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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, December 31, 2008


Happy 2009... in which at least President Obama will take over from President Bush, in which it will become 50 years since the death of Buddy Holly, 40 years since the release of Nashville Skyline, 30 years since Bob got Born Again, 20 years since my daughter Magdalena slept through six Dylan concerts at the Beacon Theatre, New York (before one of which, as we chatted to people outside the stage door, Tony Garnier emerged, saw Magdalena in Sarah's arms and said with a smile, "Well well! - now they even bring their babies for him to bless...") and 10 years since the UK publication of the third and final edition of Song & Dance Man, ie Song & Dance Man III.

In 2009 too, it will be 300 years since Alexander Selkirk was found on Juan Fernandez, off the coast of Chile; 200 years since the USA outlawed participation in the slave trade (ha ha); 150 years since the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin; 100 years since Louis Blériot became the first person to fly across the English Channel (Calais-Dover, 37 mins); and 50 years since Blind Willie McTell died in Milledgeville State Hospital, Georgia.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Thanks to whoever it is who calls him/herself 4th Time Around for putting Bob's Christmas Recital up on YouTube... and a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holiday to all...

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Congratulations to Rolling Stone Keith Richards on rolling into pensionable age today. A good hook on which to hang his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Richards, Keith [1943 - ]
Keith Richards was born in Dartford, Kent on December 18, 1943 and grew up to be one of THE ROLLING STONES, co-writer with MICK JAGGER of the Stones’ self-penned hits, a great guitarist and inventor of riffs, and over time shifting from an amiable-looking mod with the street-cred cool of a bewildered pet rabbit, through the long heroin-happy years as Britain’s licensed bad boy, to the extraordinary figure he cuts today as everybody’s favourite cadaver.

What’s really extraordinary is how long his dark, hip makeover took him. Look at any photograph right up to 1975 - right on past the time when RON WOOD joined the group - and Keith is still nowhere close to Jagger, as a persona. Mick’s right in your face with his cold green eyes and his drain-unblocker lips, pouting away with consummate ease: and Keith’s there with his spiky hairdresser’s hair gone all tufty and uncertain, and underneath it the ill-advised eyeliner and the stance of a provincial adolescent trying to look tough, as if he’s just been caught smoking in school.

Their early manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, had made Keith change his surname to the singular Richard - though it wasn’t, of course, singular at all, and merely made Britons wonder if perhaps he were related to Cliff: not an ideal image for a Rolling Stone.

He and Bob Dylan have had, aside from Dylan-Stones conjunctions, two memorable professional encounters: using the word ‘professional’ loosely, especially in the case of LIVE AID, the first of the two - except that though you wouldn’t know it, they had rehearsed beforehand, on July 10-12 1985, at Ron Wood’s New York home, with Keith and Bob sharing vocals on ‘Girl of the North Country’ and Keith playing guitar throughout.
They reconvened at the Guitar Legends Festival in Seville, Spain, on October 17, 1991. After Dylan had played with others - primarily RICHARD THOMPSON - on ‘All Along the Watchtower’, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’, ‘Across the Borderline’ and ‘Answer Me (My Love)’, then he and Keith, backed by a posse of musicians, performed the early R&B/rock’n’roll classic ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’, sharing vocals.

It was a gift to Dylan: he went into one of his classic guesting-on-stage routines, a masterly piece of theatre that can be savoured on the film footage, on which he mimes faultlessly the high comedy of making out that he’s woken to find himself on stage with certifiable lunatics it might be best to humour (Keith & co.) and has never heard anything as mystifying as ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’ in his life.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Bob in London 43 years ago
[photographer unknown]

Sunday, December 14, 2008


(For the posting on the earlier items, see the November 20 post in the so-called 'Archives', left-hand column.)

