BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA: A BLOG 2006-2012

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

OCCASIONAL PHOTOS NO.7

Ye Olde Beefeaters of San Francisco (taken on Bob Dylan Encyclopedia promo trip, Aug-Sept this year):




And talking of beefeaters, Curly & Mo have now been re-homed (to use an ugly word).

Friday, December 29, 2006

AS THE YEAR ENDS...


Instead of looking back over 2006, here's a very brief commemoration of some of the events of 100 years ago:

1906 saw a landslide victory by the Liberals in the British General Election (in which, of course, no women had the vote); The King's English, the original version of Fowler's Modern English Usage, was published; the great San Francisco earthquake occurred (Mount Vesuvius also erupted); Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce formed a company to make cars; SOS was adopted as the internationally recognised distress signal; the newly-introduced Wasserman test offered the first reliable diagnostic procedure for syphilis; and Max Ehrmann wrote the Desiderata (though he didn't publish it till 1927).

The only one of these things to which I've ever made a Bob Dylan link is the last. It's mentioned, quoted from and footnoted on page 424 of Song & Dance Man III: The Art Of Bob Dylan (1999) in connection with Dylan's song 'Every Grain Of Sand'; this reference has been pared down but retained in the shortened - and I hope and believe improved - commentary on the Dylan song offered in the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia entry 'Every Grain Of Sand', Non-Blake Elements (page 220).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DECEMBER 27: A HOAGY CARMICHAEL DATE



Post-Christmas Greetings. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Hoagy Carmichael (in Rancho Mirage, California, at the age of 82). He composed 'Memphis in June', namechecked by Dylan in his 1985 release 'Tight Connection to my Heart', but there are sufficient further loose connections to Dylan's heart to make for an entry on Carmichael in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Here it is:

Hoagy Carmichael was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael on November 22, 1899 and raised in Bloomington Indiana. He grew up to be a singer and actor but primarily a popular songwriter. His very first composition was called ‘Freewheeling’, and he also wrote a song titled ‘Things Have Changed’. More famously he wrote or co-wrote, among many, many others, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Georgia On My Mind’.

Carmichael is one of the many improbable people whose work and persona Dylan admires, possibly just to be perverse. Hoagy’s photo is pinned up on the wall of the shack behind him on the photo by DANIEL KRAMER planned for the US hardback of Dylan’s Tarantula but rejected (it’s reproduced in Kramer’s book Bob Dylan) and in the Empire Burlesque song ‘Tight Connection To My Heart’ Dylan names a Hoagy Carmichael composition. Dylan sings: ‘Well, they’re not showing any lights tonight / And there’s no moon. / There’s just a hot-blooded singer / Singing “Memphis in June”’.

'Memphis In June’ was composed by Carmichael with lyrics by Johnny Mercer (who also wrote the lyric to ‘Moon River’, which Dylan sang one night on the Never-Ending Tour in tribute to the late STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN). Dylan’s ‘hot-blooded singer’ is a neat small joke about Hoagy, whose many assets include a calculatedly lizard-like presence. It was a joke Dylan had retained from an earlier version of the song, then called ‘Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart’, which he’d recorded at the sessions for Infidels, the album before Empire Burlesque. Several performances of this have floated around, but the one eventually released officially, on The Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 in 1991, offered these alternative lines: ‘I hear the hot-blooded singer / On the bandstand croon / “September Song”, “Memphis in June”’. Clearly Dylan was determined to retain Hoagy, whatever other changes he made. (‘September Song’ was written by Maxwell Anderson and composed by Kurt Weill for the 1938 Broadway play Knickerbocker Holiday.)

‘Memphis’ was written for the 1945 George Raft film Johnny Angel, in which Carmichael played a philosophical singing cab driver. (‘After that I was mentioned for every picture in which a world-weary character in bad repair sat around and sang or leaned on a piano’). Subsequent film roles included being the pianist who sings ‘Hong Kong Blues’ in the Bogart-Bacall film To Have And Have Not, one of Dylan’s favourite hunting-grounds for lyrics in the Empire Burlesque period.

The least hot-blooded cover version of ‘Memphis In June’ may be by Matt Monro, from 1962; the best (and ‘on a bandstand croonin’’) may be by Lucy Ann Polk, cut in July 1957 in Hollywood. Hoagy himself recorded the song in 1947 with Billy May & His Orchestra and again in 1956 with a jazz ensemble that included Art Pepper.

Carmichael and Mercer also wrote that great song ‘Lazy Bones’ - in twenty minutes, in 1933 - which was revisited magnificently in the 1960s by soul singer James Ray (who made the original US hits of ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’ and ‘Itty Bitty Pieces’; in the UK he was unlucky enough to find these savaged in unusually distressing ways, even by the standards of British cover versions of the time, by Freddie & The Dreamers and Brian Poole in the first case and by The Rockin’ Berries and Chris Farlowe in the second).

Carmichael played ranch-hand Jonesey in the 1959-60 season of the TV series Laramie. In 1972 he was given an Honorary Doctorate by Indiana University back in Bloomington (which is where BETSY BOWDEN got her doctorate for a study of Bob Dylan’s performance art that became her book Performed Literature).

Hoagy Carmichael died two days after Christmas, 1981. When a retrospective 4-LP box set of his work, The Classic Hoagy Carmichael, was issued in 1988, with copious notes by John Edward Hasse, Curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution, it was released and published jointly by the Smithsonian and the Indiana Historical Society. (American hobbyists are so lucky: there’s always plenty of places to go for funding. Imagine trying to get funds to research, compile and write an accompanying book about Billy Fury from the British Museum and the Birkenhead Historical Society.) The Carmichael box-set notes say this, among much else, and might just remind you of someone else (not Billy Fury):

‘At first listeners may be distracted by the flatness in much of Carmichael’s singing, and turned off especially by his uncertain intonation. The singer himself said, “my native wood-note and often off-key voice is what I call ‘Flatsy through the nose’”. But... one becomes accustomed to these traits and grows to appreciate and admire other qualities of his vocal performances, specifically his phrasing... intimacy, inventiveness and sometimes even sheer audacity. Also, many... evidence spontaneous and extemporaneous qualities, two important ingredients in jazz.’

[Hoagy Carmichael: The Classic Hoagy Carmichael, 4-LP set compiled & annotated by John Edward Hasse; issued as 4 LPs or 3 CDs, BBC BBC 4000 and BBC CD3007, UK, 1988; Johnny Angel, dir. Edwin L. Marin, written Steve Fisher, RKO, US, 1945. Daniel Kramer: Bob Dylan, New York: Citadel Press edn, 1991, p.127. Betsy Bowden: Performed Literature, Bloomington: Indiana University Pres, 1982.]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

PHILL JUPITUS BREAKFAST SHOW FRI DEC 22

I've been asked to come on the Phill Jupitus Breakfast Show (yes, two lls in Phill, apparently: perhaps he thought "Jupitus" was a bit too common-or-garden) on BBC Radio 6 Music, this Friday morning, December 22, to talk about Bob Dylan's radio shows. For more info about the former, click on Philllllll.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

THE COMPLETE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Sony/BMG has just issued, on a single CD, a supposedly complete version, and of superior sound quality, of The Million Dollar Quartet's informal recording session of 50 years ago this month (cat.no. 82876889352; produced by Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon).

It seems a bit late in the day to still be misnaming poor ole Lowell Fulson as Fulsom in the composer credits. That said, Colin Escott's notes are thoughtful and illuminating as far as they go, but he doesn't say who's drumming. The implication is that it's Carl Perkins' band drummer - but he might have mentioned it.

