Bob Dylan opens up

Bob Dylan won the “person of the year” award from MusiCares, a charity that helps down and out musicians.  He gave a remarkable 30-minute acceptance speech that talked about his career, his influences, and his thoughts about music.  [Read more...]

A report on Bob Dylan’s Sinatra album

The commenter known as “Pete” has a picture that looks like a little kid, but he’s really a distinguished physician.  He’s also among the top two Bob Dylan aficionados that I have ever known (the other being a good friend and former colleague).  Pete went so far as to look me up and take me with him to a Dylan concert in Washington, D. C.  So I value greatly his thoughts on Dylan’s latest album, his unique take on the American “standards” as performed by Frank Sinatra.  Pete gave me his thoughts about the album, which I post with his permission after the jump. [Read more...]

Bob Dylan and his interview with AARP

Bob Dylan gives his first interview in three years to the AARP magazine, in which he talks about virtue, God’s leading, and his new album of Frank Sinatra standards.

As a teenager, I could never, in my most fevered adolescent imaginations, conceive of that sentence or any part of it being written about Bob Dylan.  Nor could I conceive of myself, 45 years later, appreciating what he says so much.

But you’ve got to read the interview, excerpted and linked after the break.  It’s thoughtful, revealing, and musically perceptive.  You can also hear a track from the new album, Shadows in the Night, to be released February 3.  Bob is singing it, crooning it, to the background of a five piece band with steel guitar, and it sounds lovely. [Read more...]

Bob Dylan, Chrysler salesman

So what did you think of Bob Dylan’s Chrysler commercial?  There he was, clear voiced, no mumbling, unobscure, voicing over some great Americana imagery.  (He doesn’t appear until 47 seconds in.)  I’m assuming that he wrote the script.  Though it lacks Dylan’s trademark surrealistic imagery, the commercial sounds like him with lines like these:

So let Germany brew your beer,
Let Switzerland make your watch,
Let Asia assemble your phone.
We…will build…your car.

Compare this with the lyrics to his protectionist anthem Union Sundown.  The only thing is, Chrysler is now fully owned by Fiat, so it’s an Italian company, not American.  They do make some of their cars here, but not necessarily.  Still, I vote this as best Superbowl commercial.

The transcript after the jump.  (You might get the video at the link above, though Chrysler has taken it off YouTube for copyright violations, though I thought going viral was what you wanted in a commercial.) [Read more...]

Rock ‘n’ roll for adults

Bob Dylan came to the nation’s capital earlier this week, and I went to his concert with Pete Muller, frequenter of this blog, who initiated the whole expedition.  First he threw a birthday party for his wife with some other quite amiable friends who happened to be in D.C.  At my suggestion, we met at my favorite Washington restaurant, that temple of haute cuisine known as Hill Country Barbecue.  Then Pete and I walked a couple of blocks to the Verizon Center, a big venue that Dylan was able to pack out, even at age 71.

Yes, most of the people in the audience, like me, were similarly aged.  Lots of gray hair, not as long as it used to be.  Some were accompanied by their grown children.  Or grown grandchildren.  There were some whippersnappers in hipster glasses or concert T-shirts, serious music aficionados by the look of them.  But most defied Dylan’s earlier plea to be forever young.  It was an interesting crowd, and it wasn’t just aged hippies.  Pete’s a surgeon; I’m whatever I am; I saw Fred Barnes, the conservative journalist and Fox News contributor, sitting not far from where we were.

The opening act was Mark Knopfler, the English musician who was once lead singer for Dire Straits.  Remember them, back in the 1980s?  “Money for nothing,” the first song played on MTV Europe?  Now he is singing sober, intense, country-tinged songs that I’d characterize as Brittannia roots music, with his band of exceptionally fine musicians playing Celtic instruments along with the electric guitars.   Pete called it “rock ‘n’ roll for adults.”

And then came the one true Bob.  I had seen him about four times; Pete had seen him eight.  We had never seen him so animated.  Pete said that he had a touch of arthritis and so was no longer standing all the time playing his guitar.  Now he sits behind a grand piano, which he plays quite well, adding numerous harmonica solos, as at his beginning.  But on a couple of songs, Bob came out, took the mic, American-Idol style, and just sang.  Not only that, he was kind of dancin’ and jivin’.  And he was even smilin’.

The other times I saw him, he was concentrating on playing his guitar and often had his back to the audience.  Not this time.  He didn’t say much–”Thank you, friends!”–but he was engaged and connected with the crowd in a way that I found surprising.   He has a new album out that I am really enjoying, Tempest, and he played a couple of songs from that (the enigmatic “Early Roman Kings” and the lovely “Soon after Midnight”).  But he mostly played old songs (“Highway 61 Revisited,” All Along the Watchtower,” “Blowing in the Wind”).  The thing is, though, every time he plays those old songs, he does it in a different way.  The arrangements, the rhythm, the inflections, even the tunes are different.  And yet they are still the same songs.  This is what rewards going to Dylan concerts again and again through the years.  And it says something about Dylan and about all of us other old guys in the audience.

