My Record Collection 83

Dylan – Lost In The Eighties

Ah, the dreaded Eighties, when a whole new wave of younger artists arrived, toting their credentials and full of enthusiasm in the certain knowledge that they would put these 60’s dinosaurs to bed.  The old attempt to record a near exact live performance with four or maybe eight tracks was now blown away by 32 and 64 track technology and synths that could (sort of) reproduce any instrument, drum machines to keep prefect and sterile time – what was the creative artist to do?  At first Dylan tried to keep up, but he notoriously hated the tedium of recording.  His method had always been to add a few unusual ingredients and see what magic occurred.  His late eighties albums simply got worse and worse.  1985 saw Empire Burlesque, a mish-mash of an album, garnered from several failed attempts to record a new batch of songs with various session players and producers; Bob opting to produce himself (badly) in the end.  If he was searching for a new sound he never found it, and mostly the songs just weren’t up to his usual standard.   Or maybe this was his new standard, if so, we were waiting in vain.  No songs really stand out on this rather poor album.

And by some serendipity CBS decided to issue a major retrospective; the three album Biograph came out in 1985.  A sort-of retrospective but with a few unreleased songs and spectacular live performances.  A fantastic collection – and it really served to point up the current poor quality of both Dylan’s songs and his performances.  One almost wonders why he didn’t simply give up there and then.  But Dylan always was a persistent bugger, and he carried on.  Biograph contained a few ‘new’ old songs – ‘I’ll keep it with mine’, ‘Percy’s Song’, the splendid ‘Abandoned Love’ and ‘Caribbean Wind’ (both from Blood on the Tracks sessions) and ‘Up To Me’ – plus some scorching live versions.  A great album – well worth having.

But it was as if this simply passed Dylan by – he seemed oblivious of his past, fixated on the ‘Eighties’ sound.  In 1986 he released ‘Knocked Out Loaded’ – and it was pretty awful; lacklustre songs, cover versions and reworked out-takes.  But it is redeemed by one brilliant songs ‘Brownsville Girl”; this is one of his long rambling songs, almost nonsense but with a great chorus.  Apart from that, a poor album.

Dylan seemed locked in, incapable of writing great songs, chugging out live performances where he messed up both the tunes and the vocals of his old hits.  Strangely, though his records didn’t sell well he was still filling stadiums.  In ’88 he released two albums; Down In The Groove; another very underachieving record – only notable song was ‘Silvio’, but even that was hardly great.  He also released Dylan and the Dead. Yet another live album, this time from a short tour with The Grateful Dead – un-notable even with Gerry Garcia’s sublime guitar notes; simply retreading poorly – much better album tracks.  Even I, a hardened Dylan fan was beginning to despair – was he ever going to write another great song, make a semi-decent record even.  Then in 1989 he spent a couple of months with Daniel Lanois (see L), a Southerner and a subtle record producer who had recently worked with U2.  Apparently, the recordings went badly with Dylan nearly walking away, but Daniel persisted and at last dragged out some great performances and a superb album Oh Mercy.  Dylan’s voice sounded world weary and the songs were slower and about the passage of time and mortality.  Somehow the old magic had returned and despite an awful cover the album sold much better than his recent stuff.  Best songs ‘Ring Them Bells’ ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’ and ‘Shooting Star’; but really not a bad song on the record.   To help promote the album, which CBS suddenly realized was really good, a special promo CD (limited edition – but I have a copy) was issued  – Forever Young.   This is a Greatest Hits plus a few tracks from Oh Mercy – and very good it is too.

 Image result for images of Dylan in eighties

My Record Collection 82

Dylan – The Christian Years

Dylan discovered Religion in 1978, or rather Religion discovered Dylan.  He was born a Jew, though not such a strict family, but his songs are littered with Old Testament allusions, especially John Wesley Harding.  And now Dylan was a Christian.  He couldn’t help his own honesty; he simply had to write songs about it.  Slow Train Coming came out in 1979 and upset many of his fans.  Though the music and the songs were superb – some of his best – they couldn’t see through the words.  The album does feature ‘religious’ songs, but I don’t think they are so obviously so. The record opens with ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ – never mentioning just who.  Mark Knopfler was invited to play guitar and his soft notes enlighten the sometimes harsh words.  Best songs are ‘I Believe In You’ where Bob’s voice is enthralling, and ‘When He Returns’.  But there isn’t a poor song on the record.  Many fans hoped that this was a one-off, only to be really disconcerted by his next offering, with it’s lurid sleeve, Saved, was un-apologetically ramming home the Christian Message.   And really it fails because of that.  It isn’t that the songs are bad, though the backing is heavy and clunky, and re-listening it isn’t that awful.  But this is Dylan – and not that bad is faint damming praise indeed.  Mind you compared to a few of his mid-eighties albums it at least had some decent songs. ‘Covenant Woman’ is really quite good, as is ‘What Can I Do For You’ – but I never really liked it.  The following year, 1981, and Shot of Love appeared; the third of his Christain records – and really it is quite good.  Terrible cover again, but the songs a re far more varied and not all are ‘Religious’.  A much more varied collection of songs too, different arrangements, less girlie choruses, a bit more like the old Dylan.  Best songs – ‘Heart of Mine’, ‘Lenny Bruce is Dead’ and the classic ‘Every Grain of Sand’.  I really quite like this record despite the 80’s production.

