My Photo

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

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter

Saturday, January 31, 2009


It might be a bit late to be passing this on, but, for those thousands of blogreaders living in the Greater Manchester Area, let me draw this to your attention:

Friday, January 30, 2009


Like so many others, I'm sad to learn of the death of John Martyn, a unique, unreliable, creative hothead who was blessed with a marvellous voice, made rich and expressive by life's torments, and who wrote songs that spoke straight to the hearts of many while beguiling with their mystery and brooding inventiveness. He died of double pneumonia in a hospital bed in Ireland. Hope he had a hand to hold.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Till yesterday evening I was unable to work, or blog, or do almost anything. We were warned that a major storm - a tempest, as the French term it - was going to hit us at 4am on Saturday... and right on time, it did. We lay in bed and heard it arriving. I thought it was one of those heavy old transport planes flying in low, to start with: it rolled in, droning and roaring; I'd never encountered anything like it in my life. They said it would keep on blowing till 1am Sunday, but it subsided into normal windiness by the end of Saturday afternoon... but left in its wake across Spain, South-West France and part of Italy 26 people dead, at least a quarter of the forest in the Landes destroyed, and here in the Gers one volunteer fireman killed by a falling tree while out trying to help other people.

Trees were down everywhere, sections of roofs ripped off, tombstones smashed and tombs broken open, pylons down - and of course, electricity off. Without electricity here, no phone or internet. Around Bordeaux there was flooding and the water was off too. In the end, Sarah and I and the other people in this commune (ie village and surrounds, not hippie/religious fanatic) had no power for 80 hours. And in our house, that also meant no power to the central heating boiler, so no heat for most of the time, till we managed to get a little gas heater on Monday lunchtime.

The phone lines took several hours longer than the power - but as I wrote to a friend, when I finally got online again last night, we were lucky: the roof stayed on and the house stayed up. The sad loss was the grand cypress at the front … which, like many a huge old conifer all over the region, was pulled right out of the ground by the wind. Now it lies there with its clay-encrusted rootball hanging over the crater it has made in the lawn. The palm tree, being far whippier, has survived.

This morning the sun is shining, and the snow-covered Pyrenees are blazingly in view... and the pile-up of e-mails awaits.

Friday, January 23, 2009


This date has now been added to my BOB DYLAN & THE POETRY OF THE BLUES tour:

Wednesday May 27, 8.30pm
Whelan’s, Dublin, Ireland
25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2
Box Office: 01 4780766 / WaV Box Office Lo Call 1890 200 078 /
tickets €14

though I doubt if the box office knows about it yet. I'm very pleased it's been added: one of the events I enjoyed most of all was my previous Whelan's gig, way back in October 2002.


. . . here is a nifty juxtaposition of photos:

(Photos: Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo, photographed in 1963 by Don Hunstein/CBS; right: Barack and Michelle Obama, photographed in 2009 by Doug Mills/The New York Times: juxtaposition by Hendrik Hertzberg here at the New Yorker online.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


A new Dylan studio album, which, it had been whispered, was tentatively planned for the autumn may now be in the works for earlier release, perhaps even in time to coincide with Bob's upcoming European tour. I can't say more. I would if I could.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


photo by Alan Govenar

Yesterday (January 20th) - a wonderful day, as pure achievement for black Americans, however much disappointment is in store over the next four or eight years. Among the many joy-inducing, moving spectacles I never thought to see in my lifetime was that of Aretha Franklin singing it her way (and in so splendid a hat), and the elderly civil rights activist Joseph Lowery not only delivering the benediction but including in it quotations from Big Bill Broonzy, which put a grin on the faces of all the good-hearted people on the podium, not least from Michelle and Barack Obama. I can’t imagine how amazed Blind Willie McTell would have been.

It was also the 20th anniversary of the death, at the age of 89, of blues singer and pianist Whistlin' Alex Moore, whose 1929 record 'West Texas Woman' ends with a couplet I had cause to quote in Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan (pp. 651 & 688) in the context of the title song of Dylan's Under The Red Sky:

The wolves howled at midnight, wild ox moaned till day
The man in the moon looked down on us but had nothing to say.

