Archive for the ‘Bob Dylan’ Category

There are a myriad of tributaries through time that twist together as if one, but each offers a distinct experience that depends upon many factors, such as one’s age, race and gender. The summer of 1967 is a good example. Anyone steeped in pop-culture history, and even some who aren’t, likely know it as the Summer of Love, when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released and the Monterey Pop Festival took place (though, technically, Pepper and the festival both fell in the spring). People in another tributary, however, remember or know those same months as the “long, hot summer” when riots erupted in such urban centers as Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Newark, N.J.

Just days after the Detroit riot, which followed the one in Newark, N.J., President Johnson spoke to the nation about the unrest. He emphasized the need to stop the lawlessness, but also addressed the underlying issues that fed it: 

“The violence must be stopped, quickly, finally, and permanently. It would compound the tragedy, however, if we should settle for order that is imposed by the muzzle of a gun. In America, we seek more than the uneasy calm of martial law. We seek peace that is based on one man’s respect for another man – and upon mutual respect for law. We seek a public order that is built on steady progress in meeting the needs of all of our people. Not even the sternest police action, nor the most effective federal troops, can ever create lasting peace in our cities. The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack – mounted at every level – upon the conditions that breed despair and violence. All of us know what those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs. We should attack these conditions – not because we are frightened by conflict, but because we are fired by conscience. We should attack them because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society in America.”

LBJ’s flawed presidency was derailed the following year, of course, by events in one of that era’s other tributaries, the Vietnam War. Although promises made by one president are often broken by the next, in the decades since we’ve seemed headed in the right direction – despite stumbles, of which they’ve been too many. (As Martin Luther King Jr. said, paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Thomas Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”) 

As 2019 faded to a close, I often referred to 2020 as “the year of visual acuity.” I assumed that we, as a people, would visit a figurative ophthalmologist and leave with new specs that granted us better vision – not just of the present, but of the past. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

American is burning. Again. Let us respond to it, now, and prevent it from happening again. And again. And again.

For the past two weeks, like many others, I’ve led a shuttered existence – just me, Diane and our wooly bully of a boss in the apartment. Although my alarm still sounds at 5:45AM, instead of heading out the door to work within an hour, as is my custom, I bide my time until 7AM, when I telecommute into the office. Once I sign off at 4PM, weather permitting, Diane and I go for a walk – and breathe in the fresh pollen.

In other words, aside from allergies, we’re doing okay.

Tomorrow, Diane and I will do what we did last weekend – take a 30-minute ride into the countryside while E Street Radio provides us a perfect soundtrack. We’ll also tune in, at 8PM ET, to watch Allison Moorer perform on Facebook and then, on Sunday afternoon, attend a Church of Birch revival meeting on StageIt. Last weekend, we watched First Aid Kit on Instagram, which was fun; Courtney Marie Andrews, the Tallest Man on Earth, Sam Evian and Hannah Cohen on YouTube, which was interchangeably entrancing and interminable; and Diane Birch on StageIt, which cheered us up a lot. I also enjoyed Neil Young’s first Fireside Sessions at the Neil Young Archives; it was pre-recorded, edited and – with all respect to the others – the best of the bunch.

Until Wednesday, I hadn’t listened to much music beyond E Street Radio and those online affairs; I just wasn’t in the mood – which I’m sure others can identify with. But that morning I had the hankering to hear Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s classic Against the Wind, which I played a few times, and followed it with Jackson Browne’s equally classic Late for the Sky and his under-appreciated Hold Out, Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, and Neil Young’s Trans. Yesterday, I revisited the 10,000 Maniacs’ Our Time in Eden a few times along with Paul McCartney & Wings’ Band on the Run. (“Stuck inside these four walls/never seeing no one…” takes on a new meaning in the context of today.)

This morning, my various newsfeeds were awash in new and recent songs from a host of my favorites; they provided a great distraction from the latest pandemic news and stock-market nosedive.

And, with that, here’s Today’s Top 5: Life During the Great Pandemic, Vol. I.

1) Hayes Carll & Allison Moorer – “That’s the Way Love Goes.” Originally a hit for Lefty Frizzell, this stunningly beautiful song is just that – stunningly beautiful.

2) Bob Dylan – “Murder Most Foul.” The bard of bards has apparently kept this 17-minute opus under wraps for…who knows how long. Whatever, it’s an instant classic – the kind of song that demands repeated listens. 

3) Jackson Browne – “A Little Soon to Say.” We learned on Tuesday that Jackson caught the COVID-19 virus while in New York for a benefit, but that he’s doing okay. Yesterday, he released this song, which though written and recorded before the pandemic hit, seems an apropos song for this odd time: “But whether everything will be alright/It’s just a little soon to say…”

4) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Are You Alright.” Amongst the upheaval of four non-techies trying to figure out how to livestream, Courtney delivered a spellbinding rendition of this Lucinda Williams song. (It begins at the 24:08 mark if the link doesn’t work as intended.)