Here's an expensive item. Bob could afford to buy it himself. But Bill Pagel might well beat him to it:

and even better - thanks to Andrew Muir for alerting me to this - here's a few audio fragments, including of a Nashville Skyline outtake, 'Goin' Back To Chicago': lovely to hear Bob's beautiful Nashville Skyline voice on a blues song... even if the DJ who talks us through what exactly this item is, talks over the outtake!!! - for which, it goes without saying, he should be dragged from his lair, strapped to a very uncomfortable chair and made to listen to Rene & Renata's record 'Save Your Love For Me' over and over again at high volume for, say, 99 hours.


If Lester Bangs were still alive today would be his 60th birthday. He doesn't get the usual kind of entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia but he does get this...

Bangs, Lester, the Black Panthers and Bob
The Desire song ‘Sara’ includes ‘Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel / Writin’ “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” for you’. The subject was memorably polemicised by rock critic Lester Bangs (1948-1982) in a funny, wrong-headed froth of a review of Desire: ‘...if he really did spend days on end sitting up in the Chelsea sweating over lines like “your streetcar visions which you place on the grass”, then he is stupider than we ever gave him credit for.’

This was from a piece titled ‘Bob Dylan’s Dalliance With Mafia Chic’, from 1976. Bangs’ phrase ‘Mafia chic’ picks up the coinage of Tom Wolfe from his book Radical Chic And Mau-Mauing The Flak-Catchers, 1970, in which he excoriated New York socialites for their dalliance with Black Power, focussing on the appearance of prominent Black Panthers at a Leonard Bernstein party.
Bangs, likewise, duly excoriates Bob Dylan.

An alleged meeting in 1970 between Bob Dylan and Black Panthers Huey Newton and David Hilliard had been mooted by Dylan’s first biographer, ANTHONY SCADUTO, in the New York Times in 1971, and discussed in ‘A Profile Of HOWARD ALK’ by Dylan’s third biographer, CLINTON HEYLIN (with research assistance by George Webber), in All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, 1987.

Leslie Conway Bangs, born in Escondido, California, on December 13, 1948, began writing freelance in 1969, starting with Rolling Stone but later for other music magazines, for The Village Voice, and for Playboy and Penthouse, his main influences beat authors (though he often comes close to sounding like HUNTER S. THOMPSON). In 1973 he was banned from Rolling Stone by JANN WENNER for being ‘disrespectful to musicians’. He died of an overdose on April 30, 1982.

[Lester Bangs: ‘Bob Dylan’s Dalliance With Mafia Chic’, Creem no.7, Birmingham Michigan, Apr 1976; republished Thomson & Gutman: The Dylan Companion, 1990. Anthony Scaduto: ‘Won’t You Listen To The Lambs, Bob Dylan?’, New York Times, 28 Nov 1971. (Tom Wolfe’s later essay on the same period, ‘Funky Chic’, is collected in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, 1976.)]

Lester Bangs was more fondly memorialised by Cameron Crowe - writer of the sleevenotes and writer-up of the interviews with Bob Dylan published within the 1985 collection Biograph - when, having turned film director, he wrote and directed the charming Almost Famous in 1990. And here is the wonderful piece of writing Bangs brought to the lapidary subject of Van Morrison's indisputable work of rare genius, Astral Weeks.

Friday, December 12, 2008


First, I understand that the biography of Dylan signed by HarperCollins in November (to be written by Daniel Mark Epstein) isn't likely to be published until mid-2011.

Second, about Dr. Malcolm Guite.

(He used to go like that:
and now he goes like this:)

And here is a very interesting - and in my opinion extremely good - piece of textual analysis of some of Dylan's Christian and bible-alluding songs, neither by an atheist like me nor by someone of a happy-clappy Born Again Californian persuasion, but by Dr. Guite - a Church of England vicar - the Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge.
He delivered (and very fast, too, I'm told ) a longer and unedited version of this as a talk at the Michaelhouse in Trinity Street Cambridge (UK) on Tuesday night - reportedly to an audience of about three Dylan afficionados and about 50 people of Dr. Guite's own sect.

