Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dylan back on the cover of Rolling Stone

Great quote from the interview posted below the fold. What Dylan says can apply to the Christian faith - think about it:

People bring out books like the Encyclopedia of Dylan. There are people who consider themselves Dylan scholars or Dylanologists. Does it please you or does it seem strange for somebody to be microstudying you like that?
Nooo! It's outsiders, again. Anybody inside would know what it is that we do and what makes it tick. And you could write volumes on it. I could teach a course on it myself, on how to play this type of music. You know teaching enough young guys who want to play it. But you know, popular music. It doesn't attract people who are in it for the right reasons. They're not called to do it. It's not their destiny. They weren't born for it. ...But you know even then... aren't there thousands of books written on Shakespeare's works? And Shakespeare too? How many do you need to read? I'll tell you wouldn't you rather see a Shakespeare play than read a critical analysis on him? I know I would!
Just last night I was having dinner with a great friend and was asked "Why Dylan?" I would say the same now as I have in the past - when I heard Not Dark Yet I felt it from the inside out, like faith. It can be all in your head and then boom - something breaks through, like a whole new world opens up. That's what it felt like when I heard Not Dark Yet.

Here's Dylan take on Obama, seems he's not caught up in the mania - a great insight, which is applicable to our current Anglican Troubles as well:
Do you recall where you were at when Obama was elected? Did you feel part of that energy with the campaign? Do you feel like he's a good person?
Well I mean, how do you know? The people that are in history that I study up on are people like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Scipio, maybe George Washington, Lincoln, those kind of guys. And I don't know much about any of these other guys that run for office. It takes more than being a politician to be a leader. So I study leaders rather than politicians.
Wait there's more. Here's Dylan chatting up the president of France and musing on the end of globalization and getting back to being the United States:

I want to just follow-up on that globalization talk you had with Sarkozy [after his April 7th show in Paris].
Yeah, I ask him, I said, "With all these bailouts and stimulus packages, all these bailouts throughout the country. I'm just wondering whether globalism is dead in the tracks? Ya know, is it over?" He doesn't say yes, he didn't say no.

Bob, he is a politician...
Yeah!

But what intrigued me was you saying that we must get back to being the United States.
Oh, and he could get back to being France.

Boy, you're an individualist, aren't you? Does globalism therefore get oppressive to you? The global Internet? Global economics? Are you missing what some critics call the older, weirder America?
I never thought the older America was weird in any way whatsoever. Where do people come up with that stuff? To call it that? What's the old weird America? The depression? Or Teddy Roosevelt? What's old and weird? Well, musically, no. Musically we play a form of American music and that's not gonna go away. Whatever happens in the world won't affect that whatsoever. But you know globalism is, I would think, about getting rid of boundaries, nationalities. You're apart of one big world, no? It might take people awhile to get used to that. I don't like the trend.

Dylan hits the cover of Rolling Stone, from here:
It’s a land of Walt Whitman and Chuck Berry, of border towns and murder ballads — and America’s greatest songwriter may be the last man living there. For the new issue of Rolling Stone on newsstands today, historian and professor Douglas Brinkley followed Bob Dylan from Paris to Amsterdam as the Midwest’s most famous son held court on American icons like Elvis Presley, Walt Whitman, Chuck Berry and Carl Sandburg.

Dylan also opened up about his partnership with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who contributed to Dylan’s new Together Through Life and mused on playing with the guitarist Mike Bloomfield.

In outtakes from Brinkley’s interview only available on RollingStone.com, Dylan talks about building the perfect sound, the problem with pop music and his take on globalism, as well as his songwriting. “Records take a lot of time, and ya know, you don’t just make them to make them. But you make them because you want people to hear the songs you need to play,” Dylan tells RS. “There’s just so many songs I have. Ya know, it’s always hard now, trying to find places for them in concert, ensuring the older ones get played.”

