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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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Thursday, July 02, 2009

TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE BUT NOT RIGHT NOW PART 4

This is, as I write, the latest comment to be sent in to this blog on the subject of Bob's current album. It's from Lee Morgan, and I agree with it so wholeheartedly - not just in its verdict or its general thrust but in its acute, observant, well-argued detail - that I want to reproduce it here, rather than just in the murky deep of a now-elderly posting (TTLBNRN1). Lee writes:

It amazes me that people can try to categorise this album with Nashville Skyline. While that was a comparatively minor album in the context of what came before, it remains a classic of the country genre; one with carefully considered lyrics, rich vocals and beautiful melodies. Together Through Life has none of these things. On Nashville Skyline, Dylan’s focus and enthusiasm engages totally and, even though it’s forty years old, the bristling musicianship is light years ahead of the dreary, listless playing on his latest release(s).

People argue that the ½ hearted nature of Together Through Life is a reflection of old age– the sound of Dylan embracing his mortality. If embracing his own mortality means lazy song writing wouldn’t we much rather he embraced his earlier genius? I have never found this argument particularly convincing anyway. It is an apologist’s stance that allows people to apply four stars to shoddy work and always seems slightly desperate to me, as if people are so desperate to hear a great new Dylan album they convince themselves that they're doing so.

It is also slightly condescending (old age = a total pervasion of cynicism and dearth of good humour) and disregards the fact that, eight years ago, Dylan gave us a work that embraced old age and harked back to the finest qualities of his greatest masterpieces. Old age need not mean an end to insight and enthusiasm. “Love and Theft” proved that decisively.

His current sloppiness is an issue in concerts too. Leonard Cohen at seventy-four, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits at fifty-nine, they approach their concerts with the same vigour they have always done; understanding that the audience exists to be engaged, not ignored.

Dylan could take a lesson from these men, reducing his touring schedule, resting his voice and performing selected dates with renewed energy and focus. Staying on the road might be a romantic concept for him, but for the fans, buying overpriced tickets for bland and often incomprehensible performances is not. Sadly this is unlikely to change, with Dylan seemingly in a state of denial with regard his touring band:

“My band plays a different type of music than anybody else plays. We play distinctive rhythms that no other band can play. As far as I know, no one else out there plays like this: today, yesterday and probably tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll hear what I do ever again.” - Rolling Stone interview, May 14th 2009.

Is he really so sheltered from criticism that he believes this?

31 Comments:

Blogger Judas Priest said...

I agree that Nashville Skyline shouldn't be in the same category as TTL. They really are very different albums. I just happen to think that TTL is a far more enjoyable listening experience and deserves to be bracketed in a higher tier altogether. I find TTL's music far more rousing and robust; far more alive and emotive. Lyrically, it's far from profound (just like Nashville Skyline as it happens in that respect) in the main but there are real nuggets in there too. And for my money, This Dream of You blows any song on Nashville Skyline completely out of the water. And I don't at all buy the theory that L&T is automatically a superior album either. In fact, of the last three, L&T is the one I listen to the least but that is not mean I don't like it. Far from it. I think as a real trilogy (and his entire new studio output this decade), they work really well. Listened to the three of them back to back for a couple of hours the other day. Great stuff.

12:33 am  
Blogger Seth said...

I think I have less of a problem with the criticism of TTL than with the (IMO) wildly enthusiastic comments about Nashville Skyline.

"carefully considered lyrics"?

"Peggy night makes my future look so bright,
Man, that girl is out of sight,"

"Oh, it's shameful and it's sad,
I lost the only pal I had,"

"rich vocals"? Is there any Dylan fan in the world who would rather listen to the rich vocals of Girl from the North Country from Nashville Skyline than the original?

It does have some nice melodies though.

I just find this bizarre. Nashville Skyline has its moments, and in the right mood I enjoy listening to One More Night and To Be Alone with You, and I Threw It All Away is one of my favorite Dylan songs.

But no, Dylan's focus and enthusiasm does not engage "totally" on Nashville Skyline. It's mostly boring, and if it was a decent length for an album it would be even more boring. It's too soon to make any comparative judgment about a new album, not there's any point in it anyway, but I suspect that in 5 years, if I had to choose between listening to TTL or Nashville Skyline, I'd pick TTL in a second. Hell, I just realized that I still haven't picked up the CD version of Nashville Skyline over the 20 years.

