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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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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


250 years old today. In The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia you'll find him on pages 51-55, 61, 179, 196, 215-220, 246, 256, 257, 363, 415, 451, 529, 619 and 689. There are few characters in English literature and art as wholly compelling - his work so immediately recognisable and distinctive, his life so affecting, and the fusion of art and life so powerful at bringing a whole era of London alive. If you haven't read it, I recommend Peter Ackroyd's Blake (1995). As for Dylan connections, well they may not be important in the huge totality that is Blake, but they've been mooted in writings about Dylan since at least the late 1960s, when Greil Marcus, in the San Francisco Express-Times, used a poem of Blake's to show the idiocy of A.J. Weberman's approach to code-cracking "interpretations" of Dylan; and the first edition of Song & Dance Man (1972) compared a particular Blake prose-poem passage with Dylan's sleevenotes to Highway 61 Revisited.

Blake's reputation now seems secure, but it wasn't always so. This is the entry on Blake, William, beat/hippie revival of, in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (p.54):

"20th Century social poets such as Peter Porter have recoiled from the beat/hippie revival of Blake, either disliking per se exactly those mystical qualities for which he is a New Age hero, or else simply objecting to his appropriation. ‘William Blake, William / Blake, William Blake, William Blake, / say it and feel new!’, sneers a verse of Porter’s poem ‘Japanese Jokes’. Poet and critic Fred Grubb’s misremembrance of this salvo, offered inside a book review, is pithier: ‘Blake! Blake! Blake! Say it and feel good’. Porter’s attack may have beat poet ALLEN GINSBERG in mind - a Blake fan who was almost certainly one conduit for Dylan’s absorption of Blake.

Porter and his friends are complaining as if there were just one warping of Blake’s otherwise correct and static reputation. It’s never been like that. Max Plowman, writing his irrepressible Introduction to the Study of Blake in the 1920s, felt that at last ‘the day seems to be not far distance when… apologies will be unnecessary and the complete Blake will be no longer regarded as a narcotic for numbskulls, but will stare every university undergraduate full in the face.’ "

[Peter Porter: ‘Japanese Jokes’, Last Of England, 1970. Fred Grubb: ‘Mountaineer’, London Magazine, Dec 1989-Jan 1990. Max Plowman, Introduction to the Study of Blake, London; Dent, 1927, p.2.]

And the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Today is Jimi Hendrix's birthday. If he were still alive, he'd be 65 years old. Oh lawdy...

Monday, November 26, 2007


There's an overly-long but often acute piece in the Village Voice of November 20 by J. Hoberman, drawn to my attention by British film person Mick Gold. The piece is partly about Todd Haynes' I'm Not There but also about Murray Lerner's The Other Side Of The Mirror and about Dylan's own films and films he's been influenced by. It's here.

And here's a provocative quote from the last page of the 4-page article:

"Certain cultural figures have a particular inevitability. Charles Chaplin and Elvis Presley rode technological waves, surfing to superstardom on powerful socio-economic currents. Had Chaplin never come to America, another slapstick comic would have emerged to reign over the nation's nickelodeons; Elvis might never have been born, but someone else would surely have brought the world rock 'n' roll.

No such logic accounts for Bob Dylan. No iron law of history demanded that a would-be Elvis from Hibbing, Minnesota, would swerve through the Greenwich Village folk revival to become the world's first and greatest rock 'n' roll beatnik bard and then—having achieved fame and adoration beyond reckoning—vanish into a folk tradition of his own making."

It interests me too that Hoberman is particularly confident and specific in asserting that Jeff Rosen has "brilliantly orchestrated" Dylan's "ongoing revival".

It's a topic I tried to touch on in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (Rosen was a reluctant entrant), but it remains curiously under-discussed, at least in print, by Dylan afficionados. I don't know why.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the death of country-music giant Roy Acuff, who survived to the age of 89. Here's the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (which explains the title of this post):

Acuff, Roy [1903 - 1992]
Roy Acuff was born in miniscule Maynardville, Tennessee, on September 15, 1903, though his family later moved to Knoxville. He grew up wanting to be a sportsman but after suffering from a severe sunstroke that precipitated a nervous breakdown he turned instead to music, learning violin, joining a medicine show and then the Tennessee Crackjacks, who had a radio outlet on WROL in Knoxville.