Cover Story Preview

Rolling Stone also takes a look back at the magazine’s long history with Dylan in a gallery of his RS covers (he appeared on his first in 1968), and explores the singer’s non-musical work in a gallery of his paintings, which have been displayed in galleries worldwide. Plus, read David Fricke’s review of Together Through Life.

Bob Dylan’s latest, Together Through Life, arrives today, but while critics are hailing this fresh batch of hardened, urgent songs, much of the advance chatter surrounding the album centers on the involvement of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

“Hunter is an old buddy,” Dylan explains in our next cover story, which hits newsstands this week (Check out some of cover writer Douglas Brinkley’s conversations with Dylan, plus a gallery of all of the songwriter’s RS covers). Dylan and Hunter collaborated on 10 songs, all but one of the album’s tracks. “We could probably write a hundred songs together if we thought it was important or the right reasons were there,” Dylan tells Rolling Stone. “He’s got a way with words and I do too. We both write a different type of song than what passes today for songwriting.”

Dylan and Hunter collaborated before on “Silvio” and “The Ugliest Girl In The World” for Dylan’s 1988 album Down In The Groove. The pair’s latest efforts, however, mark Dylan’s deepest work with a collaborator since his 1976 album Desire, which saw Dylan team with Jacques Levy for all but two songs.

Dylan explained his creative partnership with Hunter to RS contributor Doug Brinkley, a noted historian and Rice University professor who’s also profiled Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut and Ken Kesey for RS. Brinkley interviewed Dylan for our new issue, which arrives this week. During their conversation, Dylan kept the door open to future collaborations with Hunter. “I think we’ll be writing a couple of other songs too for some off-Broadway play,” Dylan says.

Rolling Stone issue 1078 hits newsstands this week, and look for more from Dylan — including more from our exclusive interview, and a look back at his past RS covers — throughout the week here on RS.com. In the meantime, check out David Fricke’s four-star review of Together Through Life.

Four Stars for Together Through Life

Bob Dylan has sung in many voices on his records: the nasal-braying alarm of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"; the acidic dismissal in "Like a Rolling Stone"; the country hermit on The Basement Tapes; the grizzly wisecracking drifter on 2001's Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times. But Dylan, who turns 68 in May, has never sounded as ravaged, pissed off and lusty, all at once, as he does on Together Through Life. It is a murky-sounding, often perplexing record. The lyrics seem dashed off in spots, like first drafts, while the performances — by Dylan's current touring band — feel like head arrangements caught on the run between Never Ending Tour dates. But there is a grim magnetism coursing through these 10 new songs — and most of it is in Dylan's vividly battered singing.

The shock of his voice comes right away. Dylan starts the record as if he's at a loss for words. "I love you, pretty baby/You're the only love I've ever known/Just as long as you stay with me/The whole world is my throne," he sings in the muddy samba "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'." It is a plain, unpromising opening, except for the delivery: a deep, exhausted rasp that sounds like the singer has been beaten to a pulp, then left for dead at the side of the road. When Dylan gets to the title punch line in each verse, he grumbles it with an audible sneer. As far as he can tell, there isn't much world left to sit on.

Dylan's throat has never been anyone's idea of clear and soaring. But as a young folk singer, he strained to sound older and more sorely tested than he was, as if he had known Charley Patton, A.P. Carter and the Great Depression firsthand. He's finally there, with an authentically pitted instrument ideally suited to the devastated settings of these songs and the rusted desert-shed production (by Dylan under his usual pseudonym, Jack Frost): brushed-snare strolls and bar-band shuffles; bag-of-snakes guitars, with frequent stinging fills by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; the rippled sigh and mocking laugh of an accordion icing most songs, played by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Compared to the Western-swing-like buoyance of Love and Theft and the Fifties-Chess-session air of Modern Times, this record sounds like it was cut in the dead-end Mexican border town in Orson Welles' 1958 film noir, Touch of Evil, especially when Dylan gets to lines like the closing few in "Forgetful Heart," a musky blend of banjo, dirty guitar and utter emotional defeat: "All night long/I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain/The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door."