5:13 am  
Blogger Hugh said...

In my opinion, too many of these rather vicious critiques of Modern Times and Together Through Life seem like reactionist pieces. The opinions expressed are fair enough — everyone has one, apparently — but the authors seem only to have gone to such lengths because they've read so many positive reviews. In criticism I think that's a mistake, and it often leads to near-personal attacks on those who disagree. I suspect that if no one cared at all about the new album the word-count would drop dramatically. Aren't we used to bad Dylan albums by now? File this with Down in the Groove if you like, but it's hardly Dylan's fault that some critics went overboard.

By all means be critical, but don't let the prevailing consensus colour what you write too much. I'd much rather read a criticism of Dylan's work than a criticism of other people's criticisms of Dylan's work.

9:14 am  
Blogger Hugh said...

And yes, I appreciate the irony of my posting that...

9:17 am  
Anonymous Kieran said...

First off, the RS comments by Bob are wacky. But ALL his interviews now are so self-centred and faux-mystic as to be safely categorised under "BS".

But I saw him live in Dublin recently, fearing the worst, and got a strong performance with a failry useful band. The dreadful up-sing at the end of lines was absolutely absent and he gave a great performance of Desolation Row, one where I could even hear the organ!

But I agree, in general, that his lives shows are disdainful, pretentious and sloppy, and he gets away with it because folks are just glad he's still alive and kicking.

Forget about Nashville Skyline! Forget about New Morning! Why are these albums being mentioned? Because they're standard bearer "minor works"? Who gets to decide these things?

And how is one album meant to be related to another?

This is a bogus form of criticism, dragging another album in to make a point about a current one. And I've always felt that Dylan was correct to moan about journalists who complained that he doesn't do a new H61 or BOB every time he makes an album. This is another form of that same criticism!

Leave Nashville Skyline alone, it's a great album, made under totally different circumstances and four decades earlier than TTL. It's a red herring and yet another reason to become fogey-ish and say that Dylan ain't what he used to be.

I love TTL. Why? Because it's simple. (So is Nashville Skyline, right?) But I can't help but enjoy this band, this sound, catchy stuff like Shake Shake Mama, which contains some witty lines. It isn't meant to reflect "growing old" (I don't know why people look for deep meanings in everything. The "facing-his-own-mortality schtick is such a cliche and isn't applicable here).

Forgetful Heart may not have the profundity of TOOM, but who said such heartfelt expression need be profound? I defy anyone to hear a vocal like this and not be compelled. The band take perfect shape around him, too. Mike Campbell and David Hidalgo make a welcome addition to a band which sounded trite, contrived and thin on Modern Times.

Michael, you pulled somebody up when they said that this is the sound of Bob enjoying making music. You correctly noted that he should ALWAYS enjoy making music. But aren't there times when this enjoyment takes on a different temper? TTL sounds like some quality musicianship and the enjoyment is the main reason for making these songs.

It's wry, sparkling, some great vocals, a great opener (when did a Dylan album last pounce on us like the opening bars of "Beyond Here..?) and it's probably one of his best produced albums too.

4 star? Who gives out stars to an album!?

10:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have posted earlier comments that the album is intentionally simplistic and that Dylan has nothing to say on this album therefore his singing is mostly inexpressive. I would argue that Dylan's live performances still continue to be compelling and that he is totally engaged in the art of performance.I would suggest that there are high number of people in the fan allocation seats that are so jaded and have heard the songs so many times on bootleg cd,video,etc,that there is no element of surprise. I say scrap the fan allocation and clear the deadwood from the front! They can hardly be bothered to applaud him when he performs a beautiful Times We've Known in Paris or a heartfelt Something in Liverpool. It is insuling to Dylan to compare him to someone as fake as Springsteen ( if engaging with an audience is jumping in the crowd or encoraging the audience to sing along to banal, catchy "lyrics" then I would prefer non engagement) or as ernest as Cohen who has recently performed to cynically raise money to recoup money he lost, then allows the Ticket Agency to sell or auction his tickets at overinflated prices. Please don't drag Bob Dylan down to this level.I could be more negative towards both these so called artists commercial activities but I won't. I will just say this: Bob Dylan's minor songs let alone his incredible 40 year career spanning major songs wipe the floor with these artists spasmodic songs or any other artists output. Michael knows that Dylan can still be a great singer and this is one of the reasons why he is so disappointed with TTL. I would suggest that Lee has never played music or been a performer and therefore does not really understand why Dylan continues to perform so many concerts. Lets face it, he could be like the Rolling Stones and do a megatour with a product (album )every few years. I am not suggesting that Dylan is beyond criticism. Dylan knows that TTL is not a Highway 61 or a Blood on the Tracks or even a Modern Times. Most people know that too ....it does not matter because he continues to perform and that is the most we can ask of any performer.Finally, I would argue that the true measure of a performers worth is the regard in which the performer is held by his peers ( I suppose that I would have to include Springsteen in this ) and anyone who is anyone...Sinatra requested Restless Farewell...understands that Dylan is a very great and unique performer.

3:14 pm  
Blogger Judas Priest said...

And did you hear the live debut of Forgetful Heart? Here it is...http://gser.ethereal.net/0701/forgetfulheart070109.mp3 Beautiful performance and arrangement. Listen out for the "The door has closed for ever more" delivery...heart stoppingly gorgeous

12:36 am  
Anonymous 4thTimeAround said...

Have you guys heard 'Forgetful Heart' from the Milwaukee (July 1) show?

SUBLIME!

3:48 am  
Blogger Jack said...

Yes, I have just listened to his first live performance of Forgetful Heart. I found it moving & meaningful. He sounded very engaged with this new song, in voice and through his harp, transforming the material ; certainly not 'fake'.

12:30 pm  
Blogger Brent said...

Picky, picky, picky... What is it with this inability to hear TTL on its own terms? To embrace TTL is not to reject or disparage other, better Dylan albums. Music enjoyment is not a zero sum game: liking TTL more doesn't mean liking [fill in the blank] less. In my music-listening world, I think "Love and Theft" and Bringing It All Back Home are great albums, among Dylan's best and among the best rock albums I've ever heard. By all means!

But I also think the Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd is pretty damn good. The point is, I don't only listen to or appreciate great albums. An album doesn't have to live up to '60s Dylan standards for me to enjoy it. If a lesser artist made TTL, I honestly believe I would say, "Hey, that's good! Fun, enjoyable... That's a pretty good turn of phrase right there!"

As for vocal performances, what about the bridge on "Change Comin' On"? I love the way he attacks the first line of the verse coming out of the bridge. What about the entirety of "Life is Hard"? I haven't heard Dylan attempt a vocal melody like that before. I'm no blues expert, but doesn't he sing the hell out of "My Wife's Hometown"? And who doesn't think Dylan's vocals on "Restless Heart" aren't MUCH more convincing than a similar, earlier song like "What Was It You Wanted," for example? I don't hear anything wrong with the vocals, except that his voice is gruffer than ever. But what's he going to do about that? I'm pleased that he creates songs that suit his voice nicely.

4:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the July,1 Forgetfull Heart live performance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2piUwq9e-s8
Stunning would be a good word for it. Puts the album version to such shame I'll never be able to hear it the same way again.
Pat Ford

8:34 pm  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Dear Anonymous,

“I would suggest that Lee has never played music or been a performer and therefore does not really understand why Dylan continues to perform so many concerts.”

I am a 28 year old singer, songwriter and musician from the northwest of England who enjoys performing several times a week, so I am afraid you are quite wrong.

Cliché it may be, but it was Dylan who first gave me the inkling to put pen to paper, to teach myself guitar, and to try and craft some lyrics that were slightly more than the standard radio fare. He was, is and shall remain my favourite musician, but that doesn’t make him immune from criticism–- and nor should it.

When an artist releases material, they do so knowing it will be held to two key standards: those set by themselves, and those set by their peers. Discussion of the new standard, whether good or bad, is surely a natural thing; and I have always been of the opinion that those who recognise the artist’s flaws recognise him best.

