Monday, March 16, 2009

Dylan Cover Released: Together Through Life

And it's a doozy!



I agree with you, RWB. It is an amusing cover, considering the title.

PM UPDATE: We've learned that the photo on the front is the the same photo on the front of Larry Brown's Big Bad Love. In fact, there is a connection between Dylan and the film version of Big Bad Love with the inclusion of a cover of his song "Everything is Broken" in the sound track. According to author/keyboardist James (Jim) Dickinson, Dylan read every book Larry Brown published. It does make one wonder if the photo is a placeholder. Or perhaps it's a tribute. Or perhaps it's a joke. Who can tell?

Yep, RWB has picked it up too. Dickinson says, "Yeah—that was great. It’s when he was on that tour with Paul Simon. He called up—sometimes he calls when he comes through town. Most of the time he won’t, but he did that time and he said (Dylan inflection) ‘Hey, I gotta day off. Why don’t you take me through Mississippi?’ I said alright. He came down here when the boys were still living in the other trailer—I’ve got two trailers and the barn. The barn is my studio—the boys went over and hid in their trailer and started peeking out the window when they saw Dylan go by.

We talked about Larry Brown. Dylan said, ‘You know Larry Brown?’ I kind of made light of it, and I said ‘Yeah, he’s this drunk guy that hangs out at this bar where my kids play.’ And Dylan looked at me real sternly like I said the wrong thing and he said ‘I read every word he ever wrote.’ Oh well, allow me to re-assess my evaluation of my good friend Larry Brown."

And now the photo is up as the cover art for his latest release. He's a funny guy, that Bob Dylan. Now everyone is going to have to read Larry Brown.


"I think we milked it all we could on that last record and then some. We squeezed the cow dry. All the Modern Times songs were written and performed in the widest range possible so they had a little bit of everything. These new songs have more of a romantic edge." - Bob Dylan March 2009
Bob Dylan has now done a series of interviews with Bill Flanagan. Dylan's humor is present, including this bit:
There didn't seem to be any general consensus among my listeners. Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post-Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite ..."
UPDATE: I'm sorry, there are so many great quotes in this interview. Here's another one, on Dylan's current audience, an audience that now has "freed me up." His comment definitely resonates with me (even his humor, which is just so-present in this interview):
They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that. Images don’t hang anybody up. Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed.
Sounds like not only is the audience enjoying him (which we are), but he's enjoying this time himself.

Here's Part One:
FLANAGAN: A lot of this album feels like a Chess record from the fifties. Did you have that sound in your head going in or did it come up as you played?

DYLAN: Well some of the things do have that feel. It’s mostly in the way the instruments were played.

FLANAGAN: You like that sound?

DYLAN: Oh yeah, very much so … the old Chess records, the Sun records … I think that’s my favorite sound for a record.

FLANAGAN: What do you like about that sound?

DYLAN: I like the mood of those records - the intensity. The sound is uncluttered. There’s power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind. It’s alive. It’s right there. Kind of sticks in your head like a toothache.

ight: bold; color: rgb(204, 255, 255);">FLANAGAN: Do you think the Chess brothers knew what they were doing?

DYLAN: Oh sure, how could they not? I don’t think they thought they were making history though.

FLANAGAN: Did you ever meet Howlin’ Wolf? Muddy Waters?

DYLAN: I saw Wolf perform a few times but never met him. Muddy I knew a little bit. I suspect that a lot of men will identify with My Wife's Home Town.

FLANAGAN: Do you ever get in hot water with your in-laws over your songs?

DYLAN: No not really. The only person it could matter to gets a kick out of it. That song is meant as a compliment anyhow.

FLANAGAN: Do relatives come up to you at cookouts and ask when you’re going to write a song for THEM?

DYLAN: Oh yeah, one of my uncles’ wives used to pester me all the time, “Bobby, when are you gonna write a song about me … put me on the radio?” It would make me uncomfortable.

FLANAGAN: How would you get out of it?

DYLAN: I’d say, “I already did Auntie. You’re just not listening to the right stations.”

FLANAGAN: Do you have a picture in your head of where these songs take place? Where is the guy in LIFE IS HARD standing when he sings that song?

DYLAN: Well the movie’s kind of a road trip from Kansas City to New Orleans. The guy’s probably standing along the way somewhere.

FLANAGAN: Movie?

DYLAN: Yeah.

FLANAGAN: Right, you mentioned something about that before. How did you get involved?

DYLAN: The French director, Olivier Dahan, approached me about composing some songs for a film he was writing and directing.

FLANAGAN: When was that?

DYLAN: I can’t remember exactly, it was sometime last year.

FLANAGAN: What did you find intriguing about that? You must get approached for movie songs all the time.

DYLAN: I had seen one of his other movies, the one about the singer Edith Piaf, and I liked it.