That hardened, bleating voice is also perfect for these times: A nation drunk on hope less than six months ago now drowns in red ink and pink slips. "Some people they tell me/I got the blood of the land in my voice," Dylan cracks in the Nashville Skyline-style sway of "I Feel a Change Comin' On." But the country in these songs is running on fumes, into brick walls. "State gone broke/The county's dry/Don't be looking at me with that evil eye," Dylan snaps in the Chicago-blues lark "My Wife's Home Town," spitting the lines like a CNN news ticker. (The name of that town, according to Dylan: Hell.) "Shake Shake Mama," a string of comic come-ons with a Louisiana juke-dance gait, ends not with scoring but dire warning: "If you're goin' on home, better go the shortest way."

There is another line worth noting in "I Feel a Change Comin' On" — "You are as whorish as ever" — and Dylan growls it like a compliment. Together Through Life is, in a surprisingly direct way, about the only thing you can count on when you're surrounded by clowns, thieves and government (sometimes all the same thing) and what happens when you lose — or throw away — your good thing. In the slow hurt of "Life Is Hard," Dylan bites down gently on each syllable, over soft-shoe drums and weeping pedal steel ("My dreams are locked and barred/Ad-mit-ting life is hard/With-out you near me"). And regret doesn't get much better than his strict instructions in the final verse of "If You Ever Go to Houston," a Doug Sahm-like shot of norteƱo R&B: "Find the barrooms I got lost in/And send my memories home/Put my tears in a bottle/Screw the top on tight."

Ultimately, Together Through Life is a mixed bag of this decade's Dylan — impulsive, caustic, sentimental, long done with the contrived details of contemporary record-making. The album may lack the instant-classic aura of Love and Theft or Modern Times, but it is rich in striking moments, set in a willful rawness, and comes with a wicked finish. "It's All Good" is a bayou-John Lee Hooker boogie that opens with bad shit ("Big politician telling lies/Restaurant kitchen, all full of flies/Don't make a bit of difference") and just gets worse ("Brick by brick, they tear you down/A teacup of water is enough to drown"). It's a portrait of an ugly America, devolving into bare-knuckle Darwinism — survival of the coldest and cruelest — and Dylan rubs your face in it. "It's all good," he sings repeatedly with a cruel shrug in that voice, knowing damn well it's not. But Dylan is just as sure, in nearly every other song here, that there is strength in numbers — and that number is two.

BB NOTE: Heading home today (with a stop at the magazine stand to pick up the latest issue of Rolling Stone) and know that the Amazon Man has been at the door, so stay tuned for the official BabyBlue Review of Together Through Life.

In the meantime, here's the official video for Beyond Here Lies Nothing, from Together Through Life:




UPDATE: Here are excerpts from the cover story interview:

Do you think of yourself as a bandleader at all?
Ah, yeah... I do. Ideally, I probably would be by not writing music but writing the charts. I'd be writing the dynamics that are happening inside of the song. But without writing that down in a musical notation and being able to give it to say, an orchestrator. And so my songs could be played by an orchestra. With strings and horns and bassoons. And where those rhythms can be played by classical instruments. I could probably get my point across even better than I can now with just playing in a five-piece band. So, in my mind, whatever it is I'm doing, it's not really completely fully developed. Does that make sense to you? It's got potential to be developed. But as time goes on, nobody is notating my music properly. I used to think maybe 10 years ago that somebody should. That somebody would. We had some people come in and do it but back in those days, my electric guitar was dominating the rhythm section and I couldn't get my supporting players to understand what all the focus was on. And it took me a long time to find the right combination of guys. Not that I ever stopped working, I figured I'll just plow through the song and the right guys will appear sooner or later. Which is what happened. That's pretty much the story up to the present time.

