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Sunday, October 30, 2011

OH NO, NOT THAT . . .

I've just learnt that the song Bono sang at Steve Jobs’ funeral was 'Every Grain of Sand'. How perfectly gruesome. The only one I'd have let him go near would've been 'To Make You Feel My Lurve'.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

LAST NIGHT IN MUNICH

Another fine,pin-sharp photo by Paolo Brillo

 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BELATED BOB BIRTHDAY BASH

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SO MUCH OLDER THEN

Screenshot by Karl-Heinz Meurer snatched from a video on YouTube from Dylan's concert in Nottingham. It captures one of those fleeting moments when the face suddenly revisits a much younger Bob look. This one reminds me of 1968, around the time of the Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

JOHN BAULDIE

photograph by M Walker


Today is the 15th anniversary of the untimely death of John Bauldie. He was only 47. Here is his entry from The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Bauldie, John [1949 - 1996]
John Stewart Bauldie was born on August 23, 1949. He is best known as the founder and editor of The Telegraph, the finest Dylan fanzine there’s ever been, and one of the earliest and longest running. It was the best because of the vision of what it could be, which Bauldie kept in his head, and constantly extended, and conjured into reality, starting from a stapled booklet of typed print on cheap paper, all black and white, totalling 20 small pages, in November 1981, and becoming a professional-looking, authoritative but quirky, properly-bound quarterly in full colour.

Early on, though, The Telegraph became more than a publication: it became an essential part of the Dylan follower’s world. This happened before the internet and the mobile phone   -  indeed in a world that had only recently acquired the fax machine. Dylan’s 1978 European tour, his first for twelve years, was a great stimulus to a renewed need for afficionados to build means of contact and cameraderie. And then a first Bob Dylan Convention took place, in Manchester (conveniently close to Bauldie’s home), in 1979.

John Bauldie’s immense contribution began in the wake of these events, though he had been listening to Dylan since 1964 and had started collecting taped rarities from late 1969, stimulated by an article by Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone that opened John’s eyes to the existence of such things. He wrote to Marcus, who sent him a tape of Dylan’s 1966 Liverpool concert to start him off collecting. He was aided by ‘two good friends, Rob Griffith and Michael Krogsgaard’ and encouraged by coming across the first American fanzine, Talkin’ Bob Zimmerman Blues, run by Bryan Styble. That folded in 1979, just when that first Dylan convention was happening. As John put it: ‘Here were 600 people whose interest had brought them from all over the world: here were writers and critics who didn’t have a forum; here were fans who were not kept informed by an increasingly negligent music press.’

Bauldie’s founding idea was thus to create a distribution network to circulate news and exchange information, and to sneak a quality Dylan journal into existence on the back of it.

This outfit became Wanted Man, The Bob Dylan Information Service, involving a number of fans in North-West England, and it was this outfit that published The Telegraph, offered a telephone hotline and distributed Ian Woodward’s incessant logging of Dylan news and rumour, The Wicked Messenger. In the early years, Clinton Heylin was its news editor.

For a while, too, there was a Dylan mail-order bookselling unit, the Wanted Man Bookshelf, but this was eventually replaced by a similar but separate enterprise, My Back Pages, run by Dave Heath & Dave Dingle. For some time the latter also took over editorial control of an annual summer issue of The Telegraph while John Bauldie holidayed in Greece; these issues always emphasised how crucial Bauldie himself was to its character. His achievement as editor was multi-skilled but at its core was an ability to keep the whole thing sharp and sane - sane in spite of the necessary fananticism.

He was not, himself, interested solely in Bob Dylan. He was also keen on Phil Ochs, David Blue, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Roger McGuinn and a number of other singer-songwriters, and was himself an amateur guitarist and songwriter. He was also a football devotee with a lifelong loyalty to the romantically-named Bolton Wanderers. A well-educated man, he had been a lecturer in English Literature at a higher-education college in the north of England.

John Bauldie’s own writing, as well as his editing, was a vital part of his Dylan enterprise and in the magazine’s quest for an ever-improving quality of contribution, he led by example, with work that was witty and generous-minded yet rigorous and brightly acute, whether it was essays about Dylan’s work, investigations into events like the 1966 motorcycle crash or pieces that fused the two, as for instance with a scrutiny of the Desire album collaboration between Dylan and Jacques Levy.

Around the time of the filming of the Hearts of Fire movie, John and the magazine moved to London and he took a job working on the editorial side of Q magazine, becoming its Hi-Fi Editor before leaving, shortly before his death, to move across to another national glossy magazine, House and Garden.