To declare an interest of no particular significance, I knew Dr. Guite when I spent a term at Girton College (as a Visiting Fellow Commoner) in 2005; we played tennis together. I think we're both better at Dylan Lit Crit than at tennis.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Yesterday an e-mail came in saying it was from Bob Dylan... but of course on opening it, I found that it wasn't. It was from, a slightly different matter. I mention it because its subject heading was "UK dates announced" and its message was headed "Bob Dylan set to play UK dates in 2009" . . . and this arrived yesterday - i.e. four days after the small-venue Edinburgh Playhouse concert went on sale and five days after we'd all learnt all the tour details from fans who run websites and e-newsletters and who, unlike the blithe staff of Columbia Records in London, aren't paid to disseminate this information but do realise that time is of the essence in these matters.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


. . . died 20 years ago - 20 years ago!! - today. He was 52. Here's the entry on him from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Orbison, Roy [1936 - 1988]
Roy Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas, on 23 April 1936. He first recorded in 1956 (‘Ooby Dooby’) and wrote the EVERLY BROTHERS hit ‘Claudette’. He and his early group the Wink Westerners regarded one side of Texas as their terrain, enjoying a rivalry with BUDDY HOLLY & the Crickets from the other side. Orbison had his own local-TV show sponsored by a local furniture store, one which an early guest was ELVIS PRESLEY. But it was after signing to Monument Records that Roy began to have his long run of huge hit singles, beginning with ‘Only The Lonely’ and taking in ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Runnin’ Scared’, ‘Cryin’’, ‘Blue Bayou’, ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘Dream Baby’, ‘In Dreams’, ‘It’s Over’ and ‘The Crowd’.

When hip snobbery was rife in the late 1960s and 1970s, not one music paper or magazine would publish such a thing as a Roy Orbison interview, despite the fact that, uniquely, he had worked both at the Sun studio in Memphis and at Norman Petty’s in Clovis, New Mexico in the crucial mid-1950s. And despite the further credentials of his voice and those early-1960s singles, Orbison’s mid-70s live appearances were perforce in cabaret clubs. No-one was listening or respectful of his artistry then. He was widely dismissed as a clapped-out, tawdry pop star, as passé as hair-cream and condoms, neither of which we thought we’d see again. When he died (of a heart attack in Hendersonville, TN, December 6, 1988), everyone said how they’d always loved him.

By then he had enjoyed a second wave of success, winning a grammy for a duet with Emmylou Harris (‘That Loving You Feeling Again’), his re-recording of ‘In Dreams’ becoming pivotal to David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet, re-recording his masterpiece of soaring heartache, ‘Cryin’’, as a duet with K.D. Lang, having an album of new material produced by Elvis Costello (which Orbison unfortunately died before the release of, and which gave him a posthumous hit single, ‘You Got It’ and became his highest-charting album), and standing alongside Dylan, GEORGE HARRISON, TOM PETTY and JEFF LYNNE as one of the TRAVELING WILBURYS (Lefty Wilbury, in fact).

He was the oldest Wilbury, with the best rock’n’roll credentials, and his lovely voice gave an invaluable counterweight to the gruff touch of the others. On the first Wilburys album it was the major track on which Orbison took lead vocals, ‘Not Alone Anymore’, that brought Bob Dylan back into the hit-singles chart for the first time in two decades.

Dylan paid him a less than fulsome tribute after his death (especially in contrast to how grandiloquent he waxed in tribute to Gerry Garcia and JOHNNY CASH). Dylan said of Orbison only this: ‘Roy was an opera singer. He had the greatest voice.’ He made up for it in sheer garrulousness in his comments in Chronicles Volume One, where he takes a series of fumbled lunges towards pinning Orbison down. In the course of them he includes this: ‘[He] transcended all the genres… His stuff mixed all the styles and some that hadn’t been invented yet… With Roy you didn’t know if you were listening to mariarchi or opera. He kept you on your toes… He sounded like he was singing from someOlympian mountaintop and he meant business… singing his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal.’

Perhaps Dylan had paid him a more proper tribute at his appearance at the 2nd Isle of Wight Festival of Music on 31 August 1969 - for the versions he sang that night of the traditional ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and his own ‘To Ramona’ and ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ were all strongly redolent of Roy Orbison’s distinctive vocals - and all exquisite.

[Roy Orbison: ‘Cryin’’, Monument 447, 1961; Mystery Girl, nia, 1988, Virgin 791058 1, 1989. Roy Orbison & K.D. Lang: ‘Cryin’’, nia. Bob Dylan: ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘To Ramona’ & ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, Isle of Wight, 31 Aug 1969, all unreleased and only ever circulated in particularly poor quality, despite many attempts to ‘upgrade’ them. Bob Dylan quoted from Chronicles Volume One, p.33.]

Friday, December 05, 2008


The Edinburgh Playhouse is going on sale today. John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service says the Playhouse was apparently "forced into it by the announcement... All seated; best tickets are £50."


According to book trade sources, another Dylan biography is on its way: Daniel Mark Epstein has reportedly sold The Ballad of Bob Dylan to HarperCollins in the US. He's a published poet, a librettist (for the comic opera Jefferson and Poe, music by Damon Ferrante) and the winner of several arts prizes. His published books include biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Nat King Cole. The painting is a 2004 portrait by Raoul Middleman.


March 23, Stockholm, Globe Arena, capacity 13,850
March 25, Oslo, Spektrum, capacity 10,000
March 27, Jönköping [Sweden], Kinnarps Arena, capacity 8,150
March 28, Malmo, Malmo Arena, capacity 15,000
March 29, Copenhagen, Forum Copenhagen, capacity 8,000
March 31, Hannover, AWD Arena, capacity 48,933
April 1, Berlin, Max Schmeling Halle, capacity 8,861
April 2, Erfurt [Germany], Messehalle, capacity 5,000-20,000
April 4, München, Zenith, capacity 5,880
April 5, Saarbrücken [Germany], Saarlandhalle, capacity 4,000
April 10, Amsterdam, Heineken Music Hall, capacity 5,500
April 11, Amsterdam, Heineken Music Hall
April 12, Amsterdam, Heineken Music Hall
April 14, Basel, St. Jakobshalle, capacity 9,000
April 16, Milan – unconfirmed, Mediolanum Forum, capacity 14,000
April 17, Rome, PalaLottomatica, capacity 11,200 (seated)
April 19, Florence, Mandela Forum, capacity 5,253
April 20, Geneva, Geneva Arena, capacity 6,500-9,000
April 21, Strasbourg Zenith, capacity 10,000
April 22, Brussels, Forest National, capacity 7,000
April 24, Sheffield, Hallam Arena, capacity 12,500
April 25, London, O2 Arena, capacity 20,000
April 28, Cardiff, International Arena, capacity 5,000
April 29, Birmingham, NIA, capacity 13,000
May 1, Liverpool, Echo Arena, capacity 7,500
May 2, Glasgow, SECC, Main Hall, capacity 8,500
May 3, Edinburgh Playhouse, capacity 3,056– NOW ALSO ON SALE
May 5, O2 Arena, Dublin, capacity, 9,300
May 6, O2 Arena, Dublin, capacity, 9,300

Dates in Israel are still expected for June.

The AWD Arena in Hanover is a football stadium.
A second date has been added in Dublin.
The Strasbourg Zenith only opened this year.
The Edinburgh Playhouse will be the only attractive venue.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The following UK dates have been announced:

Sheffield Hallam Arena – April 24th
London O2 Arena – April 25th
Cardiff International Arena – April 28th
Birmingham NIA – April 29th
Liverpool Echo Arena – May 1st
Glasgow SECC – May 2nd

Tickets go on sale through the venues and Ticketmaster tomorrow - Friday December 5th.