FLANAGAN: What’s this new one about?

DYLAN: It’s kind of a journey … a journey of self discovery … takes place in the American South.

FLANAGAN: Who’s in it?

DYLAN: At the time we were talking I didn’t know who was going to be in it. I think Forest Whitaker and Renee Zellweger are in it now.

FLANAGAN: And he wanted you to do the soundtrack?

DYLAN: Yeah, pretty much. But he wasn’t too specific. The only thing he needed for sure was a ballad for the main character to sing towards the end of the movie. And that’s the song Life is Hard.

FLANAGAN: Were all the songs on this record written for the movie then?

DYLAN: Well no, not really. We started off with Life is Hard and then the record sort of took its own direction.

FLANAGAN: The new record’s very different from Modern Times which was a number one hit. It seems like every time you have a big hit, the next time out you change things around. Why don’t you try to milk it a little bit?

DYLAN: I think we milked it all we could on that last record and then some. We squeezed the cow dry. All the Modern Times songs were written and performed in the widest range possible so they had a little bit of everything. These new songs have more of a romantic edge.

FLANAGAN: How so?

DYLAN: These songs don’t need to cover the same ground. The songs on Modern Times songs brought my repertoire up to date, and the light was directed in a certain way. You have to have somebody in mind as an audience otherwise there’s no point.

FLANAGAN: What do you mean by that?

DYLAN: There didn’t seem to be any general consensus among my listeners. Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite. Some people prefer my songs from the nineties. I see that my audience now doesn’t particular care what period the songs are from. They feel style and substance in a more visceral way and let it go at that. Images don’t hang anybody up.

Like if there’s an astrologer with a criminal record in one of my songs it’s not going to make anybody wonder if the human race is doomed. Images are taken at face value and it kind of freed me up.

FLANAGAN: In what way?

DYLAN: Well for instance, if there are shadows and flowers and swampy ledges in a composition, that’s what they are in their essence. There’s no mystification. That’s one way I can explain it.

FLANAGAN: Like a locomotive, a pair of boots, a kiss or the rain?

DYLAN: Right. All those things are what they are. Or pieces of what they are. It’s the way you move them around that makes it work.
To be continued.

Dylan clarifies what he means by being freed up in his latest compositions. "If there are shadows and flowers and swampy ledges in a composition, that’s what they are in their essence. There’s no mystification. That’s one way I can explain it."

"That is what they are in their essence."

So, a tree is a tree, and so is, as the interviewer says, "a locomotive, a pair of boots, a kiss or the rain," they are what they are. As Gertrude Stein wrote in Sacred Emily, "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Stein herself explained that line to mean perhaps something akin to what Dylan is saying here, saying that in the time of Homer, or of Chaucer, "the poet could use the name of the thing and the thing was really there." After a while the true meaning would lose its identity, and she sought to recover the original meaning, to restore it's original freshness. "I think in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years," Stein said. Dylan seems to be thinking about the same thing.

In many ways, this brings us back to this discussion on the War of Words. If words lose their meaning, what meaning do they have? If they can be reinterpreted or mystified, do they eventually lose their meaning or become cliche? Dylan seeks apparently to demystify the words and restore them to their original meaning and uses the words now to paint a canvas, a place in song where he - and we - can live, like in an old home restored. There's a philosophy there, a very conservative one and one not at home in this modern age of "newness." No wonder he's making his latest records in the old style, even his radio show is in the old style, and so are his public performances.

It's not that there is something new, the "God is doing a new thing" of modernity, it's that the old is made new. It's still, to quote Dylan, "what they are in their essence." It's not reimagined, reinvented, or "reframed."

It's restored. Dylan is a restorationist. He's also pretty darn funny.

"All those things are what they are. Or pieces of what they are. It’s the way you move them around that makes it work." Dylan is simply amazing in how he juxtaposes, how he moves these elements around to make them work in his songwriting and his performances. The combinations may be new, but the elements are old. Jesus himself may be the most extraordinary juxtaposition of them all, which again is the very essence, the embodyment of the incarnation. To be able, as an artist, to put together elements grounded in truth and place them side by side is the work of art.

Essence of course is a word of alchemy. One could also make the case that not only is Dylan a restorationist (where his life as a "musical expeditionary" led him), but also as the alchemist, mixing his brews, refining his gold to its essence. In the end, I wonder, if he may just want to know if he was true.

1 comment:

Sean C. said...

That's an absolutely fascinating meditation on Dylan as a restorationist. There's so much in what you're saying. I'm also very glad that Bill Flanagan drew Dylan out a little on what would otherwise be completely impenetrable statements. Sometimes the most important question is "What do you mean by that?" But often it doesn't get asked of Dylan. Maybe the interviewers are too intimidated.