Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

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.”

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:

I’ve written before of Da Boot!, the fanzine I was involved with during the late 1990s, so I won’t go too deep into it here. Suffice it to say, however, that it was a good idea, but about a decade too late. If we’d launched it in, say, 1988, when the CD-bootleg boom was just beginning and the Internet had yet to become a threat to both newsprint and the music business, we would have had a nice decade-long run instead of two years. (My only complaint about it, now that my eyes are 20 years older, is the small type used to squish all the words onto the page. I find it hard to read.)

The issue, as the above cover shows, featured my freewheelin’ second interview with David Crosby, which occurred in his Atlantic City hotel suite when he, Stills and Nash were headlining one of the casinos. (The entire exchange can be found here.) The second story was related to the first, in a fashion: I turned a lengthy phone interview with guitarist Jeff Pevar (of Crosby’s other band at the time, CPR) into an “as-told-to” piece that charted his career. It meant not just transcribing our talk, but rearranging his remembrances so that everything flowed in chronological order, and then checking with him on the changes. (That article can be found here.) I was also proud of the accompanying graphic, which I created – I imposed a cut-out of the Peev over the artwork of the first CPR studio album.

I’m bypassing both of those interviews, however, and focusing on the reviews. So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: March-April 1999 (via Da Boot!):

1) Kelly Willis – “What I Deserve.” Diane tackles What I Deserve, the third long-player (and fourth overall release, as she’d also released an EP) from the Oklahoma-born, and North Carolina- and Virginia-raised country-flavored singer. “What Kelly Willis has long deserved is widespread recognition in the music world – and hopefully, the stripped-down production that allows you to hear Willis’ voice in all its glory combined with her usual excellent selection of songs will draw her closer to universal acclaim.”

If I recall correctly, we saw Kelly twice in the late ’90s – on a tour prior to What I Deserve, and then on the What I Deserve tour. And based on those shows, and this album, she definitely did deserve more…

2) Lone Justice – “Drugstore Cowboy.” I tackle a Maria McKee bootleg, Absolutely Barking, and the Lone Justice compilation This World Is Not My Home in a twin-spin of a review. Of the former, which featured a crystal-clear DAT recording of a London ’98 show, I wrote “Maria is in more than fine voice, she’s in total command. The as-yet-unreleased ‘Be My Joy’ is just one highlight. From the opening chant of ‘feed me, feed me, feed me, baby/need you, need you, need you, baby’ onward, you’re in the audience pushed to the edge of the stage and swaying side to side in time to the beat, experiencing sonic bliss.” Of the latter, after lavishing similar hyperbolic praise on the previously released Lone Justice songs, I wrote that “it’s the band’s previously unreleased demos that prove most earth-shattering. The Maria-penned “Drugstore Cowboy,” for example, is a shotgun blast of authentic cowpunk – and far, far more.” (If you squint real hard, you’ll see that I cribbed part of the review for use in my “Essentials” entry on the Lone Justice debut. I subscribe to recycling, don’tcha know.)

3) The Who – “Baba O’Riley.” Jim tackles the Who bootleg Always on Top by noting that it’s a copy of another bootleg, Who Put a Better Boot in 1976, and also listing where some of the content is legitimately available. He also notes that “[t]he performance is excellent throughout, with the usual over-the-top, maximum volume performance that the band was famous for. There are six songs from the rock opera Tommy included, as well as staples ‘Summertime Blues,’ ‘Baba O’Riley,’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ There is also some funny, between-song banter included as Keith Moon and Pete Townshend introduce the songs.”

4) Lucinda Williams – “Right in Time.” When Diane and I saw Lucinda in June ’98 at the TLA, she arrived late due to, I think, fog – her afternoon flight was waylaid to New York, forcing her to hop a train to Philly, and then pray the audience didn’t grow restless and leave. The opening act, Jim Lauderdale, went on a little after nine; and she didn’t hit the stage until a little after 10. But despite her travel nightmare, and the delayed start, she still clocked in a two-hour show that was everything Bruce describes in this write-up of Lucinda’s January 1999 concert at the John Harms Theater in North Jersey six months.

One difference: Bruce was “[e]quipped with a recordable Sony Mini Discman MRZ-50, 2 blank 74 minute discs and a AIWA microphone.” In today’s age, when many shows are lit up from a sea of cellphones (really, folks: dim your damn screens!), it may seem bizarre to young folks to learn this, but there was a time you could get tossed from a venue if you were caught recording. And you also had to make tough choices due to the technological limits of recording gear, as Bruce did this night when he chose not to capture opening act Patty Griffin’s “short and sparkling set.”  Which makes this all the more remarkable: “An incredible version of ‘Joy’ developed into a fifteen minute guitar interplay jam that ended the first set at the 74 minute mark of the first disc!”

