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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 26, 2008


Dylan's New York City concert, his last and 100th of the year, began with 'Gotta Serve Somebody', delivered from centre-stage and including harmonica. It was the song's first outing for about five years; the set also included 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time', apparently played as a "country swing", and playing guitar - even a bit of lead guitar, it's claimed. So that sounds a bit special. But Rolling Stone, November 24, chose to report it like this:

"Bob Destroys New York
... Bob always saves his best for his old stomping ground, and last Friday night he absolutely destroyed shit up on 175th Street at the United Palace Theater." And later on, "the audience was awesome too".

Is this really what music criticism has descended to? And why no mention of how exceptionally beautiful, in its florid way, the 3,293 seater theatre is? (Isn't that "awesome" enough?)
For more photographs of the theatre, see here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Uncut has been running a whole slew of interviews with Dylan's old producers, but the really fascinating one, and new to me, is this one with studio engineer Chris Shaw, who sounds a shrewd and observant person and, while talking a bit about tracks on Tell Tale Signs and a bit about Modern Times, is mostly talking about - and clearly and rightly far more keen on - "Love and Theft".

[I found this online not by going to Uncut but to Parking Meter - the link is down the left-hand column here in Links - which lets you click on all the interviews (with Daniel Lanois etc..)]

Monday, November 24, 2008


These were expected to be announced last week but delays at Dylan's office's end reportedly meant that the promoter had to postpone releasing any details. They're expected this week...

Which reminds me that the Bono item I posted recently reminded an old friend (of mine, not of Bono's) of "the anti-Vietnam war stage play put on in the 60s, called US (referring both to the United States and to us, as in you and me ie implicating us in the whole sorry mess, geddit?). At the end the audience, wracked with horror, rose to give a standing ovation. The actors, however, primed no doubt by the director, failed to do the usual bowing and scraping, and stood there stony-faced, hostile and generally superior. The audience, suitably chastened, fell quiet until someone in the stalls shouted out 'Would you like us to go now ?' "...

...which in turn reminds me of those Dylan concerts from not so long ago when Bob and the band would all come to the front and stand stock still staring at us while we applauded.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Bob Dylan, 1965
© Michael Gray, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


From The Desolation Row Information Service today:

UK tour to be announced shortly.

Possible dates in Germany:
March 31, Hannover, AWD Arena
April 1, Berlin, Max Schmeling Halle
April 2, Erfurt, Messehalle
April 4, München, Zenith
April 5, Saarbrücken, Saarlandhalle

Possible dates in Ireland:
Show expected at O2 Arena, Dublin (formerly The Point Depot).

Unconfirmed information is that the European tour ends May 12th.

Possible dates in Israel:
Show(s) expected in Israel in June.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Tomorrow (17th) it's five years since the death of country singer and songwriter (and pioneering recording artist) Don Gibson. This is the brief entry for him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Gibson, Don [1928 - 2003]
Donald Eugene Gibson was born in Shelby, North Carolina on April 3, 1928. He was one of Chet Atkins’ protégés at RCA Victor in Nashville and a regular on the Tennessee Barn Dance (on WNOX Radio, Knoxville). He first recorded in 1949 and 1952, wrote ‘Sweet Dreams’ in 1955, and in 1957 recorded ‘Oh Lonesome Me’, on which he and Atkins omitted the usual steel guitar and fiddle, to offer a new sound featuring only guitars, piano, drums, upright bass and (rather obtrusive) backing singers. This pioneered what became known as the Nashville Sound (and gave Gibson a no.1 hit).

A prolific and affecting songwriter as well as a singer, his best-known, most-covered song is ‘I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ (recorded by over 700 people, among them RAY CHARLES, whose version topped the charts and sold a million). ‘Sea Of Heartbreak’ was among several countrified pop hits he had himself in the US and UK charts 1959-1963. Others included ‘It’s Too Soon To Know’, ‘Lonesome Number One’, ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ (revived by NEIL YOUNG), ‘Sweet Dreams’ (first a success by Patsy Cline but revived exquisitely by Don Everly in 1971 on the brilliant solo album Don Everly), and ‘(I’d Be A) Legend In My Time’. In 1989, Dylan performed ‘(I’d Be A) Legend In My Time’ at three concerts.

Don Gibson died November 17, 2003, aged 75.