In writing, criticism can often some across as starchy and stiff, but we all sit down and play the album in the same way: hoping to be grabbed by a lyric or a musical moment and ultimately hoping to be communicated to. When that doesn’t happen, it warrants mention. When it does – as with Caribbean Wind for example, which I am playing right now – it is rightly singled out for praise.

As I read the recent reviews on expectingrain.com, I saw words like ‘vintage’ and ‘classic’ preceding his name and thought they were doing his finer work a huge injustice. And yes, I did start to think a protective wall was being built around him. I was troubled by what I saw as a frightfully blind devotion, and wondered why so few wanted to express the obvious: that Dylan is, for the most part, phoning his music in nowadays.

Hugh writes: “I’d much rather read a criticism of Dylan’s work than a criticism of other people’s criticisms of Dylan’s work.” I agree with this, while accepting that I have offered both over the last several weeks. I have found this unavoidable, because so often the two go hand in hand. Especially with Dylan, where I can’t help but feel that the gleeful acceptance of lacklustre work is what compels him to offer more of the same.

2:59 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Lee - on the mark again. And again I thank you for the considered nature and wholly reasonable, well-reasoned tone of your contribution.

Some others please note: in other words not everyone takes the hey-whatever-lighten-up-don't-be-picky-picky-it's-all-good position. (I think of it as the Californian Position, for some reason. But perhaps that just shows that I'm less reasonable than Lee.)

8:51 pm  
Blogger Judas Priest said...

Any thoughts on the live Forgetful Heart Michael? I think it's magical.

10:52 pm  
Blogger Brent said...

Lee and Michael, I appreciate your thoughtful discussion, but I'm still unconvinced. If we played the any-other-artist game, I still think Dylan's new album would be viewed very favorably. The thrust of the commentary from both of you seems to be, TTL really pales in comparison to [fill-in-the-blank].

Lee, I've looked at all the reviews on expectingrain.com and others. I actually don't sense that critics are building any kind of protective hedge around Dylan's recent work. Rather, critics (and record buyers) are younger and less beholden to the Dylan myth than fogeys like me. (Survey the contemporary musical landscape and tell me how surprising it is that a rootsy and unpretentious album from anyone right now wouldn't be considered a breath of fresh air!) So they like what they hear, and I don't blame them.

Like you, Lee, I play guitar, perform, and write songs, thanks in large measure to Dylan. I would LOVE to knock off a couple dozen of songs like this to add to my repertoire. Dylan does make that ability seem within reach on this album--"Idiot Wind" and "Every Grain of Sand" are far beyond my grasp. But even still... "Dreams never did work for me anyway/ Even when they did come true." "The door has closed forevermore/ If indeed there ever was a door." "If you see her sister Lucy/ Say, 'I'm sorry I'm not there'/ Tell her other sister Betsy to pray the Sinner's Prayer." That's not bad! In my experience, that kind of ease is anything but easy.

And if you want to get in the comparison game, think about how incredibly difficult it was for Dylan to accomplish anything like this ease between about 1980 and 1991. Not counting the Wilburys stuff--which, come to think of it, has a lot in common with TTL.

If you don't like the album, don't like it. But give an artist credit for not caring whether he has personally let us down in some way. "How could Dylan do this to us? Doesn't he know how much we love him?" Spare me.

3:38 am  
Anonymous AVS said...

I actually don't think that anybody is saying that TTL is a companion piece to "Nashville Skyline" so comparisons become a tad disingenuous. I also think that the reviews for TTL have been mixed and this is reflected in online discussions (not least on this site). I personally find it very enjoyable but it's ok if other people don't. What I don't get is why some are angry that others like the album. Is it the new "Street Legal"?

3:34 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Ever since Another Side of Bob Dylan I've been hearing tales that Bob has "sold out", or that his latest work is too light, or that he's betraying his fans, or whatever. We're over 40 years down the line from that and he's still going strong, so I tend to take these criticisms with a pinch of salt.

To compare Nashville Skyline with Together Through Life seems just a little silly to me. One is a middle of the road, not very good attempt at Country (although it has some catchy tunes), the other is a nice, laid back, unpretentious bit of fun (as Brent said, a bit like the Wilburys). Both equally listenable to, depending upon your mood. It may not suit those who make a living from musical/literary criticism but it's just fine for those of us who want to listen to the music.

