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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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Monday, December 18, 2006


For anyone who's just got back from Ulan Bator, Bob Dylan's XM Satellite Radio series, Theme Time Radio Hour, is about to start being broadcast on BBC Radio.

Radio 2 will broadcast six shows over Christmas, starting on Saturday 23 December 2006 and finishing on Thursday 28 December. (They'll broadcast two more in March, eight in April and two more next May.) The December slots are:

23rd: 7pm-8pm, 24th: 4.30pm-6.30pm and then 25th-28th it's back to 7pm-8pm.

BBC 6 Music will broadcast 30 shows, starting at 9pm on New Year's Day... and then every Friday night from, er, January 12th.

If you haven't heard at least some of them already, you should. The corrected & updated reprint edition of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, which is in UK shops now, has this entry on the series (the only entry under the letter 'X'). It was written in July, when I'd still heard only a few of the shows...

On December 12, 2005 it was announced that the subscribers-only satellite radio giant XM had signed up Bob Dylan to host a series of weekly programmes on what it calls its ‘deep album rock channel Deep Tracks’, XM Channel 40, starting in March 2006, on which he would play records ‘hand-selected’ (huh?) from his ‘personal music collections’, interview other artists and read e-mails from fans. The company announcement, headed ‘Music Icon Becomes First-Time DJ to Spin Records…’, quoted Dylan saying in suspiciously plausible PRspeak: ‘A lot of my own songs have been played on the radio, but this is the first time I’ve ever been on the other side of the mic. It’ll be as exciting for me as it is for XM.’ The date later shifted to May 3, 1am Eastern time.

XM is a large and burgeoning corporate player in the entertainment industry, with 160 coast-to-coast digital channels, 71 of them specialist music channels, studios in Washington D.C., New York and Nashville, ‘additional offices’ in Boca Raton, Florida, Southfield, Michigan and Yokohama, Japan, and over five million subscribers getting these channels beamed to their cars. The company has ‘partnerships’ with most leading auto manufacturers. A main attraction for customers is that many channels exclude advertising. The cheapest subscription as of February 2006 is $12.95 per month. XM is a wholly owned subsidiary of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and has traded on the NASDAQ exchange since October 5, 1999.

Dylan’s radio series proved a delight. He used his slot to recreate exactly the kind of 1950s radio that was so formative and so much a musical lifeline for the Bobby Zimmerman who was listening to it in Hibbing, Minnesota - a radio era he has expressed his fondness for in more recent years (see ‘I Forgot More’). Tom Palaima, an Austin Texas professor, sums up Dylan’s intent and achievement here with what he calls Dylan’s ‘warm evocations of old-timey radio’:

‘In each hour, Dylan covers a chosen theme: mothers, fathers, baseball, coffee, weddings, divorce, showing how the common musical traditions of the United States shaped our lives in song and lyric. Dylan's succinct commentary makes the music shine. He is witty, gently humorous, erudite and always reverent about the music he is playing.

We hear the sounds of big band, country swing, rockabilly, blues, rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, Nashville, Motown, Sun Records, Frank Sinatra, the Ink Spots, Bob Wills and Kitty Wells. Interspersed, he gives plainly spoken information about the artists, where they came from, where they went, who influenced them and what influence they had. He recites lyrics, painting pictures of our lives in sound.

Dylan doesn't peddle himself or anything else. No product placement here. Period commercials are spliced in to set the mood. A listener asks on Theme Time Coffee: "Why do you play so much old music? Do you have something against new music?" Dylan replies, "I like new music. But there's more old music than new music."

…Theme Time Radio is hip, but not Tarantino's jaded hip, or William Shatner's self-mocking hip. Dylan respects the music we and he loved. He respects the artists who created it, even lived it.

These shows are so humane, so out of time… Dylan is still protesting. He is protesting our fast-paced, dehumanized present by calling us to gather round the hearth of old-time radio and remember life as it used to be and could be again, if we stop and really listen to it, and to each other.’

[Tom Palaima, ‘The times they are a-changin’ but Dylan’s still protesting through music’, Austin American-Statesman, 15 Jul 2006.]

I think I still like the first one, about the weather, best of all...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm loving these shows. Who'd have thought, all those years ago in Heslington Road, that one day we'd be listening to Bobby giving his recipe for Figgy Pudding!

9:55 pm  

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