[Don Gibson: ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ c/w ‘I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’, Nashville nia, RCA Victor 474-4133, 1957; ‘Sea of Heartbreak’, Nashville, nia, RCA Victor 47-7890, 1961; ‘It’s Too Soon To Know’, Nashville, nia, RCA Victor 47-7010, 1957; ‘Lonesome Number One’, Nashville, nia, 47-7959, 1961. Don Everly: Don Everly, Ode SP-77005, LA (A&M AMLS 2007, London), 1971. Bob Dylan: ‘(I’d Be A) Legend In My Time’, Columbia MD, 19 Jul; Atlantic City, 20 Jul; & Saratoga Springs NY, 26 Jul 1989.]

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Thursday, November 13, 2008


I suspect that despite BBC iPlayers and much talk of multi-platforming (ugh), the following are available only to those in the UK and other European countries for now...

A new series of Jack Dee’s excellent comedy series Lead Balloon begins tonight. 10pm, BBC-2.

And a new series of the only other decent British comedy series, Outnumbered, begins on Saturday night. 9.05pm, BBC-1.

Both have been wonderful in the past - whereas every other Britcom, even today, remains firmly in the squirm-with-embarrassment-at-its-naffness category, no better than On The Buses or Terry and June. I don’t know why Americans, stereotypically so unsubtle in real life, produce comedy series galore of sharply honed wit that trust to the intelligence and quick pick-up of the viewer, while the British rarely produce anything but the mortifyingly artificial, plodding and spineless despite Brits being stereotypically gifted with wit and a mastery of understatement. But there it is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Miriam Makeba, born on March 4, 1932, died on November 9th (or early hours of the 10th), aged 76. Here was an artist who paid a genuinely high price for her "protest songs" - 31 years of enforced exile from her homeland.

Though reading a range of the obituaries available online gives a fuller picture, the report below, from The Independent, is pretty good:

Miriam Makeba - the Empress of Africa
By Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent

Monday, 10 November 2008

It will have surprised no one that Miriam Makeba died as she had lived, in full voice and in support of a political cause.

The 76 year old singer suffered a fatal heart attack, it was announced yesterday, shortly after performing at a concert in southern Italy in honour of Roberto Saviano, a journalist whose work in uncovering the Camorra mafia has earned him death threats and a life in hiding.

Makeba, or Mama Africa as she was known to her legion of fans around the world, became the first global African star both through her music and her lifelong willingness to adopt an outspoken stance on the political issue of the day – apartheid.

Yesterday it fell to South Africa's other global icon, Nelson Mandela, to pay tribute to her: “She was the mother of the struggle and the nation. She gave voice to the pain of exile and separation. It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause."

The woman hailed as the "Empress of Africa" left her audience calling for more. After performing to more than one thousand people in Castel Volturno -- a Camorra stronghold where six African immigrants were shot dead two months ago by the mafia - the crowd was begging for one last song.

"There were calls for an encore and at that moment someone asked if there was a doctor in the house,” said a photographer attending the show. “Miriam Makeba had fainted and was lying on the floor." She had died of a heart attack after collapsing on stage.

As the news reached her homeland yesterday morning callers besieged radio talkshows, many of them in tears, all of them talking about her voice, her activism and her humour.

The emergence of the girl from Johannesburg onto the world stage had also come in Italy at the Venice film festival in 1959. After her first big break in the musical King Kong which had to be performed on South Africa university campuses for it to be seen by a black and white audience, she came to the attention of US film director Lionel Togosin.

He included songs by her in his controversial documentary 'Come Home Africa' which caused a stir later the same year at Venice and Makeba was flown in for the occasion. The film painted a bitter portrait of the life of black South Africans and the young singer's voice drew critical acclaim. The 27-year-old decided not to risk a return to her apartheid-ruled country and instead moved to London.

A year later when she tried to go home for her mother's funeral she discovered her passport had been revoked in South Africa, where they later banned her music after she denounced the evils of apartheid at the UN. She began what was to be 31 years in exile.

Deceptively slender, with a sultry voice, she was courted by a who's who of 1960s stars from Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte to JFK, Marlon Brando and Bette Davis. She became the first African to win a Grammy in 1966 -- a meteoric rise for a girl who began on the tough side of a racial divide, and who had only been encouraged to sing in her cousin's group the Cuban Singers by relatives who told her that she sang like a “nightingale”.

