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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

normal service will be resumed as soon as possible . . .

Sunday, July 23, 2006


TONIGHT, 6pm to 8pm, the whole of the Dr. Rock Show on BBC Radio York (and online for 7 days afterwards; this show claims to be one of the 10 most online-listened-to BBC shows, including national networked ones).

TUESDAY AUG 1, 10pm-10.30pm, a Dylan Special taking up the whole of Steve Harley's Sounds of the 70s, BBC Radio 2 (also online for 7 days afterwards).

MON AUG 7, noon & 8pm, the whole of the literature show Between the Lines, OneWord Radio (a Channel 4 station). Can be heard on DAB Radio by tuning to 'Oneword', on Sky channel 0127, Freeview channel 717 & ntl channel 893.

Tonight's Dr. Rock Show, pre-recorded on Thursday, but done "as live", with no stops or re-takes, was the first radio I've done during this now month-long promo stint where someone has drawn out the multiplicity of musics written about in the book - this whole 2-hour show is centred around people with entries in the book, including: Little Richard singing a Johnny Cash song, Fats Domino live, George Harrison, Howlin' Wolf, plus "minor" figures like Curtis Jones, plus Bob singing Harrison, the 1970 Bob & Earl Scruggs . . . it was such a pleasure to have the book's range emphasised, instead of it being assumed that it's some ultimate Dylan trainspotter's novelty item.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Discovered on another blog today - this photo, taken by the blogger, Chris McKay, shows the great Seamus Heaney holding a copy of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. I've rarely been so thrilled.

The URL is

Earlier in the week, at last, we had a launch/talk event at the London Review Bookshop in Bury Place, Bloomsbury, just round the corner from the British Museum. It seemed to go well, it sold out and I was especially pleased (if a little intimidated) that my one-time English Lit tutor, R.T. Jones, was there. Without him my ability to do any sort of close-to-the-text critical scrutiny would have been the poorer, and without a doubt the Song & Dance Man of 1972 would have been so too.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tony Blair, The Beatles - how they are related

So, it turns out that Tony Blair's dodgy tennis partner, Middle East envoy and loans-for-peerages wheeler & dealer, Lord Levy, used to be exactly what he looks like: Alvin Stardust's manager. (For non-Brit readers, Alvin Stardust was/is a retro rocker from that awful rock'n'roll revival period that gave us acts like Showaddywaddy. A sort of less successful Gary Glitter without the paedophilia.)

Alvin Stardust had been, in a previous incarnation, Shane Fenton of Shane Fenton & The Fentones. (For non-Brit readers, a late-coming Merseybeat group who enjoyed a couple of minor hits.)

Between the two incarnations, in the early 1970s, a friend and I went to interview him. He was living in a council house in outer Liverpool, setting the poetry of the bloke next door to music and trying to get a deal for this sensitive-singer-songwriter album he'd made. He was married to a pleasant woman called Iris. She was the sister of Rory Storme of that important Merseybeat group Rory Storme & The Hurricanes. Their drummer had been Ringo Starkey (aka Starr), who'd quit to join The Beatles.

So: Beatles - Ringo - Rory - Iris - Alvin - Lord Levy - Blair.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Saluting two writers...

A quiet salute to two writers, one who has just died and one who hasn't. Paul Nelson, co-founder with Jon Pankake of Little Sandy Review back when Dylan was scuffling around in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St.Paul, was found dead on July 5, according to the New York Times. There's a respectful entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia; sadly, it needs updating now. But the birthdate it gives for him, January 21, 1936, is correct - so he reached the age of 70, not 69 as all the obits seem to have said. One more No Direction Home interviewee gone.

Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking and A Field Guide to Getting Lost, wrote a terrific 'Diary' column for the London Review of Books which I managed to miss when it came out in 2003 but discovered online when Googling her the other day. Here's an excerpt, a terrific piece of writing about country music, place and space:

"For me, country's definitive song might be 'Long Black Veil', whose way with time is straight out of the Brontës. A dead man sings ten years after his hanging for a crime he didn't commit, but his only alibi is unutterable: 'I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife,' who when he died 'stood in the crowd and said not a word'. Now she wanders the hills in a long black veil and, well, visits his grave where the night winds wail. Hills and the night winds are still there, are reliable, are what you have in the end. 'Wanted Man', which Bob Dylan wrote in 1969, is a boastful list of all the places a criminal is wanted, a recitation that includes Albuquerque and Tallahassee and Baton Rouge and Buffalo, 'but there's one place I'm not wanted/Lord, it's the place that I call home.' Nothing ever made it clearer that geography is compensation for society, and the song raises the question of what, when you love these places, do they give you back? The answers sound American, too: freedom, solitude, communion with creatures and the inorganic creation, space to think.

