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Thursday, August 31, 2006

When The Deal Goes Down, again … ...9:41 pm

In case you didn’t see it on AOL, Bennett Miller’s video for Bob Dylan’s When The Deal Goes Down, starring Scarlett Johansson, is now available via YouTube.

Previous posts related to this song here and here.

Addendum 9/01/2006 10:41 am: I’m a little bit in two minds about the video. It’s beautiful — the most beautiful “music video” I can ever remember seeing. Beauty is not something one associates with music videos. Crassness, mawkishness and luridness — yes; any genuine beauty, no. On the other hand, it can’t help but distract from the song a little. The images the song creates in one’s mind are the images to savor, after all, rather than having them filled in for you, however prettily, by Bennett Miller and Scarlett Johansson. But, on yet another hand, the nice thing about this video is that it has nothing obviously to do with the song. It’s not trying to literally visualize the images in the song, or make up any story for the song — it’s just providing a parallel visual experience, which, with its ever-burning-out images of life, family, and love, reflects off of the song in an interesting and poignant way.

So, overall, kudos to Bennett Miller. And the expressiveness of Johansson’s face, throughout, is really rather stunning, isn’t it?








Dylan-Related-Cliché-Watch ...4:35 pm

Slate‘s Jody Rosen gives Modern Times a very positive review (Bob Dylan’s spectacular new album, Modern Times.), and also calls it “Dylan’s finest since Blood On The Tracks.” I swear that someone in the media has said that regarding every album he’s released since Blood On The Tracks (except for Saved).

Misogyny also makes an appearance:

“In “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” he barks, “Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains,” a doozy of a misogynistic dis, even by Snoop Dogg standards.”

The Newark Star Ledger says that “expectations are higher for his 44th album than for probably any since 1975′s ‘Blood on the Tracks.’” I don’t know how you arrive at such an estimate, but — who knows — it could be true.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says:

“Modern Times” doesn’t have the core of truly great songs or the creative ambition that elevated discs like “Blood on the Tracks” or “Blonde on Blonde,” but it also has few true soft spots. It merits an honorable place in the second tier of Dylan’s resumé.

Hmm. You can see why Dylan, as he says in his latest Rolling Stone interview ( as well as the previous RS interview), doesn’t like to see his new albums compared to his old albums. He would prefer them to be compared instead to what else is out there in the marketplace.

Reed Watson in The Crimson White Online, on the other hand, finds the comparison favorable:

“Modern Times” is the story of a world where the preacher makes a profit and the homeless man retreats to his mansion in the hills. It’s contradiction, dripping with irony and meddling in serious consequences for whomever stands in its way. And the greatest songwriter who has ever lived delivers it all with the same ferocity of “Blood on the Tracks.”

Mark Beech for Bloomberg comes right back at him:

If everything on the CD were on a par with the most accomplished numbers, “Modern Times” would be one of Dylan’s best albums and possibly his finest since 1975′s “Blood on the Tracks.” The amount of filler rules this out.

A reviewer in The Daily Orange goes hog-wild with comparisons, coming up positive at first:

One myth about Dylan is his new songs never come close to his old ones, but this is not true. “To Make You Feel My Love,” off of 1997′s “Time Out of Mind,” is as good as any relationship song on “Blood on the Tracks.” In the same way, “Thunder on the Mountain” and “The Levee’s Gonna Break” fit in with the liveliest cuts on “Highway 61 Revisited.”

He goes on to say:

Any reluctance to enjoy Dylan’s new songs is not rooted in their lack of quality, but in their lack of message. The political strife in the world has left a vacuum, and no amount of Conor Oberst singing “When the President Talks to God” can fill the protest-singer shoes of the old Dylan. However, that Dylan is dead, and we are not likely to see the activist, troubadour or drugged out beatnik again. As the song says, he used to care, but things have changed.

