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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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Thursday, October 30, 2008


Somehow I missed reading of the death of Wilfrid Mellers. He died on May 16, aged 94. He was a composer and the author of 20 books, including, of course, A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan. This is the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (with his death added in):

Mellers, Wilfrid [1914 - 2008]
Wilfrid Howard Mellers was born in Leamington (pronounced Lemming-ton) Spa, in the English Midlands, on April 26, 1914. Educated at Cambridge, he fell under the rigorous influence of the pre-eminent and now deeply unfashionable literary critic F.R. Leavis, becoming a literary critic himself and writing for Leavis’ defiant journal Scrutiny before turning towards music, publishing his book Music and Society: England and the European Tradition in 1946 and becoming, by the mid-1960s, the new University of York’s first Professor of Music and a composer of distinction. He continued to straddle the rôles of critic and creative artist, and the genres of popular and classical music. His book Music in a New Found Land, written in the early 1960s and published in 1964, has held up creditably, and is remarkable for, among other things, its early (as it were) critical appraisal of ROBERT JOHNSON.

If it seemed an oblique comment when in 1967, in a news magazine survey titled ‘Sixties’, Mellers wrote that Blonde On Blonde was ‘concerned more with incantation than communication’, this may have been because at that point, like so many other musically sophisticated people, his interest in ‘pop’ was almost entirely taken up with an entrancement by THE BEATLES. He was among those who found the blandishments of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band more beguiling than Dylan’s work, and his book Twilight of the Gods was an early professorial rush into print with a Beatles study.

However, he never stopped paying attention to Dylan’s output, and he was extremely well informed as to many of its antecedents - and while in 1980 he could produce the detailed, part-Freudian, part-musicological study Bach and the Dance of God, and three years later Beethoven and the Voice of God (1983), a year after that he could offer A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan.

Awkardly titled, and more backdrop than Dylan, it has proved more and more interesting and relevant since its publication in 1984. When it was new, it was received without enthusiasm by many of us who still, as the 1980s dawned, preferred to insist upon the blazingly unerring individuality of Dylan’s art rather than concede that he stood in a tradition occupied by wrinkly old people with fiddles and banjos and obdurately conservative faces. In retrospect we can be grateful for, and a little impressed by, the sharp but serious attention it pays to the CARTER FAMILY, Nimrod Stoneman, Aunt Mollie Jackson, Roscoe Holcomb, JIMMIE RODGERS and others from among the souls who have haunted Dylan’s imagination and suffused his own art.
In 2004 the York Late Music Festival opened with a weekend’s tribute to Mellers, and that October (not April) a tribute concert was held at Downing College, Cambridge to mark Mellers’ 90th birthday.

[Wilfrid Mellers, Music and Society: England and the European Tradition, London: Dennis Dobson, 1946; Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music, London: Stonehill, 1964 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965); ‘Sixties’, New Statesman, London, 24 Feb 1967; Bach and the Dance of God, London: Faber & Faber, 1980; Beethoven and the Voice of God, London, Faber & Faber, 1983; A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan, London: Faber & Faber, 1984.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


1. An essay about two minor Bob songs by Ray Padgett, here ...though the views expressed are not those of the blog management

2. A political-background piece by Matthew Engel about, er, whether Minnesotans consider Barack Obama human, here

3. The new BBC-TV Andrew Davies adaptation of a Dickens novel, this time Little Dorrit. Judging from the first episode (last Sunday night) it's showing touches of hamminess that their great, great Bleak House never did, but it's still a thousand times more interesting than most TV and may deepen as it goes along. I think it's an affectation to find these historical dramas tiresome per se. They certainly can be, but the BBC can still pull these things off. And it's part of what it ought to be there for. Part 2 of Little Dorrit is this Thursday (30th).

Monday, October 27, 2008


I'm setting up a new tour of gigs, performing a revised & updated Bob Dylan & the Poetry Of The Blues show/talk. This will run between mid-February and the end of May 2009, and I'm looking for venues in the UK, Europe and North America.

If anyone has connexions with any suitable arts centre, small arts theatre or college, perhaps they could contact me either by posting a comment re this item or by e-mailing me off-blog at lawdylawdy(AT)

Thank you.

(Meanwhile a number of new 1-CD compilation choices have been added as comments to the post two down from this one.)