5) Hannah Cohen with Sam Evian – “Motion Pictures.” Although Courtney, the Tallest Man on Earth, Sam Evian and Hannah Cohen delivered a bounty of Neil Young covers during their 2 1/2-hour livestream, this was my favorite. It’s possesses a Mazzy Star-like vibe. (It’s at the one hour and 30 minute mark if the link doesn’t work correctly.)

I’m enjoying a much-needed “staycation” this week, the first extended time I’ve taken since Christmas (and that wasn’t much of a break – we moved from state to state). Among the things on my to-do list: re-watching Covert Affairs, a spy-thriller series that aired on the USA network from 2010 to 2015 that I thoroughly enjoyed; reading Nolan Gasser’s 700-page Why You Like It: The Science & Culture of Musical Taste; and what I’m doing now, tap-tap-tapping away on a blog post.

Nolan Gasser, for those who don’t know, is the chief architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project, and in the book he – to quote the book jacket – “breaks down what musical taste is, where it comes from, and what our favorite songs say about us.” I can’t weigh in on the tome as a whole, as I’m a mere 35 pages in, but it looks interesting and wonky – aka right up my alley. (For more, see the WYLI website.)

In some respects, the Music Genome Project (aka MGP) seems similar to a search-and-recommendation project I was involved with for a few years, though that focused on TV shows. (I found it a fun endeavor, as I have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of TV history, but others found it tedious.) 

That project is one reason why I find the idea of deciphering what makes (and breaks down) this thing called musical taste (or preference) fascinating. Yet, at the outset of the book, I have to admit that the predictive measures seem both obvious and slightly absurd. On the obvious side: It should boil down to artist, genre, sub-genre, era and fellow travelers, songwriters if an outside songwriter was involved, and include additional aspects of the songs, with all that data creating a pattern that’s as intricate, sticky and fragile as a spider’s web. On the absurd side: Given that many folks, myself included, have a wide range of musical likes that span multiple genres, how can those many facets be woven into a seamless listening experience? Or will it flow as thus: mid-tempo, mid-tempo, slow, mid-tempo, fast?

And, too, would the MGP follow Bobby Darin’s “If I Was a Carpenter” with Tim Hardin’s “A Simple Song of Freedom,” the Long Ryders’ “Looking for Lewis & Clark” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”? (There’s a chain there that astute music fans should ferret out.) In other words, it’s one thing to enjoy a sonically similar playlist, which is what the MGP seems geared to do, but another to be pulled in by subtextual sequencing.

But I’m not pre-judging. I’ll give Pandora a go for the next few mornings to see if it can actually predict my likes and avoid my dislikes.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Subtextual Sequencing…

1) Bob Dylan – “Desolation Row.”

2) Van Morrison – “Summertime in England.”

3) The Bangles – “Dover Beach.”

4) James McMurtry – “Too Long in the Wasteland.”

5) Natalie Merchant – “maggie and milly and molly and mae.”

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last week, I watched Bob Dylan: Roads Rapidly Changing, a documentary that recounts Dylan’s rise in and eventual departure from the Greenwich Village folk scene. He arrived in the Big Apple from the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1961 with no connections, but – due to his talent and drive – quickly made a name for himself. “Blowing in the Wind,” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changing,” Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home, his 1965 farewell to the folkie world, date to this period in his life.  

The film, which I highly recommend, features a wealth of archival footage and performances alongside insights from an assortment of fellow Village folkies (Eric Andersen, Maria Muldaur and Tom Paxton) and rock journalists (Robert Christgau and Anthony DeCurtis).

Highway 61 Revisited, released a mere five months after Bringing It All Back Home, isn’t covered in the doc, which is understandable – it was his first full-fledged rock album, and the film focuses exclusively on his folkie days. Still, think about that for a second: In an era where it can take an artist years to release the next album, Dylan released two monumental sets within five months of each other. Paradigms shifted with each.

Of Bringing It All Back Home: The first side features Dylan backed by an electric band – a radical notion within the purist folk scene at the time. In the most simplistic description, the new sound marries the folk form to the rock beat.

The second half features an acoustic Dylan at his most electric.

There’s little more to say but this: The album, which expanded the concept of what popular music could and should be, is consistently rated as one of the greatest of all time. (This Rolling Stone article delves into its impact.) It sounds as fresh today as it must have sounded in 1965.

One last thought: Since the dawn of written history, there have always been purges of the past in order to placate the present. (You might say that we, as a people, have a long history of criticizing what we can’t understand.) Humans are flawed creatures, in other words, with our biggest flaw being that we tend to run with the pack. But in the mid-‘60s, Bob Dylan didn’t turn his back on what came before. Instead, he synthesized it into something new.

The track list: