BOB DYLAN ENCYCLOPEDIA: A BLOG 2006-2012

FOR CURRENT ACTIVITY SEE THE WEBSITE WWW.MICHAELGRAY.NET

MICHAELGRAY.NET

AND THE BLOG OUTTAKES

My Photo
Name:

writer, public speaker, critic

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter
 
Web bobdylanencyclopedia.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

OCCASIONAL PHOTOS No. 86

Courtin' Froggie:
ye olde blogger in Atlanta Botanical Gardens, October 2009
photo by William A. Montgomery

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RARITY: GOOD XMAS CRACKER JOKE

What do you call Santa's little helpers?

Subordinate Clauses...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART

OK. Here goes... I love it! And admire it.

Those Amazon snippets were lethal, the album itself a real and warm delight. (The abyss between the two proves that snippets are strongly counterproductive and should be dumped as a marketing tool for evermore.)

But the album itself, from very first hearing, earns its place in the Christmas canon, along with the Phil Spector album and the Elvis one. It works, as Peter Doggett suggests, not least because (and this is in strong contrast to Modern Times particularly) “its intentions and aims are so modest, and its pretensions are so few”. Everything people have written about its authenticity of spirit, its clear sincerity, seems exactly right. And though this sincerity means, for the 68-year-old Bob Dylan, harking back to the musical heralds of the 1940s-50s, a blog comment contributor was right to say that there is no big orchestra, no florid choir, no grandiosity.

Which is why for me the carols on the album are a particular and complete success. I don't know how it works to combine/alternate, as Dylan does, the clear and clean-cut, scrupulous 1950s voices with his own decrepit vocal struggles, since the two emanate such utterly different eras and atmospheres, but it does work. It can only be modesty of size on both sides that gives this unity. The still small voices on, for instance, 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing', sounds nothing like the Ray Charles Singers or any massed choir; they remind me, if anything, of the voices at the beginning of 'Take A Message To Mary' on Self Portrait; both have a kindly tone and gentle intimacy, as if explaining the story to very young children. (The blend of male and female voices is also exactly what Roy Orbison was aiming for on the dum-dum-dum-dum-bee-doo-wahs of 'Only The Lonely' - a record from 1960 but which shimmered with the same lovely aural richness captured by the valve equipment that made 1950s records glisten so distinctively.)

In inspired parallel to the singers, Dylan and the two - just two - violins, the plain piano and their unobtrusive support are small-scale too. Their valiant straightforwardness is an affecting enactment of humility - and unlikely as this is, the picture it conjures in my mind is of a little rural church in the English Middle Ages, with a small congregation of ardently believing peasants, back before church organs replaced the music-making that made the worshippers participants. In this way it's close to folk music, and to semi-pagan hymn singing inside draughty, bucolic, poor church walls, not far from the stables and the cowsheds and the inn. This is so much fresher and more vivid than the approach we could have expected from the Bob Dylan of 2009.

Similarly, on 'The First Noel' - which ends so bravely - rather than replicating some Hollywood Cathedral On Capitol Records 1955, the solicitous choral voices emerge like a small huddle of carol singers, careful and polite at the lamplit snowy door. So strong is the effect of simplicity in all this that it survives even the rather grander upward key-change toward the end of 'O Little Town Of Bethlehem', which declares itself with a more artful tip of the musical hat, a retrospective throat-clearing glance as Dylan pulls back to reoccupy his more customary starring role and thus to give us that "Amen" that ends the album. And it is the most charming "Amen" you'll ever hear, and so one of the very best signings-off he's ever created at a Dylan album's end.

As for the rest, well, it all offers the same straightforward attentiveness and artistic sincerity - that "authenticity" Andrew Muir referred to hearing within Bob's 'Waggoner's Lad'.

The particulars that come to mind tonight include these: the lightly sinuous guitar or mandolin figures on 'Do You Hear What I Hear?', the lovely piano on 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' and the many pleasures of his singing, despite it all. Not least: the appropriately fleeting way his voice goes away on the phrase "gone away" on 'Winter Wonderland'; the delicate vocal shepherding of the little lamb on 'Do You Hear What I Hear?'; the terrific way he sings "now---" before the second bridge on 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', and the empathy he radiates as he sings "their treasures" on 'Silver Bells' (enacting the way a child might value toy "treasures"); the vocal ease on 'The Christmas Blues' and 'Christmas Island'; the pleasure of hearing him sing "sinners reconciled" - the original text, as it were, from which an earlier Bob Dylan had spun its variation within 'Lord Protect My Child'; the funny panache with which on 'Must Be Santa' he sings "who laughs this way: 'ho ho ho'?" in a way no Santa Claus will ever better on record or in magic grotto; and that other enactment, in which his voice strains to reach "the highest bough---" on 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'.

Ah, and then there's the one moment where he doesn't, if you like, sing the song quite straight - the one diversion into noticeable vocal improvisation - but since it's just one moment, it's beguiling rather than disruptive. It comes on the same song when, the first time around after "Next year", he phrases "all our troubles will be out of sight" as a precipitate wandering-off (that briefly reminds me of his wonderful route through Elvis' 'Can't Help Falling In Love' all those decades ago).

There's also the quiet way he keeps faith with the context in which 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' and 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' were written, in that part of the early 1940s when even the Americans had joined in the Second World War and soldiers were wistfully far from home. And what Dylan sews through these songs is the consequent sense that it's death that might or might not - "if the fates allow" - keep the singer from the Christmas hearth. But then Dylan's voice adds in the seemingly more autobiographical hint that death must come relatively soon for him too, not as wartime soldier but as frail, growing-elderly man: that he's conscious that after all those Christmases that quintessentially feel timeless, time is running out and there will inevitably be a Christmas for which he cannot make it home.

Just as Andrew Muir said of World Gone Wrong, this is a collection of non-Dylan songs that adds up to an authentic Dylan album. (And of course that means these days that it's a relief not to have to wonder which parts of the lyrics he's stolen or borrowed from elsewhere.) But to reverse the emphasis, it's partly so terrific because the songs, these non-Dylan songs, are mostly so very good. So enormously, strikingly better than those on Together Through Life or for the most part on Modern Times.