Two years later and Bob asked Mark Knopfler to produce his next album Infidels.  And as the title suggests this was quite a reactionary record, railing against foreigners taking American jobs.  A bit of a surprise – but despite some of the sentiments it is really quite a good album, full of anger and rage   But even so, some of the pro-Israeli and protectionist US sentiments don’t sit comfortably with the Dylan of old.  Best songs – ‘Sweetheart Like You’, ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and the quite superb ‘Jokerman’.   But the curse of the Eighties was about to hit…

Before that we have a dire live album Real Live, which was rushed out to fill a marketing gap and is pretty poor.   Although on re- listening, maybe it isn’t quite so bad.   Dylan, no doubt tired of playing his old songs came up with different arrangements, tempos and even words sometimes.  I much prefer the originals – but Dylan considered that each live performance was part of the creative experience too.  Anyway, one too many live albums in my mind.

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The Writing Group

She looked up at the big station clock.  Five to twelve…oh dear.  Only five minutes to get her ticket to Lewes.  What a bore, there was bound to be a queue.  And, of course, a part of her didn’t really want to go.  If only she had the nerve to have said “No”. But she never seemed brave enough to say what she really wanted, besides Leonard loved these weekends away.  She decided not to rush, ducking into the Corner House she ordered a cup of tea; she would take a later train.

She just needed a little time on her own, time to think, time to be herself.  Because she was never herself these days, never simply Virginia. Virginia Stephens?   Where had that little girl gone – and of course since her marriage never would she be Stephens again.  She longed sometimes simply to be a single woman, to be on her own again.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband; of course she did, but had she really have had a choice she might have dared to remain single.  But how could one simply be a single woman of thirty or so, here in the Nineteen-Twenties? Simply impossible, and even more confusing and complicated, she suspected, than this strange state of being married.

And these weekends loomed over her like some swaying sword of Damocles.  Oh, the nonsense of it all; the kow-towing to everyone else, the pretence that they were doing something remarkable, something different – when more and more she felt they were simply treading water.  Never really achieving anything; simply living on past glories.  And the group, this almost famous group, which she had always thought of as a writer’s group was being taken over by dabblers, by dilettantes, by adventurers and even, she feared, womanisers.  Oh, if only it had stayed simple – just a few friends and fellow writers meeting at home to discuss books and the love of writing itself.

And her secret hope, trying to find a new form of writing, an open-hearted honest post-war way of putting into words what truly mattered, what one really felt.  But now they had painters and an economist and even a sculptor joining them.  No longer simply a writing group, more some sort of semi-debauched, slightly notorious, society; because they were already being talked about; put down by the straight-laced; and revered by those who considered themselves as somehow ‘modern’.  The newspapers were even calling them a ‘set’ – whatever that is supposed to mean.  Something not very nice at all, she suspects.

And all she wanted to do, all she had ever wanted to do, was to write; to express herself, to describe things.  And not just pretty flowers or landscapes, but people, and especially women.  She longed to tell her story, all her stories, the ones that had crowded her mind since she could ever remember.  She wanted to let people know that you could talk about feelings, love and passion and ecstasy and sadness and desolation, the whole range of emotions; fears, loves and hates, without being ridiculed, without being censored by male publishers.

“Now Virginia, this is all very well, and of course it goes without saying -brilliantly written – but really, you must think of the consequences.  Is this quite what the public wants to read?  And as I say to all my writers ‘Will it sell, my dear, will it sell?’”.

The sad-eyed and weary looking nippy brought the tea, a hideous yellowy brown with just enough hint of scum to put you off, in an awful thick white cup, with the tiniest lump of sugar precariously perched on the saucer like the meagre comfort it represented.  Really, did no-one know how to make a decent cup of tea these days.  And service?  You might as well forget that, ever since the war the whole concept of service had disappeared.  Surliness, sheer rudery everywhere.  It wasn’t that one wanted servitude – just a smile would do.

Oh well.  I suspect her life is pretty hideous too.  At least mine is comfortable I suppose, but little real comfort that gives me.  I am as trapped in my petticoats as she in her pinny; I wonder if she reflects on her pointless life as I do.  Oh, why am I never really happy?  Always far too self-conscious to let myself go and simply enjoy the moment.  Happiness?  That most elusive of states; it is almost as if the realisation of happiness is also its destroyer.  As soon as one feels that one might be actually ‘happy’ – the spell is broken and one’s mind is swamped by those bad thoughts again.  Oh, my bad-dog thoughts, these horrendous harbingers constantly circling my poor tired mind – if only I could dispel them for a few moments.  Just to sit in the sun somewhere with no thoughts at all – how wonderful that might be.

But I never seem to have enough time on my own.  There is always so much to see to; the house, the wretched servants, the bills to be paid.  I was never cut out to be a wife.  All I ever wanted was to be left alone, to have somewhere I could retreat to, a room really – that’s all I have ever wanted.  Somewhere, maybe with a window – a view, a garden to drift into when the words won’t come, a desk, a chair; a vase with a few hand-picked daisies, a handful of books.   And paper.  Of course, heaps, reams of fresh white virgin paper, and my trusty Parker pen.  Just leave me, bolt the door and lock me here for days if you must – but just let me write.

I need to get it all down before it is lost, every passing thought, each delicate whimsical recollection, it is all valuable.  It is all me, all this ‘nonsense whirling around in my head’ – as Leonard smilingly dismisses it – I must find a new way of writing, of capturing what it is to be alive, to be a woman, to be thirty, to have never had and never wanted a child.  But to be an equal to men, a reflection, a counter-balance, not better or worse or superior or subservient – but equal.