Aptly enough, his burial place (in Dallas, Texas) is the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Christopher Rollason, who knows about these things, has posted this on his own blog on the occasion of Edgar Allan Poe's 200th birthday (today). Here is the entry on him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia - the revised version in the paperback published last October - suggesting that his influence on Dylan has been a mixed blessing, but in which the good has outweighed the not-so. This entry also discusses Dylan's very funny book Tarantula:

Poe, Edgar Allan [1809-1849]
Edgar Allan Poe, born to actor parents, had little success in his own lifetime but gained posthumous recognition as a major figure in 19th Century American literature. Critic, short-story (including ghost-story) writer and poet, he was also a promising athlete in his youth, impressing his teachers in Richmond VA ‘by swimming six miles against the tide in a river during a heatwave’. His best-known work is the story ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’ (1839), ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1841) - sometimes claimed to be the first detective story - and the poems ‘The Raven’ (1845) and ‘The Bells’ (1849). One of those who made Greenwich Village into Bohemia a century and more before Dylan arrived in it, Poe died in Baltimore, 7 October, 1849.

Christopher Rollason has suggested Poe as the prompt for Dylan’s wild 1960s book Tarantula being so-called. He points out that Poe’s story ‘The Gold-Bug’ is prefaced by the epigraph ‘What ho! what ho! this fellow is dancing mad! He hath been bitten by the Tarantula.’ Poe credits these lines to All in the Wrong, a play of 1761 by Arthur Murphy, but Poe editor Thomas Ollive Mabbott says this is untrue; Poe may have made them up. Either way, as Mabbott comments: ‘The bite of the tarantula spider was held responsible for a wild hysterical impulse to dance - tarantism - that affected great numbers of people, especially in Italy, during the later Middle Ages. In Frederick Reynolds’ play The Dramatist (1789)… a character… says, “I’m afraid you have been bitten by a tarantula - you’ll excuse me, but the symptoms are wonderfully alarming. There is a blazing fury in your eye - a wild emotion in your countenance.”’ The point being that the protagonist appears to be mad but eventually his actions are revealed as based on a hidden chain of logical reasoning. Rollason adds: ‘the theme of Hamlet-like apparent madness would seem to make sense in the general context of Tarantula, a tragi-comic voyage across a world that refuses to make sense, a crazy extension of the carnival on Desolation Row.’ This seems somewhat less speculative when we note that Poe himself features inside Tarantula: in the section ‘The Horse Race’, ‘edgar allan poe steps out from beside a burning bush’, while in ‘Al Aaraaf & the Forcing Committee’, Dylan writes of ‘New York neath spells of Poe’. The phrase ‘Al Aaraaf’, which refers to a passage in the Koran about a kind of limbo poised between heaven and hell, is itself the title poem of a volume published by Poe in 1829.

These mid-1960s allusions to Poe follow those from the Dylan songs of 1965, in which ‘some raven’ appears in ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’, ‘rue Morgue Avenue’ is part of the geography of ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ and Captain Kidd, having appeared in Poe’s ‘The Gold-Bug’, reappears in ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’.

Poe’s literary spirit also loiters behind some of Dylan’s 1970s work, for good and ill. Poe’s short poem ‘To Helen’, of which everyone knows two lines, usually without knowing where or whom they come from, removes the puzzle of all those embarrassingly florid pseudo-classical phrases of Dylan’s that sit so uneasily in the choruses of ‘Sara’, on Desire. Where Helen is addressed in terms of ‘Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face / Thy Naiad airs...’, which Poe says have brought him home ‘To the glory that was Greece / And the grandeur that was Rome’ (the lines everyone knows, of course), and adds: ‘How statue-like I see thee stand... / Ah, Psyche, from the regions which / Are Holy Land!’, so ‘Sara’ is bombarded with: ‘Sweet Virgin Angel... Radiant jewel, mystical wife / …Scorpio Sphinx in a calico dress’ and ‘Glamorous nymph with an arrow and bow.’

Poe’s influence has also been to the good. Dylan inherits the heart of Poe’s quirky confidence with rhymes, and particularly internal rhymes. The tour-de-force example of Dylan’s ‘No Time To Think’ (1978): ‘I’ve seen all these decoys through a set of deep turquoise / Eyes and I feel so depressed... / The bridge that you travel on goes to the Babylon / Girl with the rose in her hair... / Stripped of all virtue as you crawl through the dirt / You can give but you cannot receive’ is prefigured by that of Poe’s scintillating ‘The Raven’ (1845): ‘And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain / Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before / So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating / ‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door’.

In 2003, interviewed by Robert Hilburn in Amsterdam, Dylan said that in adolescence Poe’s poetry had ‘knocked me out in more ways than I could name.’ Dylan also mentions Poe twice in Chronicles Volume One (2004), and that December, interviewed on US-TV by Ed Bradley, when Dylan says that the burden of being perceived as a ‘prophet’ in the late 1960s made him feel like an imposter, he elaborates: ‘It was like being in an Edgar Allen Poe story and you’re just not that person everybody thinks you are, though they call you that all the time.’

[The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols, ed. A.H. Quinn & E.H. O’Neill, first published 1946, has been reprinted through to at least the 1970s. The quote re Poe’s swimming prowess comes from Martin Wainwright, The Guardian, London, 25 May 2005, p.4, while reporting Sylvester Stallone’s intention to direct a Poe film bio. Thomas Ollive Mabbott, Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 3, Tales and Sketches 1843-1849, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 844-845. Dylan, Tarantula, St. Martin’s Press reprint, 1994, p. 39 & p.136. Christopher Rollason’s comments posted on the online discussion group, 5 May 2001. Dylan to Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times, 4 Apr 2004; Chronicles Volume One, pp.37 & 103. Dylan to Ed Bradley: ’60 Minutes’, CBS-TV, 5 Dec 2004.]

Sunday, January 18, 2009


musicians in Lombreuil, France
scanned from postcard; date & photographer not stated

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Since the recent posting, one new date has been confirmed, at Doncaster in Yorkshire. It'll be my debut event in this bracing town. Details are:

Fri May 8, 7.30pm Doncaster Little Theatre, UK
1 King Street, off East Laith Gate, Doncaster DN1 1JD, Yorkshire
Box Office: 01302 340422/ /
tickets £10, £8 concessions

Monday, January 12, 2009


Just back from a few days in London, where I was one of the speakers at a big 3-day shabang called The France Show at Earls Court (the first time I'd been there since going to see Bob Dylan's 1981 concerts). Travelling there was harder than you might think. Because of the snow and ice, I set off from home at 7.15am and made halfspeed progress on the normally-90-minute journey to Toulouse airport. It was closed because of the snow - the first time they'd had any for 18 years - but while some flights had been cancelled, ours hadn't.

These two facts did not seem to compute. But EasyJet, to their credit, didn't wash their hands of us. After a couple of hours they produced coaches to drive us to Bordeaux airport and fly us from there instead. The coach took a little over three hours. Two more hours in that airport, and then the 75-minute flight to Gatwick. At least we got there the same day.

I stayed three nights, felt thankful I didn't have to live there, and flew home last night. The drive home was in thick fog - until about 300 yards from my door, when it suddenly cleared... but hung above us at the height of the car roof, so that the road ahead looked like a spooky tunnel from a sci-fi world.

Today is bright, cold and crisp, with a warm sun shining on the fields around us and on the shining, snowy Pyrenees beyond.

I came back to this news (courtesy of The Times' obituary, rather than courtesy of The New York Times, to whose very inferior version I was also alerted):

THE TIMES (London), 12 Jan 09 , international edn p 43
William Zantzinger: Tobacco farmer who inspired a song by Bob Dylan

“William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll/ With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger/”. When a 22-year-old Bob Dylan, after a powerful harmonica intro, launched into a new song, 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll', on the popular Steve Allen show on American TV in February 1964, he sent a chill around a large segment of the nation, and eventually much of the world.

William “Billy” Zantzinger — Dylan dropped the “t” from the surname, perhaps deliberately in case of libel — was a wealthy, 24-year-old Maryland tobacco farmer of aristocratic and political stock. “Poor” Hattie Carroll was a barmaid and a mother of 11 whom a drunken Zantzinger struck down because she was slow to serve him a drink at what Dylan called “a Baltimore hotel society gathering” on February 9, 1963. The incident — a member of the gentry striking a maid — was not that unusual in the Maryland of the time, and Zantzinger’s arrest merited only a few lines in US East Coast newspapers.

