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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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Friday, August 21, 2009


photo © Ron Lowe, 2009
Sign outside local restaurant near our house.
Its lunchtime menu du jour = four courses plus wine, €12.

Which, er, reminds me: there is still a little availability for our
(one is fully booked and two others almost so).

I see that Bob Dylan's Christmas album is to be released in early October; by the time these February to March weekends come around, I wonder if we'll be discussing the joy and wonder of Bob's Christmas of the Heart. Or why his album titles are getting so gooey. First Together Through Life and now Christmas of the Heart. They sound like Johnny Mathis LPs. Either I'm too sensitive or else he's gettin' soft.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is 'Christmas IN the Heart'. Bob will no doubt sing in a heartfelt way that cuts through the sentimental and commercialised Christmas of modern times, and will help recover its true meaning. Okay, Highway 61 Revisited,it won't be but Dylan has not lost his capacity to surprise.

9:25 pm  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

Or perhaps it's a case of "Something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Gray".

Nice to see that, after all these years, Bob hasn't lost his capacity to surprise us.

10:09 am  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Dear Anonymous,

Is this the same Dylan who recently appeared in commercials for Victoria's Secret, iPod, Pepsi, Cadillac and The Co-Op? Or the same Dylan who charged $130 for a three-disc set of lacklustre cast-offs?

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I think he ought to cut through his own commercialised self, recover his own true meaning before he aims at doing the same for Christmas.

Best wishes,


1:43 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

McHenry, that's too easy. I refer you to Lee's comment, which isn't.

10:26 pm  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

We all have the freedom to choose whether to buy this Christmas album or not - no-one is forcing us. I have no problem with Bob making a bit of money out of advertising if he wants to. Unlike Christmas I don't believe there is a "true meaning" to Bob Dylan. If an artist turns out what some perceive as bad work - or makes a bit of money from commerce - that doesn't affect the value of his other material one iota. I've spent too many years hearing people saying that Bob has sold out, in one way or another, to bother about it now.

“Just because you like my stuff doesn't mean I owe you anything.”

12:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come just goes to show you never can tell.
Don't be too hard on the man.In the words of The Gunfighter; he is surprises and disguises. This is surely as harsh as complaining of "the usual jamming process of trying twelve bars of this, switching to something else, finding you don't know it and trying another fragment of something else again".( "The Knopfler Hotel Room Tape"). These comments suggest that Dylan is'nt allowed to jam afterhours and spoil the very good writing in relation to Caribbean Wind,etc. Seems like only Springsteen and Cohen should be allowed to profit from their commercial activities.


12:00 pm  
Anonymous Bev said...

I have to admit, even as someone who has defended Together Through Life, this 'Christmas album' news has filled me with unease - it's like knowing your parents are about to do something embarassing but you are unable to stop it happening...

Maybe I'll be proved wrong.

1:00 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

McHenry - you've said all this before. No doubt I repeat myself too. And you may now be addressing other commentators rather than me - but can I remind you that after saying the idea of a Dylan Christmas album didn't bother me, all I said was that the titles of this and the previous album were gooey.

As for his capacity to surprise, well actually it surely didn't come as much of a surprise. It's all of a piece with a lot of his recent surprise moves. What would really be a surprise would be if he were to show a bit more respect for his own art.

And Paul, you misunderstand my Knopfler Hotel Tape comment: it wasn't in any sense a complaint against Dylan or a tut-tutting at the notion of him jamming after hours: I don't know what kind of humourless stalinist you think I am. It was an innocuous wry smile of an observation about the way almost every jam session between musicians tends to end up, based on my own experience of a great many of them.

In any case, agreed - he's entitled to be as crass as he likes: and I and others are entitled to think less of him for it.

8:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing Dylan has done bothers me in the least.

It would bother me if he was still showing the idealism of a young man after having lived through the 60's, and possibly even beleiving at that time perhaps an expanded sense of human worth would be born out of it. As we have seen the 60's changed nothing, the world of global corporate politics grows more entrenched everyday, and people are so far from learning anything that it's ludicrious to think any kind of profound message would have any greater impact than a car commercial.

If Dylan can suck a little bood back out of the corporate vampiers good for him. All I want him to do is exactly what he feels like doing. Pat Ford

10:31 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Pat
That all sounds very plausible... but let me offer two objections:

First, abandoning the foolishness of a particular decade's version of youthful idealism doesn't make it sensible or humane to abandon all idealism. Another generation endured, and was half wiped out by, the profligate, wasteful, pointless horrors of World War One, and survivors like Harry Patch knew quite well that he and his generation had been used atrociously by the powers of pan-European, if not global, "corporate politics"; yet they refused to resort to the attitude you characterise as Dylan's, namely of "sucking a little bood back out" and damn everyone else. Do you really think Dylan's settling for that an honorable response?