Vanessa says that’s all poppycock; but then Vanessa is a painter.  Can anyone tell the sex of the artist from the finished work, are the brush strokes more delicate, the colours more vivid?  But writing – oh those publishers simply label you as a woman’s writer; only fit for other women to read.  But I want everyone to read. Women to know that someone understands us, and has managed to encapsulate how we are – and men to marvel, to wonder at the world we inhabit.

But truly, the group is too large, too many distractions, too much drinking, too much flirting, too little real attempt to create something new.  Maybe I shall simply not go this time, stay home in Bloomsbury; telegram to say I was feeling poorly.  But not too poorly, I don’t want Leonard rushing back and making sure I see a Doctor.  It isn’t a Doctor I need; it is aloneness, it is solitude I crave.

Goodness is that the time.  Must rush, or I will be late.  And the gorgeous Vita will be there this weekend.  I haven’t seen the Sackville-Wests for ages.  My, Vita really is such a beauty.  So vivacious, so outre, so scrumptious.  Why – if I were a man – I could barely resist her.  The way she half-smiles at you, you could just eat her.  Mustn’t think like that though, far too dangerous.  The group is outrageous enough without that sort of thing.

You can never see the nippy when you want her. I’ll just leave tuppence here next to my cup and dash off.  I wonder what we will talk about this time?  Will Lytton be there, with his florid curlicue style, or Forster – just back from India.  I do hope so.  Despite what I sometimes think I do love them all really.  My scatty sister Vanessa and her husband Clive – always predictable Clive.  Dear mad Lytton of course, Keynes the sly old dog and Roger, of course lovely Roger, and my dear long-suffering Leonard.   And the weather is so warm maybe we can spend a few hours on the beach this time.

My, what a difficult and complicated old World.  All these wonderful friends, the special writing group – and yet still I crave a little space, a room even to just sit and write in.

Quick, I must run for the train. and I really cannot face another horrid tea or the sad face of that tired little nippy again.  I must remember her – pop her into a story somewhere.  That downcast little face. Ah here she is.

 

“Don’t I know you?” the nippy asks, clearing away the crockery “Ain’t I seen your face in the papers?”

“You might have.  I am Virginia, Virginia Woolf.  I am a writer.  Maybe you have read one of my novels.”

“Naah.  Sorry. Never ‘eard of yer.  Must have muddled you up with someone famous”

My Record Collection 81

Dylan – The Glory Years

Well it was 1974, and Dylan hadn’t had a critically well-received album for 9 years – though I loved almost everything he did in the late 60’s.  Where had Dylan gone, where was that surreal poet, that voice of a generation?  Trying to be normal maybe.  Whatever – his marriage to Sara was breaking up and he wrote a batch of songs where he bared his heart, slightly disguised of course.  These are among the best songs he ever wrote, and he recorded them very simply, mostly acoustic guitar, drums and base in the backgaound – and his signature harmonica.  But it is the voice that makes Blood On The Tracks such a superb record.  It is gentle and sad and occasionally raging and yet so expressive – and still that familiar nasal twang which irritated some and thrilled the rest of us.  This really is a wonderful record.  I can’t stop listening to it – as soon as it is finished, I put it back on.  Best songs – all of them really.  We start with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ followed by ‘A Simple Twist Of Fate’ with his emphasis on the word in the line before rhyming with Fate – simply beautiful.  ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ tells of a lost love. ‘Idiot Wind’ is a raging angry yet sorry song – one of his best. ‘You’re Gonna make me Lonesome When you Go’ is more cheerful and yet… ‘Meet me In The Morning’ is the only slightly under-par song – but then it is followed by the saga/weird and funny tale of ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’; ‘if You See Her Say Hello’ – the saddest of farewells, and then the monumental ‘Shelter From the Storm’ and ends with the wry reflection on life ‘Buckets Of Rain’.  If anyone out there doubts Dylan – just go on youtube and play Blood On The Tracks.

He followed this with another classic – Desire – the following year.  This was more Spanish in flavor and featured electric violin played by Scarlet Riviera, who he apparently stopped as he was passing in New York; she was carrying a violin case, and he asked her to play on his next album.  Well, she certainly leant a nice flavor to this batch of songs, many co-written with Jacques Levy, who persuaded Dylan to overcome writer’s block by telling stories in his songs.  The best of these is ‘Isis’ – a fantastic tale of tomb-robbing and love and death.  Also a sort-of protest song ‘Hurricane’ about a wrongly jailed black boxer – brilliant lyrics and a great tune. The album also featured ‘One More Cup Of Coffee[ and ‘Oh Sister’, a long track about a gangster ‘Joey’ and a love-letter to recently departed ‘Sara.’  All in all, a wonderful record.  As soon as it was finished in late ’75 Bob convened a group of friends and musicians and begun the Rolling thunder Tour, which was part travelling circus, part concert, part film Dylan was making and a great triumph.  Later in ’76 as the tour ended he released another live album Hard Rain from the tour.  This was superseded years later by one of The Bootleg Series (see much later) and a 14 disc Rolling Thunder Revue set I have just ordered – too much money, too little sense – but hey.  Re-listening though, Hard Rain is still incredible -such different and alive performances – and Dylan seems for the first time in years to be actually enjoying himself.

