“The Times They are A-Changin'”


I’ve been thinking a lot today.  That’s usually not a good thing, since a tendency to get lost in the woods of my thoughts often produces anxiety for me.  And to be honest, there’s been a fair amount of anxiety in my thoughts today; to be fair to myself, there’s a lot of anxiety floating around in the air these days and most of it isn’t mine.  But I’m not feeling anxious.  Just. . . thinky.

I’ve been thinking about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and how that’s produced some Very Strong Opinions from a lot of people.  I’ve been thinking about how I can see both sides of that particular argument, and therefore refuse to take sides.  Been thinking about how the award comes largely from the Baby Boomers’ love of Dylan and his life-transforming music and lyrics.  Been thinking about how awarding a musician–a popular and already heavily lauded and awarded one, at that–an award for literature kind of shuts some very deserving author of the credit and exposure they so desperately need.  But Dylan’s writing is so influential, so undeniably great, that I can’t argue that he isn’t deserving of it as well.  I’ve also been thinking about how some of the backlash about Dylan’s award is probably rooted in a the false notion that Rock & Roll is not a high art form, that it is not Art at all.  That this music holds no complexity or answers, or even any questions, about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  That it is something to be enjoyed when you are young but discarded as soon as you turn forty.  (And anyone who actually does believe Rock is that shallow and only for youth should first of all LISTEN to some goddamn Dylan, who is about as complex and chimeric as anything else in Rock.  Then they need to read some Greil Marcus to understand just what this music says about America, among a few other things.)

I’ve been thinking about my volunteering at the historical society, and some strife that’s going on there at the moment; it’ll pass soon enough, but it makes things a little tense right now.  I’ve been thinking about the assignment that’s due this week that I haven’t done yet; it’ll get done, but I’m having my usual minor stress about how and when it’ll get done.  I’ve been thinking about a job I’m in the running for, and the kind of minor blow it’ll be to my self-esteem if/when I don’t get it.  I’ve been thinking about who I am and who I want to be.  Things I think about a lot, but don’t generally mention to anyone.

I’ve been thinking about my cousin, whose mother died today.  (If you want to get technical, she’s my mom’s cousin, which makes her my first cousin once-removed.  And yes, I did look that up once.)  Her dad, my mom’s uncle, is also in failing health.  I want her to know I understand how weird her life is right now.  How sad and numb she’s feeling.  How confusing it is to lose a parent, to have such a huge momentous thing happen, to feel your world come to a complete and utter stop. and to wonder why the hell the rest of the world hasn’t stopped right along with yours.

I’ve been thinking about how in just a little less than a month, we’re going to elect the first woman president in this country.  And how that woman is going to be president in four years, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.  And how simultaneously exhilarating and depressing it is that I will be here to witness that anniversary.  Exhilarating because I make sure I exercise my right to vote; I just got my ballot in the mail and I’m looking forward to filling it out.  Exhilarating because it gives me such joy to know that women before fought for this right and that I, as well as every other woman who votes, is the living embodiment of this victory.  Depressing because we should have had the vote from the moment this country was founded.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  And right now, I’m thinking this song is more relevant now than ever.  You might notice that the version I chose is slightly different from the one most people are used to.  It’s from one of Dylan’s Bootleg series, a demo probably, with a piano standing in for an acoustic guitar.  I like the difference.  It suits the times.  Because they are indeed changing.  And you better start swimming, or you will sink like a stone.


Change to me has always represented disruption, and to me disruption is bad.  That’s not true.  Yes, these days, change seems to come mostly out of negatives: crime, bombings, anger.  There’s so much whirling around these days it’s kind of hard to get a grip on anything.  But not all change is bad, something I’ve been trying to learn for a long time now.  Change is inevitable, and the only good or bad is how you react to it.  That’s what this song is saying.  “The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast.  The slowest now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fading.  And first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changing.”

Let’s see where things are going.  Who knows?  It might be fun.

“Shelter from the Storm”


I was watching St. Vincent last night (which I recommend you do, too), and after wiping away a few tears at the end, I watched Bill Murray sing along to “Shelter from the Storm” as the closing credits played.  It was the perfect ending.

It also made me think about what a gentle, generous, wistful song this is.  I remember hearing it on the late, great KMET very late one night when I couldn’t sleep.  There’s a darkness to this song, but that’s a hallmark of a great number of Bob Dylan’s best songs, and it seems right that I first heard it in the darkness.