(A couple of small demurs here: it doesn't speak to anyone looking for political commentary on that little town of Bethlehem of course, and as wife Sarah has pointed out, 'Here Comes Santa Claus', cheery and catchy though it is, palpably lies when it tells children it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, Santa loves you just the same. This might be true of Jesus, but not of Santa, who has always given blatantly better presents to the children of the rich.)

On the whole, though, these are very strong songs, and built to last. Like Dylan's early songs - like 'Blowin' In The Wind' and unlike 'Ain't Talkin'' - the repertoire he offers here can speak to anyone in our culture.

Yet with Christmas In The Heart it isn't just the songs but the interpretation. It isn't just the songs but the album. It already feels as if I've known it all my life yet sounds entirely fresh. It's all so accurate and perfectly in the best spirit. No contamination by knowingness or soppy ingratiation. No fakery. A real Bob Dylan album.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

80th ANNIVERSARY OF BLIND LEMON'S DEATH

Blind Lemon Jefferson died 80 years ago today. I've posted a short piece about him today here on my other blog Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes, but here is the entry on him from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Jefferson, Blind Lemon [1894 - 1929]
A great blues singer, also a guitarist and composer, born on October 26, 1894 (given until recently as September 26, 1893) in Wortham, Texas, about 60 miles south of Dallas. Hugely influential because he shaped the Texas blues and put it on record, though his recording career was, typically, very short (1926-1929). He was the main blues influence on Leadbelly and, through Leadbelly, an important tutor to many, many others. It is said that Blind Willie McTell was encouraged to take up the 12-string guitar thanks to a personal encounter with Jefferson (though Jefferson was a 6-string guitarist). His records were also a significant influence on hillbillies, who heard them on the radio. This is clear in the marvellous work of ROSCOE HOLCOMB in the 1950s-60s.

There is only one extant known photograph of Lemon. He sits against a photo-studio backdrop, besuited, with his guitar across his lap. He’s a young man and looks a Bunterish outsider, a goody-goody deacon, plump and polished-skinned, his hair too neat. He has the thinnest-possible pencil moustache, though this utterly fails to lend him a dandyish air. His spotted silk tie has been drawn onto the picture afterwards. Contradicting the sharp creases of the suit trousers, the guitar strap around his neck is of crude white string. Most oddly, he is wearing glasses - and written across the foot of the picture in a large, confident, regular hand is the comically formal message ‘Cordially Yours Blind Lemon Jefferson’.

More reliably, Jefferson wrote the line ‘I’m standin’ here wonderin’ will a matchbox hold my clothes’, which crops up 25 years after his death in CARL PERKINS’ ‘Matchbox’ and, around the same time as Dylan’s first album was released, in SAM COOKE’s ‘Somebody Have Mercy’. (It’s odd that Cooke should be wondering will a matchbox hold his clothes, because earlier in the same lyric he’s standing at the bus-station with a suitcase in his hand.)

Jefferson first recorded the song that Dylan includes on his first album, ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’, as ‘See That My Grave’s Kept Clean’, Chicago, c.Oct 1927; this was first available on vinyl on Blind Lemon Jefferson Volume 2, Roots RL-306, Vienna, 1968. But Jefferson’s re-recording, as ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’, Chicago, c.Feb 1928, was the one Dylan knew. It had been included on the seminal HARRY SMITH compilation AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC (3 double-LPs, Folkways FP 251-253, New York, 1952; CD-reissued as Anthology Of American Folk Music [6-CDs box set with copious notes by many hands and including a CD-ROM of extras], Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SRW 40090, Washington D.C., 1997), which was crucial to Bob Dylan from very early in his career, as it was to everyone in the FOLK REVIVAL of the late 1950s to early 1960s. The Jefferson track is also CD-reissued on King Of The Country Blues, Yazoo CD-1069, c.1990.

Dylan records ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’ for that first album - and with a timeless, fresh vividness - NYC 22 Nov 1961, is taped singing it at the home of Eve & Mac Mackenzie, NYC, Sep 1962, and performing it ‘live’ at the Gaslight the following month - and then revisits it, trying out a proto-Nashville Skyline voice, during the Basement Tapes sessions an aeon later. He also alludes to it elsewhere. In the opening line of ‘Call Letter Blues’ (recorded at the Blood On The Tracks sessions but left off the album and issued, in the end, on Bootleg Series I-III in the 1990s) when Dylan sings that he is ‘hearin’ them church bells tone’, one of the things we might recognise him as hearing is the church bell tone that Blind Lemon imitates on the guitar in his performance of ‘Grave’. And though there are horses galloping all over balladry and the blues, white horses are rare in the latter - but having whinnied their way into the Jefferson song, they play a cameo role in Dylan’s ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’ and his terrific (unreleased) later song ‘Yonder Comes Sin’.

After Harry Smith’s anthology, the most significant compilation was a crucial LP issue of previously hard-to-obtain pre-war blues material, The Country Blues, RBF RF-1, New York, 1959. It was compiled by SAMUEL B. CHARTERS and issued at the same time as his book The Country Blues, which was the main stimulus to the blues revival that hit Greenwich Village, Boston and elsewhere at the beginning of the 1960s. This LP too contained a number of recordings that plainly influenced Bob Dylan (see the entry on Charters), and among them was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Match Box Blues’, Chicago, c.Mar 1927. He re-recorded ‘Match Box Blues’ twice, Chicago, c.Apr 1927. The first of these re-recordings was on The Immortal Blind Lemon Jefferson, Milestone MLP 2004, New York, 1967, and the second on Blind Lemon Jefferson Volume 2, but the original recording is best: it was made for OKeh and exists in pretty good quality; the re-recordings were for Paramount, a label synonymous with cheap equipment, and hence with atrocious sound quality. Unfortunately almost all Jefferson’s sides were on Paramount. Dylan played around with a version of ‘Matchbox’ during his studio session with GEORGE HARRISON, NYC, May 1970.

Dylan’s extraordinary regenerative use of the blues - and especially of pre-war blues lyric poetry - is a huge subject (covered over 112 pages of Song & Dance Man III) and Jefferson’s presence is widespread within it; but Dylan’s usage isn’t always resourceful, and the presence of Jefferson’s ‘Lonesome House Blues’ is a case in point. I always thought that the weakest lines in that bluesy Blonde On Blonde song ‘Temporary Like Achilles’ were in the bridge section between the second and third verses, where he sings But is your heart made out of stone, or is it lime / Or is it just solid rock? The unrocklike limpness of that repetition, that tautology, seemed puzzlingly poor. It’s just as poor but no longer a puzzle, when we learn that Dylan has extrapolated it from Blind Lemon’s song, in which we get the more economical ‘If your heart ain’t rock, sugar it must be marble stone.’