Friday, October 24, 2008


That wonderful Dylan song 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune', the like of which he has never repeated, was recorded 45 years ago today, in New York City.

It was an outtake from the sessions for The Times They Are A-Changin’ (and recorded the same day as the album's title track). Two days later Dylan performed it, for the only known time, at his Carnegie Hall concert.

Hard to say which of the two versions is the more nearly perfect.

I first wrote at length about the studio version in the original 1972 edition of Song & Dance Man, giving it a chapter - 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune: Drugs and Mysticism' - and I remain grateful to Dylan's music publisher for allowing me to quote fully a lyric that was, at the time, officially unreleased. This was, I think, the first time they had ever given such a go-ahead for material only known to fans from a bootleg (a real bootleg). An updated, amended and annotated version of that chapter made it through to Song & Dance Man III, and some of this material was then re-shaped into an entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.

I look out of the window here in this part of France, and it's too early to say that the last of leaves are falling from the trees and clinging to a new love's breast - it's not winter yet, but it's getting there. Leaves are starting to fall, and we have indeed been walking through the leaves falling from the trees.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Most people seem agreed that really, when it comes to it, Tell Tale Signs would have been much better pruned down to one CD's worth. So obviously people must be sitting around arguing and laughing about which tracks would make it to the final cut - and indeed a friend e-mailed the other day to report on just such a sitting around. He wrote:

"After listening to all three discs of BS 8 very often and after a kind of listening session with X and Y last night (which, by the way, ended with happily listening to live recordings from the Freddy Koella tour), today I compiled my own personal best-of 1-disc version, i.e. ditching the live tracks and eliminating the songs I do not file under 'quite interesting', 'interesting, but ...' or 'oh, come on!, why this and not ...?' . In other words, the record I want to hear over and over again. Here it is:

1 Mississippi (1) 6:05
2 Most Of The Time (1) 3:35
3 Dignity (piano) 2:12
4 Someday Baby 5:57
5 Red River Shore (1) 7:34
6 Tell Ol Bill 5:29
7 Born In Time (1) 4:10
8 Can’t Wait (1) 5:42
9 Miss The Mississippi 3:21
10 Dreamin’ Of You 5:49
11 Hucks Tune 4:04
12 Can’t Escape From You 5:12
13 Marchin’ In The City (1) 6:32
14 Mary And The Soldier 4:11
15 Ring Them Bells (piano) 3:10
16 Cross The Green Mountain 8:14"

I'm not sure whether these have been structured in a carefully thought-out running order or not, and there are tracks on there that I can't believe anyone would choose but no matter. This seems like a good game, and I shall be offering my own one-CD list in the near future. But in the meantime, perhaps other people would like to send in theirs??

Monday, October 20, 2008


Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the death of Son House, in Detroit, at age 86; and today the 25th anniversary of the death of Merle Travis, at Park Hill, Oklahoma, at age 65. Travis has no entry in the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (but see Song & Dance Man III, page 725 for some Dylanoid connections). Son House's entry runs like this:

House, Son [1902 - 1988]
Eddie James House Jr. was born on March 21, 1902 on a Delta plantation at Riverton, Mississippi, grew up to become a Baptist pastor before the age of 20, initiating the drama of a lifetime’s enacted pull between religious and secular passion. He learnt guitar only after returning to Mississippi from some years spent in Louisiana; in 1928 he was sent to Parchman Farm for mortally shooting a man, reportedly in self-defence, but was released within a year. He met up with the equally powerful CHARLEY PATTON and with Willie Brown, travelled with them to Grafton, Wisconsin, where on May 28, 1930 he recorded his classic début session - a session of ten tracks that proved him an originator of the dark and heavy Mississippi Delta blues style. He continued to play with Patton and without him, but never returned to the studios in the pre-war period. He was field-recorded in Mississippi by ALAN LOMAX in 1941 and 1942.

‘The Jinx Blues Part One’, one of his 1942 tracks, rages like this against the dying of delight: ‘You know these blues ain’t nothin but a low-down shakin’, low-down shakin’, achin’ chill / I said the blues is a low-down old achin’ chill / Well if you ain’t had ’em honey I hope you never will. / Them blues, them blues is a worryin’ heart, worryin’ heart, heart disease / Just like a woman you be lovin’, man, it’s so doggone hard to please.’