Fact is, the guy who shouted "Judas" at that concert was wrong, and he's still wrong today. Unlike Springsteen, who I very much admire, Bob explores the whole gamut of popular music; sure, he occasionally fails. That doesn't detract from his continuing genius. Every new album I still keep asking myself "What's so Good About Dylan?".

9:45 am  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Brent, there are moments on Together Through Life, specifically on the lines you mention, where Dylan (or maybe Hunter) exhibits the slightest glint of inspiration. I actually posted a lengthy review after one of Michael’s earlier entries (‘Alongside Here Lies Nothing?’) and raised what I saw as the positives in the album.

While it wasn’t all doom and gloom, I still concluded that it was a weak collection overall. I took no joy whatsoever in doing so, having tried my best to like it. But the occasional nice line and vocal simply wasn’t enough to compensate for the saturation of sloppy writing.

I only brought up Nashville Skyline after reading several comments likening it to his latest. But I will admit to shaking my head in astonishment when I see that album described as “a middle of the road, not very good attempt at Country.” And yes Seth, I do consider the lyrics on Nashville Skyline to be carefully considered. They are not racked with poetry and meaning, but they act as a perfect companion to the music: cohesive, free flowing and of the same mood. The words on Together Through Life do not compliment for the most part. They snag.

It seems a popular defence to say: “Forget what came before and just listen to the music on its own merits, man.” If I was to forget what came before, disregarding Dylan’s rich and varied history, I am afraid I would have barely listened to the album at all; no doubt categorising it as a ramshackle album by a minor artist with very little to say. So I am afraid that, for me at least, this approach does not work.

On a closing note, I do not feel that Dylan has betrayed anyone, nor do I feel particularly let down (especially after the filler-heavy Modern Times). I just feel he has produced a lacklustre album, and so have passed comment on it. I did so favourably when he produced his twilight masterpiece, “Love and Theft”, so as ever it works both ways.

2:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lee

In another lifetime when Dylan performed Caribbean Wind live, Dylan talked about Leadbelly switching from prison songs to children's songs:"Oh,my!Did Leadbelly change?....But he did'nt change.He was the same man'( S&DM
111 Page 644).

I honestly feel that it would be constructive to demonstrate or provide a clue to what you mean when you state " bland and often incomprenhensible performances " otherwise you begin to sound like any old hack that reports on Dylan and objects because he does'nt sing Blowing in the Wind on his acoustic guitar.

I can understand why some contributors to this blog have referred to the live debut of Forgetful Heart, at least it gives us something concrete to discuss in relation to a live performance ( my own view is that it is a beautiful restrained vocal with lovely harmonica breaks and leaves the pretty good TTL version for dead ).

I would suggest that Michael is being deliberately provocative in his dismissal of Thunder on the Mountain (and Modern Times in general ) and in his praise of Chuck Berry ( a major sngwriter performer and infuence for sure but not in the same class as Dylan)" Gonna raise me an army some tough sons of bitches,I'll recruit my army from the orphanages" I feel that Chuck Berry may well identify with those lines.

Michael Gray has clearly demonstrated that Bob Dylan follows in a music tradition unlike most other artists and because Dylan continues to speak about this tradition (and perform in this way) it is not self denial but rather the performer being true to himself ...sorry, it is not "a romantic concept for him ".

In another lifetime the great Johnny Cash said " Let him SING!

Regards Paul. .

2:53 pm  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Dear Paul,

By bland and often incomprehensible performances, I mean just that. I have been to numerous Dylan concerts over the years where I have been left disappointed by garbled vocals, half remembered lyrics and an overall, dreary sense that he felt no real connection to the songs or to the audience. If you wish me to be more specific, then listen to pretty much any bootleg from the last several years.

I agree that the version of Forgetful Heart posted above is a welcome exception, far preferable to the album version, with an attentive Dylan delivering each line with thought and care. But the exceptions are becoming increasingly rare. Fewer gems it seems can be found among the fibre glass, and I personally don’t feel that the occasional nice moment makes up for the half-hearted majority.