Jefferson’s work also lies behind ELVIS PRESLEY’s first record, in a pleasing chain of transmission from the old to the new: ‘That’s alright, Mama, that’s alright for you’ figures in a much earlier blues classic than the ARTHUR CRUDUP song that Elvis turned into his revolutionary first record. It’s a stanza from Jefferson’s seminal ‘Black Snake Moan’, cut in Chicago as ‘That Black Snake Moan’ in 1926 and re-cut in Atlanta as ‘Black Snake Moan’ in 1927. His lines ‘Mama that’s alright, sugar that’s alright for you / That’s alright mama, that’s alright for you / ... just the way you do’ then recur the following year in one of the two takes of Ishman Bracey’s terrific ‘’Fore Day Blues’. Then on the early Crudup side ‘If I Get Lucky’, in 1941, he not only tries out the lines ‘That’s alright mama, that’s alright for you / Treat me low-down and dirty, any old way you do’ for the first time but he has a way of hollering that admits a debt to Bracey and to Blind Lemon. (The connection makes perfect sense: we know that Crudup hung out in Jackson Mississippi in the 1940s, when Ishman Bracey was the city’s most popular and active musician. In turn, it was 150 miles up Highway 55, in Memphis, that Elvis saw Crudup perform. Somewhere there’s an interview with Elvis in which he’s asked, when he’s the ultimate star, if he had imagined that kind of fame and success for himself when he started out. Elvis replies: ‘No. When I started out I just wanted to be as good as Arthur Crudup was when I saw him live in ’49.’)

Blind Lemon Jefferson is reputed to have frozen to death in the streets in a snowstorm in Chicago in December, 1929, but by his producer J. Mayo Williams’ account, he collapsed in his car and died after his chauffeur abandoned him. No death certificate has ever been found.

Monday, December 14, 2009

BEST MUSIC-BOOK TITLE PUN?

Bob Keane, bandleader and record producer, who was born on January 5, 1922, died on November 28, 2009, aged 87. He formed and owned the small California-based record label Del-Fi, which signed Ritchie Valens and released his hits. If Valens hadn't died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly, I'd probably have marked the anniversary of his death in February on this blog. As it is, the death of his record producer and manager 50 years later will serve as the hook for hanging Ritchie's entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia now.

Before that, though, I relay the fact that I learn from Bob Keane's obituary in The Times that after the 1987 biopic La Bamba, the resurgence of interest allowed Keane to publish a memoir, and that it had what may be the best, and most surprisingly erudite, title pun of any book that has ever come out of the music. It was called The Oracle of Del-Fi...

Any other contenders?

Valens, Ritchie [ 1941 - 1959]
Ritchie Valens was born the same month as Bob Dylan (on May 13, 1941, in LA) but died before Dylan ever made a record. Ritchie too formed a rock’n’roll band in high school (the Silhouettes, at San Fernando High), and was heavily influenced by LITTLE RICHARD. Signed to Bob Keane’s Del-Fi label, his first hit was his own song ‘Come On Let’s Go’ - which, defying all the rules of the known universe, was inferior to the British cover version by Tommy Steele. But the big Valens hit was the double-sided ‘Donna’ c/w ‘La Bamba’. The latter has proved one of those immortal classics capable of being a hit time and again. No-one tried to cover this track when it was new, and no-one has since succeeded in covering it with half the appeal and energy of the original.

Valens also had time to appear in one film: the Alan Freed let’s-hold-a-talent-contest! movie Go Johnny Go, in which he performs his Little Richard-inspired ‘Ooh My Head’.

Valens died, along with the Big Bopper, in the single-engine plane crash that killed BUDDY HOLLY in the early hours of February 3rd 1959, en route to North Dakota in the snow. Holly’s lead guitarist Tommy Allsup should have been on the plane, and Valens on the bus, but as Allsup recalls: ‘I was the one who chartered the plane, but I flipped a coin with Ritchie Valens - he kept bugging me all night that he'd never flown in a little plane. He won the toss.’

Dylan saw them perform at the Duluth Armory just three nights before the crash. In 1987, Dylan was filmed driving near Malibu, CA, paying tribute to Ritchie Valens; a one-minute-long piece of footage of this was used within the promotional trailer for the film La Bamba, a Valens biopic.

[Ritchie Valens: ‘Come On Let’s Go’, Del-Fi 4106, US (Pye International 7N 25000, London), 1958; ‘Donna’ c/w ‘La Bamba’, Del-Fi 4110, 1958 (London American HL 8803, 1959; all released (with more than enough other Valens tracks for anyone, and including ‘Ooh My Head’) on the CD Ritchie Valens / Ritchie, Ace CDCHD 953, London, 1990. Go Johnny Go, dir. Paul Landres, Hal Roach Studios Inc. / Valiant, US, 1959. Bob Dylan: spoken comments on Valens, Spring-Summer 1987, nr. Malibu; released in trailer for La Bamba, dir. & written Louis Valdez, Columbia Pictures / New Visions, US, 1987.]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SONG & DANCE MAN III TEN YEARS OLD

Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, the third and final edition of my study of Dylan's work, was published ten years ago today.

There was a limited-edition hardback edition of 450 copies, each one signed and hand-numbered, and a simultaneous paperback. Both were published by Cassell Academic, in London. Shortly afterwards, there was a management buy-out of Cassell Academic when the whole Cassell group was about to be swallowed up by the Orion conglomerate. The ex-CA division fused with small US publisher Continuum, becoming Continuum International. (Fascinating stuff, huh?)

Anyway, that's why all but the very first printing of the paperback and the hardback have Continuum on the spine. The book has been reprinted many times since, most recently last year, and in theory is still on sale. In practice, the book is always out of stock in the UK and almost no-one in the States has ever heard of it.