My songs, from the beginning, were never like that. They weren't really a communal thing for people to bond over. They were more individualistic right from the start. But I always knew something was going to click. But I didn't know what it would be. So I stuck with it. You know, my health held up. And I was able to stick with it. And there was like a fierce wind that was pushing me, just to do this one thing like nobody had ever done it before. In jazz or classical music you have critics who understand the music. Like in modern jazz, I mean you'll read reviews of, you know, Charlie Mingus or Dizzy or somebody. The critical language is not a more conventional language. It's written for a music person to appreciate. Well pop music isn't written like that. Pop music seems to be right down there on the bottom of the street. It's almost worthless. The critics aren't necessarily good writers. They don't have to really take any type of college course in it because the songs themselves are really simple. And they have generations of musical idioms to look at. And... it's called popular music.

But you know Bob Willis? I saw a statement from Bob Willis one time and he said that, "Each aspect of pop music reflects on the other." And that, "Each aspect of popular music affects the other." He said the kind of music he played, which was called Western Swing music, was only in one area of popular music. He considered himself a popular music man. Just like the Memphis Jug Band, they thought they were playing popular music. They didn't have any skills I guess. I saw an interview once with Riley Puckett. He claimed they were playing popular music just like Bing Crosby singing it or Ella Fitzgerald or anybody. And I feel the same way. It's popular music. You can't break that. Some of it is stronger and harsher than others. But somebody I knew broke the pop music stereotype. That guy was Woody Guthrie. But his songs in one form or another are still popular music.

I would think doing 108 shows a year has helped create such a perfect sound. It must be keeping you alive. The lyrics to Together Through Life are survivalist road songs, really.
What happened there was I really had no plans to make any record, any new record from about '94, '92 or '94. I figured I'd go out on the road and I'd stick to performing. I'd figured that out, I'd gotten into what makes the road tick for me. So I figured I had, at that point, so many songs in my pocket, I didn't really want to write any new songs. I had songs of every type. And they all held up. But I was bored singing them a certain way. So I was already starting to break into the structure with my own guitar.

First thing I had to do was find a drummer. That was difficult. But I found a good bass player, Tony Garnier, and he stuck with me. Finding a drummer was difficult. And finding another guitar player or two was just almost impossible. And I'd experiment with other instruments. I just went through guys, ya know, until what I have as a band now is acceptable for the type of music we play in a good way.

But at a certain point I thought that even though I had made a vow to myself that I wouldn't record anymore, and records take a lot of time, and ya know, you don't just make them to make them. But you make them because you want people to hear the songs you need to play. Ya know, different songs. I had no real hunger to play any different songs. And, of course, that changed because I realized, "Why don't I just write some songs that are more into this new style of music that I'm playing?" Which my old songs weren't. I could force them there and they will work. But, ideally, maybe they weren't suited for what I now wanted to accomplish. So I started writing the Time Out of Mind songs. And we used most of those in that album. I thought, well, we did that! We'll do some more! That album's songs fit this particular style we're doing now. You never knew when you're writing them yourself. Or you'd only write them because you wanted to sing something new. Oftentimes it's because you were short or something for an album. We couldn't possibly play all the songs I've came up with in a week. Or in a month. There's just so many songs I have. Ya know, it's always hard now, trying to find places for them in concert, ensuring the older ones get played. But as far as going out on the road? I mean, that would probably be said by outsiders who aren't really preachers or musicians or entertainers of any kind of degree. Basically I'm like Chuck Berry or Little Richard when it comes to outsider stuff. So I reject that criticism that I'm performing too much.

People bring out books like the Encyclopedia of Dylan. There are people who consider themselves Dylan scholars or Dylanologists. Does it please you or does it seem strange for somebody to be microstudying you like that?
Nooo! It's outsiders, again. Anybody inside would know what it is that we do and what makes it tick. And you could write volumes on it. I could teach a course on it myself, on how to play this type of music. You know teaching enough young guys who want to play it. But you know, popular music. It doesn't attract people who are in it for the right reasons. They're not called to do it. It's not their destiny. They weren't born for it. ...But you know even then... aren't there thousands of books written on Shakespeare's works? And Shakespeare too? How many do you need to read? I'll tell you wouldn't you rather see a Shakespeare play than read a critical analysis on him? I know I would!