And in the Republic of Ireland, it's

The O2 (formerly The Point) - May 5th. Tickets for this go on sale next Monday at 9am through

This could hardly be a more predictable, dreary and unimaginative a collection of venues, and while it's obviously designed to maximise his income, it's not very likely to encourage Dylan's art.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Thanks to Andrew Muir for just now e-mailing me this Associated Press report, of Odetta's death yesterday. I hadn't heard this news till now:

American folk music legend Odetta dies at 77

NEW YORK (AP) — Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.

Odetta died Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago, he said.

In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished, Yeager said.

"The power would just come out of her like people wouldn't believe," he said.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.

First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.

An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.

"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer," Time magazine wrote in 1960.

"She is a keening Irishwoman in `Foggy Dew,' a chain-gang convict in `Take This Hammer,' a deserted lover in `Lass from the Low Country,'" Time wrote.

Odetta called on her fellow blacks to "take pride in the history of the American Negro" and was active in the civil rights movement. When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, "Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," The New York Times wrote.

She was nominated for a 1963 Grammy awards for best folk recording for "Odetta Sings Folk Songs." Two more Grammy nominations came in recent years, for her 1999 "Blues Everywhere I Go" and her 2005 album "Gonna Let It Shine."

In 1999, she was honored with a National Medal of the Arts. Then-President Bill Clinton said her career showed "us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world."

"I'm not a real folksinger," she told The Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing."

Among her notable early works were her 1956 album "Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues," which included such songs as "Muleskinner Blues" and "Jack O' Diamonds"; and her 1957 "At the Gate of Horn," which featured the popular spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

Her 1965 album "Odetta Sings Dylan" included such standards as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Masters of War" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." He said he found "just something vital and personal" when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. "Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar," he said.

Belafonte also cited her as a key influence on his hugely successful recording career, and she was a guest singer on his 1960 album, "Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall."

She continued to record in recent years; her 2001 album "Looking for a Home (Thanks to Leadbelly)" paid tribute to the great blues singer to whom she was sometimes compared.
Odetta's last big concert was on Oct. 4 at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where she performed in front of tens of thousands at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, Yeager said. She also performed Oct. 25-26 in Toronto.

Odetta hoped to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, though she had not been officially invited, Yeager said.

Born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Ala., in 1930, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 6. Her father had died when she was young and she took her stepfather's last name, Felious. Hearing her in glee club, a junior high teacher made sure she got music lessons, but Odetta became interested in folk music in her late teens and turned away from classical studies.
She got much of her early experience at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where she sang and played occasional stage roles in the early 1950s.

"What power of characterization and projection of mood are hers, even though plainly clad and sitting or standing in half light!" a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in 1955.

Over the years, she picked up occasional acting roles in TV and film. None other than famed Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper reported in 1961 that she "comes through beautifully" in the film "Sanctuary."

In the Washington Post interview, Odetta theorized that humans developed music and dance because of fear, "fear of God, fear that the sun would not come back, many things. I think it developed as a way of worship or to appease something. ... The world hasn't improved, and so there's always something to sing about."

Odetta is survived by a daughter, Michelle Esrick of New York City, and a son, Boots Jaffre, of Fort Collins, Colo. She was divorced about 40 years ago and never remarried, her manager said.

A memorial service was planned for next month, Yeager said.

[Associated Press writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.]


Today would have been the 80th birthday of one of the original vocalists with The Drifters, Gerhart Thrasher, who was born in Wetumpka, Alabama. I often liked The Drifters, and they did give us both Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King, but there's no discernible connection between Bob Dylan and Gerhart Thrasher from Wetumpka. I just mention him here because I like the name (of person and place).

He was lead singer on 1955's ‘Driftin Away From You’ and 'Your Promise to be Mine’ in 1956. His brother Andrew was also in the group but left in 1955; Gerhart stayed until 1958. Thirty years later (and twenty years ago now) Gerhart was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This was a posthumous induction. He died of throat cancer in 1977.

(The uncredited photo of Andrew & Gerhart Thrasher, plus most career info, comes from the very handy; birthdate and birthplace come from Eric LeBlanc's "Eric's Blues Dates", a rather elderly version of which can be reached inside here.)