It's a book I'm still proud of - it took me much of the 1990s to write it, and I'm thankful I kept going right through to the end - but there'll never be a Song & Dance Man IV. I don't really want to go in for any more long, close-to-the-text analysis of Dylan's work. I'm not sure I could even write an essay as long or as good as Peter Doggett's excellent piece on the latest album. Which is why, when I blog about Christmas In The Heart here very shortly, it'll be with conscientious care but with brevity.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ANOTHER DEATH ANNIVERSARY: SAM COOKE

Today is the 45th anniversary of the great Sam Cooke's death. This is his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Cooke, Sam [1931 - 1964]
Sam Cook was born 22 January 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, but grew up in Chicago, one of eight children of a Baptist preacher; they formed the Singing Children when he was nine. Later he moved over to the Highway QCs and then replaced R.K. Harris as lead tenor of the Soul Stirrers. With this innovative and contemporary gospel group he began recording in 1951 (though his singing at this point is often overrated: his version of Thomas Dorsey’s great song ‘Peace In The Valley’, pallid and unmemorable, cannot compare with those by ELVIS PRESLEY and LITTLE RICHARD).

He ‘went secular’ in 1957, becoming Sam Cooke and starting a long and splendid run of hits, almost all his own compositions, many of which have been covered time and again by artists of the stature of VAN MORRISON. He was a consummate vocalist and a bright, lithe, sexy young man, whose TV appearances helped make black sexuality visible to young white America. He may have learnt his trade in gospel but church-going modesty was not his style.

Sam Cooke was very popular but never popular enough. Most of his work is of undimmed excellence: great records by a terrific songwriter and a masterful soul singer of panache, integrity and expressive generosity. In 1960-63 he was in his prime, not least in live performance (try One Night Stand: Sam Cooke Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963).

By the end of 1963, Cooke had notched up eighteen Top Thirty hits since 1957; but pop success was not enough. Earlier that year he had heard Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and is reported to have felt shaken that it had been ‘a white boy’ who had written so potent a song - a song that eloquently, if implicitly, addressed the urgent issues of political struggle that so deeply involved his own race. He began performing the Dylan song himself (a version is captured on the album Live At The Copacobana, 1964), but his more profound response was to write the moving, thoughtful and dignified ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (originally called ‘My Brother’) which he recorded on January 30, 1964.

Despite the quality of the song and Cooke’s recording of it, it was slipped out as an album track (on Ain’t That Good News) and its release as a single was long delayed. On December 11, 1964, Cooke died after being shot in unclear circumstances in an LA motel. He was 33 years old. Two weeks later, and with one verse edited out, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was released… as the B-side of ‘Shake’.

Dylan mentions the song in Chronicles Volume One; the context is complex but this is what he writes: ‘Sometimes you know things have to change, are going to change, but you can only feel it - like in that song of Sam Cooke’s, “Change Is Gonna Come”…’ And in an interview in 2001, he reveals an awareness of Cooke’s early gospel group the Highway QCs, recalling that when he was '12 years old, listening to the radio… at midnight the gospel stuff would start, and so I got… to be acquainted with the Swan Silvertones and the Dixie Hummingbirds and, you know, Highway QCs…’

Dylan cut a version of Cooke’s ‘Cupid’ with GEORGE HARRISON in a New York City studio in May 1970 (which would have been effective had Dylan remembered more than a handful of the words) and attempted Cooke’s hit ‘Chain Gang’ at March and April 1987 studio sessions for the Down In The Groove album. (These remain uncirculated.)

‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was revisited by THE BAND on their Moondog Matinee album of oldies in the 1970s, and on Dylan’s 1978 world tour, on which various of his back-up singers were given solo spots (with Dylan and the band playing behind them), CAROLYN DENNIS sang ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ in Hitler’s old Zeppelinfeld stadium at Nuremberg that July 1 and again at Blackbushe Aerodrome in England two weeks later.

Matching song to venue with his usual quiet shrewdness, Dylan finally performed a respectful* version of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ himself live at the home of early-60s R&B and black aspiration, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC, on March 28, 2004, forty years after the creation of the song for which his own work had been a catalyst.

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine asked 172 prominent music-industry figures, including artists such as JONI MITCHELL, to vote for the all-time 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Sam Cooke’s ‘Change Is Gonna Come’ came in at no.12 - two places higher than ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’.

Dylan, however, was at no.1 with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.

[The Soul Stirrers: ‘Peace In The Valley’, nia, CD-reissued on Sam Cooke: My Gospel Roots, Xtra 26471, UK, 2005. Sam Cooke: One Night Stand: Sam Cooke Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963, NYC, 12-13 Jan 1963, RCA PL85181, Rome, 1985; ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, NYC, 7-8 Jul 1964, Live At The Copacobana, Victor LPM /LSP-2970, NYC, 1964; ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, 30 Jan 1964, RCA 8486, NYC, 1964. Bob Dylan: ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, NYC, 28 Mar 2004, broadcast on NBC TV’s program ‘Apollo at 70: A Hot Night In Harlem’, NY, 19 Jun 2004; Chronicles Volume One, 2004, p.61; interview for WTTW-TV, Chicago, 27 Oct 2001. The Band: ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, Bearsville NY, Mar-Jun 1973, Moondog Matinee, Capitol SW-11214, 1973. Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone poll seen online 7 Aug 2005 at www.rollingstone.com/rs500moretext.]

* I now feel: "respectful" maybe, but "respectable", no: pretty poor.


DANKO FOLLOW-UP: THOSE EARLY DYLAN-HAWKS DATES

I posted as a Comment underneath the RICK DANKO blogging, info from Dave Meinzer on the puzzling subject of Dylan's earliest concerts with the Hawks/Crackers. As a follow-up to that, he has now e-mailed me this:

"Michael... While the bobdylan.com list solves one mystery for you, I still have one of my own. I had often heard that the Dylan/Hawks tour went through my home town, Buffalo, New York. I never knew the date until Olof Bjorner's lists went up. There it said: Kleinhans Music Hall, Nov. 6, 1965. With that info, 10 years ago, I checked the microfilm archives of the two local daily newspapers to see if I could find a contemporary review. I didn't find one. What I found instead was an advertisement [above] that says the show was scheduled for November 20 - a date that both Olof's list and bobdylan.com say they were playing at an 'unknown venue' in Rochester (about 50 miles away from Buffalo). So, alas, even bobdylan.com may not be perfect."