It was during this period and with the backing of Belafonte who had arranged her US visa that she cut the two records that cemented her popularity beyond the shores of Africa: 'The Click Song' (Qongqothwane in her native Xhosa language) and 'Pata Pata' (the last song she sang on stage in Italy before collapsing).

However, her instinctive, political compass would complicate and ultimately curtail her America honeymoon. In 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement she married the black power activist Stokely Carmichael, her third husband. This was too much for the American mainstream and radio stations and concert promoters quietly dropped her from their schedules.

This second rejection was cushioned by an offer to return to Africa from Guinea's leader Sekou Toure, who gave her a diplomatic passport and used her star name to elevate his own status. The fact that she never explicitly criticised her former sponsor Toure prompted critics to accuse her of a human rights blind spot. Warm relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro only cemented this perception.

But she remained for millions on the continent the “Empress of African Song”.

While in Guinea she cut the stunning live album 'Appel A L'Afrique' which included the tender love song 'Malaika', long seen as an unofficial Panafrican anthem. It was produced by her compatriot and her second husband, the trumpet player Hugh Masekela.

After a comparative lull in her music career she came back to prominence in Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1987. By now experimenting by mixing traditional South African songs with jazz, soul and pop she was firmly acknowledged as a pioneer of what came to be known as “world music”.

After Nelson Mandela was released from prison she was finally invited home in 1992, the ban on her music having been lifted four years earlier. "It was like a revival," she said of her homecoming. "My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried."

She always rejected the notion that she had been consciously political and said that circumstance had dictated what she chose to sing about. “Our surroundings make us what we are,” she said in a recent interview. “Our surroundings were our suffering from apartheid and this racism business. We have love songs and we have lullabies too, because we have children and we have love.”

Musicians who played with her remembered her as a softer figure than some might have imagined who would always insist on cooking for guests and fancied herself as a great chef.

Although she played to packed auditoriums all over the world in 1997 on a “farewell tour” Makeba stayed musically and politically active with the UN and her own charities. Earlier this year she performed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in support of a campaign against sexual violence.

As South Africa went into mourning yesterday the country's foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma summed up the loss: "One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing. Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I live in a part of France that suffered badly in both World Wars, and in tiny villages you find war memorials listing what is, for the size of the place, sometimes a shockingly large number people who died.
Yet when it comes to commemorative statuary, there is a striking difference between France and Britain or the USA. In the latter, soldiers are always strong, tight-lipped, full of masculine maturity, self-confident resolve, muscled bravery: a supposedly impressive invulnerability. French soldiers are far more touchingly depicted as very, very young - which of course most were - and fragile. They are shown as delicate and vulnerable, rather than the opposite. This is incomparably more effective.
The example above, though, is not typical, but highly unusual, for its being coloured, for the originality of having the soldier standing on the steps of his own memorial, as it were, and for the bold, charming, giddy insouciance of the whole. Like all of those I've seen, however, it speaks eloquently of the innocence of those sacrificed.
(This time the photographer was me.)

Monday, November 10, 2008


It was wrong of me to publish the photos of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch without giving any photographers' credits, and I have now corrected this as best I can.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The two oldest surviving British veterans of the First World War.
Above: Henry William Allingham, aged 112
Below: Harry Patch, aged 110
Both men intend to be present at the ceremony at the Cenotaph in London to commemorate Armistice Day this coming Tuesday, ninety years after the end of the war.

Photograph of Henry Allingham, 2008, by Martin Roemers, published in The Independent online, with the caption "released to support Willam Henry Allingham's work as the face of the World War One Veterans' Association." The photograph of Harry Patch, 2007, published by the Daily Mail . . . which itself gives no photo credit to anyone.


I read that researchers in Oxford monitor the use of phrases in the Oxford University Corpus, a vast database drawn from the net, newspapers, books, magazines, radio, TV and more. They have now compiled (and publicised) a Top Ten of most irritating phrases in current use. In order of power to irritate, apparently, they are:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science.

They might have bothered to make it a Top Twenty, so as not to have to exclude "Bored of", "pushing the envelope", "taking it on board", "lessons will be learned", "I hear where you're coming from" and "It's about...", this last a habit that now poisons almost everything a British politician, local government spokesperson or other official ever says, and is deployed both to avoid giving a straight answer to a question and to suggest some sort of hang-loose cool on the part of the person being asked.