Nor does he say whether it's Elvis or Jerry Lee on keyboards at the beginning. It's Elvis at the piano on the iconic photograph from the session (which captures Jerry Lee in his last moment as The New Boy, momentarily possessed of uncharacteristic diffidence)... and I don't think it sounds like Jerry Lee's piano-playing on the first few numbers. Anyway it would surely only have been Elvis who initiated a doodle/attempt at 'Love Me Tender'. What's fascinating (though the notes don't mention this either) is that the pianist hears that 'Love Me Tender' is musically close to 'Jingle Bells', which is why it drifts from the one into the other. (Of course I'd never noticed it previously, but as soon as I heard this recording the other day, the piano made it obvious.)

Terry Kelly (loyal midwife to fanzine The Bridge, which will publish a new issue any day now) tells me that according to Ernst Jorgensen's definitive Elvis Presley: A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions (St Martin's Press, New York, 1998) the drummer is W.S. Holland (who would later play on the Dylan-Cash sessions of 1969). And Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis - The Rise of Elvis Presley has Jerry Lee taking over the piano as from 'There's No Place Like Home' (track 10 out of the 47 on this CD). The other players on the session (left over from the official Carl Perkins recording session of earlier that day) were Clayton Perkins (bass), J.B. Perkins (guitar) and Charlie Underwood (guitar). The young woman to be heard making repertoire requests to Elvis was (briefly) his Las Vegas showgirl girlfriend Marilyn Evans.

But the overwhelming thing is the unstoppable flowing genius of the 20-year-old Elvis Presley here. This is just a jam session - he doesn't care whether the tape is rolling or not - yet he sings so well: so full-bloodedly and unguardedly and yet with such judicious accuracy. How does he manage to be so carefree yet so careful, so respectful of his own talent and of the songs, so authoritative, so inspired, even when at his most workaday? Unsurpassable genius. And if any bonus is required, it's here in Elvis' joyful imitation of Jackie Wilson imitating Elvis on 'Don't Be Cruel' and his funny impersonation of Hank Snow impersonating Ernest Tubb on 'I'm With A Crowd But so Alone'.

Available for well under £10 in the UK. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 18, 2006

BOB DYLAN'S 'THEME TIME RADIO HOUR'

For anyone who's just got back from Ulan Bator, Bob Dylan's XM Satellite Radio series, Theme Time Radio Hour, is about to start being broadcast on BBC Radio.

Radio 2 will broadcast six shows over Christmas, starting on Saturday 23 December 2006 and finishing on Thursday 28 December. (They'll broadcast two more in March, eight in April and two more next May.) The December slots are:

23rd: 7pm-8pm, 24th: 4.30pm-6.30pm and then 25th-28th it's back to 7pm-8pm.

BBC 6 Music will broadcast 30 shows, starting at 9pm on New Year's Day... and then every Friday night from, er, January 12th.

If you haven't heard at least some of them already, you should. The corrected & updated reprint edition of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, which is in UK shops now, has this entry on the series (the only entry under the letter 'X'). It was written in July, when I'd still heard only a few of the shows...

On December 12, 2005 it was announced that the subscribers-only satellite radio giant XM had signed up Bob Dylan to host a series of weekly programmes on what it calls its ‘deep album rock channel Deep Tracks’, XM Channel 40, starting in March 2006, on which he would play records ‘hand-selected’ (huh?) from his ‘personal music collections’, interview other artists and read e-mails from fans. The company announcement, headed ‘Music Icon Becomes First-Time DJ to Spin Records…’, quoted Dylan saying in suspiciously plausible PRspeak: ‘A lot of my own songs have been played on the radio, but this is the first time I’ve ever been on the other side of the mic. It’ll be as exciting for me as it is for XM.’ The date later shifted to May 3, 1am Eastern time.

XM is a large and burgeoning corporate player in the entertainment industry, with 160 coast-to-coast digital channels, 71 of them specialist music channels, studios in Washington D.C., New York and Nashville, ‘additional offices’ in Boca Raton, Florida, Southfield, Michigan and Yokohama, Japan, and over five million subscribers getting these channels beamed to their cars. The company has ‘partnerships’ with most leading auto manufacturers. A main attraction for customers is that many channels exclude advertising. The cheapest subscription as of February 2006 is $12.95 per month. XM is a wholly owned subsidiary of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and has traded on the NASDAQ exchange since October 5, 1999.

Dylan’s radio series proved a delight. He used his slot to recreate exactly the kind of 1950s radio that was so formative and so much a musical lifeline for the Bobby Zimmerman who was listening to it in Hibbing, Minnesota - a radio era he has expressed his fondness for in more recent years (see ‘I Forgot More’). Tom Palaima, an Austin Texas professor, sums up Dylan’s intent and achievement here with what he calls Dylan’s ‘warm evocations of old-timey radio’:

‘In each hour, Dylan covers a chosen theme: mothers, fathers, baseball, coffee, weddings, divorce, showing how the common musical traditions of the United States shaped our lives in song and lyric. Dylan's succinct commentary makes the music shine. He is witty, gently humorous, erudite and always reverent about the music he is playing.

We hear the sounds of big band, country swing, rockabilly, blues, rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, Nashville, Motown, Sun Records, Frank Sinatra, the Ink Spots, Bob Wills and Kitty Wells. Interspersed, he gives plainly spoken information about the artists, where they came from, where they went, who influenced them and what influence they had. He recites lyrics, painting pictures of our lives in sound.

Dylan doesn't peddle himself or anything else. No product placement here. Period commercials are spliced in to set the mood. A listener asks on Theme Time Coffee: "Why do you play so much old music? Do you have something against new music?" Dylan replies, "I like new music. But there's more old music than new music."

…Theme Time Radio is hip, but not Tarantino's jaded hip, or William Shatner's self-mocking hip. Dylan respects the music we and he loved. He respects the artists who created it, even lived it.

These shows are so humane, so out of time… Dylan is still protesting. He is protesting our fast-paced, dehumanized present by calling us to gather round the hearth of old-time radio and remember life as it used to be and could be again, if we stop and really listen to it, and to each other.’

[Tom Palaima, ‘The times they are a-changin’ but Dylan’s still protesting through music’, Austin American-Statesman, 15 Jul 2006.]


I think I still like the first one, about the weather, best of all...

Friday, December 15, 2006

DEATH OF AHMET ERTEGUN

I was sad to hear a few hours ago of the death of 83-year-old Ahmet Ertegun yesterday in Manhattan. He had been in a coma since October 29. He was a great man in the music business, a pioneering talent spotter, a key partner in Atlantic Records - key to its founding and to its long continuation - and he gave many people a lot of help. The online news reports this morning all offer lists of musicians he loved and signed and recorded. None mentions Blind Willie McTell; yet on a visit to Atlanta in the late 1940s, Ertegun encountered McTell on the street: and promptly recorded him in a downtown studio. It was McTell's first crack at a commercial label session since 1936. (It wasn't commercial enough to do him any good, but that wasn't Ahmet Ertegun's fault.) For the research for my forthcoming biography of McTell, I was able to interview the already octogenarian Ertegun in October 2004. He gave me good, detailed stuff and he was thoughtful, courteous and warm.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

SONG & DANCE MAN III ANNIVERSARY

Today is the seventh anniversary of the publication of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan - two weeks before the end of the 20th Century. It was published in London, by what was then Cassell Academic, in a limited edition hardback (450 copies) and an unlimited edition paperback. There was a modest launch party at the Poetry Society's offices in London.