In 1978 came Street Legal, which critics disliked but I really loved, I saw him at Hammersmith Odeon just after this came out and loved the show.  Dylan was however moving much more into mainstream rock, with girlie choruses and horn sections.  Still this record has some very good songs on it.   The opening number ‘Changing Of The Guard’ is probably my fave, but I also like ‘Baby Please Stop Crying’ and ‘Is Your Love In Vain’.  It is still quite an underrated record – especially considering some of the mid-eighties stuff he recorded.

A live double recorded just before the release of Street Legal came out later in ’78.  At Budokan.  Bob had a world tour in early ’78; this concert was in Japan.  Wow, what a revelation. Bob had started to re-imagine his early songs for a Big Band sound; no longer the harsh aggressive rock and roll of ’66, but a gentler more rounded complete sound.  I love this album, great new arrangements of songs like Tambourine Man.  Just a joy – and if you need any live Dylan album this is the one to get.  But as usual with Dylan – he was always searching.  And in 1979 he found what he thought he was looking for.  George Harrison found Eastern Mysticism but Bob found Jesus.  Born a Jew, he became a Christian – and being Bob, he didn’t do it half-heartedly.  He wrote songs and sung about it. The next few years were the Christian years.

 Bob Dylan At Budokan

Rory Stewart -The Tory Leader After The Next One

Or the one after that maybe.  What has happened to the Tory party, that they can even contemplate making Boris Johnson Prime Minister?  To half the country he is a clown, to the other a scoundrel.  Time was when the Conservatives lived up to their name – they conserved things, they accepted progress in Society and simply held the line against further advances.  Not that I could ever support them, but you felt you could (more or less) live with them being in power now and then.  However, since the Thatcher revolution they are now the destroyers extraordinaire; not content with selling off loads of Public Services, with mostly disastrous consequences, and pushing swathes of decent cheap council housing into the expensive rented sector, they want to destroy the NHS and public education too.  And now a fervour has overtaken them, egged on by a rabid press and billionaires seeking tax avoidance – they are desperate to leave Europe.  No matter what the consequences it seems.  Where once a slow dis-entanglement but still retaining good trade with the EU was planned, now only a complete break will suffice.  The harder the Brexit the happier they seem.

And appeasement has no chance.  The half-reasonable appeals by Hunt and Gove are falling on deaf ears and the pathetic bleats of Javid are simply noises off-stage.  Only Rory speaks with any sense.  He is campaigning just as hard for common-sense and realism – and is pulling no punches either.  He knows, as in their hearts the others must do, that Brexit will be a disaster.  But they are all terrified of Farage and are competing to out-Brexit the arch Brexiteer.  Good Luck with that.

But let us also be realistic.  At the moment Rory stands no chance of winning, and is unlikely to be in the final two, though he may well survive the vote on Tuesday where Raab and Javid will stumble.

One can only hope that at some point common-sense will breakout – but don’t hold your breath.  Maybe after the disaster that Boris will bring on us and losing an election, they will choose him – but we may have to wait a bit longer for that.  The Brexiteers will never admit they were wrong – it will all be someone else’s fault; if only we had been tougher with Europe; if only we had refused to negotiate anything; if only we had listened to them..,(oh, we did, didn’t we)

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My Record Collection 79

Dylan – The Drifter Did Escape

Almost 18 months and no new Dylan album, no live shows, no news at all.   But late in ’67, the year of hippy music an album slid out with little fuss at all.  John Wesley Harding was the title, and a boring blurry black and white photo cover.   And the most startling thing was the new voice, the new style; no more raucous rock’n’roll, no more snarling put-down songs, but a gentler, maybe more philosophical sound.  And the songs were full of religious imagery and outlaws, and seemed from far further back in time.  Almost a timeless folk sound with very few choruses, no more emphasizing certain words, and the songs are almost a piece – as if they were a song cycle.  The public were bemused – they wanted another Blonde on Blonde, they craved the wild poetic imagery, they wanted the old Bob back – but they would have to wait several years for that.  Actually, I now love this album, this religious-sounding slower Bob Dylan – the songs themselves drift in and out – it is the overall sound, the mood of the album I love.  I have stopped second-guessing his motives – maybe he was trying to lose the Messiah mantle – testing us possibly, or did he just feel like a change.  Most probably he was, as always, following his muse.  Favourite songs ‘All Along The Watchtower’ soon to be immortalized by Jimi Hendrix, ‘Drifters Escape’ ‘I dreamed I saw St. Augustine’ and ‘Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’  (so that’s where they got the name from).  The album closes with two different style songs – pure country ballads, of which ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ is the best and has been recorded by many artists.

So Bob – where to now?  The last two songs were the pointer.  Nashville Skyline followed a year later – though in a time line the Basement Tapes were laid down around the same time.  These were ‘home recordings’ made with the Band – his recent backing band at their house in upstate New York.  Trying to find a new Americana, mixing old styles with mostly nonsense lyrics.  The album came out (by popular demand) in the late 70’s but it had been bootlegged already, and was even one of the Bootleg Series, which came out this century as Dylan and his admirers searched the archives.  The official album is quite disappointing really; but interesting if only to see what Bob was doing while not appearing live anywhere.  To be honest this is a waste of time as an album – but the public were desperate and CBS cashed in.