Q: Why is the government changing its policy?
A: It's about giving the widest possible blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Q: What are you doing to reduce carbon emissions?
A: Look, it's about accessing blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

I even heard Tony Benn say it a couple of months ago, and I tend to think of him as keeping up an alert resistence to these horrible formulae. It's surely one of Bob Dylan's virtues that he doesn't say these things.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


The wonderful British rock'n'roll cartoonist Ray Lowry died last month (he was also a painter and album-cover designer for The Clash). It's very hard to find examples of his work online. Punch magazine's website is very mean about theirs. Searching in retrospect isn't very fruitful, therefore, but anyone who read NME for any length of time will remember and recognise Lowry's work. His topics varied, but were very often about rock'n'roll or big-business greed. An example of each is above, the first superbly relevant in these recessionary times and the second showing Lowry indulging a fervent and timeless early-Elvis fandom, resenting the way that showbiz conventionality tried to smother Presley's original genius with playsafe devices: in this case the Jordanaires, whom many of us loved to hate.


(Barack Obama's friends call him Barry, apparently.)

Sarah had just dug out for me the quote about him that Dylan gave to The Times in June, and I was about to post it here, when blog reader Lee Morgan posted in the same quotation in a thoughtful comment. It's in the comment section below the posting OR WAS HE BEING GENTLY CYNICAL? I agree with Lee (and indeed with Bob).

Friday, November 07, 2008


Nicely assembled pictures to go with the audio here. Hearing him - and it is barely decipherable - it sounds to me not cynical at all. Fond but ruminative perhaps, maybe expressing muted hope while recognising that it's a cause for widespread jubilation. And as a friend has pointed out to me this morning, the remarks he felt prompted to make were stepping into the political arena to a much greater extent than usual for Dylan. Which says something in itself.


I did have - but suppressed - an uneasy sense of a possible subtext of sarcasm in Dylan's quoted remarks onstage in Minneapolis, and now I read - from the RightWingBob blog (which I never read but was pointed to tantalisingly by Expecting Rain on this occasion) - and this is what someone who does read that blog, and who was at the concert, has to say about Dylan's remarks:

Since I was at the show, I’m hoping that I could add a bit to your understanding of the comments Dylan made on election night.

What seemed to prompt him to talk to the crowd more than anything was Tony Garnier’s donning of an Obama button. It was Tony’s turn to be introduced and Bob started to chuckle a bit and said something like, “Tony Garnier over there wearing his Obama button (raises his eyebrows)…..Tony thinks it’s gonna be an Age of Light (chuckling)…..Well I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Been living in darkness ever since……Looks like that’s all gonna change now (chuckling a bit).” Then he broke into “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

I cringed a bit at the time, not being sure what he meant, and knowing what the media would do with it: “Obama supporter Dylan says Change Coming.” I was 50-50 on whether he was making fun of the hopes and expectations of Obama supporters, or joining in. Which of course is his genius, but I found it interesting that my friend sitting by me who voted Obama took it as a clearly sarcastic slam.

Hopefully that sheds a bit of light on the comments. In any case, it can’t be left out that what prompted the comments was Tony’s Obama button. Apparently 17 years of service earned Tony the right to wear the button, but he didn’t escape some ribbing from the boss for it.

Ah Bob - you who're so good with words, and at keeping things vague.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


I've been sent this rather more observant account of the key part of Dylan's Minneapolis concert the night of the election. I'm not sure where it first appeared or who wrote it, so apologies to the writer if it isn't Andrea Swensson:

Bob plays University of Minnesota on election night
No one was expecting Bob Dylan to say a thing during his two-plus hour concert last night at Northrop Auditorium. For years, Dylan has been known to keep to himself during shows, often only speaking between songs once in order to introduce his band members. But last night, after a lengthy break between his regular set and his encore which I can only imagine was spent discovering that Barack Obama had won the election, Dylan returned to the stage to play "Like a Rolling Stone" and then turned to the audience and spoke.

"I was born in 1941," he said, a wavering sentimentality in his scratchy voice. "That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I've been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now."