Very soon afterwards, the management of Cassell Academic bought themselves out of the Cassell group, to stop being swallowed up, like the rest of Cassell, by the Orion conglomerate. They teamed up with a small sort-of-academic New York publisher called Continuum and became the Continuum International Publishing Group (in theory: for the logo and most purposes, it's just "Continuum"). Reprints of the paperback of Song & Dance Man III appeared as Continuum books (twice in 2000, and then in 2001, 2002 and 2004). The book was imported into the US and officially launched there in March 2000.

The London-based editorial director was Janet Joyce; one of her last acts at Continuum, before leaving to set up her own new imprint, Equinox Publishing, was to give me an unusually generous and author-friendly contract to sign The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia to Continuum.

This was the original cover of Song & Dance Man III:

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

BULLIES IN NEED & BRIAN SEWELL


One of the Links on this blog, Bullies in Need, takes you to the website of an English Bull Terrier Rescue Centre. I don't know the people who run it and have no connection with them (and they've probably never noticed this link) but the dogs are so splendid that I hope it might help: perhaps get one or two Dylan fans to go for a breed many people never consider, just because they have a kneejerk reaction of "Oh they're so ugly!" But for me their alleged ugliness has more character - more comic insouciance and sweet nobility - than far more popular breeds. (The inexplicable rise of the Border Terrier...)

Mostly the rescue dogs are adults but at the moment they even have two puppies, Curly and Mo (above).

Which brings me to Brian Sewell. I heard him on BBC Radio 4 the other morning, talking about his own rescue dogs. He said he once got one called Keegan and, unable to countenance shouting out "Keegan!" in public, wanted to modify if but not change it to something totally different - confusing for the dog, presumably. So he called it Titian.

Monday, December 11, 2006

BOB DYLAN EURO TOUR DATES: UPDATE

This update comes from Boblinks (see Links, left-hand column). Please can someone tell me whether any of these is an agreeable venue?:

March 28 Stockholm, Sweden - Globe
March 30 Oslo, Norway - Spektrum
April 1 Gothenburn, Sweden - Scandinavium
April 2 Copenhagen, Denmark - Forum
April 4 Hamburg, Germany - Colorline Arena
April 5 Münster, Germany - Halle Münsterland
April 6 Brussels, Belgium - Forest National
April 8 Amsterdam, The Netherlands - HMH
April 9 Amsterdam, The Netherlands - HMH
April 11 Glasgow Scotland - SECC
April 12 Newcastle, England - Metro Radio Arena
April 14 Sheffield, England - Hallam FM Arena
April 15 London, England - Wembley Arena
April 17 Birmingham, England - National Indoor Arena (NIA)
April 19 Düsseldorf, Germany - Philipshalle
April 20 Stuttgart, Germany - Porsche Arena
April 21 Frankfurt, Germany - Jahrhunderthalle
April 23 Paris, France - Palais Omnisports de Paris
April 25 Geneva, Switzerland - Arena
April 26 Turin, Italy - Palaolympico
April 27 Milan, Italy - Datchforum
April 29 Zurich, Switzerland - Hallenstadion
April 30 Mannheim, Germany - SAP Arena
May 2 Leipzig, Germany - Leipzig Arena
May 3 Berlin, Germany - Max Schmeling Halle
May 5 Herning, Denmark - Herninghalle

Saturday, December 09, 2006

AMERICAN SNOWBIRDS IN TURKEY

Here's another travel piece of mine, written about a cold place this time. The trip was done in 1994 but I didn't write the article till 2002. It hasn't been published before.

It was November and winter was hurrying in. At the end of a nine-week trip around the Eastern Mediterranean I looked forward to the luxury of conversation with people whose first language was English. They were old friends of an old friend’s brother, long settled in Turkey, and yes of course I could stay a few days.

I took a taxi from Izmir centre to a dolmus terminus on the far edge of town. In a surprising extremity of murk, so near to the bright, palm-boulevarded city, people tired at the end of the working day crept quietly on board a dolmus that switched off its lights for a snooze.

Most of its passengers disappeared long before Seheferisar (the “he” is silent), where a tiny second bus took me on to the little fishing village of Sigacuk (pronounced Sigh-chk), a short ride down the hill. I arrived at 8.30, apprehensive about inconveniencing my hosts.

I asked for them at the bus-stop kiosk. A young man led me across the street to a small bungalow, unreachable above and beyond a high stone wall. The back gate down a dark lane was locked. Back on the quayside I phoned. “We’ll come and fetch you,” a small voice said. I waited. At last two stooped, grey-haired figures emerged, with painful slowness, out of the darkness. They were dressed in thick coats, scarves, gloves, fleecy-lined boots and big woolly hats, and stepped towards me as if from across the North Pole.

“Oh! Oh!” declared a drained, flagging woman, tentatively extending a drooping glove and pouring a tragic look over me. “Mm. Hullo,” gasped the wheezing, twitching man beside her, looking away.

“It took us a while,” said Betty gravely, “because we had to put warm clothes on.” They hovered, Bill all for drifting off into the night, away from the pain of contact.

“Oh,” said Betty sadly, “you’ve a lot of luggage.” She shook her careworn face at the holdall into which I had managed to pack two months’ worth of the barest essentials. “Oh dear. You can’t stay with us: our place is too small. It’s quite a walk to the house where you’re... We were expecting you in October.”

Bill, rising to meet these difficulties as if with his last breath, suggested we could take the taxi not a yard away.

“I haven’t any money,” said Betty.

“No, I haven’t,” said Bill.

“I have,” I said, handing my difficult luggage to the driver.

“Oh, yes, let’s go ahead!” Bill said, as if Devil-May-Care were now his faintly-remembered middle name.

We drove around the three short sides of the quay. A dark old house could be made out up a flight of stone steps. Bill spoke in shy Turkish to the driver.

“You needn’t ask him to wait, dear,” said Betty, torn between Bill’s acute need to be rid of me and her suspicion that a moment or two more of putting their guest at ease might be the done thing first. She unlocked the door of this long-unlived-in house.

Inside, Bill slid around the walls into patches of unlit room as Betty switched on lights. In the kitchen and the bathroom, she fumbled with cupboards and told me where the torch was (“in case there’s an earthquake”) and how difficult the doors were and how the electric fire didn’t work. “There’s an old gas fire somewhere - but it’s best not to leave it on,” she added.

“It reminds me of being a student,” I said.

“Oh dear,” said Betty.

Bill had vanished. “He’s probably gone back,” said Betty.

“Well,” I said, since I can take a hint, “I hope I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Yes.” A worried pause. “But I suppose you haven’t eaten.”

“And I suppose you have.”

Bill was outside at the bottom of the steps, rocking from foot to foot. We walked back around the quayside.

“I should eat here,” said Bill, pointing at one of two near-identical cafés. “The other one’s expensive and not very good.”

“Won’t you come in and have a drink?” I asked.

“No thanks,” said Bill. “I’ve got half a drink waiting at home.” Betty agreed to join me for a glass of water. “If I have tea I shan’t sleep.”

Inside, Betty insisted on helping me to peer at the usual unremarkable chill cabinet entrées. “I gave up cooking a couple of years ago,” she said. “I just couldn’t cope with food in my kitchen. So now Bill has to cook for himself if he wants to eat.” I ordered and we sat down, Betty finally taking off her hat.

“It’s always cold here,” she said after a pause. “Sailing people say it’s one of the places the wind always touches down.”

“This region?”

“No, this village.” She ran a thin hand up and down the sides of her glass.

