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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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Monday, April 06, 2009


My thanks to a couple more comment suppliers. I'm drawn to Lee Morgan's comments - they offer an obviously sincere, articulate argument, given grace by the pain behind them... but why am I drawn to them when I've heard none of the album?! I don't know. Perhaps the answer to that is Modern Times.

Meanwhile, an e-mail from Andrew Muir, subject-headed "Coincidence":

"I see John Sinclair, born in 1941 and big in the 60s, has a book coming out this month called It’s All Good. I see Bob Dylan, born in 1941 and big in the 60s, has an album coming out this month ending with a track called 'It’s All Good'.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homer here, Michael, Seasick Steve, also born in 1941 also has recorded a song called "It's All good" - he wasn't big in the 60s though...

btw what are your thoughts on the two tracks released already?

10:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to comment that I love the new single "I Feel a Change Coming On." Strikes me that Dylan has abandoned the collage writing of his last three records, and is speaking extemporaneously. The melody is wrapped around the lyric informed by Dylan's encyclopedic grasp of recorded musical structure. It has altogether a relaxed and intuitive feel to it both musically and lyrically which suggests that the songs flowed and as a result are closer to the dream world than the equally interesting but far more studied recent songs. His voice is finally "shot" after all these years of critics saying it was, when it wasn't, but it's beauty is undiminished. Pat Ford

6:27 am  
Anonymous John Carvill said...

Both new Dylan tracks seem pretty weak to me, and open up the previously unthinkable possibility of my not buying the new album. Modern Times was a real let-down, and these 2 tracks feel too slight to ever take any significant place among Dylan's overall body of work. Can it be that we'll see no new work of value from Bob again?

Beyond Here Lies Nothin' is particularly uninspiring. Is it just me that thinks it sounds like 'Mustang Sally'?

And Michael, last time I will pester you on this, I promise, but we're still waitinng for your comments on, and your 'best of' listing, for Tell Tale Signs.

John Carvill

11:13 am  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Hello Michael,

Shame your tour is not coming to Brussels. I'm sure you would have picked a better venue than the hellhole Bob plays in every time he comes to town.

I too share your disquiet about the new album. I've now heard Beyond Here Lies Nothin' and I Feel A Change Comin' On and reluctantly have to agree with Lee Morgan's assessment.

The first track is just sort of nothing. I don't much like it, but thought it would be okay as long as it was the worst track on the album. Then I heard I Feel A Change Comin' On, which sounds to me like the kind of complacent slop that Van Morrison has been serving up for the last 25 years or more.

It's not often that I really dislike a Dylan track (God Knows, Silvio, Everything Is Broken come to mind). Things like Tweedle Dee or Beyond The Horizon are minor, but I don't hate them. However, I took an instant dislike to I Feel A Change Comin' On. It sounds too pleased with itself (as well as sounding like a bad cover of I Shall Be Released).

The line about Billy Joe Shaver and James Joyce is awful, as is the rhyme of fire/desire. The Alicia Keys reference on the last album worked as a sly nod to Memphis Minnie and Ma Rainey. The Erica Jong reference in Highlands was okay because it was a funny line. I'm less keen on the Neil Young reference; it seemed pointless and I'm not sure Young deserved the credit. Maybe Dylan's roles of DJ and songwriter have become confused.

I've been trying to remember something from an interview with Bono (usually I'm happy to forget anything Bono has said) where he talks about Dylan coming up with a line about listening to the Neville Brothers and then immediately discarding it. That showed Dylan's editing skills working perfectly (rule: anything that impresses Bono must be bad). Those skills have, (temporarily, I hope) deserted him on I Feel A Change Comin' On.

I'm already not looking forward to hearing these songs live. Let's hope that peerless masterpieces comprise the rest of the album.

12:43 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Homer and Pat
Hello there. Good to have you check back in. Pat, I have now heard 'Beyond Here' and 'Feel A Change' but I think it's far too early to comment... though I'm tempted. On the other hand, hearing them through my computer's squitty little speakers is hardly doing them justice, and nor, probably, is hearing them taken away from the context of the album as a whole - though clearly that hasn't bothered Sony or

Dear John
Oh dear: hope you're wrong. Meanwhile it's funny but only two days ago I was feeling guilty about that failure to come up with the Tell Tale Signs compilation. The trouble is that I was playing the three TTS versions of 'Mississippi' - all of which would be on my list - to my sister and her husband on Friday night; they're BIG fans of the version on "Love and Theft" (as am I)... and they didn't like any of 'em. Which made me wonder if I was letting my own standards slip, to accommodate the slippage in Bob's. It's difficult these days, isn't it? It used to be easy: he was the superlative contemporary artist, and he was never known to make a foolish move.

Dear Stephen
I think you're a bit hasty and harsh about 'I Feel A Change Coming On', and indeed about Van Morrison - whose Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl album is far, far better than I'd dared to hope, though granted it isn't new material - and I also think the specificity of Bob's "listenin' to Neil Young" works fine: it's not as funny as the Erica Jong but it's mildly comic all the same, whereas I don't think the Alicia Keys reference works "as a sly nod to Memphis Minnie and Ma Rainey" - the women on the relevant panel at the University of Minnesota's Dylan symposium in 2006 expressed great disappointment that Dylan sang of listening to Ms Keys, the least interesting contemporary black female singer in America - but I certainly agree with you about God Knows (though the version on TTS is immensely more likeable, so that you can see that there might be a point to it), and about Silvio, and about Dylan's editing instinct in rejecting the Neville Brothers line, and most of all, of course, I agree with you about Bono.

As for Brussels, well I'd love to do a gig there - I'm still hoping to tour mainland Europe, and so far Vienna and somewhere in France are possibilities. And actually I tried for a Brussels venue (can't now remember which) but got nowhere and decided I need a Belgian promoter. Any contacts?

I like Belgium. I took a train tour of the country once. It was a short tour. But it took in the very nice little town of Stavelot, where Apollinaire lived and fell in love and left without paying his hotel bill. I paid mine (or rather, the Daily Telegraph did): the Hotel d'Orange was terrific, and no doubt still is. Superb food, served with aplomb. It's only boring people who say that Belgium is boring.

2:45 pm  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I certainly hope I have been hasty and overly harsh on the new Dylan tracks. Maybe they will be miraculously transformed in the context of the album. I've resisted the temptation to listen to the snippets, but the next test will be when the whole album leaks, as it surely will.

I don't know if Apollinaire made it to Brussels, but Baudelaire, Hugo and Charlotte Brontë did. And, of course, it was here that Verlaine shot Rimbaud. Unfortunately, much of the old Brussels was razed for no good reason. The arcade where Verlaine bought his gun is still here, though, and is beautifully preserved.

As for venues, I'm afraid I don't have any contacts here. My only suggestion is that you might try contacting Passa Porta. They host international literary events ( ).

3:10 pm  
Anonymous Bev said...

Only just started reading here(half way through Song & Dance Man 3 - good stuff) - I never realised people hated Modern Times so much. Why the dislike?

Anyway, "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" has some really average lines, but the title itself seems to me to be great: a reference to both death and some border town on the edge of the map...

9:15 pm  

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