I also object to the notion that, by not enjoying something, I “sound like any old hack that reports on Dylan and objects because he doesn’t sing Blowing in the Wind on his acoustic guitar.” I am a huge Bob Dylan fan and, regardless how much slipshod work he produces now, I always will be.

I enjoy Dylan most when he is focused on an idea, alert and taking risks. So the suggestion that I wish he was still playing folk songs is a baseless one. It also seeks, somewhat unconvincingly, to tie his current period to his 'going electric'. As best as I can see it, there really is no parallel to be drawn.

I am not referring to you specifically now Paul, but in some Dylan fans I have found a reactionary stance that bothers me; a need to jump immediately to his aid and defend every move as symptomatic of his genius (often while invoking his 1960’s mythology). As I have said before, it belittles his real moments of genius to do so.

Finally, and above all else, I think I am most bothered by the ‘if you don’t think it’s great, it’s because you don’t understand him like we do’ mindset. It is a blinkered, self-indulgent stance and, dare I say, a slightly juvenile one as well.

8:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote Lee Morgan, " I still concluded that it was a weak collection overall. I took no joy whatsoever in doing so, having tried my best to like it. But the occasional nice line and vocal simply wasn’t enough to compensate for the saturation of sloppy writing."
Lee is starting to sound like he's cutting and pasting from Michael here. Perhaps he's inspired by Dylan's pastiche writing on Love and Theft? Anyhow this is the second time I've seen what is to me a very strange comment as to "trying to like" the record. I commented previously I'm somewhat befuddled by this stance as I can't even imagine trying to like anything. My response to art is visceral, and I only begin to try and analyze things later. If I don't like something right off it's done in my book.
I can see justification for what Lee and Michael are saying. If Dylan isn't pushed to maintain his highest standard he won't feel compelled to maintain it. There is a rub with him producing his own albums, he has no one to push him. Further his time is running down. The man is 70 now, and while L&T showed he was fully capable of still producing vintage writing any effort now expended in the studio at less than full commitment could easily be viewed as an opportunity slipped away which might have been better spent with not much greater effort or prodding.

I can't mark up my appreciation for Together Through Life to lowered standards on my part. Dylan is the only living pop musician I'm inclined to actively listen to (Dylan's own standards are apparently far more charitable than my own judging by his comparing Stevie Ray Vaughn to Hank Williams). He is the only musician of his generation who's old or new music I listen to anymore. The Beatles the Stones and all the rest I'd not switch off the radio or feel compelled to leave the room, but the urge to ever again listen to any of their music as a desire has long passed. The same is true any contemporary music I hear in passing. A lot of it is perfectly fine, but I have no real interest in hearing any of it.

My own tastes run from all forms of music 20's through the 50's with almost nothing produced since then on my personal play list. Why listen to new music when there are a limited number of hours in a day. Every moment not spent listening to Jimmie Rodgers, Charlie Poole, T-Bone Walker, John Coltrane, or Miles Davis is a moment I could have spent listening to them. Dylan belongs in this group, and in my view he is the end of the line. He is the culmination of everything which came before, and his arrival signals it's end. You never will hear anything like him again, and there isn't the slightest doubt of that. Pat Ford

P.S. Give me an Edberg over a Lendl any day bravo Roger. If only we could return to the wooden rackets with the smaller sweet spot you would never hear of the "big hitters" again.

3:09 am  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Dear Pat,

No, I am not cutting and pasting from Michael and I think that, if you chart my early responses to Together Through Life, you will see that my thoughts are – as ever – my own.

Trying to like something means that due care and attention is given to a recording. You listen to it and, if you don’t like it, you give it a bit of time and play it again. There is always that chance that you might have missed something, that a hook will appear and grab you. You might even, as Michael and others have suggested, play it in different surroundings.

There are many Dylan songs that have seemed unappealing to me on first listen, that have then grown on me, often thanks to a neat lyrical or vocal twist, or even through my mood being different. As with any work of art, there are depths that cannot always be seen on first glance. If I only listened to the song once, made the kneejerk reaction that I didn’t like it then tossed it away – as you apparently do – then I would miss out on many great Dylan moments.

I Feel A Change Comin’ On was one song that benefited from this approach. I was totally indifferent to it at first but now I quite enjoy it (with the exception of the Shaver/Joyce line). I really disliked Beyond Here Lies Nothing when it was released. It did grow on me slightly, and briefly, before falling out of favour and right back into the mire.

