Monthly Archives: December 2005

Happy New Year

We’re celebrating in an unrestrained fashion here at the offices by instituting a change in this site’s search function. Over in the right column, you will now perceive a GOOGLE search box. This is better than the former search box for two reasons: (1) It provides less duplicate results from the archive, and (2) if anyone clicks on the ads that get automatically generated, a few pennies (literally) go RWB’s way. So have fun, but go easy on the champagne.

“Always Enigmatic”

There’s that word again. Just of passing interest, this snippet of an interview with Elvis Costello, done by Billy Bragg, apparently in 1995:

Billy Bragg: What about Bob Dylan?

EC: I met him in ‘78. I went along.., in fact, it´s a really long, convoluted story…

BB: So what did you say?

EC: He said, ‘Hey, I´ve heard a lot about you´, and my mind went blank. And then I said, ‘Well, you know what? I´ve heard a lot about you too´. (both laugh) But he was good, you know, and we sort of looked at each other a bit like a young boxer and middleweight. And then I ran into him quite a lot on that tour, like two or three times. Then a few years later we ended up with a party of us in Minneapolis, but that´s the only time we really talked.

BB: And you´ve just been playing with him now?

EC: Yeah, we went out after one of the shows in Dublin, but the conversation is always enigmatic. But he´s a great guy. I think he´s a good spirit, and won´t have a bad word said against him. I think all of his songs are just like works in progress. I saw him do a show at the Hollywood Bowl, where he did a version of ‘Gates Of Eden´ that was hair-curling. Somehow it was completely new and every night of that tour I did with him he did something that was extraordinary.

The rest of the interview is interesting enough if you like Elvis, but beware of some fatalistic old leftist commiserating further in—with Costello even calling for beheadings. Oh, and I like this: “… if Tony Benn had been prime minister everything might have been a lot different. ” I think that’s sort of equivalent to wishing Jesse Jackson had swept to victory in the U.S.A. in 1988. Things would be different, alright. Oh, Elvis …


So one of the gifts RWB received this Christmas was the book Dylan: Visions, Portraits and Back Pages, put out by the people who bring Mojo Music Magazine to the world. Like I need another book on Dylan, right? But it does have lots of photographs, and would look just great on my coffee table if I had one.

I’ve only begun scanning the written content. The point of the book seems to be no less than to give you what the dust jacket describes at “the complete Bob Dylan saga.” We are assured that Bob Dylan remains “an enigmatic icon,” but Mojo promises us “new insights” and the revealing of “the stories behind the songs and albums.”


I do note that it has given Greil Marcus an opportunity to recycle his Masters of War theory yet one more time (see here), somehow working it into what passes for a review of Chronicles.

There is a foreword to the book by Bono. It’s fine—not fantastic writing, but he does lift up some Dylan highlights that the average critic would pass over, like Brownsville Girl, Saved and Under the Red Sky. However, it’s not a conventional “foreword” as such, since it doesn’t even refer to the Mojo book itself. It’s really just an appreciation of Dylan by Bono. Yet, the editors get to plaster “FOREWORD BY BONO” on the front cover.

The very first article asks what I guess is the big question for Mojo people: “Who Is Bob Dylan? … John Harris casts his eye over the enigmatic history of Bob Dylan, and wonders what it all means.” Oh, he wonders alright. In shockingly original fashion, he centers everything on the 1966 “Judas” concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, saying:

This, more than any other place, was where what we know as rock music—more cerebral than mere “pop”, more artful than rock’n’roll, laying a greater claim to contemporary relevance than any musical form that had gone before—was born.

Rock is more than mere music. It is clothes and drugs and generational revolt, and the sense that loads of people will never understand.

Oh, lawdy. I guess that sounds about right when you’re 16, until you realize that “rock” is no more “relevant” than the latest throw-away gadget or pair of sneakers. If you’re going to break off a part of popular music that you want to call “rock,” then the chief distinction for that genre would have to be that it exists to exploit the enormous disposable income of modern day youth—along with those still stuck in an arrested adolescence, or those indulging in nostalgia for same. Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing so bad about this, so long as you understand the place of this music and enjoy it for what it is, and no more. Portentous claims about its artfulness and relevance as compared to other genres of music are absurd. When I think of “rock”— just that isolated word—what pops into my head are groups like Foreigner and Yes. Sure, it could encompass other more worthwhile people too, but the best of them would never be limited by a foolish and rootless label like “rock.”

Now, arguments about labels are usually pretty pointless, because everyone has the their own idea of what they mean. However, it is the writer of the piece in question, which anchors this book, who chooses to start out by defining Dylan as the grand initiator of “rock.” What a supreme backhanded compliment, if there ever was one!