By this point, he was also the author and editor of a number of Dylan books and booklets, the first of which had been booklet no. 2 in his own Wanted Man Study Series, an essay on Bob Dylan and Desire. In 1987 he co-edited with [me] the first best-of selection from the magazine, All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, and later came the second volume, edited by Bauldie alone, Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan. In 1991, with veteran British music journalist Patrick Humphries he produced the postmodernly titled Oh No! Not Another Bob Dylan Book, re-titled Absolutely Dylan: An Illustrated Biography for the US market. A worthier work, though disappointing in its design and print quality, was the fascinating and important self-published limited-edition hardback The Ghost of Electricity, 1988, about the Dylan of the 1966 tour (republished in smaller-format paperback in 1993). There was also a collection of John’s on-the-road pieces into the small-print-run 90-page book Diary of a Bobcat, 1995.

Finally, however, Bauldie became the first Dylan writer honored with recognition by Dylan’s own office when he was asked to produce  -  and under near-impossible conditions   -  a booklet of liner-notes for the first of the official Bootleg Series of Dylan record releases, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3: resulting in the work of his that will have been by far the most widely read, and which almost won him a Grammy. It can still be accessed on the Dylan website, www.bobdylan.com.

John Bauldie was killed with four others in a helicopter crash late on the evening of October 22, 1996, while traveling back to London from a football match in which his beloved Bolton Wanderers had just beaten Chelsea, whose Vice-Chairman had chartered the helicopter that killed them. An inquest returned a verdict of accidental death on February 25, 1998 - by which time the UK civil aviation authorities had already put in place extra safety rules for helicopter flights, prompted by this crash. John Bauldie was 47. The ownership of his literary estate is still in doubt.

[John Bauldie: Bob Dylan and Desire, Wanted Man Study Series no.2, Bury UK, 1983; The Ghost of Electricity, Romford UK, self-published 1988; Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan, London, Black Spring Press, 1990; liner-notes, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3, Columbia Legacy, New York, 1991; Diary of a Bobcat, Romford, Wanted Man, 1995. Co-editor with Michael Gray: All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, London, W.H.Allen, 1987; and co-author with Patrick Humphries: Oh No! Not Another Bob Dylan Book (UK: Square One Books, 1991), aka Absolutely Dylan: An Illustrated Biography (New York; Viking Studio Books, 1991). Editor of The Telegraph, first from Bury and then Romford UK, 1981-1996. The quotes from John Bauldie above are taken from his article ‘Introduction: All Across The What?’, intended for inclusion in All Across The Telegraph, ibid, but unused. A contents-list of each issue of The Telegraph is still online at www.expectingrain.com/dok/div/telegraph/pasttishes.html, though its hyperlinks no longer work.] 

The only essential update is that administration of John's literary estate has now been sorted out and is in the hands of Margaret Garner (babegarner@aol.com).

Friday, October 21, 2011

IF IT'S TUESDAY IT MUST BE MASTERS OF WAR?!

Harold Lepidus blogged about Dylan's changing setlists the other day on his Bob Dylan Examiner site  -  and in the midst of his rumination he wrote this:

Dylan rarely plays the same set twice. In fact, when he does, that is considered news. Last year, people commented that when Dylan played "Masters Of War" at certain locations, interpreting the selection as some sort of political statement. Sean Curnyn (a.k.a. "Right Wing Bob"), however, noted that the song was routinely played every Tuesday.

I think that's very funny. Not least because it may be true.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A GREAT SINGER-SONGWRITER

photographer unknown: apologies to him or her

I've mentioned Mary Gauthier before on this blog (I think) but until last week I'd never seen her perform live, though I have almost all her albums and one of them  -  Between Daylight and Dark, 2007  -  is a toweringly fine body of work, almost without blemish. It opens with the tour de force of 'Snakebit', the first verse of which includes this vivid imaginative couplet setting a scene of despair and fear suffered in darkness: "Even shadows fear to wander / They gather round me in the candlelight." Then comes 'Can't Find The Way', a brave and effective song in which the detail makes clear that its inspiration is the arrival and immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Mary Gauthier is from Louisiana) but which has a chorus that widens out into a far more general expression of contemporary displacement, ending with "We wanna go home / We can't find the way."

The whole album is alive with empathetic observations, small and large, and you're hearing throughout what's incontestably an authentic and distinctive artist's voice  -  voice in both senses.

Her lyrics are carefully wrought and affecting and she always sounds as if she means it. Her songs offer Wordsworth's "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" originating from emotion recollected not quite in tranquillity  -  I don't think she has arrived at tranquillity yet  -  but in responsive alertness to the need to balance urgency with artistic detachment.