It’s typical of Son House (though also of Patton) that he should expand the lyric with these long, erupting, erratic surges of repetition. Another vocal effect he employs time and again, yet always effectively and without ever quite losing its element of surprise, is in not repeating or approximating the whole of the first line of a verse as the second line, but instead beginning that second line with an ‘mmm-mmm-mmm’ and then repeating only the end-portion of the first line, which often has a different resonance when divorced from its other half. Though he’s by no means alone in doing it, this inspired, intelligent word-conjuring is one of the things that makes him great. He has a way, too, of using common-stock formulations yet always making his songs sound like works in progress, and he has a rare expressive intensity.

In 1943 House moved to the slums of Rochester, New York, where he gave up playing, sold his guitar and was eventually amazed to be ‘rediscovered’, let alone find that he was regarded by these strange young middle-class white people as a great artist. He recorded anew in Rochester in 1964, in Chicago later that year, in New York City in 1965 and a number of other times afterwards, the last being in London in July 1970. He played the NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL in 1964 and 1965.

He is a giant figure in 20th century American music, the single most potent stylistic influence on ROBERT JOHNSON - who as a boy used to hang around him, listening, before he could play a note himself - a model for MUDDY WATERS and a creative, forceful performer in his own right.
To be specific, Johnson’s ‘Walking Blues’ recycles ‘My Black Mama’ by Son House, who was himself calling it ‘Walking Blues’ in the 1930s before Robert Johnson used the title for his own song (the title ‘My Black Mama’ was because the ‘black mama’ lyrics House took as his starting-point came from one of his mentors, James McCoy); and House’s 1942 field-recorded ‘Walking Blues’ re-emphasises this lineage. But the story doesn’t end there. Extraordinarily, in 1985 the collector Mike Kirsling found 42 Paramount test-pressings in the roof of a house in Illinois, and more left out in the snow. (As he took them home he prayed ‘Please God, don’t let them be by white singers!’: some were, some weren’t.) Among them - it’s almost too good to be true - was a Son House recording of ‘Walking Blues’ itself from 1930 - indeed recorded the same day as his ‘My Black Mama’ - a record not known to have existed, and confirming the song as an item in House’s repertoire at least six years before Robert Johnson recorded it.

Specifically too, Muddy Waters’ first recorded side, August 1941’s ‘Country Blues’, is also founded upon House’s 1930s ‘Walking Blues’. The similarity between Waters’ bottleneck playing on this and Robert Johnson’s on his ‘Walking Blues’ has been widely noted - but both are extremely similar to that on Son House’s ‘My Black Mama’, and the field-recorded interviews with Muddy Waters make it clear that it was Son House who taught him bottleneck guitar. (All this is detailed in a 1981 article ‘Really The “Walking Blues”: Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and the Development of a Traditional Blues’, by John Cowley.)

Even in old age, debilitated and at times distracted, he was a person of great dignity. Among the Columbia sides made in 1965 is the gorgeous, touching ‘Pearline’, on which House sounds infinitely older than his 63 years but turns his frailty to transcendently poignant advantage, his clawing, arthritic slide guitar glistening like tears across the track.

Interviewed in San Diego in autumn 1993, Bob Dylan said: ‘The people who played that music were still around... [in the early 1960s], and so there was a bunch of us, me included, who got to see all these people close up - people like Son House, REVEREND GARY DAVIS or SLEEPY JOHN ESTES. Just to sit there and be up close and watch them play, you could study what they were doing, plus a bit of their lives rubbed off on you. Those vibes will carry into you forever, really, so it’s like those people, they’re still here to me. They’re not ghosts of the past or anything, they’re continually here.” Indeed.

Son House moved to Detroit in 1976 and though he outlived almost all the rest, including many of his successors, he died there on October 19, 1988, aged 86.