“What made you settle here?”

“Bill used to work nearby, and when he first saw it it was just a poor fishing village surrounded by swamp. Bill thought it would make a fine tourist resort. But the sea is always cold here too. Even in August. In fact it’s just warming up by late October, and then the weather...”

My meal arrived, a plate piled high with dark mushrooms and glistening meat. Betty looked appalled.

“You don’t want to watch me eat this,” I said.

“I would like to get back.”

I rose. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said. “But how will I attract your attention?”

“Oh.” A pause. Brightening: “The second door down the alley.”

“Yes, but it’s locked, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s only locked when we’re out - no, no, it’s the other way round. It’s only locked when we’re at home, because we don’t like people to call.”

“Quite.”

“I could leave it unlocked in the morning...”

I ate, and drank beer and a warming raki. At the far end of the large room, two men sat smoking over bottles of beer. The chef talked to me in atrocious English. I grunted non-commitally. He presented me with another beer. “I give you just one beer,” he said shyly.

Back in the lonely, bone-chilling house, I lit the little wallflower-headed gas fire in the bedroom and climbed between the sheets.

I woke at eight after a bad dream of being back in England struggling with horses on a housing estate, dressed, and enjoyed five minutes of wan sunshine on the porch before cloud blocked it out. In driving rain I walked round the forlorn harbour, pushed open the gate down the alley and stepped into a tiny courtyard.

“Oh!” came a querulous voice. “I was wondering what happened to you.”

“Morning, Betty.”

“Oh! You look so wet!” A pause. “You’d better come in.”

Inside their very small house, every dark surface was covered in rugs, scarves, books, plastic bags and photographs. Doors pressed for hallway space to open into. Each was ajar, clothes drooping from the top. Naturally there were seven cats.

“Do come in!” said Bill, from the tiny dining/sitting-room. I stood filling the space between its sofa and the bookshelf on the opposite wall, against which Bill was pressed nervously. Betty added my raincoat to one of the doortops and left the room. I pulled out my inhaler.

“Ah!” cried Bill, delighted. “You have an inhaler. Like me! I discovered I was an asthmatic when we lived in Crete. Something in the air. And then again in Holland. And now here. I have to use my inhaler every two hours during the night.”

“Are you sure you’re not allergic to cats?” I asked, as several bounded on and off bookshelves.

“Oh I don’t want to even think about that one!” said Bill, glancing around wistfully for a moment at an imaginary cat-free version of his domain. Betty came back with an extra cat in one hand and a plate of biscuits in the other. She put both on the table.

“Won’t you have coffee?” The effort of asking, and the infinity of difficulties it opened up, seemed almost too awful for her to bear.

“Thank you,” I said. “That would be nice.”

“I think,” said Bill, “I’ll have, um, something else. I’ve had my three cups of coffee for today. I wouldn’t even be awake yet without it. I’m a night person.”

He produced an interesting-looking yellow bottle.

“Won’t you join me?”

“Certainly,” I replied.

With some village tolum cheese, Bill and I drank three glasses each of this cinnamon-spiked, schnitzloid drink, while Betty sat nursing one huge brown cat and cooing at another, and drifted in and out of the conversation. Just when you thought she was with you, you’d look round and she’d be pulling baby faces at a cat, or staring at it with her tragic eyes.

When I left, to explore Seheferisar, Betty came with me to do some shopping. The rain had stopped. It was an opulent little market-town full of moustachioed farmers striding around in big boots.

“Oh dear,” said Betty, “I’ve forgotten what I came for. Still, I don’t think it can be Altzheimer’s because I know I’ve forgotten something.”

“Good Lord, you don’t want to worry about that,” I said, still unused to being the happy-go-lucky one of the party. She looked at me with mute wonder. “If you want to get back,” I told her, “I can see the town by myself. You don’t have to chaperone me.”

“Oh,” she said, “well I am nursing a poor little constipated kitten.”

“Of course you are.”

I lingered in town all day before catching the dolmus back. A young woman with beautiful hands scooped up her shopping to make room for me. It was bitterly cold down in the village. At the house I found a woollen bedspread and bedsocks. Dressing á la Betty (bedspread rolled into a huge sausage and wrapped around my neck, bedsocks worn as gloves) I walked up the rise beyond the house, to see the beach over the far side of the hill.

A short climb brought me to one of Turkey’s scenic triumphs - a vast and shining sea, walled in by soaring hills and distant mountains, and, like a photographer’s cliché, a lone rowing-boat’s tiny silhouette poignantly crossing this hugeness under a flaming sky.

Clearly obliged to give my hosts a guest-free evening, I walked back to one of the cafés a few yards from their door, drinking Turkish coffee and lingering over a beer. At ten o’clock I stepped into the freezing waterside wind, and went to bed with the book I found nearby: Robert J. Willix Jnr. MD’s “You Can Feel Good All The Time”.

I spent next day at Ephesus. Afterwards, in the unbelievable cold, I caught a bus back to Seheferisar and was there by dusk. The Efes Pide Salonu was open and made me welcome, supplied me with meatballs and added in a free plate of oranges.

Not having seen my hosts since the previous morning, and with a yearning for a whisky and soda, I caught the dolmus down the hill to call on night-person Bill. The house was dark. I knocked. A window opened.

“Oh!” said a quavering voice. “Hello dear. We’ve gone to bed.”

“Ah. Well I leave for Izmir in the morning. I hope to see you before I go. Sorry to have disturbed you now.”

“Never mind. Come for breakfast, any time after nine.”

I went across the road to the nearest café, to huddle round its wood-burning stove. It was 8pm.

Next morning I cleared up, packed, escaped from the house and walked round to Bill and Betty’s. She let me in. Bill called out from his room that he’d be getting up as soon as he could face the cold. Betty put some food on the table and retreated to the kitchen. I sat alone, eating a little fruit salad, two fried eggs and some bread, while three feet away a white cat with black and orange spatter-marks on its fur made retching and choking noises.

“Honey,” murmured Bill from the other room, “Princess is terrorising our guest.” Betty hurried in to see if there was any justice in this slur. The cat shut up. Exit Betty, cuing resumption of cat retch repertoire.

“I’m getting up now!” Bill called, and then, more circumspectly: “It’s always a puzzle how you can take your clothes off at night and they’re not there in the morning.”

Betty returned. “Coffee,” she said. “The milk boiled over again.” She stared into the mug of curds she held out.

“Never mind.”

“Oh dear.”

“Morning!” said Bill, emerging as I had to rush out for the bus.

“Bye dear,” said Betty, extending her cheek at mine and so stuffing an armful of cat into my chest.

“Nice to meet you,” said Bill.

“Kheueueueuhhukh!” said the cat.

_______

© Michael Gray, 2006.

Friday, December 08, 2006

BOB DYLAN EURO TOUR DATES

Dylan has announced these tour dates for the UK:

Glasgow SECC, April 11
Newcastle Arena, April 12
Sheffield Arena, April 14
Wembley Arena, April 15
Birmingham National Indoor Arena, April 17

Tickets have gone on sale this morning at £37.50 each. Nothing could be more disappointing than this list of dreary, soulless venues: no Portsmouth Town Halls or Shepherd's Bushes this time. Why can't seeing Bob Dylan involve a bit of human dignity for the audience?

The other dates announced so far, all in Germany, top and tail the UK shows as follows:

Hamburg Color Line Arena, April 4
Münster Halle Münsterland, April 5
Düsseldorf Philipshalle, April 19
Stuttgart Porsche-Arena, April 20
Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle, April 21
Mannheim SAP-Arena, April 30
Leipzig Arena, May 2
Berlin Max-Schmeling-Halle, May 3.

