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

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Sunday, 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.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

come on, Michael ... we're all awaiting your thoughts on the Tell Tale Signs songs ...

-- Glenn

10:30 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Well, Glenn, I'm flattered by your impatience, though the idea that everyone shares it makes me laugh.

What a pity you don't run a lavishly funded glossy magazine: you could be commissioning me to share my thoughts and get paid for them.

However, since you probably don't, I must tell you that the problem here is time, rather than money. I just haven't had time to listen to these tracks nearly enough to want to start giving out my opinions.

Of course it doesn't go unnoticed (by me, I mean) that where once upon a time the arrival of a new Bob Dylan album would have been the only thing to demand my attention, and I would have dropped everything else to listen to it over and over again - with either a gathering gloom or joy - these days it just isn't like that.

This is partly because I am no longer young, partly because music no longer feels like the determining central force of what is happening to our culture and society, and partly because Bob Dylan's work is simply less compelling.

11:08 am  

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