The rest of the piece meanders through Dylan’s career in a sometimes appreciative and sometimes mean-spirited manner. Halfway through, Harris writes, “Back to the question at hand, anyway. What does it all mean?” If you think he’s going to arrive at any coherent answer to his fatuous question, I can tell you that you are mistaken. He comes closest to some theory of his own near the end with this:

But whatever Bob Dylan plays, and wherever he goes, it’s the same stuff that burns through. Love, hate, lust, loss, light, dark, family, divorce, revenge, cowardice, war, peace—the usual.

The usual, indeed. And Harris’s attempted summation of Bob Dylan’s career, for what I assume must be the generally young readers of Mojo, is nothing but the usual garbage masquerading as criticism that has been Dylan’s cross to bear down through the decades. And speaking of crosses:

During the ’70s, Dylan divorced, took painting classes that revolutionised his art, and—unfathomably—became a born-again Christian.

The unfathomable enigma that is Bob Dylan. Brought to you by the editors of Mojo.

When You Gonna Wake Up?

In February, there will be a DVD follow-up to the 2003 album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, where various artists, mostly known gospel performers, recorded their own versions of some of Dylan’s gospel songs. It looks like the DVD will also give a peek back to that 1979-’81 era, with some archival footage and interviews with people who performed with Dylan during that time. Something to look forward to.

On a not altogether unrelated note, I was just listening to that Gotta Serve Somebody CD again, and to the version of When You Gonna Wake Up performed by Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s. I think it’s the only track where the performers significantly altered the lyrics of the song. (Dylan did re-write Gotta Serve Somebody slightly for Shirley Caesar, but that’s different.) I can’t say why Williams and the Spiritual QC’s didn’t stick to the original lyric; the song is a little bare-knuckled, maybe. Verses like:

Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your
Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry
Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots.


Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of our
Life has got us by the throat
Conditions have got us tied in knots

Well, performers have always taken license with songs. No big deal. But in one particular instance, it seems to me, Willams alters one of Dylan’s couplets in a way that perfectly illustrates the relative power of Dylan’s words, versus the more obvious and predictable way people might tend to prefer to hear them.

Williams sings this:

You got men who just can’t hold their peace, women can’t control their tongues,
The rich oppress the poor and the old oppress the young.

Nothin’ but the same old story, huh? Those rich people oppressing the poor people, and those powerful old people oppressing the young ones. The same old lines of class and authority.

Except Dylan’s original is a little different. It goes like this:

You got men who can’t hold their peace and women who can’t control their tongues,
The rich seduce the poor and the old are seduced by the young.

The rich seduce the poor. A little more depth there, no? In Biblical terms, you might look at it as the poor being led into the sin of covetousness by the rich, whose pleasure in being rich is to be able to flaunt their wealth to those who have less, and to assure them that this is what they also need to be happy. Both sides in the equation have fallen into sin, and fallen asleep. When you gonna wake up?

And the old are not oppressing the young, in Dylan’s version, but being seduced by the young. That’s sort of the same thing as is happening with the rich and poor in the previous half of the line. The beauty of the young—magnified and held up for worship everyday on billboards, in magazines and on television—tells the old that this is what they should desire. The young revel in their beauty and the power it gives them while the old instead pursue that false god of becoming young again. Both are bound for a certain and soon decay and yet are somehow oblivious to it. When you gonna wake up?

All in all, a little more to chew on in Dylan’s original lines, I do believe.

Solid Rock

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.(John, Chapter 1, RSV)

Well, I’m hangin’ on to a solid rock
Made before the foundation of the world

According to the database at the Dylan Pool, Dylan has performed the song Solid Rock in concert on 162 occasions, one of the most recent being in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 20th, 2002.


Merry Billie

The picture above of RWB’s pooch Billie is not all it could be, but I couldn’t torture her with any more posing.

With the year drawing to a close, it marks about 16 months since I’ve been airing my thoughts at this spot on the World Wide Web, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the readers who have made it worth the time. Thanks too for your e-mails and feedback, and a warm thank you indeed to those who’ve seen their way to hitting the Paypal or Amazon tip jar. RightWingBob-ing is not exactly a profitable enterprise, but it’s definitely been rewarding.

A merry Christmas and a happy Chanukah to all.