What makes Dylan great is how he takes those dark feelings and gives them different shades and tones.  The darkness of “Shelter from the Storm” is completely different from the darkness of, say, “Idiot Wind” from the same album.  Like I said, it’s gentle and generous and wistful.  A love that is gone but left the singer so profoundly changed that forgetting it isn’t even an option.  It made him a better man.  And a worse man.  It’s complicated, full of shadows and ghosts.  The perfect late night song.

I usually like to post a live clip or something with some kind of visual interest.  But this song doesn’t need anything but your ears and your heart.  Enjoy it.

“Master’s of War”


A Facebook meme got me thinking about this song again.  It’s one of the most scathing pieces of music I’ve ever heard.  And anyone who thinks it’s an excellent idea to turn around and kill every single member of ISIS because of what they’ve done should give it a careful listen.

Bob Dylan wrote this about Vietnam in the 60s, but it still applies.  I get the desire to retaliate, but I’m trying to resist it.  Violence begets violence.  If we continue fighting the “war” on terror with the same violence we’ve fought every other war, we will only create more violence from the terrorists.  You can’t wage war on an idea; you only wage war on people.  If you kill one, ten more pop up in his place.  The only way to stop this insanity is to find better ways to fight.  Fight poverty and hunger.  Fight a lack of education.  Fight intolerance and fear.  Fight religious zealotry.  Fight back with courage and love and books and art.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  Take a minute to look around.

Dylan Plugs It In


Today is the 50th anniversary of Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival.  Many of his fans felt betrayed that he would become just another Rock & Roll star.  But Dylan himself has said that before Woody Guthrie, he wanted to be like Elvis.  Going electric wasn’t a betrayal of some folkie ideal; Dylan didn’t owe anything to anyone or any movement.  The only person he had to be loyal to artistically was himself.  Plugging in an electric guitar was a declaration of his freedom and independence as an artist, and he’s never really looked back since then.  Bob Dylan is many things to many people, but the one thing he will always be is himself.  There’s no escaping that.

Sometime in 1966, Dylan was touring England.  Half these shows each night were acoustic, and the other half was electric with Dylan backed up by some group called The Hawks (they’d later change that name to something a little less specific).  After they’d finished the scathing “Ballad of a Thin Man,” a disgruntled fan called out “Judas!”  The moment was electric, even without the Marshall amps.  There was genuine violence in the air in that moment.  Not to make light of any actual terror and violence, but it was like a gun had been fired.  Dylan’s response is to tear into “Like a Rolling Stone” with a vengeance, and it is brilliant.


My Brain Has Already Fritzed Out


My copy of Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes Complete arrived today.  I’m currently ripping disc 4 onto my computer.  I’m also in the middle of listening to track 5 on disc 1, “Belshazzar.”  I am almost apoplectic with glee right now.  (Yeah, that might be physically impossible, but I’m working on accomplishing it.)

Just switched to “I Forgot to Remember to Forget.”  A lot of the tracks are covers of old Folk and Country classics, which might be why Robbie Robertson weeded them out on the truncated 1975 release.  He probably wanted to showcase as much of the original stuff as possible, not to mention showcase the Band’s contributions as much as Dylan’s.  I get that.  But his curating led to all this amazing music being kept out of circulation.  Well, legal circulation, anyway.  The bootlegs of these recordings have been bouncing around almost since they were recorded.  But this is the first official release of everything, with all the commensurate bells and whistles.

Among those bells and whistles are some amazing pictures and essays packaged in hardcover.  They did their best to make this set worth the price tag.  (Amazon ended up charging me about $30 less than the original list price, but it’s still more than a hundred bucks for everything.)  Frankly, I’m so happy right now I could just spit.  It might be enough to keep my mind off of politics tonight.

I’m not including a clip.  I searched YouTube, but every title that matched one of these terrific tracks was “not available in your country.”  I’m sure it’s available for streaming somewhere, so if you can’t pony up the bucks, you should probably be able to listen to it.  I’d look it up, but I just want to get back to the music.

“You Ain’t Going Nowhere”


Glory be  to all music fans today!  We have reached the promised land!  I read in my new issue of Rolling Stone today that Bob Dylan will be releasing the complete recordings from his sessions with the Band in Woodstock in the late 60s.  Known as the Basement Tapes, they have long been one of the most sought after Dylan/Band bootlegs.  These sessions were the crucible that helped form the musical identity of the Band, and are believed to contain some of the greatest, loosest, most freewheeling music ever.