I'm reliably informed that all these halls are also all "horrible faceless multi-function arenas". Further European shows will be announced later, with the tour starting in (late?) March. There's also a noticeable gap in the later German shows, between April 21 and April 30. Let's hope it's filled with some dates in Italy, where less unpleasant venues in beautiful cities are more likely (and usually cheaper). April in Italy... sounds good.

DRIVING FERRARIS IN CENTRAL AMERICA PART 2



In October I posted a brief account of an unusually enviable travel assignment I'd taken up, which was to help drive two Ferraris from Managua, Nicaragua, up through Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and on to the major Mayan site of Palenque in Southern Mexico.

If anyone's interested, I believe tomorrow's Daily Telegraph Travel Section will be running the feature I wrote for them. This picture wasn't submitted to the paper but I like it. It shows my disintegrating hat placed possessively on the driver's seat of the red Ferrari. The blue one had a more elegant interior - pale cream hide - but somehow the exterior of the red one always attracted more attention out in the (Third) world.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

RALPH THE SACRED RIVER: DYLAN & THEFT

For anyone interested in the surreptitious borrowings inside Bob Dylan's recent work, by far the most interesting material on this seems to me to have been on the blog of one Edward Cook. His blog is called Ralph the Sacred River and the relevant posting, from way back on September 27, is here. Fine detective work and some thoughtful commentary.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VAL WILMER!

Val Wilmer, one of the entrants in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, is 65 today. As it says in her entry (p.709), she "was born in Harrogate, Yorkshire, on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed - December 7, 1941..."

That attack by Japan on the US base brought the US into World War II, but for Europeans it had already been wartime for over two full years. Val Wilmer's family was in Harrogate not because they were Yorkshire folk but because they'd been evacuated from London. They returned there as soon as war was over.

As the Encyclopedia entry continues:

"Wilmer is a photographer and writer particularly interested in jazz and black music, and is the author of the autobiography Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This, an invaluable social document not least for its first-hand reportage of the visits to Britain by American and Caribbean jazz and blues musicians in the 1950s and 1960s, when her mother took in paying guests. Her other books include Jazz People, The Face of Black Music, As Serious As Your Life: John Coltrane and Beyond and (with Paul Trynka) Portrait of the Blues.

Best known for her photographs of musicians, Wilmer’s pioneering exhibition Jazz Seen: The Face of Black Music was held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum back in 1973. A Wilmer photograph of Dusty Springfield, taken in 1964, is owned by the National Portrait Gallery, she has exhibited internationally and has work in the Musée d’Arte Moderne in Paris. She serves on the advisory panel of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz and is an authority on the work of Ken Snakehips Johnson.

She photographed Louis Armstrong when she was still at school in 1956, was soon making superior informal portraits (‘Mum takes tea with HERBIE LOVELLE’, 1959, and ‘JESSE FULLER cooks breakfast’, 1960), and began taking photographs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London, in 1960, while also contributing jazz reviews to Melody Maker and jazz journals. She photographed a number of rock stars in the 1960s, including Screaming Jay Hawkins, GEORGE HARRISON and JIMI HENDRIX."

How does she come into the Bob Dylan world? Because she didn't just take photographs of Dylan, she took shots that matter:

"When Bob Dylan telerecorded his last-ever solo concert, namely twelve songs performed specially for BBC Television in London on June 1, 1965 - just two weeks before he began recording the Highway 61 Revisited album - Val Wilmer was the photographer asked to shoot stills for the occasion. And since the BBC saw fit to dump their telerecording of the concert, Wilmer’s photographs are, visually, all that remain."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

THE T-SHIRTS ARE ALL SOLD!



I'm pleased to say that the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia limited edition T-shirt has now sold out completely. As we said, we only printed 100, and apart from the four kept aside for me & mine, the rest have now gone. Thank you to everyone who bought them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ELVIS PRESLEY: HIS HAND IN MINE

This month sees the official release from Follow That Dream Records of a 2-CD edition of Elvis Presley's superb 1960-recorded album His Hand In Mine. The first CD contains the original LP and the second CD a number of outtakes. This is packaged as if it's a 7" (i.e. picture single or EP sized) vinyl record - and you could wish all CDs were boxed this way. It includes a booklet of photos and more. This comes from the same Elvis-specialist company that reissued the great Elvis Is Back album in similar style not so long ago.

This gives me a reason to reprint an article of mine on Elvis' gospel output first published in The Elvis Atlas: A Journey Through Elvis Presley's America, co-written by Roger Osborne and me, and published by the now-defunct Henry Holt Reference Division in New York ten years ago. I have revised the text of the article very minimally, except that I've pruned it and I've put into capital letters those people and topics that also have entries in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Gospel music has been largely ignored compared to jazz, blues and rock. This is not because the devil has the best tunes. Many of God's tunes are so good they've been filched for the devil, like 'How Jesus Died', secularised by RAY CHARLES into his classic 'Lonely Avenue'. That likeable song from Love Me Tender, 'We're Gonna Move', is a re-write of the spiritual 'You Gotta Move (To A Better Home)'. There has also been a tradition, dating back at least to the medicine shows, of sacrilegious re-writes. In 1928 Memphis blues singer JIM JACKSON recorded a version of the English hymn 'I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say Come Unto Me And Rest' as 'I Heard The Voice Of A Pork Chop'. Clearly, gospel has been neglected because the devil has the best words - and perhaps because scholars of popular culture tend to be uncomfortable with, and bored by, the pious simplicity of the gospel message. This was never a difficulty for ELVIS PRESLEY, who grew up in the simple faith of the First Assembly Church of God, and whose first musical experience was in the church.

The Presleys' church was Pentecostal. Its faith is fundamentalist, accepting the literal truth of the Bible and disavowing alcohol, tobacco, theater and dancing, though its music was declamatory, and Gladys and Elvis Presley's love of gospel music flowed from their experience within the Tupelo congregation.

Yet the gospel music Elvis inherited was neither timeless nor uncontentious. Many deplored the Rev THOMAS A. DORSEY's success in creating a new me-me-me kind of song, replacing the communally-centered spirituals of an earlier era. This went with the drive by preachers to take control of church worship instead of servicing their congregations' participatory democracy.

Dorsey's 'Take My Hand Precious Lord' typified the genre and proved massively popular. When Elvis recorded his first gospel collection, in 1956, it was no surprise that he should include two Dorsey songs, this and 'Peace In The Valley'.

What great recordings they are: real soul-in-torment stuff. There is nothing mimsily pious here. 'Peace In The Valley' had been a hit in the early 1950s by white artist Red Foley on Memphis black radio-station WDIA. Elvis brings out its gothic spookiness, in which "the night is as black as the sea". It re-works the biblical vision of the Peaceable Kingdom: "...THE LION SHALL LAY DOWN WITH THE LAMB / And the beasts from the wild shall be led by a child / And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am." The way Elvis sings it is as sexy as hell.

Behind Elvis on the
Peace In The Valley EP cover, a rural American landscape is used to represent heaven. This follows the example of the Quaker painter Edward Hicks (1780-1849). His famous painting, The Peaceable Kingdom, is based on the same biblical passage as the Elvis EP's title-song, and uses Pennsylvania for the heavenly valley.