He turned back to his keyboard and led the band in an almost unrecognizable rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind." Throughout most of the set, Dylan opted to keep his voice low and sparse as he half-sang, half-coughed the words into the microphone, but at the end of "Blowin' in the Wind" he strained his voice to hit the high register of the original melody and held onto the words in the chorus as long as he could. When his voice couldn't bear any more, he picked up his harmonica and practically skipped to the center of the stage. Even from my seat in the balcony it was obvious that Dylan was excited, and it only served to further ignite the fired-up crowd.

As the entire sold-out room rose to its feet with praise, Dylan and his bandmates lined up at the front of the stage to take a bow. In his tight tuxedo pants and white wide-brimmed hat, Dylan danced around like a marionette doll, waving his pointer fingers in the air like guns. It was surprisingly charismatic and endearing moment, and it had the whole room roaring with cheers and applause.

The house lights went up, and our attention turned quickly to the other main man of the night. The crowd started cheering "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma" in unison as we made our way out of the auditorium. Walking toward the lobby, a swell of loud cheers suddenly rose from the foyer and we rushed to the stairwell to see what had happened. A screen in the lobby projected the results of the election: Obama had already received a projected 297 electoral votes.

As each new throng of concertgoers entered the lobby, a new wave of cheering -- no, screaming -- would erupt. The woman next to me broke down in sobbing tears. My dad turned to me and said, "We won. We finally won." We made our way out into the night, and a huge crowd of concertgoers were already partying in front of the auditorium, dancing to the beat of an impromptu bongo beat. Car horns were honking, people were screaming, and the whole world felt like it had let out one giant, simultaneous sigh of relief.

Here's a set list from the show last night. I'll let the songs tell the rest of the story. Full disclosure: "The Times They Are A-Changin'" brought me to tears.

Cat's in the Well
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Summer Days
This Wheel's on Fire
Tangled Up in Blue
Masters of War
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
John Brown
Beyond the Horizon
Highway 61 Revisited
Shooting Star (with Dylan on guitar -- another rarity)
It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
Under the Red Sky
Thunder on the Mountain
Ain't Talkin'
Encore:Like a Rolling Stone

Blowin' in the Wind

(Posted by Andrea Swensson at November 5, 2008 10:10 AM)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I woke this morning at 5 French time, 4am in England, and a while later we put on the radio at, as it happened, exactly the right moment to hear, live, Barack Obama's victory speech. We were thrilled, moved and happy. We're not so naive as to think revolutionary political change will sweep away all the meanies, abolish capitalism and the arms race and let the meek inherit the earth - but it is a great victory for all those black Americans who suffered under, and struggled against, the segregation and disenfranchisement that still reigned in the USA when Blind Willie McTell died and Barack Obama was born. And for those of us who were always on their side. To see those long, long lines of black Americans, and a whole new young generation, waiting to vote with excitement, determination and hope, was electrifying.

Obama's speech echoed that hope. He showed himself aware of the wider world, thoughtful about how the US dominates this world, and full of grace and dignity. And it thrills me that while he doesn't thrust black American culture down different cultural throats, his rhetoric sounds resonant chords with everyone at all familiar with black church worship in the States. You couldn't but hear Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come', itself a transmitter of the cadences of black preachers, when Obama said, without sentimentality or triumphalism, "It's been a long time coming..."

Even Bob Dylan, mostly so wary, and rightly, of political endorsement, appears to have given Obama a sort of endorsement at his concert last night in Minneapolis. ("Sort of" because he wouldn't have been quite certain of the result when he was onstage, so that he was hesitant, perhaps, about counting chickens - yet his brief remarks invoked quite some historical sweep.) I rely, as often lately, on the report relayed by John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service this morning, as follows:

Concert Review: Croaky Dylan Welcomes Winds of Change
Jon Bream, Star Tribune, November 5, 2008
Tuesday was an historic night for the United States -- and for Bob Dylan. After what had been a frustratingly erratic performance at Northrop Auditorium, America's most famous protest singer finally made a long-awaited pronouncement before his final song. After not saying a word for the preceding two hours, Dylan said something about being born in 1941 and mentioned Pearl Harbor. And then he declared, "It looks like things are going to change now."

The sold-out crowd of 4,791 fans (who were wearing more Barack Obama T-shirts than Dylan T-shirts) roared with approval as Dylan eased into "Blowin' in the Wind," his classic 1960s protest piece recast as a slow Southern stroll. "How many deaths does it take to know that too many people have died," he barked in a hopelessly croaky voice. The crowd roared. Dylan, who usually closes with the rocking "All Along the Watchtower," ended this evening with a warm, gracious answer to America's problems.

