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Bob Dylan

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Back to the Basement.

“Thinking he might get them set to music, Burnett contacted a group of sympathetic songwriters – [Elvis] Costello, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – and set them to work, with a plan to…concoct an album or two out of the results. The first of them will be released later this year, under the title Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes Vol 1.”

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.'”

Things Have…Changed?


“It feels silly to make this point for the umpteenth time, more than half a century after Dylan released his debut album, but here goes. Bob Dylan, history has shown, is a wily and willful character. Arguably the only through line in his career is his tricksterish determination to upset expectations; to thumb his nose at his fans and hagiographers; to épater la bourgeoisie, especially by acting bourgeois.”

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.

Still Not Selling Any Alibis.

“‘The effect can only be surrealistic if the channels are realistic,’ says Vania Heymann, the video’s 27-year-old Israeli director. ‘In reality, channel-flipping is a very passive act. You’re sitting back in your house, doing nothing. We wanted to make it an active thing, reediting the song itself to make a new version.’

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.

Heard that Hoot Owl Singing.

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

Llewyn Davis’ 115th Dream.

The Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis, whose trailer I posted a few weeks ago, gets a domestic distributor in CBS Films. “[T]he film stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham and Justin Timberlake.” That’s Isaac — the best thing about a couple of underwhelming films so far — above, and Mulligan and JT below.

The Freewheelin’ Llewyn Davis.


“Oh, hello! I’ve heard your music, and heard many nice things about you from Jim and Jean and from others.” One of my most anticipated films of 2013 gets a trailer: Inside Llewyn Davis, a.k.a. the Coens’ riffing on Dave Von Ronk‘s memoir and 60’s Greenwich Village, featuring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, and F. Murray Abraham. Looks like it was filmed through Todd Haynes’ Claire and Robbie filter. Can’t wait.

Tempest Fugit.

Today sees the release of the 35th studio album of Bob Dylan’s career, Tempest. The album is great, and of course it’s great—at this point, 15 years after Time Out of Mind announced his return to some entirely new type of form, that statement seems expected and unremarkable, and that unremarkableness is nothing less than astonishing

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.

Whistle while you Work.

The music starts faintly, as if in a vintage pleasure palace, with the band…playing rock and roll ragtime off in the corner. The electric guitars sound almost like clarinets. Everybody’s swinging! But what’s that in the distance?

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.

Another Night of Poetry and Poses.


At the Lincoln Center talk, the Coens compared their movie to “Margot at the Wedding” (Noah Baumbach was on stage with them) suggesting that, like that film, their new work will offer natural dialogue and a feeling of being dropped into the middle of a world. They also said they expected the film to contain musical performances.

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.

The Man in the Long Black Coat.


I love to hear a song that changes everything. That’s the reason I’m in a band: David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion (Lies),’ Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing,’ Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power.’ But at the top of this dysfunctional family tree sits the king of spitting fire himself, the juggler of beauty and truth, our own Willy Shakespeare in a polka-dot shirt. It’s why every songwriter after him carries his baggage and why this lowly Irish bard would proudly carry his luggage. Any day.

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.

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