The white groups who had influenced him most were the Statesmen (Jake Hess is Presley's vocal prototype in many ways) and the Blackwoods, his mother's favourites; yet he loved black gospel groups, including the Harmonizing Four, and surely must have preferred them. White gospel, rigid and straitlaced, follows notions of Nice Singing, with rhythms of schooled tidiness, like Pat Boone singing 'Tutti Frutti'.

When Elvis was in Germany, Jordanaire Gordon Stoker sent him gospel records, and when he returned in 1960, after
Elvis Is Back and the first obligatory film-soundtrack, G.I. Blues, Elvis made a gospel album.

The original LP of
His Hand In Mine is so old it has an inner sleeve explaining "What Is Stereophonic Sound". Recorded in the two-track Nashville Studio B, it seems to have been made in heaven. It has a liquid clarity, a shimmering mercury perfection, every voice and note clear yet blending into a whole so cohesive that you feel no intrusion by technology. Presley's voice is at its mature best (as opposed to its youthful best, which is of course at least as good but different). The voice on His Hand In Mine is mellow yet expressive, free yet exact. While the Jordanaires' harmonies are, as ever, too white, the "blackness" of Elvis' vocals rescues and transforms this into one of his best records.

It's a great album despite its words. Is there a finer example of unintended bathos anywhere than in the intro to 'I Believe In The Man In The Sky' (a title summarising the sort of God that Elvis must have envisaged)?: "The steps that lead to any church / Form a stairway to a star / They're part of God and should be trod / More often than they are." Yet Elvis transcends this risible religiosity, making it a memorable showpiece for his impeccable timing and phrasing, which is alert and humorous, knowing yet devout, sumptuous but strong.

To turn from this pellucid sound to the murk of the multi-tracked
How Great Thou Art (1967) is to receive a nasty object-lesson in how hi-fi took a dive in the 1960s, as well as to admit that by the time of its creation Elvis was recording in a formulaic, weary way. The arrangements are florid and the music has largely lost a sense of connection to the gospel music Elvis grew up on - indeed the spirit of the enterprise seems no longer religious at all. He Touched Me (1972) is worse.

Elvis was brought up believing in a simple kind of heaven, and must have felt, later, doomed to exclusion from it. In his last years, it seems self-contempt ran so deep that even gospel music lost its value to him - but before that, gospel music, which he loved, gave him a corridor back to the better world of his childhood and his self-respect.


Amazon.co.uk (see RECOMMENDED, left) may not have "image available" but I do: the 2-CD set's cover is the same image as on the original LP:

This didn't exactly show the cool Elvis image we'd hoped he'd retain after his return from the Army, but the contents are, in their limited way, sublime.

CIVIL COMMENT WELCOME

In the circumstances I felt I had to switch on Comment Moderation, but in doing so I managed to turn off the possibility of comment altogether. I certainly didn't mean to do that. Civil comment is still welcome, as in the past. I hope the settings are now twiddled appropriately so that this now works.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

LEAVING PLANET KOOPER

This whole discussion, in my view, has become absurdly laboured, swollen and heated, so I propose to answer the various points that have been made by other people, and then by Al Kooper, and after that this forum is closed to him. He has plenty of other outlets for keeping up this malevolent vendetta but enough is enough on my blog. I’ve already let him publish over 1,700 words here, which seems more than fairness requires - especially when so many of these words have been in his shouting capital letters and many others just abuse.

Actually, it’s been noticeable that, with a couple of exceptions, those who’ve pitched in on Kooper’s side have chosen a highly belligerent tone of voice and gone for bludgeoning simplistic point-scoring, while generally speaking those on the other side have chosen politeness and a willingness to discuss. Which says something in itself.

OK. Suze Rotolo. Al Kooper will be pleased to hear that I did feel it as a blow that she should be so dismissive. I understand from her letter to my publisher that the factual errors she wanted corrected were the name of her son, and that the car I’d said had been given her by Charles Flato was actually given her by the executor of his estate. The latter might not seem such an important error to many people except Ms Rotolo. Of course identifying the wrong young man as her son was an undeniable mistake on my part. I regret this error and I apologise for it. The book’s text will amended on both counts as soon as possible.

But it was two other points she said were her main grounds for complaint: that I had described family friend Flato as having been “a member of the American Communist Party who acted as a Soviet agent while working for the US government (though he was never prosecuted)”, and second that I had mentioned a forged letter. Re the first, she confirms that “The citing of Charles Flato as a member of the American Communist Party is correct”, doesn’t actually deny that Flato was a Soviet agent, but says it is “to perpetuate a conjecture” that I print this bit. I have no axe to grind here. Again the text will be adjusted so that it merely notes he was “sometimes alleged” to have been a Soviet agent. As for the disputed letter, I mentioned it because it had been given some recent attention in the Dylan world; I also stated explicity that Ms Rotolo had said it was a fake. That I mentioned it at all was a matter of judgment, not fact, and since it’s my book and not hers, she’ll have to be content to disagree with mine.

Yes, it was a blow to me that someone I’ve always regarded highly was so dismissive - so haughty - about the whole entry and by extension my entire endeavour, and on such small grounds. She lumps me in with “sellers of forged letters [who] ignore me”, which is patently unjust. She insinuates that my calling her letter to my publisher “helpful” was like those people who “consider a polite refusal ‘an interview’”. That too is a distortion. Her letter had been helpful: it offered the suggested corrections that can be incorporated into future reprints of the book as detailed above.

Finally, could any fair-minded reader of the Rotolo entry feel I had been at all disrespectful or less than fair in my assessment of her or her contribution, or in my concern to emphasise her place in the development of Dylan’s work? Kooper has complained (by e-mail) that I “second guess” how Dylan “allegedly felt about Suzie Rotolo” and pepper my tome with “Enquirer style crap”, but that’s completely untrue. The only conjecture I make about Dylan’s attitude is this: “In the years after their demise as an item, Rotolo retained Dylan’s respect by her determined silence and her absolute refusal to give interviews.” Well I’m not going to apologise for that. As for the rest, those parts of the entry that concern Suze’s feelings about Bob and Bob’s about her are all direct quotes from their published writings. My suppositions are about her impact on his work, and they are entirely positive. They evaluate her contribution carefully and it ought to be obvious to anyone that it took much conscientious work to delineate all this. So I’m sorry she’s so dissatisfied but obviously it can’t be helped.

Then there’s the strand of commentary that says “Yes, how dare the people who were actually there think they know better than a ‘researcher’”, and “I’d take Al Kooper’s word over Mr Gray on Dylan any day”; anyone would think from this, and from Kooper’s rantings, that my entry had arrogantly contradicted Kooper’s account of events. It did no such thing. Nor did it set out to rubbish him. The opposite is true. People like Yellow Rat Bastard (such a sweet moniker) saying “you don’t really give a rat’s ass about the truth and facts” only make it plain that it’s they who are guilty of that.

The more general issue here, about history and truth, is far more complex than these brutalist contributors will allow. Tellingly, it’s the unaggressive contributors who are willing to admit the complexities.

We might boil it down to this: in matters of who did what, who played what instrument on what track on what day, then obviously the people in the room at the time may remember everything in perfect, accurate detail - though there are obvious problems with all such notions. With the best will in the world, people’s memories are dodgy things. Anyone looking into the testimonies of surviving relatives for their own family history knows that. As writer Nigel Hinton says - and this is quoted on the entry on Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One - ‘memory and invention are impossible to untangle.’