But in ’69, eighteen months later, Dylan confused us even more by going completely country with Nashville Skyline. I loved this record though; I think the thing that shines through, as well as the very professional playing and Bob’s singing voice which was suddenly incredibly good, was the quality of the songs. By any standards this was a brilliant country album, especially as Johnny Cash joins him for 2 numbers. Played by Nashville session stars the songs are deceptively simple, and yet as ever with Dylan, therein lies their brilliance.  The big hit ‘Lay Lady Lay’ has very few words but is incredibly catchy – try not singing along with it.  My favourite track is ‘I Threw It All Away’ – a tragic song of love lost.  So, what was Bob up to; was he trying to lose his fans, or show us another side, or did he just follow his muse and sing this batch of songs in a country style.  Whatever he was thinking it was nothing to the album which emerged a year later.  Self Portrait was another double – but this was a million miles away from Blonde on Blonde.  There were a few new songs, sung very much in a traditional country/folk style; some sung twice.  An instrumental ‘Wigwam’ which has a brilliant melody (why no words, Bob?), a couple of poor live performances from his appearance with the Band at The Isle of Wight the year before, and a few covers, some done in a traditional syrupy arrangement, some brilliant.  A complete mixed bag with apparently no cohesion or sense to it.  At first, I like many others couldn’t get to like it, but now it is simply sublime – in all its imperfections.  I think Bob was simply saying – “This One Is For Me”.  It was just what he fancied doing at the time.  Maybe he had writers block, but I don’t think so at all.  This was deliberate.  Critics slated it, (What is this shit – declared Rolling Stone) but slowly it has gained approval and sits proudly in his canon.  My best moments – the sublime opener ‘All The Tired Horses’ with it’s one line refrain and beautiful arrangement; ‘Early Morning Rain’ – where Dylan sung so sweetly; ‘Copper Kettle’ a song about illicit whiskey making; ‘The Mighty Quinn’ which was a big hit for Manfred Mann (see M0; The instrumental ‘WigWam’ – but best of all was ‘The Boxer’ where Bob sings Paul Simon’s song in two voices, not quite synchronized, overlapping each other, like some amateur duet – but it works incredibly well.  Strangely this has grown to be a real favourite of mine.

Later the same year he released New Morning, which looked like a new beginning.  But before that we have to look at a record which CBS put out in 1974, when Dylan moved labels for Planet Waves (see later).  It was simply called Dylan – and has long been unavailable.  It was tracks which Dylan maybe recorded for Self Portrait but rejected.  I have the tracks on a record called A Fool Such As I, which also includes tracks which Bob recorded with Johnny Cash around the same time.  It is again quite interesting; it seems Bob was taking a break from the serious business of being a Star and just enjoying himself making any music he fancied.  The cover versions which originally made up the Dylan spoiler album are not really so good, maybe they were abandoned early takes, or simply warm-up songs.  Whatever, this was not an officially sanctioned Dylan album and when he returned to CBS they deleted the album and it hasn’t been officially available on CD.  But the handful of Cash/Dylan songs are a different matter altogether; Cash had sung a duet on Nashville Skyline, and they obviously recorded a whole batch of mostly Cash songs at some point in the late Sixties.  One has to ask why he didn’t make an album of these obviously single takes – but then, part of the appeal of Dylan is his lack of ever being obvious.  A nice record however.

Just four months after the poorly received Self Portrait came New Morning.   This was perceived at the time as a return to the Dylan we loved in the mid-sixties.  But it wasn’t really.  There are a handful of decent songs and quite a few under-par ones.  But at least Dylan’s voice was back to its normal nasal tone, and all original songs too.  Best are ‘If Not For You’, the title track and ‘Winterlude’  The whole record feels very much a downer though, no real enthusiasm at all.

So in four years we had quite a variety of styles – and none quite sounding like the old Bob Dylan.  When, if ever, would he return?  And then there were three years of almost total silence….

Nashville Skyline

Topsier and Turvier

The world seems to be getting crazier – or is it just old age creeping in.  I do sometimes wonder what younger people think about it, but talking to my children they seem to be just as confused as I am.  Sometimes when you are in the middle of a storm you cannot actually tell which way the wind is blowing.  Firstly – three elections in a month have thrown up quite contradictory results.  First, the local elections, mostly in rural areas saw the Tories wiped out.  Labour lost a few seats and won a handful too.  The big winners were the LibDems; the argument seemed to be that they at least had a clear Remain message.  But more people voted for Remain parties than leave – just.  However not all seats were voting, London certainly wasn’t and all I could extrapolate was that this was largely an anti-Tory vote. The European elections were won by the newly formed Brexit party and the two main parties suffered; but we have seen this several times before.  Strangely the very people who declare that the EU is undemocratic consistently vote for parties who have no interest in Europe at all.  Last night Labour won the Peterborough by-election, beating the Brexit party by 680 votes on a 48% turnout.  The bookies and all the press had predicted a wipeout of both Labour and the Tories.  But even the Tories managed a few thousand votes.  Normal service not resumed – but maybe the success of Farage is dented at least.

It is now impossible to predict the result of ANY election.

The Tories are not quite in free-fall, but they are in trouble – whoever becomes their next leader and P.M. will face the same dilemma over Brexit.  Some are promising no-deal and even proroguing Parliament to force it through.  And yet almost daily we are getting news of our manufacturing disappearing because of Brexit uncertainty.

There are Tories now openly calling for de-selection of Tory M.P.s not worshipping Brexit; the very same Tories who were so outraged by Labour activists talking about de-selecting more Centrist Labour M.P.s.   And Labour are still sending out conflicting messages on Brexit; how long this can hold is debatable.