[Son House: ‘My Black Mama Part 1’, ‘My Black Mama Part 2’, Grafton WI, 28 May 1930; ‘Walking Blues’, Grafton, 28 May 1930, unissued until Delta Blues 1929-1930, Document DLP 532, Vienna, 1988; ‘Walking Blues’, Robinsonville MS, 17 Jul 1942, CD-reissued Son House: The Complete Library of Congress Sessions 1941-1942, Travelin’ Man TM CD 02, Crawley, UK, 1990; ‘Pearline’, NY, 12-14 Apr 1965, Son House - Father of Folk Blues, Columbia CL 2417, NY, 1965; reissued on 2-CD set Son House: Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions (produced by John Hammond), Roots N’ Blues Masters series, Columbia Legacy 4716622, NY, 1992 (incl. re-recordings of, among others, Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘John The Revelator’ & Patton’s ‘Pony Blues’).
Robert Johnson: ‘Walking Blues’, San Antonio TX, 27 Nov 1936, Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers, Columbia CL-1654, NY, 1961.
Muddy Waters (as McKinley Morganfield): ‘Country Blues’, Stovall MS, c.24-31 Aug 1941 (field-recorded for the Library of Congress), vinyl-issued on the compilation Afro-American Blues and Game Songs, AFS L-4, Washington D.C., 1962 & Polydor UK 236.574, London, nia, CD-reissued Rounder CD 1513, Cambridge MA, 1999; also CD-reissued The Complete Plantation Recordings: Muddy Waters: The Historic Library of Congress Recordings 1941-1942, MCA CHD 9344, London, 1993.
For the 1985 Paramounts discovery story see Bob Hilbert: ‘Paramounts In The Belfry’, 78 Quarterly no.4, Key West, FL, 1989. John Cowley: ‘Really The “Walking Blues”: Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and the Development of a Traditional Blues’, Popular Music Vol. 1, ed. Richard Middleton & David Horn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.]

Sunday, October 19, 2008


He sounded a likeable, decent man with a serious interest in serious music. He said he didn't dislike being interviewed but he'd never had such a hard time preparing for an interview before. There was no Cole Porter, and certainly no Bob Dylan. In fact he chose no singer-songwriter or indeed songwriter at all, and the only two tracks to feature voice and words were chosen for the singers' strengths and/or the sound of these particular two records, rather than as examples of admired songcraft. He never mentioned who had written either of them. His full selection (details c/o was as follows:

1. The 3rd movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No.16 in F Major
Performer The Hollywood String Quartet
Composer Beethoven
CD Title Beethoven: String Quartets Track CD3 trk 8
Label Testament Rec No SBT3082.

2. Goodbyes [from film soundtrack to How Green Was My Valley]
Composer Alfred Newman [Randy's uncle]
CD Title How Green Was My Valley Track 15
Label Twentieth Century Rec No 07822110082.

3. The Door
Performer George Jones
Composer B Sherrill/N Wilson
CD Title The Best of George Jones
Label Epic Rec No SEPC80847.

4. The Stampede
Performer Fletcher Henderson
Composer Henderson
CD Title Fletcher Henderson/1925-28
Label BBC Rec No BBCCD720.

5. Part of the Sacrificial Dance from Rite of Spring
Performer The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Zander
Composer Stravinsky
CD Title Stravinsky: Rite of Spring Track 14
Label I.M.P. Rec No MCD25.

6. The beginning of Shostakovich Symphony No 15
Performer London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink
Composer Shostakovich
CD Title Shostakovich: The Symphonies, CD11 track 1
Label London Rec No 4444302.

7. Part of the Adagio from Mahler’s 9th symphony
Performer Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Von Karajan
Composer Mahler
CD Title Mahler: Symphony No.9 CD2 track 1
Label Deutsche Grammophon Rec No 4530402.

8. Come Rain or Come Shine
Performer Ray Charles
Composer Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlen
CD Title The Genius of Ray Charles
Label Atlantic Rec No 13122

Choice from the eight: Beethoven Late Quartets
Chosen book: Dante’s Divine Comedy in Italian with English translation
Chosen luxury: a piano.

The programme is repeated next Friday (24th) at 9am UK time.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Tomorrow, Sunday 19th, the splendid Randy Newman is the person choosing his favourite eight records on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, a terrific series now that it's no longer fronted by the awful Sue Lawley but by the alert, shrewd and human Kirsty Young.

The Randy Newman edition can only be heard at 11.15am UK time: you can't catch it later on the so-called Listen Again feature on because of problems with "rights" (it says here). An odd name for it, by the way: Listen Again, when surely the whole point is you're listening for the first time, having missed the original broadcast.