After Dylan and his band took their bows and the houselights went on at Northrop, concert-goers checked their cell phones and started screaming about the results of the presidential election. They headed outside of Northrop and began singing and dancing on the University of Minnesota campus.

Earlier, the crowd had reacted enthusiastically to anything Dylan did that was remotely political. When he got to the second chorus of "The Times, They Are A-Changin'," the response was boisterous. During "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," the line about the president of the United States having to stand naked brought a huge reaction.

Making his first appearance on the university campus since he was a student there in 1959-60, Dylan didn't make any comments about the U or his home state. Maybe if he had stayed for more than a couple of quarters at the U, he could have taken a music class that discussed how a singer should treat his/her voice. Frankly, Dylan's voice hasn't sounded this bad for so many songs in recent memory. That gravelly croak suggested too many cigarettes, too much phlegm and too little hydration. His mumbling phrasing is challenging enough, but combine that with a parched growl that sounded like Tom Waits with laryngitis and Tuesday night turned too often into "Name That Tune."

Despite being in dubious voice, Dylan gave a fairly passionate performance. "Masters of War" was ominous. He sang the mellow "Shooting Star" like it mattered. He got into "Thunder on the Mountain," grooving with playful body language. He delivered the bluesy bluegrass scorcher "It's Alright, Ma," the night's high point, with emphatic conviction befitting this unforgettable night.

John Baldwin tries to clarify what Dylan said like this: 'After Like A Rolling Stone and after the band intro, Bob said what appears to have been - "I was born in 1941, the year Pearl Harbor was bombed. It has been dark ever since. I guess things are really gonna change now".

Minnesota voted strongly for Obama (with 98% of precincts in, it gave Obama over 54% of the vote to McCain's under 44%).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008



2. An amazing book by Graham Robb, The Discovery of France. (I've put a quick link to this, and one to Wilfrid Mellers' Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan, and to Studs Terkel's And They All Sang, and, come to that, to Shot Of Love, in the Recommended column on the left just underneath Links.)

3. This item might be of interest to somebody (it's a hardback of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan): # 290271997721.

4. This isn't a recommendation but a link I've been asked to post, to a new book by ISIS editor Derek Barker, The Songs He Didn't Write: Bob Dylan Under The Influence. I can't recommend it because I haven't read it. I note though that his sales blurb says he hopes the book's host of appendices "turns this book into much more than an encyclopaedia". An encyclopedia, apparently, is a small thing.

Monday, November 03, 2008


. . . is surely this, from the Washington Post, reporting an apparent fading of our keenness to give Bob Dylan ever larger amounts of our money.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


I'm sorry for the tactlessness of following two obituaries with this post, but no offence is intended.

One of those apparent tautologies of Dylan's, "to kill me dead", has a long history, I learnt this week (from WorldWideWords, a weekly e-newsletter about word usage):

This comes from Arnold Zwicky, Visiting Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University: "We had a discussion of the construction [of 'kill me dead'] on the American Dialect Society's mailing list in April, in which it was pointed out that the Oxford English Dictionary's entry for 'kill' has a subentry for 'kill to death' and 'kill dead' with citations from 1362, c1400, 1614, 1670, 1700, and 1882, so it's not a recent development. A Google search will get you a huge pile of examples, including the famous slogan for the bug spray Raid: 'kills bugs dead!' Professor Laurence Horn noted that in some languages causative verbs such as 'kill' require an explicit adverb or secondary verb that indicates the result, such as 'to death'. He hadn't thought English could work like that, but conceded it obviously can."

(On the title track from Dylan's 1981 album Shot Of Love, he sings that "What I got ain't painful, it's just bound to kill me dead / Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head. I need a shot of love...")


I'm sorry to learn from a friend, courtesy of yesterday's New York Times, of the death of the splendid Studs Terkel, aged 96, on Friday. This is what their report by William Grimes said:

Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the voluble host of a popular radio show in Chicago, died Friday at his home there. He was 96. His death was confirmed by Lois Baum, a friend and longtime colleague at the radio station WFMT.

In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr. Terkel relied on his enthusiastic but gentle interviewing style to elicit, in rich detail, the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens. Over the decades, he developed a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular.