The ad, then, would seem to clinch the Buffalo date as November 20, 1965.

And for anyone who hasn't come across Olof Björner's amazing website, it's at www.bjorner.com.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

RICK DANKO

Tomorrow (December 10) marks the tenth - the tenth! - anniversary of the wonderful Rick Danko's death. Anyone unfamiliar with singer-songwriter Steve Forbett's work (very samey but very good) might find his tribute-song about Rick Danko interesting. It's called 'Wild As The Wind' and it's on the studio album Just Like There's Nothin' To It (2004).

My tribute is this entry from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (2008):


Danko, Rick [1942 - 1999]
Richard Clare Danko was born at Walsh, near tiny Simcoe, Ontario, just south of the Six Nations Reservation (and just east of a small town named Woodstock, as it happens), on December 29, 1942. He grew up in a musical family, quit school at 14 to concentrate on music, joined RONNIE HAWKINS & The Hawks as rhythm guitarist at 17, and then learnt to play bass on the job - eventually developing his very distinctive style, ‘percussive but sliding’. After the group quit Hawkins they went out on the road as LEVON & The Hawks, recorded under the additional name The Canadian Squires, and in 1965 met Bob Dylan.

That September the group rehearsed with Dylan in Woodstock, New York, ready for further live gigs beyond those already played with Levon & ROBBIE (and other, non-Hawk musicians) in the aftermath of ‘going electric’ at Newport that July. The first Dylan concert Danko played was probably October 1 at Carnegie Hall. Four days later the group went into the studio with Dylan for the first time, followed by more live concerts and on November 30 a second studio stint - two days after Helm had quit - from which comes the single ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?’. This session has also now yielded the version of ‘Visions Of Johanna’ released on The Bootleg Series Vol.7, 2005.

Back in the studio in New York at Dylan’s behest on January 21-22, 1966, the Helmless Hawks helped create that quintessential mid-60s Dylan record, ‘She’s Your Lover Now’ (finally issued on the Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 in 1991). On January 25-28, Dylan got Robertson and Danko back into the studio without the others, added them to AL KOOPER on organ, Paul Griffin on piano, BOBBY GREGG on drums and, alongside Danko as a second bassist, BILL LEE. These sessions yielded ‘Sooner Or Later (One Of Us Must Know)’ - and therefore got Danko and Robertson onto Blonde On Blonde (though Danko’s name is missing from the credits). They also yielded the rather inferior version of ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ that was also issued on Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3.

Then came Dylan’s 1966 tour, beginning in Louisville, Kentucky on February 4 and going across the States, into Canada and Hawaii, over to Australia and then Europe, where they began in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 29 and ended at the Royal Albert Hall in London on May 27. Every musician was crucial to the consummate glory of those performances, but Danko’s bass-playing was especially dramatic on the intro to the hurled-out ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ that came at Manchester in response to the shout of ‘Judas!’ from someone in the crowd, with Dylan’s retort of ‘I don’t believe you!’ followed by the explosive challenge of that bass riff coming in, making Dylan’s second sentence - ‘You’re a liar!’ - part of the song itself: part of the opening tumult.

After all that came the calm of Woodstock and West Saugherties, 1967, when The Hawks were working very differently with Bob Dylan, laying down the Basement Tapes and preparing to turn into THE BAND. Here Dylan began to seek out Danko as his vocalist of choice to harmonise with, whereas within The Hawks he had rarely been more than automatically backing vocalist to MANUEL and Helm.

The exceptions amount to little more than these: that Danko takes lead vocal on Robertson’s ‘song sketch’ ‘(I Want To Be) The Rainmaker’, 1965; he shares lead vocals with Helm & Manuel on the 1965 Levon & The Hawks single ‘Go Go Liza Jane’; that he takes lead vocal on the Dylan-free Basement Tapes tracks ‘Caledonia Mission’ and ‘Ferdinand The Imposter’; and that he shares lead vocal with Manuel on another such track, ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’.

At any rate, it’s sometimes been argued that herein lies one of the benefits Dylan derived from working with The Hawks: that harmonising with Danko’s countrified wail freed Dylan up to sing out in a country style himself. Danko was the first person Dylan had sung with while fronting an electric group. And it was Danko to whom Dylan gave his dog Hamlet (allegedly after discovering that Hamlet’s pedigree was suspect).

The Woodstock sessions saw Dylan and Danko in songwriting partnership too: the great ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ is a Dylan-Danko composition (though Danko again misses his credit on the original LP cover of The Band’s Music From Big Pink) and it is Danko who has won the right to be lead vocalist on their début album recording of the song. Again he’s lead singer on ‘Caledonia Mission’ too, and on ‘Long Black Veil’, and shares lead vocals on ‘The Weight’. He also plays violin on ‘Chest Fever’.

On the second album, Danko plays trombone on ‘Across The Great Divide’ and ‘Unfaithful Servant’, violin on ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, and he sings lead on ‘When You Awake’, ‘Look Out Cleveland’ and ‘Unfaithful Servant’; on the third album, Stage Fright, he sings lead on the title song, and shares lead with Manuel on ‘Time To Kill’ and with Helm & Manuel on ‘The Rumor’ and ‘W.S. Walcott Medicine Show’. And he plays violin on ‘Daniel & the Sacred Harp’.

On Cahoots he co-wrote ‘Life Is A Carnival’ with Helm and Robertson. It was his first writing credit since Music From Big Pink. Things were falling apart within the group. On Moondog Matinee he played rhythm guitar on one track but only bass on everything else. His main contribution was his lead vocal on SAM COOKE’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ - a lead vocal that wasn’t credited on the album sleeve and had many people, GREIL MARCUS included, assuming it was by Richard Manuel.

On Islands Danko managed a co-composer credit with Robertson on ‘Street Walker’ and with Robertson and Hudson on the title track, but he wanted out. He, as much as Robertson, wanted to call a halt, and welcomed the grand bow-out that became The Last Waltz.