Acuff’s first session, as by Roy Acuff & His Crazy Tennesseeans, yielded him a big hit with an old gospel song, ‘Great Speckle Bird’ (cut in Chicago in 1936), and he went on to record 120 pre-war sides, including ‘Wabash Cannonball’. When he sang ‘Bird’ on the Grand Ole Opry in 1938 it was a sensation all over again, clinching him a regular slot (on condition that the group change its name to the Smoky Mountain Boys) and launched his climb to huge stardom. He swiftly became so big a cultural figure that when Japanese troops went into battle at Okinawa in WWII, reputedly they shouted ‘To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff!’ as they charged. Postwar Acuff flourished but chose to concentrate more on touring than recording. (He released no singles between 1947 and 1958.) In 1962 he became the first living person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

One of Acuff’s pre-war recordings was of the popular song ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, also recorded pre-war by the Monroe Brothers (and by country acts the Carolina Gospel Singers, Arty Hall and Judie & Julie). Dylan re-used the title, though nothing else in the song, in his own Knocked Out Loaded number ‘Driftin’ Too Far From Shore’. In the MARTIN SCORSESE film No Direction Home the era of country music Dylan heard on the radio when he was growing up, and the kind of 78rpm records people had in their homes up in Hibbing MN, are suggested by the playing of a post-war recording of the Acuff song by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys. . . which is problematic, to say the least, because Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys didn’t record the song till 1962, and then only released it on an LP; so it was never a 78, and didn’t exist when Dylan was growing up. Nor is the version played in No Direction Home the pre-war Monroe Brothers recording - though that was a 78rpm record, recorded at their first session back in 1936, so it’s possible that’s what should have been illustrated in the film.

Dylan sings a version of Roy Acuff’s ‘Freight Train Blues’ (one of Acuff’s earliest hits) on his first album. It’s not widely known that the vocal on Acuff’s version was not by him but by band member Sam ‘Dynamite’ Hatcher; Acuff’s is the train whistle vocal effects.

Dylan also says in Chronicles Volume One that his own ‘Let Me Die In My Footsteps’ is based on an old Acuff ballad - though he doesn’t say which, and it’s hard to think of any relevant Acuff song. Dylan also remembers that Acuff, always introduced as the ‘King of Country Music’, was MC on the Grand Ole Opry the first time he heard HANK WILLIAMS.

One more song strongly associated with Acuff, ‘Wait For The Light To Shine’, was introduced to Dylan’s concert repertoire at Spokane, Washington, on October 5, 2001. Between then and the end of the year, he performed it 22 more times, adding a further 7 renditions in 2002.

Acuff co-founded the Acuff-Rose music publishing company with Fred Rose in 1942, and among other achievements nurtured the career of Hank Willams. Acuff-Rose sold recently for 100 million dollars. Roy Acuff died in Nashville on November 23, 1992, aged 89.

[Roy Acuff: ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, Memphis, 6 Jul, 1939; ‘Freight Train Blues’ Chicago, 21 Oct 1936; ‘Wait For The Light To Shine’, Chicago or Nashville, Dec 1944. Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys: ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, Nashville, 16 May 1962, I’ll Meet You In Church Sunday Morning, Decca DL 4537, NY 1962; Monroe Brothers: ‘Drifting Too Far From The Shore’, Charlotte, NC, 17 Feb 1936. Bob Dylan, Chronicles Volume One, pp. 270 & 95.]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I see that it was yesterday, 35 years ago, that the very first edition of my first book, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, was published. That was the UK hardback 1st edition, published by Hart-Davis MacGibbon (part of the Granada Group) in London, with jacket design by Peter Bentley. They were in Upper James Street, Soho - as it happens, mere yards from the building in Golden Square where I had to go two weeks ago for the screening of I'm Not There.