But because I used “Joy” in that prior Da Boot! piece, here’s another song from the night…

5) Bob Dylan – “The Death of Emmett Till.” In his take on The Third One Now, a three-CD set of unreleased Dylan gems, Jim chimes in on the freedoms – or lack thereof – afforded to American citizens in the 1950s. “Of the first seven songs on disc one, six are from what is referred to as the ‘Smith Home Tapes’ in 1962, and one track (actually two songs) is from the Oscar Brand Folk Festival from WNYC in New York in 1961. The sound is extraordinary on all of these and the performances are that of a budding musical genius finding his foothold and his confidence. Historically significant to be sure, but the subject matter of songs like ‘Death of Emmett Till,’ which deals with racism, is still significant all these years later.” (And almost 20 years on, it still remains relevant.)

And one bonus…

6) Neil Young – “Give Me Strength” (1976). The Neil Young bootleg Rolling Zuma Revue made me livid – and the review, honestly, makes me laugh. I write that “Wild Wolf, the ‘label’ behind this two-CD set should be skinned for its fur, with its carcass left for the maggots to infest.” I go on, and on, and use some profane language, while explaining that they coupled two 1976 shows – Chicago and Osaka – and arranged the tracks so that the Chicago songs opened each disc while the Osaka songs closed them. I.e., they split the shows in half. “What is this?” I ask. “Ring around the f-ng rosy?” I then go on to answer myself, and fill in readers: “the Chicago set offers stellar sound but the Osaka section sucks.” Which meant that if a fan did his or her due diligence, and asked the store proprietor to play a song or two on the in-house stereo system (as was common), he or she might be fooled into buying it.

I worked from home last Thursday, as I sometimes do. If there’s a chance of snow, or it has snowed, or (as in this case) if Diane and I have a show to go to that night, or if the weatherman is predicting heavy rain, the odds are good that my morning commute will consist of me fighting the traffic from the Keurig machine in our kitchen to here, our second-floor study. Most days, my work consists of banging away on a computer keyboard; the need to be in office is often nil (though it’s always better to be seen than not). This day, however, I also had a meeting so – at the appropriate time – I clicked a Skype link to join in.

The reason I mention it: Those who Skype into my company’s meetings are greeted with our head shots from our company ID cards; they’re visible to everyone in attendance, both in the conference room and online. In my case, it’s a photo that was taken in the mid-2000s; as now, I have long blondish-brown hair and a mustache and beard. Unlike these days, however, there’s nary a white or gray whisker on my upper lip, cheeks and chin.

That’s a long-winded way to say that I was reminded, yet again, that my internal clock is tick-tick-ticking closer to midnight.

There’s a well-documented disconnect between how people perceive time and the reality that is the static measurement based on the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. A month lasts forever when we’re young, for instance, but seemingly blurs by at ever-increasing speeds the older we become. And when looking back, the flawed internal workings of recall come into play. Often, the time between now and then doesn’t seem quite as long as it is. It was just yesterday, right? Other times, even with more recent memories, it might seem like a lifetime ago.

As regular readers know, I sometimes dig through my old desk diaries, excavate old rock magazines, and drill into my brain’s medial temporal lobe (where most memories are stored) for my musings. I’m accustomed to dealing with the figurative distance between the present and past, and in peeling away the nostalgic layers of memory to present life as it was – well, as much as I can in a few hundred words.

But seeing a picture of myself pretty much as I still look, just minus wide swaths of white and gray in my beard? That’s a proverbial slap in the face from the original time lord, Chronos.

And, on that cheerful note, here’s today’s Top 5: My Back Pages.

1) Bob Dylan – “My Back Pages.” From Bob-fest, with Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, but originally found on Dylan’s 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

2) Dusty Springfield – “Goin’ Back.” In 1966 and ‘67, Dusty starred in two seasons of the Dusty TV series on the BBC. In ’68, she moved to ITV for It Must Be Dusty, then returned to the BBC for Decidedly Dusty in 1969. Each episode of each series followed the same pattern: Dusty sang, welcomed a guest, and then sang some more. Some episodes of Dusty are available on DVD, but – sadly – the tapes for many episodes were either erased or misplaced. The audio has survived fo some, however, including of this beautiful rendition of “Goin’ Back” from 1966.

3) Kasey Chambers – “We’re All Gonna Die Someday.” From Kasey’s classic 1999 debut, The Captain. Sometimes you just gotta laugh about our end times.

4) The Chromatics – “Into the Black.” I first heard this cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” via an episode of what was one of my favorite TV shows, Covert Affairs, in 2012. It’s a haunting rendition.

5) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” And here’s Neil riding the Horse on the same song, from the Rust Never Sleeps album.

And a few bonuses…

6) Bob Seger – “I Knew You When.” The title track from Seger’s most recent album. “We all sit here with our memories/of a glorious long ago…”

7) Steely Dan – “Hey Nineteen.” “Hey nineteen/No, we got nothing in common/No, we can’t talk at all…”

And finally…

8) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Nah, not a song about death, growing old, or looking back. Just a great Dylan song by a young(er) artist who knows her music history…