Granted Randy Newman's musicality and movie scorewriting, which runs in his family, he may well be choosing nothing but Cole Porter songs, but he'll be interesting whatever his selection. And anyone who doubts the merits of Randy Newman's own work need only listen to his songs 'Sail Away', 'Short People' and 'Rednecks' to find a hugely refreshing individualist, disguising deeply mordant moral outrage behind a mask of mischievous provocation. These records and more are a great antidote to the stifling doublespeak of political correctness.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I'm grateful to Gerry Smith for reviewing the new paperback edition of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia so favourably, and more so for how he's assessed my overall contribution to (what it once seemed inconceivable that we might call) Dylan Studies. He's so strongly positive that I want to point out that he and I have never met; nor do we share the same publisher, agent or other business interests. That said, here's his review (or see the Dylan Daily website, linked in the left-hand column):

"Updating his Bob Dylan Encyclopedia for the new paperback edition, Michael Gray took the opportunity to add entries on recent product as varied as a CD - Modern Times, an art show - Drawn Blank, and two major DVD releases – I’m Not There and The Other Side Of The Mirror.

For the new material, Gray continues to employ his well-established technique of mixing factual description with robust critical opinion. You won't always agree with him, but his combative tone challenges you to think through your own views. Apart from its intrinsic value, the new edition – which should be on any Dylan fan’s bookshelves - serves as a reminder of its author's pre-eminence as a Zim commentator. Long before it became fashionable, Gray demonstrated, single-handedly, why Dylan is a great writer, to be considered alongside the giants of serious literature. Song and Dance Man, Gray’s ground-breaking study from 1972, showed the first wave of Bobfans that Dylan was special, and why he was marching well in front of the trailing line of rock musos with whom he’d hitherto been lumped. For this, countless Dylan fans are indebted to Michael Gray." Gerry Smith


Among earlier discussions of disgust about the pricing of the third CD there was a certain amount of cynical speculation about whether that price would soon fall, making early purchasers even more ripped-off than they were going to be in the first place. Well, that pricing slipperiness seems to have started already. Here's what one fan wrote in to John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service yesterday:

"I was in Cambridge for work on Thursday. Went into the Fopp store there (part of their national indie chain here in the UK), and found copies of the deluxe edition of TTS on sale for £85.00. Bearing in mind I ordered mine from, believing at the time that mail order of one sort or another was the only guaranteed way of getting such, and paying I guess £93.00, plus whatever I will probably have to pay on import tax, I was a bit p***sed off.

Now to compound the issue, I've had an e-mail from (that is, the US one) saying it's down to $99.00 already, which with postage to the UK would be around £60.00, I guess!!!!!!

...This begs the question(s), how limited is the limited edition, and are Sony just ripping us all off? Or only two or three days after the release date, have they spotted that the prohibitive price is putting customers off?"

As for the quality of the material itself, another DesRow correspondent seems to sum up the general view like this:

"Is the de-luxe version worth the extra cash? Logically, no. I'll never open the picture book of vinyl single sleeves ever again, Ratso Sloman's disjointed ramblings are not a patch on John Bauldie's commentary to Bootleg 1-3, and as for that third CD - it's probably the weakest of the three. Unfortunately, all put together, it's essential to have, if you can get over that feeling of having been mugged."

Personally, I'm not ready to judge the quality of the tracks yet - I've hardly had time to listen to them - but I feel nothing but contempt for the way they have been marketed at us, and I'm not going to be buying an official copy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Craig McGregor is 75 years old today. Who's he, the rather younger reader may ask. Here's the answer, in the form of his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

McGregor, Craig [1933 - ]
Craig Rob-Roy McGregor was born in Jamberoo, New South Wales, Australia on October 12, 1933. He is the author of 23 books, several of them on popular culture, including Pop Goes the Culture; People, Politics and Pop; and The History of Surfing. He has also written political biography and studies like his well-regarded analysis of the class structure of Australian society, very reasonably titled Class in Australia. From 1988 to 2000 he was Associate Professor and then Emeritus Professor of Visual Communication at the University of Technology, Sydney (which has 24,000 students).