Do you get any time to sit in on concerts? Like would you go see someone like Leonard Cohen...
I know what Leonard does. I wouldn't need to go see him. I still go see plays. I go to the symphony because I'd be hearing threads and things that are new to me that maybe would influence me in some kind of way. ... I mean I would hear things harmonically that I might think, "Oh, well that's not such a bad idea" or maybe that kind of thing. But I wouldn't go see anybody.

Do you recall where you were at when Obama was elected? Did you feel part of that energy with the campaign? Do you feel like he's a good person?
Well I mean, how do you know? The people that are in history that I study up on are people like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Scipio, maybe George Washington, Lincoln, those kind of guys. And I don't know much about any of these other guys that run for office. It takes more than being a politician to be a leader. So I study leaders rather than politicians.

Obama's shown great potential as a leader.
Let's hope so. I mean he's inheriting that position at a very complicated time.

Are you recording all of your shows on good digital tape? Is each Bob Dylan show being recorded for posterity?
No. At a certain point we'll take songs into the studio and we'll do a television show. Television. [Laughs.] Like that still exists — with this band performing some kind of a repertoire of these particular songs. And they'll be recorded properly. The other [bootleg] recordings, they aren't recorded properly. You have no idea the stuff I deal with. Why are people compelled to think I'm just a public figure going around doing shows they think they can record what they want? You have to go deal with the people who are actually there from night to night. But most of those people aren't there to record or to take pictures. They're there for enjoyment reasons. They are a lot of people who are having a night out. If you're doing something else while we're playing [shakes head]. I say it's like going to a Shakespeare play and taking pictures. You're not going to feel the affect.

But can you ever say, "Oh, that show tonight I felt like I was in the zone"?
No. They're all in the zone. Because it's got nothing to do with how you feel. They're all in the zone. Every night is in the zone. Because it's mathematical. As long as you stick to the rules — the mathematical rules, there's no way you can miss.

BB NOTE: What do you think he mean's by this, sticking to the rules, "the mathematical rules?" What do you think he means - he's said this before, that it's about mathematics.

I want to just follow-up on that globalization talk you had with Sarkozy [after his April 7th show in Paris].
Yeah, I ask him, I said, "With all these bailouts and stimulus packages, all these bailouts throughout the country. I'm just wondering whether globalism is dead in the tracks? Ya know, is it over?" He doesn't say yes, he didn't say no.

Bob, he is a politician...
Yeah!

But what intrigued me was you saying that we must get back to being the United States.
Oh, and he could get back to being France.

Boy, you're an individualist, aren't you? Does globalism therefore get oppressive to you? The global Internet? Global economics? Are you missing what some critics call the older, weirder America?
I never thought the older America was weird in any way whatsoever. Where do people come up with that stuff? To call it that? What's the old weird America? The depression? Or Teddy Roosevelt? What's old and weird? Well, musically, no. Musically we play a form of American music and that's not gonna go away. Whatever happens in the world won't affect that whatsoever. But you know globalism is, I would think, about getting rid of boundaries, nationalities. You're apart of one big world, no? It might take people awhile to get used to that. I don't like the trend.

You spent some time in New York rings over the decades. Do you ever get nostalgic being back in the Village? Or are you just doing your thing now so much you're not really looking back much.
Well I still find the old magic downtown. New York is New York. It's always got that vibrancy to it. But the old world? The one I found when I'd gotten there? That's pretty much gone. That's been gone for quite awhile and I wouldn't expect it to come back.

4 comments:

Rod said...

I'm a big folk singer
I've got golden fingers
and I'm loved every place I go

BabyBlue said...

Is that you again, Neil Young?

bb

Rod said...

Neil Young! Now you've gone too far!

BabyBlue said...

I'm listening to Neil Young,
I gotta turn up the sound
Someone's always yelling
turn it down
You do know who that "someone" was who'd yell "turn it down!"

Heh. ;-)

bb