And I had to almost laugh when I caught Trump arguing against gun control by saying that when the terrorists massacred people at The Bataclan in Paris that if just a few French people had guns on them they might have killed the gunmen.  Piers Morgan, the interviewer pointed out that more people are killed by guns in America every day than died at Bataclan.  The gunslinger replied that knife crime was so bad that London hospitals were swimming in blood from knife crime.  What a lunatic.  And don’t even get me started on Iran or China trade wars.  I truly believe that a huge Financial Recession is just around the corner…

My Record Collection 78

Dylan – The Glory years

It was 1965, everything was changing, everything was moving on; the Beatles had broken in America and electric guitars were the new thing.  Dylan decided to go electric.  But he also wanted drums and bass and a full band sound.  But more important than that his sings were evolving too.  No more ‘protest songs’; his words were now more poetic, more mysterious, possibly more drug-addled – but certainly more beautiful.  His second album of this momentous year was Bringing It All Back Home; and it was obvious from the first notes that Dylan was now at the forefront of the new sounds.  ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was a total change, almost rap (forty years before rap too) the words tumbling over each other to a brilliant rhythm.  This was a new Dylan alright – and the film he made was great too, with him simply turning over large cards with the words on.  This is followed by ‘She Belongs To me’ another great love song.  ‘Maggies Farm’ follows, a perennial favourite, though not on my top list.  Then comes what I think is his finest love-song ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ with its hypnotic tune and obscure and yet apposite lyrics; I have always loved this song.  The album also includes ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ which became a huge hit for The Byrds (see B), and ‘Gates of Eden’ but incredibly too ‘It’s all Over Now, Baby Blue’.  An absolute triumph of an album.  And at least half the songs had electric guitars and drums.  He was now being booed by many of the old ‘folkies’ who clung to the one man and his guitar format, but he was also winning new admirers for his new sound.   Listening now it is amazing how modern the sound is – and how much fun they seemed to be having.  Dylan’s method was to try to get the band rolling and all play together and by two or three run-throughs they would nail the song.    Highway 61 Revisited followed in early ’66.  And another great album, almost all electric now.  Opening with one of his best songs ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ with its bitter kiss-off lyrics and great chorus. The album is crammed with classic songs – ‘Tombstone Blues’ ‘Just like tom thumb Blues’ and of course the eleven minute long spectacle that is Desolation Row; brilliant evocative lyrics which nobody understood but which just seemed perfect for the times.  Bob was completely rock’n’roll now, leaving his old ‘folk’ music way behind.  But he still had time for a slow songs or two – though no real love songs this time.  By now he was a real superstar, everyone copying him and recording his songs; I think he even influenced the Beatles to write differently.  No longer ‘She Loves You’ but more obscure, less obvious words which we would all pore over.  Suddenly the words were important – and that was down almost totally to Dylan.

Dylan then toured this new sound with The Band, who did not appear on the album.  He was cheered and booed in equal measure but persisted with this new sound.   But all the time he was writing and then he had far too many songs for his new album, so he made it a double, which was one of the first.  And what an album.  Opening with the riotous almost drunken chorus of ‘Rainy Day Women’ (Everyone must get stoned), and the hypnotic ‘Visions of Johanna’ with my favourite line of his “the ghost of electricity howls from the bones in her face” – this song seems to go on forever but is only 7 minutes long.  ‘One of Must Know ‘ and the joyous ‘I Want You’ are followed by my favourite at the time ‘Stuck inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again’.  ‘’Just Like A Woman’ with its cruel but sensitive lyric and the side long ‘Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands’.  I can hardly stop playing this record – as soon as it is finished I just want to hear it again.  Dylan said later that he had discovered that liquid mercury sound on this album – and it was incredible.  And this was 1966, the year before psychadelia and Sgt. Pepper.  For me, this album has endured far longer than anything from the year following.  But….at the height of his fame Dylan turned his back on the World.  Was it a motorbike accident, a crisis of confidence or just him being contrary…who knows but the next four years were interesting to say the least.

 Image result for images of dylan albums

My Record Collection 77

Dylan – In The Beginning….

In the beginning was a nervous young Jewish boy, way up in a mining town Hibbing; in North Minnesotta.  But they had the radio, and he heard that early rock’n’roll in the fifties and knew he had to be a part of it.  He left for New York some time in 1961 and headed for the emerging ‘folk’ movement in Greenwich Village.  But this folk was a million miles form the ‘hey-nonny-no’ folk of England.  This was basically the blues of the old black bluesmen of the deep south, transfigured by white singers with guitar and harmonica in New York.  And Bob joined and caught and changed the wave, copying more established singers like Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin Jack Elliot.  He got a few gigs in the coffee houses and eventually to the Gaslight and Gerdes and then miraculously he was spotted by a CBS scout and allowed to make an album.  Bob Dylan – the debut album was not a very auspicious beginning however and the record sold only a few copies in New York.  I worked my way back to this record and I too disliked much of it – too many songs about dying, too many other people’s songs; the only really stand out tracks were ‘Talkin’ New York’ and ‘Song To Woody’.  But it was a beginning.  There were already the tell-tale signs, the wheezy harmonica, the voice – of course, that high nasal whine but he was still a long way from the finished article.  Amazingly in the space of a single year he was there, almost completely formed.  His next album The Freewheelin was the real deal.  With its brilliant cover of Bob and Suze Rotolo walking in a snowy New York street, it set the scene for the Revolution which Bob would soon become.  Sometimes form the vantage point of almost 2020 I can see that really it was only ever The Beatles and Dylan who created that 60’s revolution which swept all before it.  He had already written and published his earliest classic ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ which everyone was playing and raving about.  The album opens with this and is followed by one of his most beautiful love songs ; ‘Girl From the North Country’.  The anti-war song ‘Masters Of War’ is next, followed by a real humdinger or two ‘Down the Road’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s Blues’.  Now Dylan was already being accused as a too-serious protest singer – but he had such a lot of fun and humour in his songs, especially recorded ‘almost live’ with just his voice and guitar that (as always) people misunderstood him.  Almost his greatest song ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’ follows – which is actually far more in the old English folk tradition  – with its brilliant poetic lyrics which students are still arguing about. Just when you think he cannot come up with anything else amazing he produces ‘Don’t Think twice, It’s Alright’. Other notable tracks are the traditional ‘Corrina Corrina’ a beautiful ballad, ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ a thoughtful song, ‘Oxford Town’ maybe his first song about racial injustice – and ‘Talkin’ World War 3 Blues’ which is actually quite funny.  An incredible record – and yet, this wasn’t how the record was initially planned. Or so rumour has it, and that even a few hundred were pressed with different tracks.  Who know – and who cares.  But I did buy The Freewheelin Out-takes to see what else had been recorded in these sessions.  It is okay, but many of the tracks seem quick takes and then abandoned, or were later polished up and appeared in later albums – so this record is not his best – and was never intended for release…