What she achieves, as a result, and delivered with such gritty and compassionate vocals, is a truly rare clarity of observation. It's there, for example, on 'Before You Leave', where she sings that "there's something you should know... The darkness that shadowed you was mine / It was never yours at all /And the light behind your eyes that used to shine / Gets brighter as you walk away." I don't know when I last heard such arresting candour in anybody's lyrics. Candour, that is, not as raw, self-indulgent emotional splurge or disguised braggadocio but as piercing self-criticism expressed out of love of another.

All her best work  -  and that is most of it  -  is on that level. It oozes integrity.

Last Thursday Sarah and I went to see her only French concert of the year, at a tiny town in a gorge in the north-east of the Midi-Pyrenees  -  and she was great. She has played the Royal Festival Hall as support act to Richard Thompson, and she has played many large venues in her own right, across America and beyond, but in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val there were only 28 people in the audience, including us.

Undaunted, she (and her excellent 5-string-fiddle player and harmony vocalist Tania Elizabeth, who used to be in the Duhks  -  and who gave brilliant support) played a full two-hour set. She was strong on acoustic guitar, added an occasional bit of harmonica, and never faltered through a sweep of songs which, perhaps surprisingly, included very little from her latest album, The Foundling, but plenty from across the rest of her self-penned repertoire, from the first real song she says she ever wrote, 'Goddamned HIV', through her best-known number 'I Drink' (the one Bob Dylan played on Theme Time Radio Hour) to the title song from her 2005 album Mercy Now. She was generous, modest, purposive and full of presence without resorting to any showbiz tricks. It was well worth that 100 mile journey to get there, and the thrill of her concert transformed the 100 mile journey to get back home.

PS. There's an interesting profile on, and interview with, Mary Gauthier by Steve Boisson, for Acoustic Guitar magazine, here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

OCCASIONAL PICTURES WITH VAGUE BOB LINKS NO.2


Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the record-player/phonograph, who died this day in 1931, in West Orange New Jersey aged 84.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

OCCASIONAL PICTURES NO. 193

Bob Dylan, Glasgow, October 9, 2011
photo © Paolo Brillo; used with permission



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OCCASIONAL PICTURES WITH VAGUE BOB LINKS NO. 1


Mark Twain, 1907

Thursday, October 06, 2011

SWEDEN SAYS "NEJ", & ONE MORE FORAY INTO ASIA . . .

So Bob Dylan has not won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. And doesn't need it.

John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service e-newsletter recently asked Paul Wood, an art lecturer and owner of several of the Drawn Blank prints, for his thoughts about Dylan's Asia Series paintings and the "plagiarism" question. These were circulated in the e-newsletter yesterday  -  and I found them so interesting, and inclusive of so much, that I asked his permission to reprint them. He has agreed  -  for which I thank him  -  but he has asked that I make it clear that "it is a relatively informal reflection, not originally intended for 'broadcast' so to speak, more a contribution to an open and on-going debate than a fully resolved 'position-piece'."

Here's what he wrote:

You asked me for my thoughts on the 'plagiarism' issue that has come up again over the Asia Series paintings.

My first thought, when I first stumbled across the issue last week was ‘Here we go again’. And the responses I have seen so far tend to reproduce the existing ‘debate’, such as it is, oscillating between a kind of mixed guilt and anger at having enjoyed the work of a plagiarist, and a naïve shrugging it all off, usually validated by a convenient aside from TS Eliot.

I have tried to think about it a bit more, but it doesn’t really get any clearer. I have to say I am puzzled.

I don't think it is an issue that can be ignored. At the same time I don't think it's a question of outdated outrage about 'originality', 'authenticity' and so forth. It is strange how the question seems so blatant and simple, yet is actually so complicated. Where I’ve got to thus far is this:

I think there are different levels to Bob's 'untruths' for want of a better way of putting it.

Level One, so to speak. There are the early 'fantasies' - working on fairgrounds etc. I don't think these are anything other than evidence of an extremely active imagination. Probably crucial to him being able to break through the boundaries and do what he did. Being unable to distinguish between fact and fancy may have a clinical dimension in the normal course of events, but in the case of an artist, a vigorous imagination can be positively beneficial. Other aspects of the juvenilia are slightly different but, I feel, of equally little consequence. For example the 'Drunkards Son' etc manuscripts. I used to copy out Robert Johnson songs when I was fifteen. It's not unusual, and if someone had a band they might easily sing such things and claim they were theirs. It's only later fame that has put these under the spotlight and made them seem symptomatic. (Stealing LP’s. Let he who casts the first stone…)

Level Two. Then there is the incorporation of quotations from other authors into songs. Again, I don't think this is really an issue. It has become pronounced in the later work, and to that degree, unusual. But the quotations are made over into something new. I never understood why the lawyers that must surround every move of  ‘B.D. Inc’ didn't just list the sources on the albums and have done. That would have been perfectly ok, even open to being regarded as cutting edge, in a climate of 'postmodernism'. I think this applies equally to lines from old songs and also to prose, such as the Yakusa biography, which is made over into song.