At the very least, you might concede that most rock musicians are not the anal-retentive type, find such recall neither possible nor desirable, and readily admit to having only the vaguest idea about sessions from last month, let alone 40 years ago. They would mostly find the idea laughable that their personal recollection alone should be relied upon by historians. In different situations and with different sorts of people, the same problems with ‘truth’ apply. No-one would rely on only Stalin’s, Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s own version of what happened when they met at Yalta - and you wouldn’t do so even if you thought each person was trying their best to be scrupulously accurate; nor would you automatically give extra weight to Churchill’s version because he was a historian as well as a war leader, statesman and politician.

Kooper keeps quoting Tom Waits on history: “The problem with history is, the folks who were there ain’t talking. And the ones who weren’t there, you can’t shut them up.” This is inaccurate from every angle, and it’s risible that Kooper finds it profound. The “folks who were there” almost always do talk; they weren’t usually conscious that they were making history at the time, so they weren’t necessarily paying attention to the detail; and the ones who weren’t there are entitled to speak too. Otherwise, what right would Tom Waits have to comment? He hasn’t made history: he’s just made records. As contributor Ben wrote, “If anyone thinks history is pure fact then they are ill-informed. Just go to any undergraduate lecture on the ‘Social Construction of Knowledge’.”

When it comes to a different sort of truth, about a work of art, you definitely don’t just take the artist’s word for it. Their public comments are naturally of interest, and at best might express clearly what they were aware of doing with the conscious part of the mind while planning and/or creating it, but it’s the work itself that must speak. This is why, all along, at the very start of every edition of Song & Dance Man I have always quoted D.H. Lawrence’s dictum “Never trust the artist, trust the tale.”

This all connects with those contributors who, like Kooper, can’t bear the fact that my book is called an encyclopedia, because they think an encyclopedia should only contain “facts”.

Kooper boasted in his Boston Herald piece about his own entry on Dylan in Encyclopædia Britannica, and in his e-mail to me specified this: “I was hired and assigned the Bob Dylan entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica [sic]. I did all my research through Dylan's office, and presented a factual rundown of his career to date.” He doesn’t realise how limited and dodgy he’s admitting his research must have been if he only took Bob Dylan’s office’s word for everything - and just as important, he doesn’t even seem to recognise that he had to edit, choose what to leave out, prune - i.e. make judgments - all the way through the process of writing an entry. Everyone does. The lofty pretend-neutral tone of a traditional encyclopedia may attempt the illusion of objectivity, but the process of editing, weighing up what’s worth including and what isn’t, is still the process that has gone on for every entry. If Kooper had been stupid enough to try to write “a factual rundown” of Dylan’s career to date without editorial intervention, he’d still be writing things down and no encyclopedia would ever print the end result. So it’s particularly daft for Kooper to get so bizarrely apoplectic about the title of my book.

So. Kooper’s other arguments. First, the abject dishonesty of claiming he hadn’t wished me dead, because he’d only been quoting Bob Dylan. That really is pathetic. He was hurling the quote at me, and he knows it. He even added to the quotation “You are just another Master of Whore”. That’s surely as naff a pun as was ever made, but there’s no doubting it was all being hurled at me. As contributor Jake wrote: “I think there’s a difference between writing a Bob Dylan Encyclopedia and being a ‘Master of War’.” And as someone else e-mailed me to say:

“His disclaimer about quoting ‘Masters of War’ at you - that those weren’t his words - complete with its absurd implicit suggestion that you’ve never heard the song, or at least couldn’t recognise a quotation from it - demonstrates a very limited moral awareness. It is as if someone was to cry ‘Crucify him’ at a lynching and then exonerate himself by claiming to be alluding to the Bible.”

Then there’s the Bill Aikins question. “When Gray said he had the support of Bill Aikin” - it’s Aikins, Al - “I lost my temper again. NOONE BY THAT NAME PLAYED KEYBOARDS ON B&B!” It’s laughable that Kooper thinks it’s reasonable to lose his temper if someone he’s forgotten about gets a credit!

Again, I have no axe to grind here. I didn’t know Aikins, and I had never contacted him or vice versa until I was writing the book. But I was specific about the session Aikins played on (Feb 14, 1966) and in the entry on him I quote his recollection of the session. In view of all this foaming at the mouth by Kooper, I phoned Aikins this afternoon to ask exactly what keyboards he played that day. I was lucky to get hold of him on a Sunday, since he’s Worship Leader in a church group these days, but he was at home and he said, very straightforwardly, that he can’t be sure if it was piano or Hammond B-3 organ - but he certainly knows he was there: and actually, he also said: “Al Kooper? I don’t remember him.”

But he suggested I check with Charlie McCoy, saying that Charlie probably has a better memory; that they knew each other well in those days, he’d been in Charlie McCoy & the Escorts (as my book noted in the entry on Wayne Moss), that “Charlie was the contractor for all those dates” and that it was Charlie McCoy who brought him in on the session.

So I e-mailed McCoy and asked him. I exchanged several e-mails with him when researching the book, and he was always (at the risk of irritating Suze Rotolo) helpful. He has been helpful again, and very promptly. His answer, in full: “Bill was there but I don’t remember whether piano or organ.”

So, Al, to make the point your way: BILL WAS THERE.

This was obviously going to be the case even if Charlie McCoy hadn’t replied so quickly, or hadn’t replied at all. It would be absurd to think that Bill Aikins - a longtime musical colleague of McCoy’s and a musician on many sessions - would invent his brief involvement in Blonde On Blonde. Or that bobdylan.com would credit him as one of the album’s musicians if he wasn’t.

Anyone else might give me credit for having remembered to include a minor figure like Aikins. But what we have here instead is Kooper shouting the odds about a session when he’s completely in the wrong. A musician was there, he’s forgotten him, and therefore he has to be denied. He cannot admit that he’s simply no recollection of one person who was in a room with him 40 years ago. But I’m damned if I’m going to elbow Bill Aikins out of the picture on Kooper’s ill-tempered say-so. It’s shameful that Kooper should want to deny another musician his due just because it’s a far more modest one than his own.

What we also have here is the perfect demonstration of why it would be crazy to just accept Kooper’s word for it on all these occasions.

(On another matter - the question of how many Nashville trips there had been - Kooper writes that “I spoke with one of your competitors, Sean Wilentz… he promptly called Charlie McCoy… and Charlie corroborated my claim by stating he remembered it as one group of sessions as well.” But Kooper, typically, twists this too: what Kooper says is that his version is true and anyone who says different is “you clowns” telling “lies” - but Charlie McCoy doesn’t “corroborate” Kooper’s “claim”: he is more circumspect, and rather more modest, just saying he “remembered it as one group of sessions as well”. And that’s if we can rely on Kooper to have conveyed what Wilentz says McCoy said. It’s just as clumsy for Kooper to call Sean Wilentz “one of [my] competitors.” He would resist that label as I do. We don’t “compete”; he does his work - and he’s a highly qualified academic, which I’m certainly not and have never claimed to be - and I do mine. Mine has included writing an entirely approving entry on him in my Encyclopedia, for which he supplied much information and e-mailed to say “very nice of you to include me”. So don’t insinuate that I’m in another battle, here, Mr. K. And I haven’t had to rely on asking Charlie McCoy my questions through an intermediary.)

And incidentally: Kooper says I could have checked into Bill Aikins via “The Nashville Musicians Union” if I’d done “valid research”. Actually I found Bill Aikins through the union in the first place.

