Big Pink Gives Up Its Ghost
(This review was originally published on a site that has now been buried in the proverbial basement. I’m dusting it off to be placed on this shelf, a few years late.)
They’ve survived primarily through word of mouth. That and a water-damaged cardboard box in Garth Hudson’s basement. Now, 48 years later, they stand whole and graciously unpolished. Formally, they’re known as The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Columbia). But these tapes have always denied standard formalities.
Take their creation, a hodgepodge panorama of the turning decade: Electric guitars. Amphetamines. A cry of “Judas”. A motorcycle crash. A third self-portrait. A pink house in Woodstock. A basement, with a dog on the floor. “Summer of Love” as far from California as could be.
Take the players: A newly rustic family man Dylan. The best bar band in Canada, finding voice. And later in the discs, an Arkansas boy, bringing thunder.
Take the songs, a sure sign of the tapes’ aplomb. Some are tradition- “Ain’t No More Cane”, “Bells of Rhymney.” Some are religious- “Po’ Lazarus”, “Sign on the Cross.” Some are comedy- “Kickin My Dog Around”, “I’m in the Mood.” And some are genius- “Santa Fe”, “Million Dollar Bash.”
It’s this informality that makes these tapes essential. Every overheard conversation, wrong note, and tape hiss a glimpse. This is art for the artists. Dinner for the chefs. Sounds created by friends for the like. And where the 1975 release fouled the stew, this stirs. And where the countless bootlegs crumbled from partiality, this stands.
Dylan and The Band have birthed a masterpiece. Forget that it’s a half century late. Be thankful that it’s arrived at all.
It’s been a long road out of the basement.