Bob Dylan (and Lady Gaga) at the Grammys

So what’s to say about Dylan at the Grammys last night?

Exactly twenty years ago, in 1991, Dylan performed at the Grammys while collecting his “Lifetime Achievement Award” (hmm … shouldn’t he either give that back or get another one?). He performed an all-but incomprehensible version of Masters of War. Lots of people said then: “Wow, how washed up is that old guy?” Twenty years later, after Dylan’s performance of Maggie’s Farm at last night’s show, it seems a lot of people are saying much the same thing. And they’re probably just as correct. (So we can expect another twenty years of great music from Dylan.) Continue reading “Bob Dylan (and Lady Gaga) at the Grammys” »

Bob Dylan at the Grammys

Bob Dylan is slated to perform on Sunday at the annual Grammy Awards show. It is said that he will perform with the groups Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers, in what has been described as a “salute to acoustic music.” An LA Times blog quotes show producer Ken Ehrlich, and indicates that the plan is for Dylan to perform as part of a “three-act suite” with those groups. First, Mumford & Sons are to play their song Cave, followed by the Avett Brothers performing their tune Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise, and then Dylan is to come on and perform something with both groups on stage. Ehrlich indicates that Dylan’s song is yet to be decided. (I vote for I Shall Be Free No. 10.)

Dylan’s well capable of throwing a wrench into the works of a carefully planned Big Performance like this, by choosing to do what he feels in the moment. I’d be happy to see it, frankly. I’d also be happy if he came on for the “salute to acoustic music” carrying a Fender Stratocaster. But most likely he’ll be nice, and I guess that would be OK too.

The Grammy show will air this Sunday at 8 p.m Eastern Time in the United States, on CBS.

Bob Dylan: April in Vietnam (and other places)

Bob Dylan and his band are hitting the road a little later than usual this year, according to currently reported tour dates, but they’re also doing some serious traveling once they do hit that road. The month of April is set to kick off with a concert in the city of Taipei, Taiwan (on the 3rd) and from there Dylan will go to Beijing and Shanghai in mainland China, to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) in Vietnam, to Hong Kong and to Singapore. The second half of the month will be spent in Australia and end up on the 30th with a gig in Auckland, New Zealand.

Last year, some may remember, there were rumored gigs in China that never came to pass. A story came out that Bob Dylan had been “banned from China,” but I was dubious about that, largely because of the weak sourcing, and it would seem indeed that there was nothing to it.

But Bob Dylan in Vietnam, huh? That seems like it ought to have some kind of great symbolic Continue reading “Bob Dylan: April in Vietnam (and other places)” »

Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, and black keys

Thanks to Richard who e-mails that he’s been reading a book called A New Literary History of America, and came across this in an article by Philip Furia on Irving Berlin:

While he had started out as a lyricist, Berlin soon began composing music as well. He had taught himself to play on the Pelham Cafe piano, but he could only play in the key of F-sharp, which consists largely of black keys. Eventually he would purchase a transposing piano , which allowed him to play in a single key and then, with the flip of a lever, hear how a melody sounded in other keys.

Furia goes on to say that Berlin’s song Alexander’s Rag Time Band “redefined the nature of American popular songs.”

I searched around and found more Continue reading “Irving Berlin, Bob Dylan, and black keys” »

Charlie Louvin, 1927 – 2011

Charlie Louvin, of the world-famous Louvin Brothers, has died at the age of 83. (His brother, Ira, died in a car accident back in 1965.) An article from Reuters is at this link. May he rest in peace.

Bob Dylan cited Christmas With The Louvin Brothers as his favorite album of the Yuletide season (with good reason, because it is absolutely killer). And there were a variety of other Dylan connections and mentions, some cited today by Harold Lepidus at the Bob Dylan Examiner.

As long it’s heard, the Louvins’ music will always be inspirational, and there’s no higher praise than that.

Fifty years: A Bob Dylan anniversary

I’m not big on anniversaries, but as is being observed in Rolling Stone and elsewhere, on this day exactly fifty years ago — January 24th, 1961 — Bob Dylan is believed to have arrived in New York City for the first time. Furthermore, it’s generally believed that he made his way immediately to Greenwich Village and played a couple of songs at the Cafe Wha?.