In a way Danko was the keenest of all to make solo albums, though he looks bereft at the prospect of an uncertain future when, in that film, SCORSESE asks him what his plans are; and in fact after the first solo album, in 1977, fourteen years elapsed before the next. Danko’s solo (and soloish) albums were: Rick Danko (1977), Danko/Fjeld/Andersen (1991), Ridin’ on the Blinds (also an album of shared billing with Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld, 1994), In Concert (a poorly-recorded return to solo billing, and also to the material of classic Band days, 1997) and Live on Breeze Hill (a better offering, with a larger band, 1999). These were followed by the posthumous Times Like These (a far worthier collection than either of its immediate predecessors, 2000), One More Shot (a live Danko/Fjeld/Andersen CD added to a re-release of their first album from ten years earlier, 2001) and the discountable rehash of A Memorial Edition (2002.

Many Band afficionados feel a special affection for that first solo album - not because it sounds like The Band but because it doesn’t. It sounds like Danko in full bloom. Less is more here; his vocal work and his harmonies are tremendous; and the album’s particular treats include his song ‘New Mexicoe’ (co-written with BOBBY CHARLES), which weirdly combines ERIC CLAPTON’s electric guitar with Garth Hudson’s ghostly hillbilly accordion.

So much promise. And yet… Nothing happened to the album at the time, and Danko seemed to disappear in the late 1970s to early ’80s - though in fact he turned up on other artists’ records, including EMMYLOU HARRIS’ Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town and Joe Cocker’s Luxury You Can Afford. In 1983 he retreated back into the re-formed Band - and even then, when those 1990s Band albums finally arrived, it was only on the third and final one, Jubilation, that Danko co-wrote any of the material.

Outside of the group, however, he was not inactive. Encouraged by Levon Helm, Danko took an acting rôle, as the unnamed father of a kidnapped child, in the 1986 film Man Outside (as do Hudson, Helm and Manuel). He played live music with many people, including Paul Butterfield and Jorma Kaukonen, and in 1987 released Rick Danko’s Electric Bass Techniques, an instructional video. In 1990 (again with Helm and Hudson) he made a guest appearance in Roger Waters’ ‘The Wall’ concert in Berlin (and so in the TV film of the concert, The Wall: Live in Berlin, and then in 1991, prompted by the success of a shared low-profile gig in Woodstock and a follow-up tour of Norway, came Danko/Fjeld/Andersen, which won Norway’s equivalent of a grammy, and is widely felt to capture some of Danko’s best work. It was issued in the US in 1993.

By this time Danko and Dylan had combined again. Levon Helm and Rick Danko gigged at the Lone Star Café in New York City in February 1983, and on the 16th, Dylan joined them to sing and play guitar on ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’, ‘Ain’t No More Cane’ and ‘Going Down’. In 1992 Danko was a member of The Band that took part in the so-called 30th Anniversary Concert for Dylan at Madison Square Garden, at which they performed ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ and joined the ensemble for the penultimate song of the evening, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’; on January 17, 1993, he (and Garth and Levon) played with Dylan at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration party, the so-called ‘Absolutely Unofficial Blue Jeans Bash (For Arkansas)’. And then in 1997, Dylan’s long-serving band member Tony Garnier joined The Band to play stand-up bass on three numbers at their March 20 show in Carnegie Hall, and on August 18, 1997, at a Dylan Never-Ending Tour concert in Wallingford, Connecticut, Rick Danko joined Dylan on stage twice over - to sing with him and play guitar on ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ and, a few songs later, on ‘I Shall Be Released’.

Rick Danko died in his sleep at his home in Woodstock on December 10, 1999. Steve Forbert wrote a tribute song for him, ‘Wild As The Wind’, which means well and doesn’t avoid acknowledging the rôle cocaine played in his life and demise. But Danko’s own posthumous album Times Like These is a more substantial tribute to his considerable talents. Everyone who knew him misses the sweet, good-humoured person that it’s agreed he was. Everyone who knew the music of The Band misses his artistry.

[Rick Danko: Rick Danko, Arista AB-4141, US, 1977; In Concert, Foxborough MA, 22 Feb & Clinton, NJ, 6 Mar, 1997, Woodstock Records, US, 1997; Live On Breeze Hill, Breeze Hill/Woodstock, US, 1999; Times Like These, Breeze Hill, US 2000 (different version issued CoraZong / Nordic 255034, 2003). Danko/Fjeld/Andersen: Danko /Fjeld/ Andersen, nia, Norway, 1991 & Rykodisc, US, 1993; Ridin’ On The Blinds: Grappa GRCD 4080, Norway, 1994 (Rykodisc 10371, US, 1997). Man Outside, dir. & written Mark Stouffer, US, 1986. Steve Forbert: ‘Wild As The Wind’, Neptune NJ, nia, Just Like There’s Nothin’ To It, Koch KOC-CD-9534, NY, 2004. For a full Danko discography see http://theband.hiof.no/albums/danko_index.html.]

PS. Someone contacted me, after publication, to offer a correction, saying, I think, that it's well-documented now that the first Dylan-Hawks concert was somewhere in either Texas or Chicago. Monstrously, I lost this message (even though I believe it was sent to me twice) before I'd made a note of the details. But according to Olof Bjorner's highly detailed chronicle of Dylan's professional life more or less day-by-day from 1960 onwards, the first concert with the Hawks / Crackers, was Carnegie Hall NYC on October 1, 1965. Chicago was November 25... Apologies to that patient person, and if he or she has better info, I'd be obliged to be sent it one more time. Thank you.

LITTLE DRUMMER BOY VIDEO . . .

. . . can be seen and heard here. It's an animated video conceived, hand-painted and directed by artist and filmmaker Jeff Scher.

Helpfully, John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service e-newsletter this morning quotes Wikipedia on Scher’s technique – “Scher’s abstract films are all approximately two and a half minutes long. He feels that this amount of time is more than enough to allow the viewer to become engaged. Although digital tools are cheaper and faster for creating film, Scher prefers vintage machinery and technologies to create his image-rich films to effectively affect the senses. He uses the rotoscopic technique which involves projecting film frames on to paper and then tracing them by hand. After this, the paper images are animated by separately shooting each sheet as a single frame.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"CHRISTMAS" HAS ARRIVED

Christmas In The Heart arrived in our house last night. The question is, when to play it. I don't feel very festive yet; nor, in theory, do I feel like revisiting the late 1940s-1950s. I grew up in them, and didn't much like it. Ronnie Hilton, Lita Roza, Mel Tormé, the Mitch Miller Orchestra, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gormé, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Ann Shelton, Percy Faith, the Ray Charles [not that one] Singers... no thanks. A serious no thanks. I thought we'd said goodbye to all that.