Not that it's all so overwrought. A couple of days later, in Utah, I was still driving east, through canyon country so stark nobody seems to live anywhere but along the cottonwood-shaded oases of rivers, but I could pick up a great classic country station. Around where I saw the sign warning 'Eagles on Road', it broadcast a song by David Frizzell, a barfly's monologue repeating his wife's extensive home remodelling proposal that begins: 'I'm going to hire a wino/To decorate our home/So you'll feel more at ease here/And you won't need to roam.' It's scathingly funny, but it's still about discord, abandonment and restlessness.

I've been trying to get at the heart of this geographical passion for years, through the compilation tapes: an early one was called Geography Lessons, Mostly Tragic; one about drinking and rivers The Entirely Liquid Mr North (after an alcoholic composer in Tender Is the Night); and the most recent, from a line in one of Johnny Cash's final recordings, 'Hurt', is My Empire of Dirt. I love the place names, too; before I left, a friend - who'd also lived in New Mexico - and I induced a nostalgic haze in each other sheerly through place names, places we'd been, places to go, and there's a passion for place in this music that's also my passion."

Yes indeed. Rebecca Solnit was, naturally, subjected to some nitpicking here. The following issue of the LRB published this:

"Rebecca Solnit refers to '"Wanted Man", which Bob Dylan wrote in 1969' (LRB, 9 October). The song is generally credited to 'Bob Dylan and John R. Cash', and Johnny Cash's performance makes clear enough how much he contributed to its composition. Perhaps more to the point, though, is the absence, in both the Knopf edition of Dylan's lyrics and on several websites with Cash's lyrics, of the line that Solnit quotes. I'd be interested to know what version she refers to.
Leon Lewis
Boone, North Carolina"

to which she replied, disarmingly I thought: "I was quoting Nick Cave's version of the song from memory."

Meanwhile the official UK & European publication date for The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is today.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wimbledon & the World Cup over, both with excellent results. Federer remains, without doubt, the best player there has ever been, and in our house we were pleased for him that he equalled Sampras' record of four consecutive Wimbedon wins. He dropped only one set in the entire championships, and that in the final against the admirable Nadal. In a few years' time, when Fed is no longer champ, the papers will be able to call him FedEx.

Down to London twice last week, for radio (actually you're supposed to say up to London, even if you're travelling, as in this case, 250 miles south to get there): three pre-recorded programmes all done as-if-live, with no recuts. Monday: interviewed first for OneWord Radio's book programme 'Between the Lines'. Don't know when it'll be broadcast but it was a pleasure to be on it. Then to the lavish new studios of Radio 2 for Steve Harley's 'Sounds of the Seventies': a Special on Dylan, for broadcast at 10pm English Summer Time on Tuesday August 1. Dylan has mostly chosen to ignore his 1970s output in concert in recent years, but hearing things like 'Abandoned Love' over the BBC's big speakers was terrific. Harley has been a fan man and boy.

Down again on Saturday, to be at Broadcasting House for 10.30am for that evening's Radio 4 slot 'Loose Ends' with Ned Sherrin. Not, I think, a Bob fan man or boy, though he was perfectly courteous to me, as was interviewer Gideon Coe. Somehow I still ended up as the novelty item, and it was a struggle to suggest that The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is a work of wide scope and not just a tunnel down which only the anorak-clad fanatic might profitably venture.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


A two-week tour of US places is getting filled in and clinched fast now, with these dates definite:

AUG 30, 7pm: talk, Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland OH
AUG 31, eve: talk, Magers & Quinn Bookstore, Minneapolis MN (venue tbc)
SEP 02, 5pm: talk, Kleinert/James Arts Centre, Woodstock NY
SEP 03-06: NYC, incl.
SEP 05, 6.30pm: talk, New School (Main Bldg, Rm 519), 66 W. 12th St., NYC
SEP 07, 7.45pm: talk, the Music School, University of Texas, Austin TX
SEP 08, 7pm: talk, Booksmiths Bookstore, Haight St., San Francisco
SEP 09, 7.30pm: talk or panel discussion, Black Oak Books, Berkeley CA
SEP 10, 7.30pm: talk, Powells Books' Theater, Portland Oregon
SEP 11-13: not yet fixed but may take in Canada: probably Toronto
SEP 14-15: back to NYC; flying home JFK to Manchester UK.

At Cleveland, it'll be a new version of "Bob Dylan & the History of Rock'n'Roll"; at the New School NYC and at Austin it'll be a new version of "Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues" and at the others it'll be "The A-Z of Bob Dylan". It's a busy schedule, but exciting! Hope to see you there. If you can, please come and say hello.