“Division Street: America” (1966), his first best seller and the first in a triptych of tape-recorded works, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to “Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression" (1970) and “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do” (1974). Mr. Terkel’s book “ ‘The Good War’: An Oral History of World War II” won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

In “Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times” (1977), Mr. Terkel turned the microphone on himself to produce an engaging memoir. In “Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession” (1992) and “Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It” (1995), he reached for his ever-present tape recorder for interviews on race relations in the United States and the experience of growing old.

Although detractors derided him as a sentimental populist whose views were simplistic and occasionally maudlin, Mr. Terkel was widely credited with transforming oral history into a popular literary form. In 1985 a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized his books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.”

The elfin, amiable Mr. Terkel was a gifted and seemingly tireless interviewer who elicited provocative insights and colorful, detailed personal histories from a broad mix of people. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

Mr. Terkel succeeded as an interviewer in part because he believed most people had something to say worth hearing. “The average American has an indigenous intelligence, a native wit,” he said. “It’s only a question of piquing that intelligence.” In “American Dreams: Lost and Found” (1980), he interviewed police officers and convicts, nurses and loggers, former slaves and former Ku Klux Klansmen — a typical crowd for Mr. Terkel.

Readers of his books could only guess at Mr. Terkel’s interview style. Listeners to his daily radio show, which was first broadcast on WFMT in 1958, got the full Terkel flavor as the host, with breathy eagerness and a tough-guy Chicago accent, went after the straight dope from guests like Sir Georg Solti, Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem. “It isn’t an inquisition; it’s an exploration, usually an exploration into the past,” he once said, explaining his approach. “So I think the gentlest question is the best one, and the gentlest is, ‘And what happened then?’”

Studs Terkel was born in the Bronx on May 16, 1912, the third son of Samuel Terkel, a tailor, and the former Anna Finkel, who had emigrated from Bialystok, Poland. In 1923 the family moved to Chicago. In the late 1930s, while acting in the theater, Mr. Terkel dropped his given name, Louis, and adopted the name Studs, from another colorful Chicagoan, James T. Farrell’s fictional Studs Lonigan.

His childhood was unhappy. His father was an invalid who suffered from heart disease. His mother was volatile and impetuous, given to unpredictable rages that kept the household on edge. “What nobody got from her was warmth and love, or at least not a display of it,” Mr. Terkel said.

After moving to Chicago, the Terkels managed hotels popular with blue-collar workers, and Mr. Terkel often said that the characters he encountered and the disputations he witnessed at the Wells-Grand Hotel on the Near North Side were his real education. Although he read avidly and feasted on Roget’s Thesaurus, he was, by his own reckoning, no scholar. He earned philosophy and law degrees at the University of Chicago, but after failing a bar exam he worked briefly for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in Chicago, doing statistical research on unemployment in Omaha. He then found work in Washington counting bonds for the Treasury Department.

When he returned to Chicago in 1938, Mr. Terkel, who once described his life as “an accretion of accidents,” joined the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal program. He wrote scripts for WGN radio and, after appearing in “Waiting for Lefty” at the Chicago Repertory Group, found work in soap operas like “Ma Perkins” and “Road of Life.” What he called his “low, husky, menacing” voice made him a natural to play heavies.

“I would always say the same thing and either get killed or sent to Sing Sing,” he later recalled.
It was while performing with the Chicago Repertory Group that he took the name Studs. In 1939 he married Ida Goldberg, a social worker from Wisconsin whom he met while they were both with the Chicago Rep. She died in 1999. The couple had one son, Dan Terkell, who altered the spelling of his surname. Mr. Terkell, who lives in Chicago, is the only immediate survivor.

After a one-year stint writing speeches and shows in the special services of the Army Air Forces in 1942 and 1943, Mr. Terkel was discharged because his perforated eardrums, a condition resulting from childhood operations, made him unfit for overseas duty. He found work doing news, sports and commentary for commercial radio stations in Chicago, and in 1945 he was given his own radio show, “The Wax Museum,” on WENR.

Although “The Wax Museum,” which ran for two years, was primarily a jazz show, Mr. Terkel also followed his other enthusiasms, playing country music, folk, opera and gospel, as the mood seized him. He was one of the first to promote artists like Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy and Burl Ives. On occasion he would invite composers or performers to sit down for an on-air interview. His passion for jazz led to his first book, “Giants of Jazz” (1957), a collection of biographies.