The following year 1964, and Bob was into full protest song mode, or maybe he was just pushed in that direction.  The Times They are a Changin was the album, and the stark black and white photo of him was matched by a similar album by Joan Baez, who he was then dating.  There were ‘Protest Songs’ – the title track of course, which became an anthem for youth; ‘With God On Our Side’ the most ironic of songs; ‘Only a pawn in Their Game’ about the lies of politicians (almost as true today).  But there were also love songs ‘One Too Many mornings’ – one of my favourites and ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’.  And a couple of songs about the killing of blacks, as Bob was involved in the Civil Rights Movement; ‘Hollis Brown’ and ‘Hattie Carroll’.  All splendid songs – but he saved the best to last ‘Restless Farewell’ which may have actually been the most autobiographic song he wrote at this time.  This was really the record which broke Dylan, he was suddenly famous, the word on everyone’s lips.  In fact he became (reluctantly we now know) the Voice of the Young.  Sometimes re-listening to these early albums you can barely believe how good they were.  Just like the Beatles in England, though on a completely different trajectory, each album was a giant leap forward.

A year later (65) and he released Another Side of Bob Dylan.  Whether the title was really supposed to distance him from the ‘Protest Singer’ label or not – it barely worked, as he was still pushed and pulled and his words were now being pored over for clues; he was becoming the Messiah.  The album contained barely a ‘protest song’, only ‘Chimes of Freedom’ really.  And the songs were becoming longer 7 and 8 minutes even. There were a couple of comedy songs and a whole batch of slower numbers – the lovely ‘All I Really Want To Do’ and ‘To Ramona’, the mystical ‘My Back Pages’; ‘I don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)’ ‘The hauntingly beautiful ‘Ballad In Plain D’; and maybe the first of his great kiss-off songs to former partners ‘It Aint me Babe’.  The whole album is quite a rollicking fun event, Bob even laughing mid song occasionally. He was definitely moving, into what we weren’t quite sure.  I think he was trying to lose the mantle of a Political voice and moving into a more poetic phase, his lyrics more rounded and yet less obvious too.  It mattered not, his audience was growing; it used to be the folkies, the civil-rights crowd and then gradually more and more ordinary Americans discovered Dylan.  He was barely known in Europe but did appear in London and Paris, but he was still mostly a secret – we were all still obsessed with Beatles and Stones.  But Worldwide fame was just around the corner….as was electricity.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

 

The Mists of Time

The ship – well, it was far more than that of course, but as we are telling the story today let us use words you can relate too – approached with great apprehension.   Its many sensors had warned it of the peculiar behaviour of this particular unexplored region of far far outer space.  Here, where the Universe was still rapidly expanding, and where according to all the computer models there should be next to nothing – the very occasional small rocks or dust – was what appeared to be a rather large planet.  Though, of course – how could there be a planet without a Star for it to be orbiting.  But there it was just ahead.  A few billion kilometres ahead obviously, but quite observable from the ships’ incredibly powerful telescopes.  Instructed by Starbase Sol71 to reduce speed to almost nothing – a few hundred k. per minute, the ship proceeded with absolute caution; bristling with sensors and armaments and ready to take whatever evasive action might be considered necessary, without endangering the sanctity of this supposedly unexplored part of the known, or we should actually say – unknown, Universe.

This may all seem strange to you Twenty-first readers.  Let me explain.  We are sending this back in time to you from many millennia in the future; we have tried to use a version of English you might still understand.  We realise that there is little you can do but maybe somewhere this document will be saved and re-read occasionally to possibly prepare you.  Or it may simply be lost in the mists of time.  Who can tell?  But for what it is worth we felt you should at the very least be made aware, though what you will make of it we cannot tell.