He first became interested in Dylan in 1963, when he was writing on pop, jazz and folk for the Sydney Morning Herald and heard PETE SEEGER sing ‘Who Killed Davey Moore?’; later he got to know WILFRID MELLERS, who visited Australia and lectured on Western pop music. Dylan’s records only arrived in Australia later.

However, McGregor achieved an unusual access to Dylan when he and the Hawks arrived in Australia in April 1966 (accompanied by their manager, ALBERT GROSSMAN). At a time when the rest of the Australian press seemed determined to be offended and offensive, to trivialise and deride, McGregor knew what he was talking about, took Dylan seriously but wasn’t intimidated, and wrote with flair. Still working for the Herald, he attended the hostile press conference held at the airport on Dylan’s arrival, listened in on the separate interview given to some hopeless, pathetic TV smoothie, and didn’t leave when the rest of the press did. He was there to see Dylan mobbed by fans when he emerged too, and wrote up what he’d seen. In a surprising break with tradition, his piece, though cut in half, was published on the front page of this staid and haughty paper.

In response, Dylan’s road manager phoned to say he wanted to meet him that night at the concert - and when he arrived, he was told Dylan wanted to see him during the interval. Naturally, this was a difficult encounter, but McGregor returned the following night and then went to Dylan’s hotel room, talked very briefly to a more relaxed Dylan but then in front of everyone had to pass the test of having some Blonde On Blonde acetates played to him. This went badly but when, later, McGregor was charged with inviting Dylan to a party laid on for him by local folkies, Dylan said he’d come if McGregor came too.

Later he wrote all this up in his very honest, absorbing introduction to the book of early, important writings about Dylan that he edited. This book, one of the first of any kind on Dylan, was published as Bob Dylan: A Retrospective in 1972, and collected together for the first time such historically significant pieces as ROBERT SHELTON’s New York Times review of Dylan from September 1961, a number of items from IZZY YOUNG, PAUL NELSON, IRWIN SILBER, RALPH J. GLEASON and others, through to a testy review of Tarantula by Robert Christgau in the New York Times in 1971. The book ended with a specially-commissioned piece by Wilfrid Mellers, which ended by expressing the wish that he might still be alive in 2000 to find out whether Dylan would ‘preserve his folk-like integrity from youth through the middle years and even into a venerable old age’.

On Dylan’s return visit to Australia in 1978, Craig McGregor was given a long interview, later incorporated into the 1980 edition of Bob Dylan: A Retrospective published in Australia. In the US the book was republished in 1990 as Bob Dylan, the Early Years: A Retrospective but excluded the 1978 interview.

[Craig McGregor: ‘Bob Dylan’s Anti-Interview’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Apr 1966; Bob Dylan: A Retrospective, New York: William Morrow, 1972; also published in Australia (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1980), the UK and Sweden; reprinted as Bob Dylan, the Early Years: A Retrospective, New York: Da Capo, 1990; Pop Goes the Culture, London: Pluto Press, 1984; People, Politics and Pop, Sydney: Ure Smith, 1968; The History of Surfing, Sydney: Palm Beach Press, 1983; Class in Australia, Sydney: Penguin, 1997.]

Saturday, October 11, 2008


While the marvellous performance of Dylan's 'Goin' To Acapulco' in I'm Not There (and on the not-so-bad soundtrack 2-CD set) had a magical, unearthly quality, surely Calexico has not so mastered the shamanistic that they can be appearing tonight at both the London Forum and the Darlington Forum, as advertised:

Sat 11 Oct at London Forum
Sat 11 Oct at Darlington The Forum

(taken from the Calexico page of the Drowned In Sound website here...)

If Bob Dylan could do this, he'd be making even more money from touring than from sales of the 3-CD set.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I've only just learnt that Ben Nisbet died in July (on the 16th) at age 89. He was the Ben of the British music-publishing house Big Ben Music. As it said in the Acknowledgments section of the first edition of Song & Dance Man, "Copyrights owned by DWARF MUSIC, BIG SKY MUSIC and RAM'S HORN MUSIC are controlled in the United Kingdom by Big Ben Music Ltd. of 18 Lancaster Mews, W.2..."

It was through the tireless work of Nisbet's then office manager, a Christine Seville, that I managed to get through to Dylan's office and gain permission to quote from over 100 of his songs in my book for what Dylan clearly regarded as a nominal fee.