Cash is King

Vice President Dick Cheney is a big Johnny Cash fan, as revealed in this ABC News story about the VP’s iPod. No doubt that is but one of many things he has in common with the main subject of this website. After all, he, like Dylan, was born in the year 1941, and also in the Midwest (Lincoln, Nebraska). Their paths diverged somewhat in the 1960s, with Cheney studying for both bachelor’s and master’s of art degrees at the University of Wyoming, while Dylan pursued a career as a composer and performer of popular songs. Cheney married his wife Lynne in 1964; Dylan married his first wife, Sara, in ’65. 1969 found Dylan writing and recording country songs, while Cheney entered public service, finding a job with the administration of Richard M. Nixon.

Though a further point-by-point comparison would probably reveal few places where their lives have obviously intersected in these intervening years, there is one major area, other than their taste for Johnny Cash’s music, where it seems safe to say that they are in agreement: neither is running for president in 2008.

Cheney Rocks

While we’re on the subject, this is a little snippet of Dylan’s written tribute to Johnny Cash on the occasion of his passing:

Of course, I knew of him before he ever heard of me. In ’55 or ’56, “I Walk the Line” played all summer on the radio, and it was different than anything else you had ever heard. The record sounded like a voice from the middle of the earth. It was so powerful and moving. It was profound, and so was the tone of it, every line; deep and rich, awesome and mysterious all at once. “I Walk the Line” had a monumental presence and a certain type of majesty that was humbling. Even a simple line like “I find it very, very easy to be true” can take your measure. We can remember that and see how far we fall short of it.

Sure looking forward to that radio show …

The Play’s the Thing

I was wondering where this was: the full press release from the Old Globe Theater on the forthcoming Dylan/Tharp musical The Times They Are A-Changin’ is available in pdf format at this link.

The plot summary is just a tad longer than that reproduced in the media accounts:

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN´ is set within a low-rent traveling circus run by Capt. Arab,
whose wagon hasn´t moved from its location in some time – though not by lack of effort from his ragtag
band of clowns and performers. One such performer is the animal trainer Cleo, a young woman exploited
by Capt. Arab and loved by his son, Coyote. Coyote longs for a world outside the confines of the family
business, and as the circus show plays out, he must decide whether to flee or stay, and if he does stay,
how to inspire change within the troupe. At once dark and humorous, this provocative new musical offers
an iconic story – of fathers and sons, of leaders and followers, of immobility and change – that uniquely
connects the worlds of music, theatre and dance.

The rest of it is largely resumé stuff on Tharp, Dylan and the cast. Still absolutely nothing on who wrote the book, of-course.

The Chords Have Been Struck

I was sad to see that the gifted proprietor of the Dylan Chords site has removed the comprehensive set of tabs for Dylan songs that he had up there, and which he has maintained diligently for years. I would like to think that his fears about being sued are unjustified (apparently he has not to date received any warning along those lines) but of-course the risk is entirely his and so his decision is understandable. Gratitude is due to him for ever having undertaken the task of making his own transcriptions publicly available.

He has so far retained the tabs for “miscellaneous live versions etc., ” which I guess are a different class because, for those, no official chord books have ever been released.

He used to also provide a zip file archive of the entire set of chords, but of-course he’s taken that down too. The internet being what it is, though, there’s this thing called the Internet “Wayback Machine” where interested parties might find an old version of that zip file, hosted by the archive, and not by the owner of the Dylan Chords site.

A Late Review

Thanks to Jay for the e-mail and link to the audio of NPR’s Fresh Air show, where rock critic Ken Tucker provides a pretty good appreciation of one of Dylan’s shows early this year at the Beacon Theater in NYC. Click here and the “Listen” link is under the heading “Ken Tucker’s Top 10.” When you open it in your player you should skip forward to about 12 mins and 27 secs if you want to hear the Dylan-related segment, which is about 4 minutes long. One thing Tucker has wrong is when he claims Dylan gave “no encores.” One encore has certainly been the standard for his last few tours, and I don’t think he cheated the NYC fans out of that on any of those nights at the Beacon. But, that’s how your memory plays tricks when you’re fashioning a narrative out of an experience and endeavoring to make a particular point about it.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be moved to disagree with Tucker’s final statement about Dylan: “The most amazing singer-songwriter, rock performer of our era.” (Albeit that the labels are a bit constricting, as always.)

President Bans Music

That’s the Iranian president, of-course, and some might say the first move good move he’s made is banishing Kenny G. from the air waves of Persia. While it seems a lot of Iranians have been shrugging it off , President Ahmadinejad seems unlikely to stop with pro forma restrictions on what state radio and TV can play. Perhaps he understands the risk that Western music poses to the kind of repressive regime he and the ayatollahs would like to maintain, and he realizes he has no choice but to fight it. And, just maybe, he’s afraid of … IslamaBob!

Written by Ronnie Keohane back in 2002, I’m happy to be able to reproduce this piece here: “The World Needs IslamaBob.”