Let us go back a few millennia.  After the 24th century (your Earth time) the Big Bang Theory had been largely discredited.  Or, we should more correctly say, revised.  There had always been the seemingly impossible problem, the contradiction at the very heart, that all that matter, all those zillion atoms must have existed before the Big Bang.  Or something must have existed – because the most basic law of physics is that nothing can be created or destroyed, the particles at least must remain.  In other words, we could plainly see what had happened since Big Bang, but no-one had any real evidence of anything before it.   This had simply re-enforced the Religionists in their Creation beliefs.  But around the turn of the 23rd Century space explorers begun to discover discrepancies; whole Galaxies which though millions of light years away seemed to be moving in the wrong direction; the occasional spectrum analysis which showed small particles of dust older than Big Bang itself.  ‘Impossible’ the scientists all said, but slowly revisions became necessary.  By the 30th Century it became obvious that there must have been a Universe, possibly many, before the current one.  Could there be a seventh physical force?  An ‘Entrophy’ maybe, where, as the universe began to age and decay, the Galaxies themselves would start their long journey back to a single starting point.

Whatever the truth, which some Astro-Physicists were beginning to believe we would never know completely – this ‘Planet’ was simply impossible.  From Spectrum analysis it appeared to be a Gas Giant about the size of the old Neptune back in your Sol1 System.  But how could it possibly exist out here in this trillion cubic kilometre nothingness – with no Star to orbit.  But this was exactly the conundrum – this Planet, which was already being nicknamed ‘Dumbo’ was not moving at all.  This was too impossible to believe; everything in the Cosmos was moving, often at bewildering speeds.  There was no friction out here so once something was moved by any force at all, it simply kept on going until affected by another force.   So how on Sol71 could this, ‘Planet’, be apparently still.   It just hung there, as if suspended on an invisible string while everything else in the universe was spinning around.  Although, even stranger, as the Ship slowly approached ‘Dumbo’ appeared to be moving again, though now, if the measurements could be relied upon -and of course they had to be right – Dumbo was moving towards them.   The ship automatically, even though it was still a million kilometres away, stopped.  And Dumbo stopped too.

This was simply not credible, planets could not move of their own volition, something or some force must have moved it – but the ship was the only object for billions of kilometres around.  So, the ship slowly advanced a few thousand kilometres.  Dumbo did too.  The ship stopped.  Dumbo stopped.  The ship reversed slowly; Dumbo reversed just as slowly.  The ship veered off sharply to the left; Dumbo to the right.

Orders came straight from Sol71.   Reverse one million kilometres and wait until we have processed all this information.

But this time Dumbo simply stayed still, not retreating or pursuing the ship – just like a dog waiting for it’ master to throw the ball again, there it remained, seemingly at peace but the truth was that all the computers on board and even the few humans back at base were completely flummoxed.  Nothing had ever been observed with this apparently sentient behavour ever before.  It was if the planet, if indeed it was a planet, had a mind of its own.  It had mirrored the motions of the ship; there had to be some intelligence there deep in the gas giant’s swirling mass.

The decision when it came, after a wait of a few minutes – a lifetime for the computer’s on Sol71 –  was to launch a mini-ship, a mere hundred kilometres long, at crawl speed of a thousand kilometres an hour in an elliptical flight path to by-pass, if that were at all possible, the gas giant known as Dumbo.  A hundred-thousand kilometres in, and so far, no reaction from the planet.  Except….was it a trick of the light, some sort of optical (though optics were abandoned centuries ago) illusion – but was the planet changing shape?  Dumbo appeared to be dissolving, thinning out at the edges, getting larger if anything but less solid (if a gas can ever be considered to have any real density).  And slowly like a lump of sugar on a spoon in a cup of tea it seemed to dissolve.  What was once a bright orangey-yellow sphere faded to a creamy white and then just as slowly to a faint mist and then even that was gone.

The ship advanced to exactly where Dumbo had been, covering the million kilometres in a matter of minutes, and tried to collect samples; but samples of what exactly?  There was simply nothing there at all, not a single molecule, not even an an electron or particle.  Simply nothing-ness.  And yet the ship had seen it, the scientists back at Sol71 had seen it; the telescopes could not have lied.  Besides they had it all recorded on hi-res images and replayed it time and again.  It was the strangest event and there was no precedent for it.  They simply could not believe their own reconstructed image ‘eyes’.

For centuries students of Astro-physics, both machine and human puzzled over the ‘Dumbo’ illusion, as it became known.  And just as back in the 20th Century nobody had believed that an elephant could really fly – there was no denying what one saw.  Dumbo had reacted precisely, mimicking the movements of the ship and then had disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived.

The best answer anyone could come up with was that this was some sort of intelligent Universe memory, a half-consciousness, left over from a previous Universe, that had somehow time-warped into this one. It should have imploded just before the Big Bang like everything else, but had somehow got lost in the mists of time itself and maybe, just a shadow, just a half-forgotten memory had survived out here in the bleakest emptiest part of the Universe.

But of course, the fly in the ointment was that word ‘intelligent’.  Despite millennia of searching and pursuing radio waves no intelligent life had ever been observed anywhere in the entire Universe.  A few fossils of what might have been simple one-cell bacteria might have been found in the occasional meteor – but even that was debateable.   There seemed no explanation for Dumbo at all.  Maybe there had been ‘intelligence’ in a previous Universe.  Maybe Dumbo’s apparent mirroring was not intelligence at all, but a new Physics pertaining to a time long before our own Universe.  Whatever….it is now many Millenia since Dumbo’s appearance and disappearance.  It isn’t even discussed much now at all.  Just like the Earth itself the planet Dumbo now appears to be lost in the mists of time.

This message has been sent in the maybe forlorn hope that you will not reject it as some sort of a joke.  We have sent several messages back to different times and obviously, because we have had no fore-warning about ‘Dumbo’, they have been ignored – or they themselves may have also been lost in the mists of time.