More importantly, it was also through Ben Nisbet's publishing outfit that the original circulation of 14 recordings from the Basement Tapes came about; it was Big Ben that distributed acetates as song demos to various British pop artists, including of course Brian Auger & Julie Driscoll, who made 'This Wheel's On Fire' into a hit single... a distribution that let these hugely mysterious Bob Dylan recordings out into the world. So we all owed Ben Nisbet something back then.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Just to say some new comments have been added to various of these recent posts, plus a longish and very welcome new contribution from Stephen which he has pinned onto the Tell-Tale Signs Part 3 post, now to be found under Archives, since the post dates from August 14.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Today is official publication date of the paperback of Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes in the UK. The publisher is Bloomsbury, and I'm happy to say that there was a brief review in The Observer yesterday, which called the book "magic".

Friday, October 03, 2008


This isn't new information but maybe worth repeating (for those still wanting to see Bob Dylan live with his current mediocre band and his Modern Timesizing of a largely unsurprising setlist):

Thu 23 Victoria BC
Fri 24 Vancouver BC
Sat 25 Kamloops BC
Mon 27 Calgary AB
Wed 29 Edmonton AB
Thu 30 Lethbridge AB

November 2008:
Sat 1 Regina SK
Sun 2 Winnipeg MB
Tue 4 Minneapolis MN
Wed 5 La Crosse WI
Thu 6 Milwaukee WI
Sat 8 Kalamazoo MI
Sun 9 Sault Ste. Marie ON
Tue 11 London ON
Wed 12 Oshawa ON
Thu 13 Sudbury ON
Sat 15 Kingston ON
Sun 16 Ottawa ON
Tue 18 Montreal QC

More dates are expected to be added; those above are all very northern. Best bet by far is surely November 6 in Milwaukee: the Riverside Theater is a venue of less than 3000, and so likely to coax a little more effort than usual from the performers.


Had he not died in that car crash in England in April 1960, Eddie Cochran, born in Oklahoma City OK, would have been 70 years old today. I couldn't quite justify squeezing him into The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia but I did managed to get him into Song & Dance Man III three times, and I can't imagine the young Bob Dylan not having liked his rock'n'roll hit singles. Aside from hits like 'C'Mon Everybody', my favourite couplet comes from an almost inevitable mishearing on his 'Drive In Show', recorded in Los Angeles in 1957. Of course he doesn't really sing
Bet my penis to a candy-bar
You'll look better than a movie star
but it certainly sounds like it.
The photograph shows Eddie's last birthday - his 21st - in Chadron, Nebraska, and I've taken it from the Rare Photos section of the website The Eddie Cochran Connection.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


From (but in my case courtesy of an e-mail posting from John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service)

LONDON.- Halcyon Gallery has announced details of the first UK leg of The Drawn Blank Series museum tour, with Bob Dylan’s unique and impressive artwork set to be exhibited at The Lightbox museum and gallery in Woking from 25th November 2008. The Drawn Blank Series was launched at Halcyon Gallery, Mayfair, in June 2008 to widespread critical acclaim, and is the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of Bob Dylan’s paintings ever assembled. The Lightbox exhibition will be the first chance to view the works outside London, and the tour will continue in 2009.

Not far outside London, then. 31 miles, in fact.


There's a long article in the current issue of Vanity Fair about the only blues musician who ever seems to interest glossy magazines and snobbish newspapers, Robert Johnson, centred around what claims to be very possibly a "new" photograph of him. The article is here, and I link to it because my entry on Robert Johnson in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia was written when the long legal wrangle over who ought to own his estate appeared to be over. The Vanity Fair piece contains some updated detail - and a fair bit of detail it is too - about this unseemly gamble for his clothes. It's far more interesting than the silly speculation about the extremely dodgy photograph.


I hope Sean Murdock won't mind my taking the comment he's sent in to my blog today and giving it the extra prominence of placing it here as a new posting. It's not that I especially like his prose style (says the sniffy critic) but he speaks for a lot of people here, and I thank him for taking the trouble to set it down in such detail and with such righteous energy. And I think he's right:

Someone on the Steve Hoffman Message Boards suggested that perhaps Sony's master plan was to:
1. Raise the cost of the 3 CD set to unreasonable heights.
2. Sell the 2 CD set for cheap ~ $15.
3. Months later, lower the price of the three CD set to ~ $50.
4. They get $65 out of us instead of $50 and we feel like we got a "deal."

My response was this:
That may well be their plan -- and if it is, how could anyone question (morally or ethically) fans who say "The hell with 'em" and download the entire thing for nothing?

I can't go that route -- maybe I'm too old, but I need to OWN the music I love, and I'm proud to do it -- but they've really pushed me too far with this one. It's a slap in the face to fans who have supported Bob with their loyalty (and dollars) for 10, 20, 30, 40+ years.

I bought all his albums (up until 1989) on vinyl. I bought them all again, and all the subsequent ones, on CD. I bought all the SACD remasters. I've purchased Biograph three times, Bootleg Series 1-3 twice. I bought Time Out Of Mind on CD and vinyl. I bought the deluxe Love & Theft (2 bonus tracks!) and the vinyl. I bought Modern Times THRICE over (CD, deluxe CD, vinyl). I bought the Japan-only live CD to get a small handful of songs new to CD. I've traveled far and wide to buy new releases at independent stores so I could collect promo EPs. I've paid extra through to get special trinkets, like the Carnegie Hall CD, the Radio Time CD, the Newport DVD -- and I'm pretty sure I got some kind of replica pop-up book a couple of years ago, but I couldn't swear to it, because I haven't looked at it since the day I got it.

Through all these purchases, I never complained once, never muttered under my breath, and never regretted my decisions. I was content to be both fan AND consumer, and I was fortunate to be able to afford to feed my habit. Heck, I even bought the "deluxe" Dylan set last year, which was COMPLETELY useless and which I haven't even opened. I may have gotten one of the above-mentioned trinkets as a bonus. Still, I did it willingly. I felt like I had an understanding with Sony: treat Bob's music with respect, make it available to me, and I'll pay a reasonable price for it.

Right now, that relationship is on shaky ground. I no longer feel like I'm Sony's partner in happy consumerism; this feels more like a back-alley mugging. Sony used to say to me, "Hey, here's something we think you'll like"; today they're saying to me, "Hey, sucker, where's your breaking point? How bad do you need that Dylan fix?" They've gone from pharmacist to pusher in one stroke of a bean-counter's keyboard.

The knee-jerk rebuttal to this is, "You're not being FORCED to buy it. You don't HAVE to have this!" This may be the thing that bothers me the most. Bob Dylan is a MUSICIAN; his primary function in the marketplace is to produce music that people pay money for. His music shouldn't be an "extra" or a "bonus" available only to those with an abundance of disposable income; his music should be the FUNDAMENTAL reason we are buying his products. Nobody -- NOBODY -- who buys the deluxe Tell Tale Signs is doing it for the picture book, or the vinyl single, or the poster; these people want the third CD, and for this "extra" Sony wants another $110. When I bought Bootleg Series 7 from Sony, I got the Carnegie Hall CD as a bonus -- a very cool "extra" that maybe cost $5.00 more than I would have paid From $5 to $110 for a bonus disc -- something has gone very wrong here.

Maybe this whole deluxe pricing scheme is a marketing experiment for Sony: "What's the very LIMIT of what we can get away with here?" If it is, our decisions as consumers become more important than ever. If we all run out and pay $130 for a 3-CD set, then they will do this again, and it will only get worse. If we hold off and refuse to give in, then Sony will know that they can't get away with it, and they will think twice before doing it again. But have they thought about what they might be losing in the meantime? I don't trust Sony anymore; we may patch things up, but it will never be the same for us. And Bob's not innocent in this either -- let's not kid ourselves, folks, he could have stopped this with a single muttered demand.

I started writing this as a simple rant, but now I'm trying to convince MYSELF not to cave in. The line has to be drawn SOMEWHERE, but fandom makes one weak. It's trite "wisdom" to point out that "fan" comes from "fanatic," implying that my devotion to Bob Dylan goes beyond rational thought. It's true, though, and with only a week left before release day, I'm stunned and bewildered that I'm still contemplating NOT owning a CD of Bob's music that will be legally available to me. To quote the guy who's trying to screw me out of $110, "Seven more days, all I gotta gotta do is survive." Sean Murdock