Three Score and Ten for Bob
Party favours for Dylan’s 70th birthday
By Doug Heselgrave
Seventy isn’t what it used to be. The biblical age that signified the end of all mortal troubles has become just another marker on the road of our lives. As a second generation Dylan fan, I found it weirder when Bob turned fifty. At that time, I was still in my twenties and fifty sounded ancient and I had a difficult time reconciling the man in the black leather jacket who’d been rocking hard at Vancouver’s Pacific Colisseum a few months before with anyone who’d have that many years to his name. But, time has moved the goalposts and it’s no longer so strange to think of musicians we all know and love to keep on playing music into their eighth decade. Levon Helm, Phil Lesh, JJ Cale, Willie Nelson…. The list goes on, though I guess it won’t always. It’s a sobering thought – summers without Willie or Bob on tour…. But I’m digressing.
Bob Dylan – In Concert Brandeis University 1963
For historians, this newly discovered concert recording from Brandeis University in 1963 is something to get excited about. This high quality, professional recording was discovered in 2009 at the home of Ralph Gleason, the famed American music critic. It had survived in a box in a closet for nearly forty years before an avid Dylan collector, Michael Gould, discovered it and brought it out for the world to hear.
‘In Concert Brandeis University 1963’ is not necessarily for the casual fan as this recording captures Dylan in concert while he was still honing his craft in the period just before he became a star. Dylan wasn’t even the headliner at this concert; he was situated about half way through the roster below Jean Redpath, Jean Ritchie and Pete Seeger. All of that would soon change, as a few weeks after this concert, Dylan’s career defining second album, Freewheelin’ would be released. Still, a quick look through the setlist that includes ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’, ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues’ reveals a young artist who was in the process of developing a formidable and truly world-shifting repertoire of songs.
The only criticism that could be leveled against this release is that it’s so darned short. At only seven songs, it seems to end just as it gets going, but there simply isn’t much in the way of recordings from this period that could be added to complement these songs. So, after hearing the Brandeis set, pull out your copy of the official bootleg from Halloween 1964 to hear how far the young Dylan travelled in just one short year. ‘In Concert Brandeis University 1963’ is a true diamond in the rough, and is a charming, unvarnished treasure that provides insight into Bob Dylan’s early development. Indispensible.
No Direction Home – The life and music of Bob Dylan
By Robert Shelton
Robert Shelton was the greatest Dylan scribe ever. Michael Gray may have more encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the singer’s career and be able to compare versions of ‘Hattie Caroll’ from 1965 and 1997 with a rigor that defies logic and belief; Greil Marcus can turn the simplest uttering of Bob’s into a meditation whose verbosity sends us scurrying for our dictionaries, but for me, the warmth, insight and humanity of Shelton’s prose makes this work on Dylan the only one wholly worth reading. Any other book about him either seems remote, overblown or solely bent on creating or adding to the myths that surround him.
Of course, the main reason for the success of this book that essentially formed Shelton’s life’s work was that Robert and Bob knew and liked each other. The pair met just as Dylan was getting started and a groundbreaking article about the young singer’s music that Shelton wrote for The New York Times helped him to get a recording contract and some badly needed attention. It is a favour that Bob obviously never forgot as he co-operated with the production of this book (that was finally published for the first time in the mid eighties) and granted interviews with Shelton from the early sixties until the late seventies when the two men lost contact. In an unprecedented and never to be repeated gesture, Dylan also introduced Shelton to his parents and siblings as a way for him to gain insight into the singer’s early life. So, understandably there is a firsthand informal feeling guiding this book that is very refreshing. One gets the impression while reading that the songs Shelton writes about are new and his responses to them are immediate and free of the influence of other media and the hype that increasingly surrounded Dylan.
If there is any criticism that could be levied against this book, it is that Shelton’s story for all intents and purposes ends in the late seventies – somewhere around the time between ‘Blood and the Tracks’ and ‘Slow Train Coming’. But, that is also the beauty of the book. Shelton could have – as all others have done – relied on second hand sources and continued the book up until the mid eighties, but he took the high road and continued to write only what he knew directly to be true. It’s an ethic we need to see and experience more of.
Robert Shelton died in 1995, and it’s hard not to wonder what he would have thought of Dylan’s recent resurgence and the string of excellent albums that began anew with 1997’s ‘Time Out of Mind’, but unfortunately, that’s something we’ll never know. This newly revised and edited (many pages cut and added from the original version) edition of ‘No Direction Home’ is an essential read for the serious Dylan fan and admirers of well written, left of centre music criticism. A wonderful read.
The Bob Dylan Archive Box
By Box of Vision
So, what do you give the Bob Dylan fan who has everything? This 14.2 pound box that arrived at my doorstep the other day goes a long way towards answering that question as well as posing several others. Who would have thought the day would come when music fans would have over a hundred bucks to spend on a filing system – with no music included – for CDs that they already had? The lefty and social critic inside of me scoffs at the baby boomers and the seemingly endless supply of money they have to spend on the counterculture icons of their youth, but somehow the sincerity of this undertaking and the flawless aesthetics that guided it, quell the nasty voice inside of me.
Simply put, The Bob Dylan Archives box is a true thing of beauty. Made to look like a slipcase for Bob Dylan lps – their spines are reproduced beautifully – the Archives box is a set of three hardbound books. The first book is kind of like the albums we used to store hockey and baseball cards in – but much better made – and has a place for each of Dylan’s CDs. The second book is the most beautiful of the three and contains full size reproductions of all of Dylan’s albums complete with liner notes while the third booklet offers a photograph filled overview of Dylan as an artist.
Certainly, this Archive box may be out of the financial reach of most Dylan fans. Like the harmonica sets that came out a few years ago (and which I truly wish I could afford) this limited edition slipcase shows that there is a market for high quality, high end commemorative Dylan material. Though, it’s tempting to wonder what the young scruffy Dylan of five decades gone would have thought if he could have been spun into the future to see the fuss being made over him with box sets like this, it’s really beside the point. The music is one thing, the Dylan phenomena is another. For those wanting souvenirs, they don’t come any finer than this one. Well worth the money if you can afford it.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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