Some Dylan albums leap out as great immediately, with no searching necessary. But for those that don’t, it pays to be flexible, allowing for the fact that you might just be wrong. My great disappointment with Together Through Life is that, lyrically and musically, there is very little to search at all.

2:29 pm  
Blogger Frank said...

I'm not sure how open a mind Michael has on TTL, and in fact I think the much of debate has been carried out through assertion and counter assertion rather than argument and counter argument.

I would like either Michael or Lee Morgan to offer critical analyses that give evidence that the writing on TTL is loose and sloppy and to explain how this kind of writing differs from his writing on Love and Theft or, to move to a different period, Blonde on Blonde. Further, what is the problem musically with TTL? In all three albums I've mentioned many of the tunes and many of the arrangements are nicked, so the fact that the music is derivative cannot in itself be a problem. Are there any musicologists out their who can fully argue the proposition that Michael Gray has merely stated?

For what it's worth, I think there is a unity and a coherence to TTL that make it a good album. The accordian contributes to that unity of feeling as do the borrowings from 1950s blues.

Lyrically, the album seems to me to be an extended reflection on the nature of love as seen by someone in late middle age. It celebrates the importance of love and companionship, touchingly looks at the fragile and sometimes illusory nature of love, and laments the fickleness and pain of betrayed love. In many of the songs (as in many of the best of TOOM) there is that sense of a tenuous hold on what were once the certainties of life, a sense of solidity dissolving away.

Vocally Dylan is singing within his much reduced range. The writing of the music reflects this. He is still able, howeve, to sing with great expression and feeling. And to anyone who feels, as do Michael Gray and Lee Morgan, that there is nothing decent on TTL and that Dylan can't cut the mustard in the concert hall anymore, then the live debut of 'Forgetful Heart' is a stunning rebuttal.

Dylan, of course, has become a famous curmudgeon himself, so perhaps it is not surprising that he attracts curmudgeons to his vast army of critics. But TTL and live Dylan, even in 2009, are better than Michael and Lee would have us believe!

5:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lee

Thank you for the clarification in relation to the bland and imcomprehensible live performances.

The point that I was trying to make was would you say which ones (tour, year,etc )and the things that you don't like about the performances. I disliked what I thought was a sweeping statement which as you know hacks tend to make rather than provide any facts or evidence. I understand that you do not want Dylan to return to the folksinger days.

I still believe Dylan remains a compelling live performer for the reasons I have stated earlier and you disagree. You are right from your side and I am right from mine.

I have only just read your first response to TTL in the Alongside Here Lies Nothin' blog. I tend to agree with a lot of your comments especially that Its All Good is Dylan by numbers. ( The line " If your going on home, better go the shortest way " and the way Dylan sings the line says more to me than the album closer).

I believe that Dylan retains the same independent mind and voice which made people such as you and I take notice of him in the first place ...in my view, Dylan does not produce "lacklustre" work because the media approve of or the album buying public buy his "lacklustre" work. Come on....he lives to perform. TTL is an intentionally simplistic album intended to capture something that he was feeling within him at the time of it's creation..good or bad.

Regards Paul.

10:14 pm  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Dear Frank,

I believe if you look back over my comments in this section, as well as 'Alongside Here Lies Nothing?' and several others dating back to mid-March, you will see all of your queries answered.

I have offered as comprehensive a critique as I am able, without dissecting every song line by line. Anything else would be repetition on my part. However, if you cannot see the gulf in lyrical quality between Together Through Life and those on Blonde on Blonde and "Love and Theft", I am afraid you have me at a loss anyway.

If I can state again: I am not a critic, I am a fan. Because I don't heap praise upon everything Dylan does does not make me curmudgeonly, it makes me discerning. But as ever, I guess it remains a question of taste.

You will also see that I acknowledged his performance of Forgetful Heart as good, and certainly superior to the album version. But I wouldn't go quite as far as to call it a 'stunning rebuttal'. It is one well performed song. That it's drawing so much attention suggests just how few of those there actually are.

Best wishes, and I thank you all for keeping me extra busy these last few days!