After I finished keening incoherently*, I ran to the computer and pre-ordered my copy at Amazon.  For anyone so inclined and with the bucks, the set is called The Basement Tapes Complete: Bootleg Series, Volume 11.  It’s part of a long running series of Dylan recordings that have previously only been available as bootlegs.  He’s basically been raiding the vaults in between making new music that sounds as vital as anything else he’s ever done.  (Except for that damn Christmas album he released a few years ago.  What the hell was he thinking?)

Back in 1975, a handful of the songs from those sessions was released as The Basement Tapes, compiled and produced by Robbie Robertson.  If you’ve ever heard any of those songs you know what treasures there must be in this new release.  “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” was one of the songs on the ’75 release, and it’s one I’ve always enjoyed.  I’m seriously looking forward to hearing the complete thing, fully restored and remastered.  Really, I never thought this day would ever come.  Now I just have to hold on until November 4th.



*Seriously.  It came out like a high-pitched moan.  I may also have rocked back and forth like a traumatized Bart Simpson and trembled a little.

“Like a Rolling Stone”


Someone just paid $2 million for the handwritten lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Must be nice to be both that guy and Bob Dylan.

Is it just me, or isn’t that song sort of excoriating the kind of person that would spend that much money on some paper with some admittedly pretty brilliant words written on them?

Today’s Music News


I found today to be quite an interesting day.

Bruce Springsteen’s son has become a firefighter, which is totally awesome.  And they’re releasing a DVD of one of the best concerts ever, a Bob Dylan tribute that Columbia Records put together for his 30th anniversary as a recording artist.  The lineup is an unbelievable who’s who of the best the music industry had to offer at the time.  It’s not the complete 3-hour extravaganza–which I watched on pay-per-view with the BFF–but they’re hitting most of the highlights, including this jaw-dropping version of “Masters of War.”

There was sad news, too.  Toni Tennille and Daryl Dragon, aka The Captain and Tennille, are getting divorced.  I’m beginning to believe there’s no such thing as forever love, at least not in show business.  This is one of those couples that I thought would stay together, just because it had already been so long (39 years).

I don’t like it when things like this happen, because it feeds my cynicism about romance/marriage.  I might not be in the market for a relationship myself, but I really do believe in true love.  When a popular entertainment couple who seemingly defied the odds breaks up, it makes me think that love can’t survive.  If anyone wants to restore my faith, please do.

“My Back Pages”


This song randomly popped into my brain this morning, as songs are wont to do since I got my first ipod a few years ago; my brain seems to be permanently set to shuffle these days.  I feel like there was some sort of train of thought that led to this song, but I can’t quite put my finger on what I was thinking.

The Byrds were the greatest Bob Dylan cover band of all-time.  They had some fine originals, and did some other really great covers, too (“Turn! Turn! Turn!” comes specifically to mind).  But some of the best music they performed were otherwise mediocre Bob Dylan songs.  (I’m going to throw Dylan’s version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” under the bus here as virtually unlistenable; The Byrds really made that song what it was.)  “My Back Pages” was one of their better reclamations.

Really, early Dylan seems tailor-made for The Byrds.  They were a semi-psychedelic country rock band from SoCal, not quite trippy enough for the Jefferson Airplane-Moby Grape crowd but a little too soft for harder rock audiences.  They took Dylan’s stream of consciousness poetry, and set it to jangling guitars and easy harmonies.  It  gave a group that might’ve gotten lost among all the other great music of the time an identity and voice.  What was most interesting is that it wasn’t Dylan’s voice anymore: The Byrds made the songs their own.  Along with Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds created the prototype sound that became California Soft Rock, as personified by acts like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne.  In this form, it’s not slick or commercial.  The Byrds sound young and alive, sweetly hopeful and free.  There is no cynicism here, even though Dylan’s lyrics are kind of cynical.  “My Back Pages” is about shrugging off the tradition and values you’ve been raised with and finding your own way in the world: “But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”  It seems a little naive to me now.  Only the really young think they know more than the rest of the world.  But the sentiment is right in a lot of ways, too.  You shouldn’t just accept things that are wrong just because that’s the way things have always been.  Question every assumption, challenge every convention.  That’s how the world changes.

The Art of the Break-up Album


Note: Up until now, my methodology (such as it is) has been to listen to songs on my itunes until something catches my attention, and I write about it.  This has been uneven and frustrating when my mind refuses to settle on something.  I’ll still employ the random method, but I think I’ll expand my repertoire to include more general postings (not that I couldn’t do that anyway in more frequent posting, but I’ve yet to master multiple posts a day).  So, today’s entry is a little less specific.