After that it gets sketchy. Some people say he played a couple of Woody Guthrie numbers. Others speculate that he gave them a blast of Ballad of a Thin Man and Obviously Five Believers, but based on the audience reaction, he decided to keep those songs in his back pocket for a while longer.

One thing you can’t really argue with is that it marks the beginning, in earnest, of Bob Dylan’s musical career. Fifty years. It is something to contemplate. All the more amazing when you consider how much success he’s had, with new and original material, in just these last ten years. Congrats to Bob, and thanks too, for, well, keeping it real.

Be My Baby

With the dearth of unofficial Bob Dylan content on YouTube, we have the pleasure of continuing to trawl for interesting cover versions of his songs. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight is a flawless piece of popular songwriting, I do think, quite up to standing without self-consciousness alongside the smooth and brilliantly-crafted tunes of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Kern, Berlin and ilk. It’s unpretentious; it says just what it needs to say, without overstatement, but rather with an air of effortlessness. You can’t do much better than that as a songwriter.

And Engelbert Humperdinck sure appreciated it.

In the notes to Biograph, Bob Dylan made a funny and charming observation about the tune, noting that it had occurred to him that the song “could have been written from a baby’s point of view.”

Indeed:

Kick your shoes off, do not fear,
Bring that bottle over here.
I’ll be your baby tonight.

Oddly tangential to this, in a Roe v Wade kind of way: Helpless in Philadelphia.

If it quacks like a duck

Thanks to Bob W. who tipped me to the fact that yesterday’s “Mallard Fillmore” cartoon strip features a Bob Dylan reference. If you go to this link it’s the top pane (at least today it is), the one titled “Mallard’s 2011 New Year Prediction #41.”

For those who don’t know, “Mallard Fillmore” is a syndicated comic strip which appears daily in a variety of U.S. newspapers. It has a distinct conservative tilt. Today’s strip is not too subtle: political correctness is in Mallard’s cross-hairs — a favorite target of his.

Mallard looks into his crystal ball and predicts “CBS will try Katie Couric’s suggestion and launch a Muslim-themed sitcom that will attract aging baby boomers … by using Bob Dylan’s “Everybody Must Get Stoned” as its theme song.”

Referring to the actual song title, Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35, would not have worked, as it wouldn’t have served well as the intended double-entendre to readers, evoking both the the affection for being stoned that is associated with the ’sixties generation and the fact that the penalty of death for crimes against Islam is still widely adhered to in the Muslim world. Continue reading “If it quacks like a duck” »

Six new books by Bob Dylan

Crain’s New York Business is reporting that Bob Dylan has signed a six-book deal with Simon & Schuster. Two of the books are said to be (long awaited) sequels to Chronicles: Volume One, and one other is said to be based on his line of patter from “Theme Time Radio Hour.” The other three books are not characterized. However, back in November, when the efforts of literary agent Andrew Wylie to get a big deal on Dylan’s behalf were first reported, it was also suggested that one book would be of poetry, and another would consist of background stories to some of Dylan’s songs.

Back then I made some relevant smart alecky comments in this space, and today I can see no reason why I shouldn’t make the same ones again:

The suggestion of this kind of literary fecundity might bemuse as well as tantalize Dylan’s fans. After all, he first started talking about Chronicles: Volume One in 2001, during interviews regarding “Love And Theft”. It sounded like he was well along in writing it. Yet, it didn’t come out until late in 2004 — and it was no War and Peace. (Of-course, with all the “references” to other works it’s been discovered to have inter-weaved in its pages by Scott Warmuth and others, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising it took so long to write.)

But when he’s in the mood, Bob’s always been able to be very prolific. Just look at how many paintings he’s managed to splash together in the last few years, despite his usual touring schedule, his Cadillac Escalade commercials and some new albums crammed in here and there. He seems to be in a race to qualify as the 21st century’s first bona-fide Renaissance Man, and I think that it would be reckless to bet on his failure.