Postmodernists have talked about the myth of individual identity, arguing that we really are different people, depending on whom we are with and the different stages in our lives.  But Dylan is the same person, for all of the changes that he has gone through–including his religious changes–and the 60-year-olds in the audience are the same persons who were moved by Dylan’s music when they were young and are still moved by it in different ways, who have been following him through his changes and through their own.

P.S.:  For a good account of this particular concert, see this review in the Washington Post.

Also, I would like to make an off-the-wall prediction so that if it happens you will have seen it here first:  I predict that Bob Dylan will once again surprise his fans and confound the musical world, this time by joining the Roman Catholic Church.  In the Rolling Stone interview we posted about, he is evidently reading Roman Catholic theology.  (When asked about “transfiguration,” Bob tells the interviewer, “You can go learn about it from the Catholic Church.”) And then in “Duquesne Whistle,” the best song on the new album, he has the line, “I can hear a sweet voice callin’./ Must be the Mother of our Lord.”)


The Transfiguration of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has an interview in Rolling Stone that is confounding some people for bringing back that whole religion thing.  You can’t read it online without a subscription, but David Zahl at Mockingbird posts some highlights:

Do you ever worry that people interpreted your work in misguided ways? For example, some people still see “Rainy Day Women” as coded about getting high.

It doesn’t surprise me that some people would see it that way. But these are people that aren’t familiar with the Book of Acts…

People thought your music spoke to and reflected the 1960s. Do you feel that’s also the case with your music since 1997?

Sure, my music is always speaking to times that are recent. But let’s not forget human nature isn’t bound to any specific time in history. And it always starts with that. My songs are personal music; they’re not communal. I wouldn’t want people singing along with me. It would sound funny. I’m not playing campfire meetings. I don’t remember anyone singing along with Elvis, or Carl Perkins, or Little Richard. The thing you have to do is make people feel their own emotions. A performer, if he’s doing what he’s supposed to do, doesn’t feel any emotion at all. It’s a certain kind of alchemy that a performer has..

[When you talk about] transfiguration, you mean it in the sense of being transformed? Or do you mean transmigration, when a soul passes into a different body?

Transmigration is not what we are talking about. This is something else. I had a motorcycle accident in 1966… Now, you can put this together any way you want. You can work on it any way you want. Transfiguration: You can go learn about it from the Catholic Church, you can learn about it in some old mystical books, but it’s a real concept. It’s happened throughout the ages. Nobody knows who it’s happened to, or why. But you get real proof of it here and there. It’s not like something you can dream up and think. It’s not like conjuring up a reality or like incarnation–or like when you might think you’re somebody from the past but have no proof. It’s not anything to do with the past or the future.

So when you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time…

So live performance is a purpose you find fulfilling?

If you’re not fulfilled in other ways, performing can never make you happy. Performing is something you have to learn how to do. You do it, you get better at it and you keep going. And if you don’t get better at it, you have to give it up. Is it a fulfilling way of life? Well, what kind of way of life is fulfilling? No kind of life is fulfilling if your soul hasn’t been redeemed…

You said that you originally wanted to make a more religious album this time–can you tell me more about that?

The songs on Tempest were worked out in rehearsals on stages during soundchecks before live shows. The religious songs maybe I felt were too similar to each other to release as an album. Someplace along the line, I had to go with one or the other, and Tempest is what I went with. I’m still not sure if it was the right decision.

When you say religious songs…

Newly written songs, but one that are traditionally motivated.

More like “Slow Train Coming”?

No. No. Not at all. They’re more like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”…

Has your sense of faith changed?

Certainly it has, o ye of little faith. Who’s to say that I even have any faith or what kind? I see God’s hand in everything. Every person, place and thing, every situation…

Clearly, the language of the Bible still provides imagery in your songs.

Of course, what else could there be? I believe in the Book of Revelation. I believe in disclosure, you know?

There is more at The Transfiguration of Robert Zimmerman, or Just a Closer Walk with Dylan | Mockingbird.

The interview has other revelations, or at least disclosures, about Dylan and his work.  For example, we see that he is still irked at the  folk purists who charged him with betrayal when he started playing an electric guitar:

These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified…

This comment about the relationship between the artist, emotion, and the audience is a revelation:

The thing you have to do is make people feel their own emotions. A performer, if he’s doing what he’s supposed to do, doesn’t feel any emotion at all. It’s a certain kind of alchemy that a performer has.

Exactly!  And this is what many would-be artists don’t realize.  Art of whatever kind is not about just vomiting up your inner emotions.  Music, poetry, fiction, acting, painting, film, and other art forms require intense discipline, concentration, and objectivity.  An artist can’t just go up and go berserk in front of an audience.  (Performers who seem to do that are just acting.)  Art does indeed involve emotion, but it isn’t primarily the artist’s.  What all of those objective techniques do “is make people [the audience, the listeners, the readers] feel their own emotions“!

Thanks also to David Zahl for appending this sampler from Dylan’s new album, Tempest: