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

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Sunday, June 28, 2009


There are now 31 comments (only two are mine) on the posting about this album. The only one I found difficult to let through was the one by the person who has my book but cannot spell my name... oh well: maybe it's uncool to care. But mainly it's striking that many people have taken the time to write thoughtfully and at comparative length - a fine contrast to most comments sent in response to pieces in, say, The Guardian. My thanks to all.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images Europe

The sports event of the year for me. Shame I have to tear myself away from the screen to work.
Day One today, and already the highly promising 15-year-old Brit Laura Robson, given a wild card into the championship, is out - but losing to an ex-top 10 player once ranked as high as no.5 in the women's game, and not going down in straight sets either. Her day will come. And with Nadal out of the tournament through injury, will the day have arrived for Andy Murray? Personally I'm still rooting for Roger F, surely the greatest player the game has ever seen. I was delighted that he won the French Open at last, and I'd like to see him win Wimbledon (again) too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Thursday, June 18, 2009


photographs © Jack Evans, 2009

Good to see a photo of G.E. Smith in action with his band Moonalice, playing the Summercamp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois, on Bob Dylan's 68th birthday. The keyboard player (and reportedly a very fine one) is Briton Pete Sears (ex-Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship & others). My thanks, for sending me these photos, to Jack Evans - an attendee at the University of Minnesota's big Dylan Symposium a couple of years ago, and a big Bob fan.


The previous posting has now pulled in 14 comments from readers, and my own brief response will follow, at the end of the others, today or tomorrow.

Just to be clear: comments get "moderated" before they appear - that is, I can choose to publish or reject each one as it arrives; but what I can't do is edit them in any way. Normally that's only as it should be but sometimes it makes for a small dilemma - when, for instance, someone regrets having included a particular comment or two and so sends another message asking that I delete bits (which of course I can't). But it can also be difficult when one part of a message seems unnecessarily rude but the writer still has a reasonable point to make. In fact, few comments get rejected, and those that do are often not so much unseemly as misplaced - such as those who write asking a Dylan factoid question they could easily answer for themselves by googling.

Anyway, that's the situation.

Meanwhile, this June 15 was ten years to the day since I finished writing the manuscript of Song & Dance Man III - ten years! - a manuscript that had taken up a large part of my 1990s.

It was a very strange feeling, that day, to have finished. And this was followed immediately by a tense few days while I waited for the publisher's verdict on the wordage. The contract had specified a maximum of 400,000 words, and when I finished and then made the computer count it all up, the main text came in at 390,000... but the footnotes were a further 120,000 words!

It was especially worrying because I had known quite a few of Robert Shelton's trials and troubles with his book No Direction Home - particularly when his publisher (several changes of editor down the line) made him cut out 100,000 words. I couldn't imagine a more soul-destroying task. My own editor, Janet Joyce, phoned me eventually to say: "We've decided to go with the book as it is. After all, Michael, what could you cut?!" It was great news, graciously delivered.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I'm home, having finished the Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues tour. It ended in Holmfirth Parish Church late last Saturday evening. Yep, the venue was a still-functioning parish church; a bit weird to have them set up a bar inside, and to see people taking their glasses of wine and beer into the pews.

Next day, it was the christening of grandson Freddie James Hodgson, in another Yorkshire parish church, and the day after that Sarah and I attended a preview of an art exhibition in a third Yorkshire church. I'm pretty sure that's the only time in my life I've attended church three days running.

The exhibition, called Going and Returning or Arriving and Leaving (Itus et Reditus), and staged at All Souls Church and the Bankfield Museum in Halifax, brings together work by Pam Day, Jonathan Adamson and the outstanding Andrew Darke. It's well worth catching, if you can, for Andrew Darke's work alone. It runs daily from now till Sunday and then on Saturdays only to July 18. The Bankfield Museum part is open from now till July 18 (except on Mondays). Opening times at both sites Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 4pm.

Now then (not in the Yorkshire sense, ie as a greeting synonymous with "hello there"): Bob Dylan's Together Through Life.

I've played it over and over and over again, especially in the car, where it works far better, I find, than in the living room, and I've tried very hard to like it. So I'm sorry to report that I think it a very poor album, its main appeal being that it's not Modern Times, and, ipso facto, refreshingly unportentous.

That doesn't make it good, though. The writing is so careless that it's astonishing it took two people to come up with it and that neither said "Hang on a minute, we can do a whole lot better than this", and the voice - the shot voice that was used so skilfully on "Love and Theft" - is mostly inexpressive, and where not, it mostly tries on sham or crudely cheap emoting. The music is plodding, the tunes dull and any sense of a need to communicate wholly absent.

Of course Bob Dylan is fully entitled to turn out as many meaningless albums as he likes, but I'm entitled to feel, as I do in this case, that if such albums didn't exist, it simply wouldn't matter. I don't really care if I never hear Together Through Life again. And it says something about how steep the decline in Dylan's work has been in the 21st Century that I can feel that way without also feeling deep shock at finding it so.

It seems popular to say that this is a minor Dylan album on a par with, say, Nashville Skyline: but Nashville Skyline was radiant with beautiful vocals, sparklingly deft individual musical playing recorded with shining clarity and an unmistakeable generosity of good humour and vitality. It is a towering achievement alongside the shoddy sludge of Together Through Life.

Far too many people, in my opinion, have rushed to try to find the album full of artistic virtue and insight about the human condition. People always do - like the idiots who come out of a contemporary Dylan concert and declare that he's never sounded better live. It's desperate self-delusion, and if Bob gets told this stuff himself, no wonder he's content to offer so little.

In 'Unbelievable', on Under The Red Sky, he sings a great truth, if you apply it to his own fans and how we behave. He sings:

Turn your back, wash your hands,
There's always someone who understands
It don't matter no more what you got to say

... or indeed if you've got nothing to say at all. And as the last line of that song has it:

It's unbelievable it would go down this way.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


I'm back at home after four nights' consecutive gigs - in Dublin, Galway, Maidstone and Bridport - and getting ready for the last two events of a Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues tour that began in mid-February. Thanks to all the people who've posted comments in the meantime: they've all gone up this morning.

The last two performances are this week, tomorrow and Saturday:

Thursday June 4, 7.30pm
Southport Arts Centre, UK
112 Lord Street, Southport, Merseyside PR8 1DB
Box Office: 01704 540011 /
tickets £10, £8 concessions

Saturday June 6, 8pm
Holmfirth Arts Festival, UK
Holmfirth Church, Towngate, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire HD9 1HA
Box Office: 01484 682644 /
tickets £10.

After that - the day after Holmfirth, in fact - there's Freddie's christening in geographically handy North Yorkshire and then I'm going to be at home for the summer. It's "All gratulant if rightly understood", as Wordsworth has it, unknowingly begging to differ from Bob Dylan.