I love break-up albums.  Not that I think it’s so wonderful that couples break-up.  There is nothing wonderful about heartbreak; I’ve had my heart broken, so I know just exactly how much it sucks.  But it does lead to good, sometimes great, art.  And some of the best albums I own came in the aftermath of the end of a relationship/marriage.  The timing of them varies, so the main emotional thrust is often very different.  Bruce Springsteen put out Tunnel of Love before his marriage to Julianne Phillips ended, so the album chronicles the confusion and uncertainty of a marriage as it dissolved (“God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of”).  Tom Petty waited a couple of years before his divorce album, Echo, was recorded and released.  The time gave him a more circumspect attitude to his divorce from Jane Petty; it’s very loving and sympathetic, a rarity for this particular genre.  I think you might even classify The White Album as a break-up record, even though it took them a couple more years to actually admit it (maybe that’s why I like it so much).

The ultimate break-up albums are, of course, Bob Dylan’s masterpiece Blood on the Tracks and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.  Both of them were written and recorded in the midst of divorce and separation.  They are both miraculous in their own rights:  Dylan’s because it is the best thing he ever recorded, IMO; Fleetwood Mac’s simply for existing.

Dylan first.  Blood on the Tracks is simply stunning.  The depth of emotion and revelation is almost unheard of for a Bob Dylan record.  He seems almost as naked as the production, which is stripped down, primarily acoustic.  Even though he never makes any clear statements about his estrangement from his wife, the references are thinly veiled at best.  Many of the songs are about love gone wrong.  “Simple Twist of Fate” comes closest to drawing overtly on the break-up, especially at the end, when he sings “I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring.”  The sadness is palpable through most of the songs, as is wry humor and nostalgia for what’s been lost.  He really only rages on “Idiot  Wind,” and then it’s not entirely clear who the rage is directed at.  It seems to shift direction from Sara to himself to the press for digging into his personal heartbreak like vultures.  The only track that seems out of place is “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” a bizarre, drawn out western about a bank heist and a barroom romance that ends in death (although it at least fits thematically).  Dylan knew his marriage was over when he recorded this, although they didn’t divorce until two years after it’s release.  Blood on the Tracks is sort of the musical equivalent to lying in bed with all the curtains drawn because you just can’t face the heartbreak.

Rumors is the musical equivalent to having a huge screaming fight, complete with name calling and thrown dishes, in the middle of your anniversary party.  Which makes perfect sense, since two of the break-ups occurring during the recording of the mother of all break-up albums happened between members of the band.  (It was such a messy affair, that it spilled over into the next album, Tusk, two years later.)  The fact that they managed to continue working together through all of this is a testament to their sheer stubbornness if nothing else.  And Lindsey Buckingham kicks off the festivities with a bang by declaring himself “Second Hand News” in the first track.  (There is absolutely no reason to pretend these people are singing about anything but themselves and each other here; this is the single most autobiographical work I’ve ever heard.)  Stevie Nicks seems less angry and more circumspect about the end of her relationship with Buckingham, but she’s no less accusatory: “Players only love you when they’re playing.”  Christine and John McVie’s simultaneous divorce seems a quieter affair, but that may be only because John was the bassist; he didn’t get to sing.  Christine, though, seems to be moving on, with songs like “You Make Loving Fun,” about a relationship she had shortly after splitting with John.  She seems to be rubbing his nose in the fact that she’s a lot happier without him.  While the other four members were fighting amongst themselves, Mick Fleetwood was in the middle of divorcing his first wife.  The album reaches its emotional climax on “The Chain,” which is a reaffirmation of why they remained together as a band even as they broke apart personally.  It gives voice to all of Fleetwood Mac’s members, with Mick’s drumming and John’s bass forming not just the rhythmic spine but much of the emotional tenor.  John McVie’s bass is especially evocative; it’s simple technically, but he makes his brief solo shine with everything he couldn’t say.  The song builds itself around the beat and the chant of the chorus, “And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again.  I can still hear you saying we must never break the chain,” and finally erupts into a blistering guitar solo by Buckingham.  There is a unified vision in this song, even as the vitriol spills out.  They will hang on to each other through the chaos, burned by the crucible into a single entity.  The band was simply bigger than they were.

Which explains the optimism of arguably the most well-known song from Rumors: “Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow.  Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here.  It’ll be here, better than before.  Yesterday’s gone.  Yesterday’s gone.”