And as to films and Bob Dylan, can anyone tell me more about these than is listed on the movie database? First, Paradise Cove, which I saw mention of on Expecting Rain yesterday but had never heard of before - a film by a director with the scarcely credible name Robert Clapsadle, apparently made in 1999 but being released only now - in which Bob Dylan plays the part of Alfred The Chauffeur, and in which Ben Gazzara and the great Karen Black take larger roles. (You can find a bit about it, but not much, at too.)

Dylan, of course, played the part of a chauffeur in the awful video for his Under The Red Sky single 'Unbelievable', and a sort of chauffeur in the one for 'Things Have Changed'.

And second, as I was looking down the vast movie-database list of film and TV titles Dylan has to his credit in one form or another (it lists every film that has used one of his tracks on its soundtrack, for a start) I came upon this tantalising item, for which he is credited as having provided "original music": a UK TV drama called The Man Without Papers, directed by Peter Duguid, written by Troy Kennedy-Martin and with a release date of June 9, 1965. I'm wondering what this was, and how it can have escaped the Dylanistas' radar for over 40 years...

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I've meant for some time now to post a recommendation for a Dylan-topic blog worth looking at, and it's this one by Chris Gregory. He's enormously keener on Modern Times than I am, and I can't say that I enjoy reading long positive critiques on the album which explain why it's a work of great genius, but his song-by-song run-down is assiduous in tracking and tracing the sources for Dylan's lines, so that this is, at the very least, a useful one-stop shop for them. (I've also added his blog to my list of Links.)

I know I've been pretty desultory about my own blogging lately - my last one, which was far from substantial, having been 12 days ago - but those twelve days have been strange ones for me. I learnt of the death of my oldest friend on that Tuesday evening, just as I was on my way out to see a theatre production in York of a play by James Robson, who, like me, lives in Kirkbymoorside. I couldn't cancel, but it was certainly odd to sit through the play, Scribbler and Spouse, which was powerfully written and its lead role a tour de force, while my mind was fruit-machining and my heart dark.

My friend was Peter Hues Harrison, and I've known him since we were 5 years old. That's 55 years. He was nine months younger than me. He died of heart failure in hospital in Kendal, Cumbria, at 7am on Monday November 5th. He'd been expected to recover and be discharged in a few days' time, so they had to arrange a post mortem, which couldn't be held for several days - coroners are busy people - and so it wasn't until after that had taken place that Peter's funeral could begin to be arranged. It finally happened on Thursday, in the village church at Burneside, just outside Kendal, on a blazingly beautiful cold sunny day.

The day before the funeral I had to write a review of Todd Haynes' I'm Not There for Sight & Sound; the day after the funeral I had to go to Glasgow and give a Bob Dylan & The Poetry Of The Blues talk. My friendship with Peter hasn't always been tangled up in Bob - but it was with Peter, listening to the radio on the Wirral (near Liverpool) that I first heard Bob Dylan's voice. And as it happens, the last time I saw Peter we were listening to some of "Love and Theft".

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


A friend sent me this photo of a movable-graffiti van glimpsed in Amsterdam very recently, which includes "VOOR [For] DYLAN" amid its, er, art.

Meanwhile, one last invitation for November 16th, to what seems likely to be my last gig of the year:
Friday November 16, 8pm
Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues
("wit, insight, loud music, rare footage...")
Centre for Contemporary Arts
350 Sauchiehall Street
Glasgow G2 3JD
Box Office 0141 352 4900
tickets £11, concessions £6.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Singer Barb Jungr is doing some Dylan-repertoire gigs in England this month, as follows:

Nov 9th, Fri, Hemel Hempstead:
The Old Town Hall, High Street, Hemel Hempstead

Nov 22th, Thurs, Nottingham:
The Maze Forest Tavern, 257 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3FT

Nov 23rd, High Wycombe:
Wycombe Town Hall.
Some readers may remember that Barb was interviewed in issue no.6 of the alas-no-mo fanzine Judas!, and that one of her CDs is called Every Grain of Sand.