Level Three. The radio shows have also had their doubters. But once again, I think Bob made these over into something of his own, whoever did the spadework. This is not a problem for me; and anyway, the whole edifice is set up as blurring of the bounds of fantasy and reality in the first place.

Level Four. The unacknowledged use of others’ prose in the autobiography seems to cross a line. I'm not quite sure where the line is, but there's a difference. I have heard it claimed that the book was "pretty well all stolen"? I didn't think it was so extensive. But even so, just taking another author's prose and passing it off as your own, unacknowledged and without transformation, seems to open onto another terrain. It is certainly the stuff of censure in academic contexts. Moreover it has to be deliberate; there’s no room for ‘might not have remembered’, ‘the box wrote that one’ etc. At the very least it is culpably slack. What also begins to obtrude here is the economic question – making money out of other peoples’ work (which also applied, of course, to a point from the previous ‘Level Two’ in the case of copyrighting ‘Jim Jones’. And subsequently settling.)

So up to now, it is only the prose borrowings in Chronicles that have seemed really problematic to me.

Now Level Five: the visual art. This seems to open onto a different, and possibly more complex range of issues. The original Drawn Blank sketches do not represent a problem. They are just amateur sketches of a kind any number of us do. The post-Chemnitz prints however, move the goalposts. They are mechanically blown up from the original book, the actual drawings having been lost, and then coloured in. At one level, this is more ‘postmodernism’.  As long ago as Warhol's work of the sixties it was actually interesting, questioning as it did receive notions of authorship, originality, etc etc. But in the case of the Drawn Blank ‘limited edition’ prints the process is overlaid with a rhetoric of originality, autographic creativity etc, which opens up a gap between the myth on the basis of which they are sold, for money, and the technological reality. It's a murky area of the art market (not dissimilar to Salvador Dali prints). In one sense, it is nakedly economic, at least as much to do with the signature and their resale value than any worth they possess in their own right. Or, if you do that moving of the goalposts again, you might see them as curios of the world we live in, indexical traces of Bob’s passage one step removed (Question: what’s the difference between a signed Bob Dylan print and an autographed cricket bat?). Actually, it’s probably a bit of both. (personally, I bought ‘Train Tracks’ because I like it 'innocently', whatever the above circuitous questions; and 'Motel Pool' precisely because of those questions viz a typically corporate Richard Hamilton subject bizzarely rendered into a pastiche of early 20th century expressionism. Peculiar...hence interesting, somehow).

And now, still on Level Five, but up a couple of mezzanine floors… the Asia Series. I have to say I just cannot make any sense of this. There is nothing 'wrong' or even unusual about painting from photographs. It became a kind of postmodernist routine about living in a world of representations and simulacra, losing our grip on the real, etc etc. But in Dylan’s case the surrounding rhetoric is not about that at all, but instead all about realism, authentic vision, etc etc (What on earth John Elderfield, a reputable historian of modernism, makes of it I can't imagine; his whole pitch in the ‘Brazil Series’ catalogue was about a return to realism, an American tradition stretching back to Thomas Hart Benton and others in the 1930s). Whatever these ‘paintings’ are, they are not works of realism, in the sense of being pictures of reality.

It was obvious at first glance that at least some of them were painted from photographs, but the initial assumption was they were Dylan’s photographs – a source a bit like a quicker version of the original Drawn Blank sketches; which isn’t a problem. It is the nature of the photographs that really generates the tension. Again I wonder, who, who, in either 'institution' be it 'Gagosian' mega-artmarket blue-chip gallery institution or 'the Bob Dylan' institution could have imagined the copying would go unnoticed? Moreover, I simply don't get the point of it. Dylan is the greatest songwriter in the world. If he took the telephone directory he could make it powerful. But he is not a great visual artist. These things are not interesting in themselves, they are only interesting because he is Bob Dylan, and they are starting to be interesting only for the wrong reasons. To repeat myself, they could be very interesting. If Dylan was engaging with some post-colonialist debate about stereotypical Orientalist representations of the Other, blah blah, then you could easily construct a sense for the enterprise. But he clearly isn’t. There is no engagement with the materialism of the source images, either anonymous 19th century, or the very different 20th century Cartier-Bresson, or whatever. There is nothing about why the photographs copied were chosen; not least because the implication was allowed to grow that the resulting paintings did have some rootedness in the recent Asian tours, and Dylan’s observation of reality.  The unavoidable question is Why? Back to being puzzled. It can't just be money that drives this. Because in the end the whole product risks being devalued.  So what is it? To me, it barely makes sense. I cannot see, from Dylan’s point of view, where the productive, pleasurable work lies. Because he talks so well about art in the accompanying interview. But the terms on which he talks about it are contradicted by the nature of the work itself. It is very strange indeed.
So I am back to the starting point. I could go on, but at present, until more information becomes available, that’s my resting point. Beyond banal censure, the question of what sense we make of this work presently seems unresolvable.