Lee.

10:45 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

I've found a lot of these postings interesting, and found much to agree with, and to be made to think about, in people's arguments. But again and again I find myself in especially close agreement with Lee, and a real admirer of the temperate way he expresses himself and how well he illuminates the position he takes - with which I identify so strongly.

11:25 pm  
Blogger Judas Priest said...

A very interesting debate and well articulated on all sides. Nearly as enjoyable as listening to TTL which I am about to do yet again...As I keep saying, not a classic but hugely enjoyable to these ears and an album that I'm fairly confident will remain higher in my affections than quite a few of Bob's efforts over the years without troubling the upper echelons of his oeuvre.

On the live front, I personally do find THAT Forgetful Heart stunning by any yardstick. It sends chills down me in a good way-in fact in a similar way that the acoustic Blind WIllie McTell did on the original Bootleg Series back in the 90's. Not quite as earth shattering as that experience perhaps but good enough to hold up as special, not just when measured against his current live output but against that of previous eras.

12:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Lee, While I can certainly appreciate a work of art resonating differently given a variety of context the idea of something I dislike on first exposure becoming something I appreciate later on I just can't relate to. Perhaps when I was younger, my exposure to music was limited, and new sounds were foreign to my ears.

I think it was John Fahey who once said that on first hearing Charlie Patton he had to shut off the record in disgust, moments later had a strong desire to listen again, upon doing so felt it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard in his life, and was reduced to tears.
Part of the reason I no longer worry about riffs, melodies, and even lyrics seeming new is because after hearing so much music, and reading Michael's wonderful work of scholarship, I now view everything as ultimately traceable to Neanderthal campfires.
Pat Ford

1:32 am  
Blogger Hugh said...

Stopping short of an about-face, I will say that I am somewhat conflicted about being associated, if only by location, to the arguments which run along the lines of, "Sure, it may not be a great Dylan album, but compared to all the dreck that's out there...". In other words, not great, but better than EVERYTHING ELSE. This sort of argument is nonsense, and it pains me to see it so often used. Perhaps it's a symptom of the ridiculous view that Dylan is just about the only worthwhile performer in rock history, and that any contemporary music that isn't his can be safely considered garbage.

While I think there's very little point in being vicious towards a man of 68 years who has supplied us with a wealth of great material — more than enough to justify his being called a great artist — it's not really possible to waive an artist's own standards without becoming an apologist. I was appalled when Michael wrote of a sorrowful decline in Dylan's 21st Century output — surely if you believe Time Out of Mind was only four-eleventh good, "Love & Theft" was more the anomaly, after a protracted period of silence preceded by a protracted period of patchiness — but I respect the fact that he ceaselessly holds Dylan up to the standards of his best work when judging him. I still have a problem with people trying to negate other critics instead of merely assessing the album on its own terms, but I don't think there's anything wrong with stating outright that Dylan is falling well short.

4:08 pm  
Anonymous Kieran said...

See, here's what I find interesting: the live Forgetful Heart is acceptable but the album version isn't. Even though they're the same tune. And the same words.

Just performed differently.

So is the objection to TTL the performances? Because I don't understand it. I agree with whoever said that so far it's all opinions, but not criticism. And I appreciate that and also that views may change over time, either pro or con.

But you know, Michael's remark that he prefers to listen to TTL in the car (forgive me if I'm getting this wrong) is quite telling, because I'm coming to think of TTL as Dylan's great pop album.

Only - it's fifties pop.

And Beyond Here Lies Nothing, Life is Hard, If You Ever go to Houston, Forgetful Heart, This Dream of You, Shake Shake Mama & I Feel a Change are ALL catchy as hell.

Just like the best pop songs....

10:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost all Dylan's albums contain songs that are fairly lightweight.
Many of his best known songs are very simple almost wispy.
Blowin' in the Wind
Forever Young
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
All Along the Watchtower
I Shall be Released
Leopard Skin Pillbox Hay
Highway 61
and there are loads more. Certainly TTL doesn't have anything really substantial like Highlands, Desolation Row, or Where Are You Tonight
I like the whole album, but there certainly isn't anything like Floater to Much to Ask on it.
Pat Ford

10:10 pm  

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