(emphasis mine)

Those “protest-singer shoes” of Dylan’s have been empty a long, long time, and I’m not even sure he ever wore them — and certainly not in the way most people think. Yet somehow he always gets called to account by certain critics for not filling them.

Oh, well. Just watch out you don’t get sucked up in that “vacuum” that “political strife in the world has left.”








“Too Much God Stuff” ...1:29 pm

My regrets to anyone who thinks I’m overdoing the spiritual angle in talking about Modern Times, but it’s what I hear and find noteworthy, and I don’t see much point in writing the same stuff hundreds of other critics are writing anyway. Blame (or credit) Ronnie Keohane for altering the way I listen to Dylan’s songs.

On a musical note, though, how ’bout Bob’s singing on this album? He’s always been the king of nuance, but the richness in his vocalizing on Modern Times is astounding. Mrs. RWB was reminded of George Jones on When The Deal Goes Down. Maybe it’s part of the overall comfort he exudes on the record. He’s completely at peace in his skin. There’s no constrictions you can hear or feel on Modern Times. It’s really something.








Someday Baby (Satan is Real) ...12:18 pm

There’s another blog that does commentary on Bob Dylan’s XM Radio show, called Dreamtime. Interesting stuff. In a post about one of Dylan’s shows, the writer refers to an anecdote he dug up about something that happened during an interview, by David Gates, of Bob Dylan.

David Gates, who’s written several articles about Dylan at various points in his career, reportedly was correcting a quote he was using from “Satan is Real,” in the galleys of his novel, “Preston Falls,” when Dylan called. During the course of the interview, Dylan started talking about religious songs, and remarked how frightening he felt the “Satan is Real” song was. “That’s weird,” Gates told him. “I’m looking at the lyrics right now.” “It’s a small world, Dave,” Dylan said.

Of-course Dylan played that great Louvin Brothers tune on his “Theme Time Radio Hour” — the one dedicated (so to speak) to the Devil.

You don’t have to go far in Dylan’s own work to find the realness of the Devil being brought to the fore — whether it’s 1963′s Whatcha Gonna Do:

Tell me what you’re gonna do
When the devil calls your cards.
O Lord, O Lord,
What shall you do?

or 1983′s Man Of Peace:

He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist,
He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed.
He’ll put both his arms around you,
You can feel the tender touch of the beast.
You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.

On his new album, Modern Times, the song Someday Baby is an insinuatin’ blues boogie (it’s also the song in the iPod commercial).

It’s early to be nailing down interpretations of songs, and, in fact, I think it’s always too early to nail down an interpretation. The songs ought to live and breathe, which they do.

But at least try considering this song as a kiss-off to Beelzebub himself. Imagine that the singer is looking forward to the final disposition of things — to the victory over the Devil that the Bible predicts.

Here’s a few verses:

Well you take my money and you turn me out
You fill me up with nothing but self-doubt
Someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry poor me anymore

So many good things in life that I’ve overlooked
I don’t know what to do now, baby you’ve got me so hooked
Someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry poor me anymore

Well I don’t wanna brag, I wanna wring your neck
When all else fails I make it a matter of self-respect
Someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry poor me anymore

I try to be friendly, I try to be kind
I’m gonna drive you from your home just like I was driven from mine
[the garden?]
Someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry poor me anymore

Livin’ this way ain’t a natural thing to do
Why was I born to love you?
Someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry poor me anymore

So, various reviewers are taking the song as a “that dang woman done me wrong” type song, and you can hear it like that. Those who enjoy accusing Dylan of misogyny will be happy to hear him threatening to drive the poor girl from her home and wring her neck.

I know I’m not alone in thinking that Dylan is generally operating on an entirely other level to all that, in his songwriting.

It’s a great tune, and one the band will really be able to stretch out on. Looking forward to hearing it live.

Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
(Luke, Chapter 8, Verse 12)








Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Themes, Dreams and Schemes ...10:18 pm

To make a start at reviewing the reviews of Modern Times — here’s Andrew Dansby in the Houston Chronicle. He gives the album 4 (out of 4) stars, and it’s a reasonably smart review. However, he nearly blows it all at the beginning by saying this:

If “Love and Theft” was, as titled, Bob Dylan’s album about love and theft (of the blues) and Time Out of Mind was his album about death and theft (having had a personal brush with the reaper), then the new Modern Times is his love and death record.

Say that all again?

What Dansby is doing here is actually pretty typical, which is one reason I’m picking it out. Reviewers feel the need to put neat labels on Dylan’s albums, and to compare one to another in this way. But of-course this way of characterizing what the various albums are “about” is all wrong. It’s a false premise. The most remarkable thing about Dylan’s output is not that each album deals with different themes, but rather that his themes are amazingly consistent. It’s the angle at which he comes at them that changes, along with the musical textures, lyrical styles and vocal flavors.

Far be it from me to try to definitively list the themes of Dylan’s career, but here are just some that I think are pretty well ingrained:

  • Mortality, and an attempt to make sense of life in the face of it.
  • A sense of the passing nature and worthlessness of much of what we on Earth obsess over and allow to control our lives.
  • An acute awareness of injustice, and a knowledge that injustice does in fact triumph more often than not in this world, and that this is both the way things always have been and the way they always will be — at least in this dimension.

Those could all be put more elegantly, no doubt (and Dylan certainly does it more poetically) but those are some big ones, in my opinion.

Now — compare how he goes at those themes on, say, Bringing It All Back Home versus Modern Times.

In 1965, it was It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).

Mortality?

For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes
Must get lonely.

The passing nature of what we obsess over?

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

Injustice? Oh, why not this verse:

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

(Woooohhh!!)

In 2006, it’s When The Deal Goes Down.

Mortality?

Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air
Tomorrow keeps turning around
We live and we die
We know not why
But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.

The passing nature of what we Earthlings obsess over?

Well I picked up a rose
And it burnt [ poked?] through my clothes
I followed the winding stream
I heard deafening noise
I’ve felt transient joys
I know they’re not what they seem

Injustice?

The midnight rain follows the train
We all wear the same thorny crown
Soul to soul
Our shadows roll
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.

Forty one years apart. A remarkable 24-year old, and a both remarkable and vastly experienced 65-year old. Attacking the very same themes, I’d suggest.

There is a certain difference, of-course, at least in the two examples given. It’s Alright Ma offers no specific consolation to the listener, other than the (by no means negligible) sort that is derived from just identifying the problems. At the end, we’re left with:

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.

That harks back to the transience of life itself. But it’s not overly comforting to think that nothing matters because life itself doesn’t matter. And yet, the singer is getting at something there too. If life itself is “life only,” then it compels the question, “What else is there?” No answer is provided, but the question itself is a healthy one. The answer, as with the answer to many of the healthy questions that Dylan asked during these years, is left blowing in the wind.

Four decades later, Dylan is not without answers. But he’s sure learned some cute ways to deliver them.

Each great theme — mortality, the passing nature of our Earthly concerns, and the inescapability of injustice — is addressed with the same simple refrain: “And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.” The musical accompaniment — and the way the song is sung — leave no doubt to the listener that this does constitute, to the singer, a resolution of the various sadnesses he has been describing. (The musical nature of It’s Alright Ma, by contrast, conveys a lot of discord.)

So who is the “you” who the singer is so certain that he will be “with” when “the deal goes down?”

Is it — as the reviewer in the Houston Chronicle and many other reviewers seem to think — an especially beguiling lady friend? A beguiling lady friend who will somehow finally resolve mortality, provide him with treasures which are worthwhile instead of fleeting, and conquer injustice? Aren’t those the kinds of things a Bible-reading guy like Bob understands that only the Good Lord can do?

Well, Dylan is leaving it a little mysterious, and the listener may too, if the listener so chooses. But I think, in his way, Dylan is still busy slipping in those good and healthy questions. And certainly sticking faithfully with the same (always topical) themes.