Being so unreliable and mean-minded about other musicians, Kooper naturally has to slag off anyone who has done discographical research - and in particular “the riddled discography of [your] pal Dundas”. Glen Dundas and I are not personal friends, though we are indeed friendly acquaintances. I know him well enough to say with confidence that in his Dylan studies he has been unfailingly generous-spirited and ego-free. He has doubtless made a number of errors in his work - who hasn’t, especially in such difficult territory? - but he has never made errors through vindictiveness, or wished anyone in the Dylan world ill, nor tried to deny that he might ever make a mistake. And though he was brave enough to stick his head above the parapet and say in print - in a defence of me that I had not asked for - that Kooper’s testimony about sessions was unreliable, he was only saying what every Dylanologist knows.

It wasn’t me, but Derek Barker, editor of Isis, who coined the phrase “Planet Kooper”. In a painstaking, careful piece of detective-work about the recording of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, first published in issue no.120, May 2005 and then in Bob Dylan Anthology Volume 2: 20 Years of Isis (p.97), Barker writes:

“The booklet that accompanies The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 gives ‘official’ testament to the recording… However, like much of the official material it is clearly erroneous and appears to have been based on anecdotal evidence from Planet Kooper, which is supported by a misleading quote given by Dylan to Rolling Stone magazine in 1988, both of which state that the released version… was the final take on day one (June 15 [1965]). These two concurring but woefully inaccurate recollections could be seen as being corroborated by the reproduction of a Tape Identification Data sheet for the June 15 session on the back inside cover of the Bootleg Series booklet. While the June 15 sheet correctly represents the fragmentary outtake that is included on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, it could also be seen as supporting the statements by Kooper and Dylan that there was only ever one complete take of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Had the tape sheet for the following day (June 16) been reproduced, it would have shown that there were a further fifteen takes - five of which were complete - of the song and that far from being captured in a single complete take, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was in fact one of the most laboured recordings of Dylan’s career up to that point.”

In the endnotes (p.102), Barker details more of Kooper’s unreliability as a witness. Barker points Kooper to a photo (from the sessions) that had only come to light on the Bootleg Series Volume 4: Dylan Live 1966 CD set: “In the first email exchange with Al Kooper he stated: ‘Sure looks like me playin’ an old Fender Jazzmaster’. However, when it was explained to him that the photograph was from June 15, a session at which he has always maintained he did not play guitar, Al suggested, ‘It must be my twin brother Kenny Rankin’. It seems that Rankin and Kooper were often mistaken for each other at that time. The problem is, Rankin was not at any of the Highway 61 sessions!”

Consistency isn’t Kooper’s strong point in argument either. He boasts that he relied on Bob Dylan’s office for his own research, setting much store by using the official source - but when I use that source to show him that Bill Aikins played on Blonde On Blonde he rubbishes it: he wants me to “lift [my] frigging research above the incorrect liner notes”. Which, of course, I also did. Similarly he’s always howling for “the facts”, except when he loses interest in them. Then I’m wrong to have listed them: “Are there REALLY people besides yourself that care how many times the songs above were attempted…?”

Meanwhile the obvious irony is that he plays out his extended tantrums about “the facts” not only while so often wrong about them himself, but, while being, as an anonymous contributor noted, “extremely opinionated and emotional about this stuff.”

He also repeatedly misunderstands what I write, so accusing me of crimes I’ve not committed, as any ordinary reader would understand at once. He berates me about those liner notes as if I offer them to prove the full roster of Blonde On Blonde players - but clearly I did’t: I offered them to show official recognition that Bill Aikins was among them. Kooper, though, rants that “nowhere in the liner notes does it mention that Paul Griffin played piano on ‘One Of Us Must Know’, probably one of the greatest bits of piano playing I’ve ever heard in my life. Nor does it mention that Bobby Gregg played drums on that track along with Rick Danko on bass.” To give the impression that I don’t know that, or that I haven’t given any account of these people, is to lie. Bobby Gregg and Paul Griffin receive adjacent entries in the book, as it happens; Gregg’s role is willingly acknowledged - why wouldn’t it be?; Rick Danko’s long entry specifies that he played bass on that track and adds: “though Danko’s name is missing from the credits”; and the 1000-word entry on Paul Griffin doesn’t just highlight that “bit of piano playing” but gives space to journalist Jonathan Singer’s eloquent, attentive attempt to describe for the reader just what is so great about it.

(To repeat Singer’s words: “‘Griffin gives the song its tragic depth - and height. He picks his way sensitively through the verses; but at other times, he prowls beneath the words with judgement and an ominous gospel lick that he stokes until he has climbed to the verse’s peak. At the chorus, Griffin unleashes a symphony; hammering his way up and down the keyboard, half Gershwin, half gospel, all heart. The follow-up, a killer left hand figure that links the chorus to the verse, releases none of the song’s tension. Then, on the last chorus, not content to repeat the same brilliant part, Griffin’s playing…so completely embodies the lyric, that he enters into some other dimension. For several seconds, on one of Dylan’s best songs, Griffin makes Dylan seem almost earthbound.’”)

Kooper quotes me as writing of him that he “moved to the west coast and formed Blood, Sweat and Tears…” and declares indignantly “I did NOT move to California to form BS&T.” But Al, I don’t say that. Similarly, he quotes this passage about Newport ’65: “He attended and played organ on the later Highway 61 Revisited sessions (July 30 and August 2, 1965 in New York)”, and goes into a juvenile rave about “I hate to tell you this, Mikey, but Highway 61 was already recorded when we played The Newport Fest. And you can wave all your ‘research papers’ in my face, but I knew all those songs because i had ALREADY RECORDED THEM!!” A calmer person might have seen that it wasn’t being suggested that there’d been no earlier sessions - no pre-Newport sessions - but simply that the last days of recording (“the later Highway 61 Revisited sessions”) were on July 30 and August 2. No-one but Kooper disputes this, or denies that the festival took place before those dates. (And of course a less egocentric person might have said, unless they were Dylan himself, that they knew the songs “because we had already recorded them”. Al prefers “because I had already recorded them”. No credit is ever quite enough for him, is it?)

He makes these clumsy misreadings over and over again, berating me about things I’ve clearly never said. As here: “BTW, I never played on Short Shorts by The Royal Teens and EVERYONE knows that.” Actually, not many people on the planet have heard of the Royal Teens, and even fewer know whether Al Kooper played on it or not - but I don’t say he did. On the contrary, I write quite plainly: “he was a guitarist with pop group the Royal Teens shortly after they’d had a top 10 hit with ‘Short Shorts’ in 1958.” [My emphasis added.] Likewise Kooper writes: “I had NOTHING to do with the recording of This Diamond Ring by Gary Lewis; I Must Be Seeing Things by Gene Pitney; or the… Johnny Hallyday recording. I was co-composer of those songs ONLY.” Which is exactly what the entry states.

And so on. Enough is enough. Kooper gets fulsome credit for his work in a 2,675-word entry in my book (plus endnotes) and feels “defiled” because he can’t bear to have me criticise a couple of self-indulgent solo albums he made in the mid-1970s. Well I’m sorry. But not very sorry. I am not going to be bullied, and I am not going to have my work of many years trashed by someone so utterly unreasonable and unreasoning, and someone who in the matter of reliability over “the truth” is standing in a very fragile glass house wildly throwing stones.

I think his response has been extraordinarily puffed up and more than a little deranged. I’m sorry I made the mistake of not replicating the spelling error on the Zombies’ album title, and that I misnamed his group ReKooperation instead of The ReKooperators. I’m sorry too for one real error of judgment in my entry. I wrote: “he’s lost none of his acumen, and if anything has gained in self-deprecating grace down the years.” I was certainly wrong there.

Finally, a heartfelt thank you again to those who have been supportive in all this, both on the blog and off it.