Monthly Archives: October 2006

Out of the office

Contingencies are likely to prevent me from blogging in this space for about the next seven days. Terrible enough at any time, it’s particularly disheartening with The Times opening on Broadway tomorrow and the reviews coming out over the weekend. (By the way, XM Channel 28 is broadcasting a “conversation with the cast” and music from the show tomorrow at 12 noon EST.) It also remains to be decided whether Dylan’s 2006 baseball pick, the Detroit Tigers, will win the World Series and confirm Bob as the sports pundit to watch from here on out. At the time of writing, they are down by 2 games to 1 in the best of seven contest. It will all be over for sure by Sunday, one way or another, and with or without commentary from yours truly. I guess the world will just have to struggle on somehow.

Viewed “The View”

More than half of “The View” on ABC TV in my neighborhood was preempted by President Bush’s news conference this morning. (Thank God for small mercies.) Towards the end of the show, Michael Arden and various dancers came out and performed Like A Rolling Stone. I thought it was quite good, a pretty punchy portrayal of the song that looks like it would work very well on a theater stage. The line about “the jugglers and the clowns” really stood out in the circus-y context. So, it doesn’t demonstrate whether the show will succeed or fail, but it was, at least in my “view,” a definite positive. Success or failure will be determined by Broadway theater-goers and critics.

“All the people can’t be all right all the time”

A week or two ago I mentioned a review of Dylan’s show in Vancouver that said the fans wanted to hear more “classics” — that Dylan’s more recent material, from the past decade, just didn’t measure up.

Today, a review of last night’s show in Denver, in the Rocky Mountain News, confidently asserts precisely the opposite.

Despite the acclaim for Modern Times – and the crowd going nuts for those songs Tuesday night – he limited his erratic set-list to just three tunes of the 10 on that disc.

The fact that those three were highlights for the rabid crowd and, seemingly, for the musicians onstage, made you shake your head. Most musicians would kill for that kind of reception of their new work.

Maybe, after over forty-five years as a public performer (and a successful one, so I hear), reviewers might give Dylan a little credit for knowing what he’s doing. Many of the hardcore fans are most interested in hearing the new songs, to be sure — and certainly Dylan and the band probably enjoy tackling the fresh material. Yet, a set consisting of mostly brand new material would leave those who came wanting to hear “the classics” feeling cheated. As an entertainer, with the goal of entertaining, a balance has to be struck. It seems like Dylan is probably getting it right.

The Colorado reviewer also says:

The show included many left turns, some of them welcome (a gorgeous reading of Shooting Star), some not so much. (I can guarantee you no one walked in the show thinking “Man, I hope he sings the song Joey tonight.” Yet there it was anyway.)

Who wouldn’t want to hear Joey?

I guess there really is just no accounting for taste.

Times and Times Again

The New York Times Magazine has what you’d call an “in-depth” piece on Twyla Tharp today. She clearly gave the writer a great deal of time and access; pity it was wasted on this rambling five page piece of amateur psycho-twaddle. The writer seems to think that what we need to know is the truth about Tharp’s personal relationships (and seems to consider himself herself quite the intrepid reporter for trying to drag this stuff out of Tharp against her will). We learn little about The Times They Are A-Changin’ and even less about Tharp’s work in general. It is, in my opinion, the worst kind of writing that you can find on the arts these days — barely a step removed from Kitty-Kelley-type-gossip-garbage, but actually worse for its disingenuousness and pretension.

Much more worthwhile is a piece by Jason Zinoman: When Bobby met Bertolt, times changed.

Bob Dylan’s collaboration with Twlya Tharp on the new musical The Times They Are A-Changin’ came as a surprise to some of his longtime followers. “It’s bizarre,” said Michael Gray, who wrote The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, this year’s oversize compendium of all things Dylan. “If you like Bob Dylan, why would you like a Broadway musical? There are theater types and there are music types, and they are rarely the same person.”

Sometimes they are. Among the stew of influences that Dylan identifies in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One, is the invigorating off-Broadway theater scene that sprang up in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, during some of his most formative years. At one point Dylan raves about a 1963 production he saw of The Balcony, a play by French existentialist Jean Genet.

“It portrayed the world as a mammoth cathouse where chaos rules the universe, where man is alone and abandoned in a meaningless cosmos,” he writes, adding that it would have been as relevant 100 years ago as it is today. “The songs I’d write would be like that, too. They wouldn’t conform to modern ideas.”

It goes on, an interesting and fine sketch of the influences of Brecht on Dylan’s work.

Message from the Democratic Party

Iowahawk publishes an open letter from DNC chairman Howard Dean to the “Conservative-American Community.”

Despite what you may have heard on Fox News, we Democrats know what issues are on the minds of heartland conservatives like you. We know that your number one concern of is the safety of your children — whether they are plucking their banjos on the back porch, speaking tongues to snakes at Jesus Camp, or torching crosses at your local Nascar racing contest. We also know that the number one threat to your children’s safety is the scourge of international homo-ism. That’s why we at the DNC have created “The Contract With American Hillbillies,” a new multipoint investigation program to identify and root out conservative stealth homoism before it threatens you or your precious little inbreeds.

What we have found so far has been shocking.

Right on target, as usual.

Tour check

With Bob Dylan’s fall tour passing its fifth date, the fan reviews on Bill Pagel’s site have, to my mind, been unusually positive, and the mainstream media has also been getting in on the act. From the San Francisco Chronicle, there is a nice appreciation from Joel Selvin: “Dylan rollicks in joy and comfort on the road less traveled.

He sang “When the Deal Goes Down” and “Workingman’s Blues #2″ from the new album and gave a whole new treatment to the only song he played from his 2001 record, “Love and Theft,” “Summer Days,” as if he has already moved on from even his most recent past. Dylan is not going to let the dust settle on his music, and he remains the most exciting, daring and rewarding interpreter of his own songs, no small feat considering the breadth of artists who have covered him.

He played a lot of harmonica, drove most songs to a close with a couple of choruses on harp. He gave the soloists double choruses and took second instrumental breaks, clearly relishing the wide, swinging sound of the band and the spare, precise solo work. Bassist Tony Garnier played as much upright as electric. Steel guitarist and violinist Donnie Herron added to the group’s aggressive drive, playing more blues than country. The whole “Modern Times” band sound harked back to the tight, rocking ensembles led by one of Dylan’s early heroes, the late Doug Sahm.