More frailer than the flowers
These precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes
Like a vision from the skies
And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.

….

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
(Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, Verse 5.)








Bones ...8:39 pm

One of the most popular shows on the Fox TV Network is “Bones,” I’m reliably informed. During one of the commercial breaks in that show just now, I saw the Dylan/iTunes/iPod commercial. Great.








Someday Baby ...2:48 pm

You can also watch the new iPod/iTunes/Modern Times commercial via YouTube. See below.








When The Deal Goes Down ...1:46 pm

Follow this link and you should be able to watch the new video, via AOL, for When The Deal Goes Down (starring Scarlett Johansson, a dog or two, and a few extras). Directed by Bennett Miller, it’s a very pretty video. And a great song.








More Mail ...1:10 pm

Don’t have much time today, so I’m grateful that people are writing material for me.

Thanks to reader Micah, for this e-mail:

… It’s amazing that your site is virtually the only place on the web that doesn’t create their own Bob. I’m sure some would argue, but you certainly back up your points better than most. I think people do the same thing with Bob that they do with God. They make their own version and don’t bother to actually find THE TRUTH. Anyways, I’m very much looking forward to your analysis of Modern Times, particularly the lyrics. I’m sure the strong presence of things of spiritual nature hasn’t gotten past you. Apparently it has gotten past every reviewer in the country. Of course, they may just creating their own Bob. To each their own I guess, but we’ll see who’s still with THEM when the deal goes down. Once again, thanks for helping to keep a few like minded fans sane. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

I don’t regularly post e-mails that compliment me, but this is such high praise, that I had to. Joking aside, I sincerely appreciate it. The compliment that I don’t “create [my] own Bob” is the funny thing, because of-course that’s exactly what the less flattering e-mails I’ve received have often accused me of. I know that I do bring biases to listening to Dylan, but I magnanimously forgive myself because at least I’m open about them. It’s certainly vital to leave room — whenever analyzing Dylan — for all the different angles at which his songs remain valid. It’s his capacity to write songs that work on many levels and can be turned around and around that is a key part of his genius, after all.

I find myself personally not in any big hurry to review the album systematically. There’s so much to comment on, that it’ll come out in bits and pieces anyway. As Micah points out, the strong spiritual elements are certainly being missed by the usual reviewers. My review at this point is: I love it, and I’m certain that this will be a record I’ll listen to again and again for the rest of my life. It’s a real cracker. Can’t hope for better than that.

And thanks to Thomas for this note on the subject of reviews:

I’ve been enjoying reading the various “reviews” of Modern Times and watching folks picking phrases, more or less at random from the songs and building exotic interpretations. Of course, I like exotic storylines, too, but it seems to me that since Time Out of Mind at least, Dylan’s lyrics call for a certain maturity of Christian experience and also to consider dramatic prophecy as at least one of the ways to listen to the songs (e.g. Make You Feel My Love as coming from risen Lord, who was musing while you can hear the nails being hammered in on Til I Fell In Love With You…) and that any serious review should come from both an interpretation of the entire song and an ability to, more or less, sing it from memory oneself. For many reviewers, i’d like to ask “Have you ever tried to sing that song yourself?” Just as when one memorizes, say, scripture, getting it to stick in one’s memory forces one to develop coherent, or at least, connected interpretations. Many Dylan commentators don’t seem to do that, from Michael Gray to various current quick to critique journalists.

The whole reviewing/critiquing thing is fraught with danger, don’t you think? After all, if the “greatest living user of the English language” (to quote Ricks) can’t himself make what he wants to say “as simple as possible, but no simpler” (to quote Einstein), what is the mere commentator to say. Still, on the other hand, it is fun to talk and find out if others hear the same resonances and allusions.

Indeed.