In 1950 Mr. Terkel became the star and host of “Studs’ Place,” a variety show set in a barbecue joint, with Mr. Terkel appearing as the owner, shooting the breeze with his staff and with the guest of the week. Along with “The Dave Garroway Show” and “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” it helped define the relaxed, low-key Chicago school of television.

In January 1952, with McCarthyism in full flower, NBC canceled the show shortly after picking it up for national broadcast, nervous because Mr. Terkel had a habit of signing petitions in support of liberal and left-wing causes. Executives in New York told him that he could clear his record by saying he had been duped into signing the petitions. Mr. Terkel refused. “Duped” made him sound stupid, he said.

Blackballed from commercial radio, Mr. Terkel found work in the theater, appearing in a national tour of “Detective Story” and in other plays. One day, in October 1952, he was surprised to hear Woody Guthrie on the radio. “I wondered, who plays Guthrie records except me?” he later recalled. “So I called WFMT. They were delighted to hear from me.” In a partnership that would endure for 45 years, Mr. Terkel broadcast a daily hour of music, commentary and interviews, helping to build WFMT into a major fine-arts station. Although he shied away from actors and politicians, anyone else was fair game. The guest roster included figures as diverse as John Kenneth Galbraith, Garry Wills, Aaron Copland and Oliver Sacks.

In 1980, Mr. Terkel won a Peabody Award for excellence in journalism. His official title at the station, where he was instantly recognizable by his wayward white hair, red-and-white-checked shirts and well-chewed cigar, was Free Spirit.

In the 1960s, André Schiffrin, the publisher and editor who ran Pantheon Books, was looking for a writer to produce the American equivalent of Jan Myrdal’s “Report From a Chinese Village,” a collection of interviews that shed light on the lives of ordinary Chinese under Mao Zedong. Mr. Schiffrin called Mr. Terkel and suggested Chicago as a subject.

Mr. Terkel went out into the city’s neighborhoods, tape recorder in hand, and produced “Division Street,” an enormous success and the beginning of a lifelong relationship in which Mr. Schiffrin would propose an idea and Mr. Terkel would execute it.

“Division Street” consisted of transcripts of 70 conversations Mr. Terkel had with people of every sort in and around Chicago. Peter Lyon, reviewing it in The New York Times Book Review, said it was “a modern morality play, a drama with as many conflicts as life itself.” In “The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream” (1988), Mr. Terkel returned to an earlier subject and looked at it afresh. When Random House executives forced Mr. Schiffrin out as head of Pantheon in 1990, Mr. Terkel walked out with him and took his work to Mr. Schiffrin’s New Press. New Press published “My American Century” (1997), a “best of” compilation. That book was followed by two more volumes of memoirs, “Touch and Go” (2007), and “P.S.: Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening,” to be published on Nov. 11. In 1997, Mr. Terkel received the National Book Foundation Medal for contributions to American letters.

In “Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times,” Mr. Terkel took on his toughest interview, and many critics found the book frustrating for its refusal to delve too deeply into its author’s personal life and feelings. Mr. Terkel acknowledged the justice of the complaint. “I’ve met hundreds, no, I’ve met thousands of interesting people, and I’ve been so caught up with them and fascinated by them and intrigued with them, it’s almost like there’s no room inside me to be interested in my own feelings and thoughts,” he told an interviewer.

It may be the one time in his life that Mr. Terkel’s ruling passion failed him. “I don’t have to stay curious, I am curious, about all of it, all the time,” he once said. “‘Curiosity never killed this cat’ — that’s what I’d like as my epitaph.”

His latest book, in the US called And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey (2005), collects interviews with Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Woody Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Dizzy Gillespie, Marian Anderson, John Hammond, Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Alan Lomax, Keith Jarrett and others. There are biographical notes by Jonathan Cott at the end of the book. The UK hardback, published by Granta (2006) looks as if it has used the same pages as the US version, but has the rather better sub-title The Great Musicians of the 20th Century Talk About Their Music.

His interview with Dylan, all 58 minutes 5 seconds of it, recorded in 1963, can be heard on that marvellous source of so much to do with music, the NPR website. The page is here. (The photo above, by Nina Subin, is also from this page.)