Second, he wasn't a young man touting 60s idealism when, in the 1985 Biograph interview, he criticised the way rock music was being used to sell soft drinks and, er, lingerie. He was deploring the sell-out of music that arose in the 1950s and arose as something dangerous, not just a commodity. And he was in his 40s when he said it.

4:16 pm  
Anonymous Jake said...

This is unrelated to the comments here but I thought I'd post it anyway. I was considering purchasing the new Clinton Heylin book and was wondering, in the light of your encyclopedia entry on him, if you had any opinion on it? That's presuming you have read it, of course. Some of the reviews on are a bit scathing about his 'self-aggrandising' ways...

4:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, A flicker of hope still burns in even the most cynical depths of Dylan's heart. Look at his original comments on Obama, and perhaps the song, "I Feel A Change Commin' On."

1985 was a quarter century ago. He used to care...

As a persons mortality begins to lurk on the horizon, they often tend to what they will leave for their children. I don't know if that's part of Dylan's more recent concern with making money, but a guy who spends time wandering around in the poring rain doesn't strike me as a hedonist.

I've spent time in rural France. One afternoon I wandered out of a small village I was visiting for a week. I'd explored the roads in and out of town, but had never taken a narrow road which disappeared at the top of a hill. I think you know what I found at the top of that hill. Sadly many chicken-hawk Americans ignorantly refer to the French as "surrender monkeys" without ever having seen what I found on top of that hill.
I can't imagine Dylan would ever compare himself to Harry Patch.
Pat Ford

5:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" All I want him to do is exactly what he feels like doing". Spot on Pat.

A hundred years from now the fact that Dylan made a few TV commercials,appeared in Hearts Of Fire,etc( and produced ??? a Christmas album ) won't matter one iota. What certainly will matter is that he created a body of work that stands comparison with other great innovators and that changed the world.

Lingerie ads and Fender guitar ads or his performances at Benefit Concerts whether Woody Guthrie, Bangla Desh,Live Aid,etc won't enter the equation. What will stand the test of time will be his incomparable career spanning songs, his unique and incredible vocal skills and his desire to do exactly as he feels like doing even though he alienates a part of his audience.

This body of work, of course, should not be compared to the likes of Springsteen or Cohen. It is in a different universe.

Dylan's casts offs from She's Your Lover Now through Blind Willie McTell to the wonderful Someday Baby outtake are far beyond the reach of other artists.

The NET will only really be appreciated when he ceases to perform or worse. The extraordinary work ethic and the desire to reach people has no real comparison. The range of songs both his own and a myriad of other peoples are unprecedented despite the dry periods.

I tend to listen to people that have been there rather than pay any attention to TV adverts,book endorsemente,etc. A personal favourite of mine is from the late Jerry Wexler when producing SLC, he said: there are three geniuses in music; Aretha, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. He also, of course, paid the ultimate compliment to Dylan:" He could sing the phone book for me and he would still be great!" A more recent example is Charlie Watts ( The Stones drummer and an avid jazz fan ) on hearing "Love & Theft " said that there are two geniuses in rock music Jimmi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. A statement as much about the music as the words.

Finally, there is the fact the Bob Dylan has survived despite the intolerble burden of him being Bob Dylan.

Best Wishes

6:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an interesting thread on the Heylin book here Jake:

It seems he puts himself in every page and also mentions his lack of basic knowledge about the blues.

11:49 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Paul, apart from the fact that if people are listening 100 years from now, the vast majority of those recordings from the NET will only damage Bob Dylan's reputation as an interpreter of his own material or as a singer, you're probably right. And see the posting for August 26.

11:54 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

If I understand what both you and Paul say, is it possible that you misuderstood his use of the word NET? I thought he used it to mean "the totality of Dylan's work", whereas you seem to interpret it as "the Internet". I may be wrong in both cases - I often am.

5:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I did'nt intend to post because of your very generous comments in the 26 August posting and your wish to take a break.

I thought that given HB's comments that I would clarify that we were discussing the Never Ending Tour.

Thank you for the opportunity to share opinions and for your ground breaking work in relation to
Bob Dylan. ( I have recently read two gruesome academic books on Dylan and I don't remember any mention of his singing).

Best Wishes

3:32 pm  

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