My Photo

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

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I found this on YouTube today, not long after putting up the previous post. I thought it was wondrous (and the song itself is one I loved when Ray Charles released it 50 years ago)  -  and I couldn't help but experience it as a strong riposte to the argument that it's OK to sing the songs badly as long as you're hamming up a song & dance man routine. But don't hold it against Richard Manuel that this is how I'm feeling:


Anonymous Rainer said...

A wonderful version, indeed! But don't hold it against Bob ... he is definitely not only hammering up a routine.

Best wishes

10:30 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

That is a great version of a great song, and I love it. But, in the context you put it in, does it tell us anything new? Not really; it's just a great performance. I think this is the difference with Bob. He doesn't want to give us a more perfect version of the 1960s version of Like a Rolling Stone every night; he wants to try something new, gives us another perspective. So it doesn't work every time - so what?

If you want the predictable version, buy the CD; buy a few CDs with different versions. You'll get to know each one intimately, sing along with every nuance if you like. But think just for one moment what it's like for Bob. Do you think he wants to just sing the same old thing every night? Why would he bother?

So he experiments, he has fun, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. If we don't like it, no-one forces us to go to the concerts, no-one makes us buy the CDs. If we want we can just sit around, a bunch of old has-beens, shaking our heads and saying "Things were better in the old days. Things have changed. Doncha just hate these modern times.".

Your old road is rapidly aging. And the present now will later be past.

9:16 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

"But think just for one moment what it's like for Bob. Do you think he wants to just sing the same old thing every night?"

Well then why does he? Just as no-one forces us to go to the concerts or buy the CDs, so too no-one forces Bob Dylan to give 100 concerts a year. And then within those concerts, no-one forces him to perform Like A Rolling Stone every night, or to do Watchtower 5000 times, or to keep going back over the same small cluster of songs. He could "try something new": there are many, many, many truly fine songs on his albums that he has never performed live. There are many others that have been played only once or twice. There is also a world of other people's songs out there. He's often chosen from that world, but he hasn't exactly exhausted it. To say that yet another 20 consecutive renditions of Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat, Highway 61, Watchtower and Like A Rolling Stone is Bob wanting to try something new is absurd.

"If we want we can just sit around, a bunch of old has-beens, shaking our heads and saying 'Things were better in the old days. Things have changed. Doncha just hate these modern times.'"

How can you extrapolate that from my praising a live 1983 performance from Richard Manuel and contrasting it with Dylan's current standard of performance? That too is absurd - completely inapplicable. You know quite well that I've appreciated the great majority of the changes Dylan has made across the decades, and the driving force behind them: his desire to experiment. So don't equate a disappointment with the current phase of Dylan's work - or even a tendency to recognise an overall pattern of decline - with old-fart ossification. It's nothing of the sort.

"Your old road is rapidly aging. And the present now will later be past." Yes. In the long run we'll all be dead and won't care any more. But for now we're not dead. And some of us are alive to the difference between "change" and "deterioration". And no, I don't hate these modern times. (As you know, I even admire christmas in the heart.) But I'm a critic, and I don't intend to succumb to the fatuous wishes of a mob that howls and shouts abuse whenever the brilliance of current Bob Dylan is questioned. And needless to say, I don't count you as being in that mob. Your comments about has-beens hating contemporary life are a bit of an echo of it all the same.

2:25 pm  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

As far as responding to Dylan's ever-changing persona, some became old farts - at an early age - with the release of Bringing it All Back Home, some with Self Portrait, some (and here I nearly succumbed) with Saved, and so on, and so on. Just because we weren't old farts in the past doesn't mean that we aren't now sinking into that easy state of mind.

It seems to me that you are complaining because Bob doesn't do the same old thing year after year. I'm not extrapolating from your comments on a fine - if a little uninventive - performance. I'm looking at the totality of your comments on your blog over the last few years, although you're the one who linked that performance and Dylan's current performances.

Why he bothers is Bob's business, not ours. As I said, if we don't like it we don't have to indulge him. But he's the artist; he's got the right to do what he wants; he doesn't owe us anything. We don't own Bob Dylan.

To be honest, Michael, I begin to wonder why you bother still; as others have said, you seem to display an increasing tendency to dislike whatever he does nowadays, so why continue to waste your talents on him? Perhaps it's time that you went your way and let him go his.

I don't care whether some see me as deluded because I still appreciate the infinite variety that is, and has always been, Bob Dylan. I still enjoy the music, old and new and I still look forward to each new CD. OK, so he's growing old, and a little weary, but so am I. He finds it difficult hitting the notes nowadays; I'm beginning to find it difficult to stride up the South Downs with quite such gusto. He's a familiar old friend and I'm prepared to forgive his idiosyncrasies. That's what makes him interesting.

6:31 pm  
Anonymous Rainer said...

but isn't that like saying no critic has the right to critizice any artist. And wouldn't that be like stating no one has the right to put any aesthetical criteria on any piece of art? Which reduces our reception simply to 'like' and 'don't like' and also stop any discussion.

8:04 pm  
Anonymous likeatrain said...


You write 'It seems to me that you are complaining because Bob doesn't do the same old thing year after year.'

It seems to me to be quite the opposite. Precisely what Michael takes issue with in his post is the repetitious nature of the current shows: Bob 'perform[s] Like A Rolling Stone every night, or [plays] Watchtower 5000 times, or [keeps] going back over the same small cluster of songs.'

And while many would no doubt respond with 'ah yes, but he plays them a little bit differently every time,' the difference between performances of individual songs - and the difference, musically, from show to show - is, I think, more insignificant now than it's ever been. Each 'Tangled up in Blue' sounds like the one that preceded it; it's hard to tell one 'Ballad of a Thin Man' from the next. And part of the reason for this is the enormous vocal limitations Bob is now contending with, which make it physically much more difficult for him to achieve any significant variation. It's no wonder he settles into reliable mannerisms for certain songs - indeed for certain lines and phrases.

The organ playing, when it works, CAN change the feel of a song, shifting melodic and rhythmic accents very effectively at times. But the vocal approach is so relentlessly samey that the overall impression remains 'nothing new here.'

The predictability of the current shows (both in terms of song selection and vocal delivery) is one of the most disheartening aspects of the decline of the NET.

8:41 pm  
Blogger Brent White said...


I almost responded to the previous post, but the same issue came up again, so I may as well put in my two cents. I suspect Dylan would sing his songs better if he still had a voice. But his voice is nearly completely shot. Right? Isn't that the real problem? Too many cigarettes. Too much constant touring.

I saw him ham it up a little at the Grammys earlier this year. He looked like he was having fun and it was energetic, but... I thought, "If he had a voice, that would have been enjoyable." He has a chance on record, in the quiet of the studio, of putting his voice across, but not in concert. My point is, he could sing his heart out, and we wouldn't even know. We couldn't hear him if he tried.

1:23 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

This isn't meant as a full response (as I said in an "Expectations" comment last night, I'm away for a few days, including away from this blog) but it is a response to McHenry's suggestion that perhaps I'm a bit past it as regards dealing with Bob Dylan matters. It's his opinion, of course, but I refute it. This year I wrote the most widely-praised of the very many essays to be published about "Dylan at 70" - and in fact the only one republished on - before which, at the request of Dylan's office, I wrote the sleevenotes for the Brandeis 1963 concert Sony-Legacy release. So I'm not ready to be put out to grass just yet.

9:31 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home