New Britain ...11:40 am

Last night saw Bob Dylan’s first live show since yesterday’s official release of Modern Times. He hadn’t played any of his new songs yet on his current tour, and, last night in New Britain, CT … he still didn’t play any.

Perhaps (1) he is waiting until the album has been out a little while and people have had a chance to know the songs or, (2) he and the band still have to rehearse the songs before he’s willing to start doing them, and somehow they haven’t been able to do that yet. His current tour ends on September 9th — about 11 days from now. It’s conceivable Dylan will wait until the next leg of the tour, starting October 11th in Vancouver, to introduce the new songs properly. Funny situation.

On another note, Dylan’s latest XM show just aired for the first time, on the theme of “Radio.” Plenty of material there, and it was a good show. It was also interesting to hear what next week’s theme is going to be: “The Bible.”








More Reading ...11:15 am

An e-mail from (a different) Justin regarding Lenny Bruce and other things at the Reading, PA show on August 23rd:

First off, let me say I thoroughly enjoy your site. It truly is a
breath of fresh air… And this truly is an exciting time for us
Dylanologists.

I was at the show in Reading, PA where Bob played “Lenny Bruce.”
According to the Bob Dylan Tour Guide online, he had played that a
whopping 3 times since 2000 before last Wednesday. That said, claiming
that that song was the biggest surprise of the evening doesn’t say a
WHOLE lot.

Before this show on this summer tour, he’d been relatively predictable,
opening with “Maggie’s Farm,” then “The Times…” then ending the show
with the 2 song encore of “LARS” and “Watchtower.” I had seen him the
previous saturday in Frederick, MD as well, so when he came out with
“Cats in the Well” and “You Aint Goin Nowhere,” I thought to myself
“we’re in for a ride tonight.” And we were. He didn’t play one song
from the Maryland performance until the eighth song, “Highway 61,” which
he had invited Jimmy Vaughan on stage for at the Saturday show, and
altogether only played 3 of the same songs in the two sets.

This is just a testament to the remarkable diversity of his setlists.
Surprisingly, the crowd didn’t seem to mind the obscurity of the songs,
while diehards such as myself enjoyed them thoroughly. Actually, right
before Jimmy Vaughan took the stage I heard a “HEY JUSTIN” from behind.
It was two of my favorite professors here at Villanova University…
Both conservative Catholics.

Anyway, I took some short videos I thought you might be interested in
checking out from the show. I genuinely wanted to remember the way he
had changed the songs and Bob was remarkably energetic and enthusiastic
throughout the performance:

http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=integritous

Thanks indeed for the e-mail and for the link to those clips.








Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Latest Israeli “Atrocities” ...8:42 pm

And by way of a break from all things Dylan — though definitely not from modern times — dig the latest piece of brilliance from Iowahawk: Israeli Airstrike Leaves Reuters Ambulance in Flames, Chopped, Channeled.

QANA, LEBANON – Israeli Defense Forces face fresh charges of war atrocities today, as international press agency Reuters released stark photos showing the devastation caused by a daylight IDF missile attack on a clearly marked Reuters press ambulance.

According to Reuters spokesman Martin Aldwyn, the vehicle was used by the agency’s local freelancers to transport poignant war-ravaged street urchins to Lebanese hospitals. Although clearly marked with a red cross, “PRESS,” fuzzy dice, and the international symbol for “Baby On Board,” the flaming 1950 Mercury was left nearly unrecognizable by the attack. Photos show that the impact of the Israeli missiles slammed the vehicle to the ground, lowered its roof five inches, and left it with a pancaked hood, shaved door handles, frenched headlights and De Soto grille.

Short, sweet, and right on target; don’t miss a word.

Iowahawk

(Factual background here: The Red Cross Ambulance Incident.)

Addendum 09:20 pm: Michelle Malkin has some practical suggestions for responding to the worldwide acquiesence to terrorist media manipulation.

Rumsfeld’s remarks the other day were right on point. This is the only aspect of the war that we are genuinely losing. Something has to change.







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