But Zantzinger was white, Carroll a black descendant of slaves, and the civil rights movement was on the boil. Dylan’s song, included on his breakthrough The Times They Are A-Changin’ album, became something of a civil rights anthem, a metaphor for racial and class inequality in the US, as did the album’s title track. Scorning the judge’s decision to give Zantzinger a mere six-month sentence, Dylan concluded the song: “Bury the rag deep in your face/ For now’s the time for your tears.” He used the word “lonesome” in the title because none of the elegant guests had come to Carroll’s aid.

Charged first with murder, this was later reduced to manslaughter after it was concluded that Carroll had died from a brain haemorrhage caused by emotional, rather than physical, trauma. Zantzinger had been sentenced to six months and $625 in fines on August 28, 1963. By chance, that was the day of the march on Washington when Martin Luther King Jr made his “I have a dream” speech, a breakthrough in the civil rights movement, although its historic importance took time to sink in.

The start of Zantzinger’s jail term was delayed for several weeks to allow him to harvest his tobacco crop, an example of Maryland corruption and cronyism that prompted Dylan to write the song in a Manhattan café, record it in October and perform it nationwide on the Steve Allen show, one of his earliest TV appearances. Zantzinger’s white social circle believed that the verdict was fair, saying Hattie Carroll had been in precarious health and that Zantzinger’s cane, which in fact was a toy, may not have been what killed her.

The judges were said to have stuck to the six months’ sentence to ensure that the convict could serve his time in a county, rather than a state, prison where he might have faced abuse at the hands of majority black prisoners.

William Devereux Zantzinger, son of a former Maryland state politician, was born in the pillared, 18th century mansion of the family’s 630-acre tobacco farm at West Hatton, in Charles County, southern Maryland, in 1939. Further education was considered unnecessary as he grew up working on the farm, alongside both white and black workers, a fact which led friends to insist, after the Carroll incident, that he was not a racist, but had been out of his mind through alcohol. On the farm estate he enjoyed hunting — especially fox-hunting — in his spare time and was said to have drunk with both blacks and whites in local bars. After his release from prison in 1964, shortly after Dylan had poured scorn on him in front of the nation on TV, Zantzinger went back to the family farm, where his first wife, Jane, their children and his parents still lived.

His name, and shame, appeared forgotten outside his social circle until, having sold the farm, he went into what he termed “real estate”, renting ramshackle dwellings to poor black workers in a place called Patuxent Woods. In 1986 after he neglected to pay tax on his income, Charles County confiscated all the properties, but Zantzinger reckoned the poor inhabitants would not be aware of that. He continued to charge them rent on homes he did not own.

Not content with that, when some failed to pay up in time, he took them to court and, possibly having greased the palms of county bureaucrats, actually won. It was several years later, in 1991, before his scam was rumbled. He was arrested on fraud charges, fined $62,000 and ordered to do 2,400 hours of community service. Even then, a few of his black “tenants” stood up for him, saying they would not have had anywhere to live but for his help, since many of them had no jobs, credit or cash for deposits.

Journalists and Dylanologists tried to look up Zantzinger for most of his life, but he generally gave them the slip. One Dylan biographer, Howard Sounes, did, however, get a couple of comments from him in 2001. Dylan “is a no-account son of a bitch,” Zantzinger was quoted as saying. “I should have sued him and put him in jail. \ a total lie.” Even some Dylan fans believe there is a degree of truth in the criticism of the song, saying that it was an artwork, bending the individual facts partly for the sake of poetry, partly to give universality to the civil rights struggle of the time.

“Dylan’s concern was not the facts themselves but how they might fit with his preconceived notions of injustice and corruption,” wrote Dylanologist Clinton Heylin in Behind the Shades. “That the song itself is a masterpiece of drama and wordplay does not excuse Dylan’s distortions, and, 36 years on, he continues to misrepresent poor William Zantzinger in concert.”

He is survived by his second wife, Suzanne, and three children from his first marriage.

William Devereux Zantzinger, tobacco farmer, was born February 7, 1939. He died on January 3, 2009, aged 69.

The virtue of the New York Times Arts Beat blog report, however, is that it provides a link to its original news report of the trial back in 1963. How can anyone can read that and then feel that Dylan distorted the story inexcusably?

And here is the YouTube reproduction of that Steve Allen Show performance:

And how can anyone watch that and not be moved by both story and artistry together? He was so young and so unbefuddled. . . and he wanted to communicate to everyone.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I'm a fair way through organising a new tour of talks, though I hope many more will be clinched before the end of the month. I'm offering a new, revised version of Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues, and so far the firm dates are these. If you see me, say hello:

“wit, erudition, loud music and rare footage”

Thu Feb 19, 8pm Colchester Arts Centre, UK
Church St., Colchester, Essex
Box Office: 01206 500900 /
tickets £10, £8 concessions

Fri Feb 20, 8pm Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick, Ireland
temporarily at 36 Cecil Street, Limerick, Eire
Box Office: ticketline 061 319 866 or:
tickets €15, €12 concessions

Fri Mar 6, 7.30pm Birkenhead Pacific Road Arts Centre, UK
Pacific Road, Birkenhead, Wirral CH41 1LJ
Box Office: 0151 666 0000 or:
tickets £10, £8 concessions

Tue Mar 31, tba Daemen College, Amherst NY, USA
4380 Main Street, Amherst NY 14226
Box Office: n/a; free admission (may be campus members only)

Thu Apr 2, 4.30pm Washington College, Chestertown MD, USA
The Rose O’Neill Literary House, 300 Washington Avenue,
Chestertown, Maryland 21620
Box Office: n/a; free admission (may be campus members only)

Fri Apr 3, 7.30pm Nyack Village Theatre, Nyack NY, USA
94 Main Street, Nyack NY 10960
Box Office: [001] 845-367-1423
tickets $20

Fri Apr 17, 8pm Buxton Opera House, UK
Water Street, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6XN
Box Office: 0845 127 2190 /
tickets £8

Thu Apr 23, 7.30pm Herne Bay Little Theatre, UK
Box Office: 01227 366004
tickets £12, £10 concessions

Wed Apr 29, 4.30pm Farmingdale State College, State Univ. of New York, USA
English & Humanities Department, Farmingdale State College
2350 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale (Long Island)
NY 11735-1021, USA; Tel: [001] 631-420-2050
Box Office: n/a; free admission (may be campus members only)

Sat May 2, 8pm Bridgwater Arts Centre, UK
11-13 Castle Street, Bridgwater, Somerset TA6 3DD
Box Office: 01278 422700 /
tickets £12, £10 concessions

Sat May 9, 8pm The Market Theatre, Ledbury, UK
Market Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 2AQ
Box Office: c/o Tourist Information Office 01531 636147 /
tickets £10

Wed May 13, 7.30pm Uppingham Theatre, Rutland UK
32 Stockerston Road, Uppingham, Rutland LE15 9UD
Box Office: 01572 820820 / / or in person at Uppingham Bookshop
or at Stamford Arts Centre
tickets £8.50

Fri May 15, 7.30pm Cotswold Playhouse, Stroud
Parliament Street, Stroud GL5 1LW
Box Office c/o Stroud Tourist Office: 01453 760960 /
tickets £12, £11 priority booking, £10 concessions

Sat May 16, 7.30m Festival of the Spoken Word, Berwick-on-Tweed, UK
The Main House, The Maltings Theatre & Arts Centre,
Eastern Lane, Berwick upon Tweed TD15 1AJ
Box Office: 01289 330999 /
tickets £10, £8 concessions

Fri May 29, 7.30pm Exchange Studio, Hazlitt Arts Centre, Maidstone
Earl Street, Maidstone, Kent ME14 1PL
Box Office: tel 01622 758611/
tickets £12.50, £10 concessions

Sat May 30, 8pm Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset UK
South Street, Bridport, Dorset DT6 3NR
Box Office: 01308 424204 /
tickets tba

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


This morning. In the garden. Even the South-West of France sometimes must have to be snowy.