Rock'n'roll rescued me from all of it, and after rock'n'roll descended into pop, Bob Dylan rescued me from that. I don't feel like time-travelling so regressively.

And yet - so many people who expected not to like Christmas In The Heart (and didn't like Modern Times or most of this decade's concerts) have turned out to like it, so I'm facing the prospect of hearing it with a skittery and nervous open-mindedness.

I'd like to ask, though: is there anyone out there who has had an opposite experience with Christmas In The Heart? Having expected to like it, found that they haven't? I ask disinterestedly, not uninterestedly.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

MUST BE WHO?





Bob, as my venerable correspondent McHenry Boatride points out that I should make clear, has indeed acknowledged in the Bill Flanagan interview (very recently published in Big Issue etc.) that he owes his arrangement of 'Must Be Santa' to this contemporary Texan group.

60th ANNIVERSARY OF LEADBELLY'S DEATH

Leadbelly died 60 years ago today. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, but if this were being written now it would add that there is a recent Leadbelly biography, published in the States, co-compiled by John Reynolds - the man who rescued the classic shot of Blind Willie McTell from a pile of trash back at the beginning of the 1960s, and without whom we simply would not have that crucial photograph of Willie in his prime. Lead Belly: A Life in Pictures by Tiny Robinson and John Reynolds, was first published in Germany in 2007 and in April 2008 in the UK. (You'll find it in the "Recommended" section of the left-hand column of this blog.) But here's the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia entry:

Leadbelly [1888 - 1949]
Huddie Ledbetter was born at Mooringsport, near Shiloh, Louisiana on January 21, 1888 and learnt to play accordion, piano, harmonica and then guitar. By the age of 15 he was a father of two with a police record after his involvement in a shooting, and was singing in the red-light district of Shreveport. Moving to Dallas, Texas he met and learnt songs from BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON and moved onto the 12-string guitar, of which he became an almost incomparable master (perhaps only equalled by BLIND WILLIE McTELL) with a distinctively strong rhythmic style.

He spent nearly as much time in prison as busking on the streets, and when the folklorist John A. Lomax and his then-teenage son ALAN LOMAX encountered him in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola in July 1933, he already had two pardons behind him (he had killed a man in Texas in 1917) and was now serving what was supposed to be another 30-sentence, but after proving an incomparable source of black folksong and 19th century repertoire on the field recordings he made for the Lomaxes for the Library of Congress, they obtained his pardon once again and this time set him to work as their chauffeur and recording assistant. After this, he travelled with them on many field trips but was also presented as a performer to folksong societies and in progressive East Coast establishment society, becoming in the 1940s part of a circle of left-wing folk enthusiasts and musicians (as you can tell by the very title ‘The Bourgeois Blues’) that included WOODY GUTHRIE, SONNY TERRY & BROWNIE McGHEE, Alan Lomax and PETE SEEGER. In Tony Russell’s words, ‘Leadbelly the performer and the Leadbelly songbook are twin peaks on the map of American music. His enormous repertoire has no parallel in black folksong. He sang everything, ballads and blues-ballads, dance songs and children’s rhymes, memories of minstrelsy and freshly made songs about his own rapidly changing circumstances. To his white audiences he seemed a mythic figure, a lone carrier of all-but-lost messages from black worlds of field and prison farm.’

As this implies, little of his repertoire was really the blues, though ‘Good Morning Blues’ and ‘The Bourgeois Blues’ are prized items. In the mid-1940s he tried to ‘make it’ in Hollywood but was unsuccessful and returned to live in New York by 1947, making his one foreign trip in 1949 - to Paris - before dying in New York City that December 6, of a form of motor neurone disease termed Lou Gehrig’s disease. No sooner was he dead than Pete Seeger’s goody-goody group the Weavers had a no.1 hit single with a revoltingly twee version of a song he’d refashioned from a 19th century minstrel number, ‘Goodnight Irene’. (The other Weavers were Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays and Fred Hellerman; Lee Hays is the one who looked, back then, exactly like the 2005 British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.) By the end of the 1950s we were all familiar with Leadbelly songs: the UK’s father of skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, signalled his 1956 shift from ‘jazz’ to ‘rock’n’roll’ with a hit version of ‘Rock Island Line’, while between them, skiffle and the Folk Revival ensured the continued circulation of ‘Boll Weevil’ (of which Leadbelly’s own recording is soaringly the best), ‘Midnight Special’, ‘Pick a Bale O’ Cotton’, ‘Bring Me A Li’l Water Silvy’, ‘Take A Whiff On Me’ (as ‘Have A Drink On Me’ by Mr. Donegan) and ‘Cotton Fields’.

‘Midnight Special’ was the song on which Dylan had played harmonica behind HARRY BELAFONTE in February 1962, shortly ahead of the release of his own début album; but there is a longer connecting thread between Leadbelly and Dylan’s work than that, and beyond the fact of Leadbelly’s repertoire having both informed the understanding of, and permeated so thoroughly into, the common currency of the Folk Revival - such that, for instance, Dylan was performing ‘Ain’t No More Cane On The Brazos (Go Down Old Hannah)’ at the Gaslight Café in October 1962; that when Dylan recorded a version of ‘Milk Cow Blues’ in 1962, he used part of Kokomo Arnold’s lyric, part of ELVIS PRESLEY’s, part of ROBERT JOHNSON’s ‘Milkcow’s Calf Blues’ and part of Leadbelly’s ‘Good Morning Blues’; and that he and HAPPY TRAUM were performing ‘Keep Your Hands Off Her’ in February 1963.

First, it was a set of Leadbelly 78rpm records, given to Dylan as a gift before he left Hibbing, that proved his first revelatory direct initiation into the pre-war black repertoire. He might well have proved the first person Dylan heard who ‘talked his way into a song’, in ROBERT SHELTON’s phrase, as he did duly did himself on his first album.