Maybe it isn't so important. Maybe it is. Anyway...I am still looking forward to the Glasgow concert in a few days time, and that is what counts. I have lived with, and to some extent through, Dylan's work for nearly fifty years now, so...so what? With this so-called ‘plagiarism’ issue, I don’t think it is a simple matter of either turning a blind eye, or a sort of guilty complicity in 'living a lie'. We all live lies. These ones in question somehow remain interesting, if only in the gap between the words and the pictures, the complexity of that gap, and its present unfathomability.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

AND NOW ANOTHER CONTROVERSY REVISITED

"Please God no  -  don't give Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize in Literature". This comes from a blog post by Chauncey Mabe here. Needless to say there are a number of agitated comments underneath his piece.

Chauncey Mabe sounds like an anagram to me. Possibly of Abeyance Chum or Acme Hyena Cub.

Thanks to Andrew Muir for pointing me to Mr. Mabe's posting.

My thoughts are with Gordon Ball at this time. Here's his entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (the highlighted sentences are those added for the updated paperback edition):

Ball, Gordon [1944 - ]
Gordon Victor Ball Jr., born Paterson, New Jersey, on December 30, 1944, is an underground filmmaker turned Colonel and Professor of Literature at the Virginia Military Institute, and is the man who has nominated Dylan for the Nobel Prize for Literature annually since 1996.
            He first took an interest in Dylan’s work in 1965, but his first published article about it was a review of Renaldo & Clara. Some early listenings to Dylan are recounted in his book ’66 Frames: A Memoir, published in 1999.
            In 1968 he was hired as ALLEN GINSBERG’s farm manager, later editing the poet’s early writings. His book Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote Ginsberg’s entry in the Encyclopaedia of American Literature and JACK KEROUAC’s entry for the Dictionary of American Biography. At the Caen University Dylan Colloquium of March 2005 he delivered a paper on ‘Dylan and the Nobel’.
            GREIL MARCUS probably speaks for many when, asked if he thinks Dylan will ‘ever get the Nobel Prize for Literature’, replies: ‘I hope not. There are thousands of novelists more deserving than he is. It’s a prize for literature; he’s a songwriter, he’s a singer, he’s a performer. Anyway, Bob Dylan’s won lots of awards, he doesn’t need this one. There are plenty of people who need the money, need the readers.’
            Gordon Ball remains undeterred. In March 2007 he was a valuable contributor to the Dylan Symposium at the University of Minnesota, and an enthusiastic attendee on the pre-conference bus tour to Hibbing.

[Gordon Ball: ‘Review Notes and a Community Proposal’, North Carolina Anvil vol.12, no.567, Durham NC, 5 May 1978, p.8; ’66 Frames: A Memoir, Minneapolis MN: Coffee House Press, 1999; Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974. Greil Marcus: interviewed by Thomas Storch, Isis no.122, Bedworth UK, Sep-Oct 2005, pp.47-49. Bob Dylan Symposium, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 25-27 Mar, 2007; Hibbing bus tour 24 Mar.]

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

ODDS & ENDS No. 41



Chubby Checker twisted 70 yesterday. (He was born Ernest Evans in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, on October 3rd, 1941.) Bob Dylan's emergence as an artist, back when he and Chubby were both 20 years old, immediately made Chubby's kind of music sound as silly as it was. But I still have a fondness for some of this stuff - and inevitably the footage is so interesting now. (I'd never seen it before.) And anyway the simplicity of his pun on the name Fats Domino makes me laugh.

Yesterday also marked the 35th anniversary of the death (in NYC) of the great pre-war blues figure Victoria Spivey, who recorded Bob performing with Big Joe Williams on her Brooklyn-based record label, Spivey Records, in March 1962, and who is the woman seated at the piano in the photo on the back cover of New Morning. She has an entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia  -  but her recording career began 15 years before Bob was born.