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Talking About Chronicles ...09/30/2004

Some interesting tidbits from the online chat with David Gates, who had interviewed Bob Dylan for Newsweek and offered himself for readers' questions on MSNBC.com.

The biggest piece of "news" out of it was a direct explanation of why Bob is playing keyboards these days - according to Mr. Gates:

he told me a lot about that. basically it has to do with his guitar not giving him quite the fullness of sound he was wanting at the bottom. (six strings on a guitar, ten fingers on a piano.) he's thought of hiring a keyboard player so he doesn't have to do it himself, but hasn't been able to figure out who—most keyboard players, he says, like to be soloists, and he wants a very basic sound. he says he wants to tweak the sound some, because he's not quite satisfied with how the guitars and keyboard are sounding together.

So much, apparently, for theories about arthritis or carpal tunnel problems. As for the new songs Bob said he was working on, this additional delightful detail:

he did say he's written a song based on melody from a bing crosby song, 'where the blue of the night meets the gold of the day.'

This was a real trademark song for Bing, and one he actually has writing credit on too. Right Wing Bob happens to be a major Bing Crosby fan, so it is endlessly pleasurable to know that Dylan is too. He has also alluded to it on other occasions in the past.

And on a different note, there is this little grenade, prompted by a question about what Dylan would be writing about in forthcoming volumes:

he does have 'blood on the tracks' stuff and material about 'freewheelin' and his walking off the ed sullivan show, which, by the way, he regrets having done. what else he's written, or might plan to write,  don't know.

Now because Right Wing Bob is nothing if not fair, I'm going to grant that since this wasn't a published part of their interview, it amounts to something only slightly above hearsay. Nevertheless, how interesting if Dylan regrets that moment - still held up to this day by those who would champion his countercultural/protest persona - when he refused to play on the Ed Sullivan show because they didn't want him to sing "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues." I wouldn't say it indicates that he is now a member of the John Birch society, but rather that he may appreciate that this was a slight song - a topical song of the kind he avoided putting on his actual albums - and it was not something to make a hullabaloo about. Even that Sullivan may have had good reason not to have someone on his show seeming to make fun of not just John Birchers, but anti-communists in general. How nice for history if there were footage of Bob Dylan on the Ed Sullivan show performing, say, "Don't Think Twice It's All Right."

Another little tidbit, prompted by someone's comment that they are "shocked at Mr. Dylan's dismissal of the pivotal historic events of the '60s," though I don't think that's exactly how Bob has put it. Anyway, Gates includes this in his reply:

he seems to follow the news—we shared a little joke about the apparently forged bush documents.

Priceless.

In case anyone was wondering, and (bizarrely to me) some were, there's "definitely no ghostwriter." Simon & Schuster edited and cut, but "didn't add anything." Anyone who thinks Bob Dylan would put out an autobio using someone else's words has got to be in some other solar system, if you ask me. People have pointed out seeming clichés or music industry press release type language in the Chronicles excerpt, like:

"All I'd ever done was sing songs that were dead straight and expressed powerful new realities."

People shouldn't forget that Bob has a penchant for taking cliché and using it in an off-kilter way to throw the reader/listener and make them think. Christopher Ricks has written extensively on this - a nice example is from "I Shall Be Free," - "I see better days and I do better things," where Bob is playing on the cliché, "seen better days." Take 10 minutes and you could find a dozen examples yourself. By using a cliché in an odd way, it also makes the reader/listener rethink what that phrase means. What does Bob mean above when he says "powerful new realities?" I don't know, but I could speculate ... I won't right now. Whether doing these things with cliché will work in a good way in a book of prose, and in a memoir, is open to debate. Only a few people have read the whole book at this point, and they don't seem to be commenting.

My grubby little hands can't wait.

 

Addendum: Another nice detail, this time from the Sunday Telegraph interview, which is now available in the Chicago Sun-Times, is that before running off to New York city to become "the conscience of a generation," the young Bob Dylan seriously considered "enrolling in the Army and going to West Point."

Just wait for people to start saying that Dylan is engaging in revisionist history and portraying himself incorrectly for some unfathomable, inscrutable reasons of his own. I'm just glad to be one of those fans for whom this self-portrait makes simple, straightforward sense.

 

 


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