The Leadbelly favourite ‘Pig Meat Mama’ offers a vivacious demonstration of something we’re likely to think still more Dylanesque. That is, given an ostentatious rhyme, he delivers it with a sly knowingness which, far from downplaying it, milks its comic extravagance to the full, by throwing in a pause just long enough to draw attention to itself immediately ahead of the clamorous rhyme. In this song from 1935, Leadbelly gives us ‘...Louisiana / ...Texacana / ...a girl named [pause] Silvana!’ This is a way of writing and delivering lines that we know well from many Dylan recordings, such as the ‘Angelina’ rhymes in the 1981 song of that name, the risky comedy of ‘subpoena’ being the one that pushes this furthest. It’s the same glee that tops ‘the castle honey’ with ‘El [pause] Paso honey’ in the superb 1966 outtake ‘She’s Your Lover Now’. (Actually, Silvana might not have struck Leadbelly as an especially attention-grabbing name: he had an adopted sister called Australia.)

Leadbelly’s breadth of repertoire is used by Dylan in a quite different way, too. In a speech onstage at the Fox-Warfield Theatre in San Francisco in 1980, Dylan tells the audience this, about Leadbelly switching from prison songs to children’s songs - offering it as a parable about his own switch from secular to Christian songs: ‘He made lots of records there [in New York]. At first he was just doing prison songs, and stuff like that.... He’d been out of prison for some time when he decided to do children’s songs. And people said “Oh my! Did Leadbelly change?”.... But he didn’t change. He was the same man.’

[Leadbelly: ‘Good Morning Blues’, NY 15 Jun 1940 or summer 1943; ‘The Bourgeois Blues’, NY 1 Apr 1939; ‘Irene’, Angola LA, 16-20 Jul 1933 & 1 Jul 1934, & Wilton CT, 20 Jan 1935; ‘Rock Island Line’, Washington D.C., 22 Jun 1937, NY, Jan 1942 & (with the Golden Gate Quartet) NY, 15 Jun 1940; ‘Boll Weevil’, Shreveport LA, prob. Oct 1934, Wilton CT, Feb 1935 & NY, 19 Jun 1940; ‘The Boll Weevil’, NY 1 Apr 1939; ‘Midnight Special’, Angola LA, 1 Jul 1934, Wilton CT, Feb 1935 & (w Golden Gate Quartet) NY, 15 Jun 1940; ‘Pick A Bale A’Cotton’, NY 25 Jan 1935; ‘Pick A Bale O’ Cotton’, Wilton CT, Mar 1935; ‘Pick A Bale Of Cotton’ (w Golden Gate Quartet), NY, 15 Jun 1940; ‘Bring Me A Li’l Water Silvy’, Wilton, Mar 1935; ‘Bring Me Lil Water Silvy’, NY, late 1943; ‘Honey Take A Whiff On Me’, Angola 16-20 Jul 1933; ‘Take A Whiff On Me’, Angola, prob. 1 Jul 1934 & Wilton, 1 Feb 1935; ‘Baby Take A Whiff On Me’, NY, 25 Jan 1935; ‘Go Down, Old Hannah’, Wilton, Mar 1935; ‘Ain’t Goin’ Down To The Well No Mo’/‘Go Down Old Hannah’, NY 1 Apr 1939; ‘Pig Meat Mama’, NY, 25 Mar 35; Negro Folk Songs For Young People”, Folkways FC 7533, NY, c.1962; a good general selection of his work is CD-reissued Leadbelly: King Of The Twelve-String Guitar, Columbia Roots N’ Blues Series 467893 4, NY, 1991.

Dylan on Leadbelly & children’s songs, San Francisco, 12 Nov 1980, quoted from ‘Bob Dylan’s Leadbelly Parable’, in Michael Gray & John Bauldie, eds., All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, London: W.H. Allen, 1987. Tony Russell, ‘Leadbelly’, From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray, London: Aurum Press, 1997, p.38. Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, London: Penguine edn, 1987, p.119.]

Saturday, December 05, 2009

TO GO BACK TO PETER DOGGETT'S REVIEW...

...I strongly recommend the most recent comment it has elicited - comment no. 11 underneath that post. I don't know who wrote it (he's identified only as "Mick") but it's a lovely piece in itself. Update: this post & its comments are now shifted over into the Archives (for November; the post is called POSITIVELY 2009, PART 1).

There's also a decent comment newly arrived in response to my September posting of the clip of Dylan '66 performing 'Like A Rolling Stone', contributed by "gdash", who gives heartening info about the responses of young people to seeing this footage for the first time now. You'll find this one in the Archives for September 2009.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I LOVE THIS PAUL MULDOON QUOTE:

Starting to catch up with the issues of London Review of Books that come through the door every fortnight, I reach that for September 10 and in a letter from an Anthony Paul in Amsterdam I find this terrific thought from the poet Paul Muldoon, from his Author's Note to his Poems 1968-98, pursuing the logic of feeling that there is a mystery, or visitation, or transcendence, at the heart of poetic creation:

"I have made scarcely any changes in the texts of the poems, since I'm fairly certain that, after a shortish time, the person through whom a poem was written is no more entitled to make revisions than any other reader."

I love that. Of course when it comes to poets who did feel free to revise their texts substantially, the first people who spring to mind are Wordsworth and Whitman; but when Muldoon calls himself "the person through whom" the poems were written, I think too of early Bob Dylan, saying as he did that he felt the early songs seemed to exist in the air and that he was just the person who wrote them down.

All this relates to a similar thing I've always believed about art: that since the artist can only know about the work done by the conscious part of his or her mind, and not about the undoubted contribution of the unconscious, the artist is no more an authority on the work than the rest of us, provided that we're interested, receptive and attentive. This is why had I been writing a biography of Dylan, an interview might have been helpful but writing a book about Dylan's work meant that I felt no need to try to interview him. People have often expressed surprise when I've explained this; Paul Muldoon would not have been surprised.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

OCCASIONAL PHOTOS No. 82

Bob in Bournemouth UK, 2006
They're on stage but looking as if sheltering under umbrellas

POSITIVELY PART 3

Yesterday it emerged that Sam Usher and the rest of the yacht crew had been in custody for a week; but this morning the British Foreign Office has confirmed that they have been released by the Iranian government.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SAM USHER

Sarah and I know one of the five sailors captured by the Iranian government. Sam Usher, who is 26, is one of the sons of a very dear long-term friend of ours. He's one of the most likeable, sunny and capable people you could meet, and has already had much to cope with in recent years. Our phoneline isn't working so we can't ring them, but our thoughts are with the family: not least his partner and very young son.