two Bernards.) Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging sense that the things I really liked about Watchmen would’ve made it into any reasonably faithful movie version, and that a different director than Snyder might’ve brought about a better, richer film in the end.
Still, as my old boss was wont to say: We don’t need people who get the ball to the twenty-yard line; we need people who can bring it over the goal line. And, for better or worse, Snyder got this ball over the goal line where Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, and Paul Greengrass couldn’t. Let’s give credit where it’s due: After twenty years of trying, they actually made a Watchmen movie, and it ended up being surprisingly close to the source material and not at all an embarrassment or cash grab. I presume the Rorschach types probably loathe this end result, compromised as it is in certain places. But for the rest of us, I’d say this new Utopia, however flawed at times, is close enough for government work.
Don’t get up, gentlemen — he’s only passing through: Rolling Stone gets word of a “surprise” Bob Dylan album coming out next month(!) “The magazine quotes an anonymous insider who says the 10-song set’s arrival ‘came as a surprise’ to those around the folk-rock legend. The currently untitled album reportedly centers on ‘raw-country love songs, sly wordplay and the wounded state of the nation.’“
“In the lower courts, according to a study Professor Long published in the Washington & Lee Law Review last year, Mr. Dylan is by far the most cited songwriter. He has been quoted in 26 opinions. Paul Simon is next, with 8 (12 if you count those attributed to Simon & Garfunkel). Bruce Springsteen has 5.“
With great lawyers, you have discussed lepers and crooks: By way of Ted at the Late Adopter, the NYT examines Chief Justice Roberts’ use of Dylan in court opinions. “Mr. Dylan has only once before been cited as an authority on Article III standing, which concerns who can bring a lawsuit in federal court…The larger objection is that the citation is not true to the original point Mr. Dylan was making, which was about the freedom that having nothing conveys and not about who may sue a phone company.”