Although it was during the mid-1980s that yours truly happened to become a Bob Dylan fan, listening to his albums from that period has sometimes seemed like a guilty pleasure. While I’d stick up unreservedly for a certain number of those songs, there are those others that just seem silly. Yet, sometimes I kind of like them anyway. One that I probably wouldn’t have thought to defend in solemn company—but really have always liked—is “Never Gonna Be The Same Again” from his 1985 album Empire Burlesque. Well, now I’m correcting myself, and it’s thanks to hearing a solo acoustic version by Ron Sexsmith (on YouTube at this link).
Happening somehow upon Sexsmith’s YouTube channel (discreetly titled “Rawnboy”) made me feel like I’d found something secret and private (hope I’m not blowing the cover). Although he’s a genuine star and one of the finest pop songwriters of the last couple of decades, here he is just sitting in his kitchen and living room and playing things casually into the webcam, like a million YouTube amateurs do. So he’s uploaded a wealth of acoustic versions of his own songs, and a plethora of affectionate cover versions. (You’ve gotta wish everyone you were a fan of would do something like this. Bob, Van, you listening?) And of all the Bob Dylan songs he chooses to sing, it’s “Never Gonna Be the Same Again.” [Read more →]
So, the other day I saw Leonard Cohen (who as previously mentioned has a new album out) being interviewed on a British television program and during it he was asked if he believed he was an optimistic person, and I thought his response to this question was quite penetrating and timely. He said (and good-naturedly, while wearing a slight smile):
Well, you know, I think those descriptions are kind of obsolete these days. Everybody’s kind of hanging on to their broken orange crate in the flood, and when you pass someone else and declare yourself an optimist or a pessimist, or pro-abortion or against abortion, or a conservative or a liberal, these descriptions are obsolete in the face of the catastrophe that everybody’s really dealing with.
At the present moment, I would daresay that those are words that would strike a definite chord with many of us. (By “us” I guess I’d be referring, in the broadest sense, to we who inhabit the most highly developed and consumerized societies of the world, and are presumed to be insulated from massive and generalized kinds of catastrophe.) I’d venture that many of us have a sense of impending disaster in this insecure age of Ebola and of ISIS and (I’d suggest) the impossible-to-grip transformations that the digital/internet age has wrought in our lives in such a short time. And that is not to even mention the many other manifestations of disorder and danger in the headlines.
However, the funny thing is that Leonard Cohen didn’t actually say these words in an interview just the other day. [Read more →]
Speaking of unnecessary yet needed things, Leonard Cohen (now an octogenarian) has just released a new album, titled Popular Problems. At a press availability in London (parts of which can be heard on BBC Radio 6), he was asked among other things about religion, and specifically how close he feels to his Jewish roots, and how that might manifest itself in his writing and his music. He answered:
Well, I grew up in a very conservative, observant family, so it’s not something that I ever felt any distance from, so it’s not something I have to publicize or display, but it is essential to my own survival. Those values that my family gave me—Torah values—are the ones that inform my life. So I never strayed very far from those influences.
It might actually surprise many to hear him speak in this way and also so directly on this, although perhaps it is uncommon for him to get asked the question so directly. [Read more →]
I’ve always liked the radio. There’s a visceral affection I have for small transistor radios that transcends any feeling I could ever have for any vulgar television set. I think of all the wonders that can come out of that little box with the grilled speaker, all that I learned about music and about the world while listening to it as a young ‘un; and in the here and now, there is this love I have for radio as a medium where one’s own mind and imagination are still in play, versus that televisual medium where so much (way too much) gets hurled at you in the way of stimulation, like it or not.
And, these days, thanks to the wonder of something much more modern (the internets) you can actually access radio programs from all over the world. [Read more →]
A cracker of a retrospective on the Bee Gees was recently delivered by Bob Stanley (“Islands in the Stream,” Paris Review). It’s actually just one piece from his book, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, and the verve and charm with which it is written makes yours truly very interested in reading the whole opus. [Read more →]
At Major League Baseball’s All Star Game on July 15th, 2014, a singer named Idina Menzel sang Bob Dylan’s song “Forever Young,” before also singing the U.S. national anthem (video at bottom). Although some may have thought it was dedicated to the modern New York Yankees’ legend Derek Jeter (who is retiring this year at the age of 40) it was actually performed as a feel-good tribute to teachers.
The interesting thing about this to Dylan fans might be the evidence that “Forever Young” is one of those Bob Dylan songs that has insinuated itself into the national (and global?) consciousness to the extent that it can be referenced on such an occasion. Perhaps then it is one of those Dylan songs that will outlive even the memory of his name. That might seem an odd thought, but we don’t mind odd thinking around here. Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that the world is still around five hundred years from now. How many songwriters can you name from five hundred years ago or more? I don’t know too many, aside from King David, but there’s no question that there are countless folk songs still persisting from five hundred years ago and more, in one form or another. We ascribe them to that great composer, “traditional,” aka “trad.” I don’t know if future memories will be more accurate, or if coming catastrophes will wipe out all the millions of terabytes of data we currently have at our fingertips and people will be no better than ourselves at remembering and honoring the past. But if the name and personality of this guy Bob Dylan is forgotten, which of his songs might still persist and be sung in some incarnation? It is, I think, a distinguishing characteristic of Dylan’s that he might actually have a few that do persist in this way, as opposed to the vast majority of his contemporaries in the pop and rock idioms. [Read more →]
I’m sure that if you are a music lover then you’ve had the experience of being suddenly struck by a song you’d heard before but had not been especially moved by until then. Music being what it is, and our brains being what they are, it just works out that way sometimes. The song might have just passed over or through you until it happened to find its moment: a moment when the right nerve of yours was exposed to be touched by it.
My own nerves are pretty well exposed these days whenever I’m on an airplane, which I have been several times lately. It’s nothing to most people, as I well know—they are blessedly able to casually leaf through the in-flight magazine or watch some meatball movie on the screen as if they’re sitting safely at home—but for me the emotions are already rising to the surface as the plane starts taxiing, and I’m praying and trying (vainly) to get my spirit right with the Man Upstairs. And at the cruising altitude of 35,000 feet or whatever insane number it is, my emotions continue to be sharpened by the knowledge that I am constantly a second or two away from a helpless and traumatic death if anything goes wrong with the plane. My only flights nowadays being trans-Atlantic ones to visit family, this is a long time to spend reconciling oneself with such finalities. [Read more →]
Championed and promoted by Neil Young, Pono is here (at least for those willing to cough up the dough on the Kickstarter campaign).
Content for the PonoPlayer will be sold by the PonoMusic online store. The CEO of PonoMusic, John Hamm, promises “studio master-quality digital music … the way the artist recorded it.” Fundamentally, this means it will be capable of playing audio in the lossless FLAC format at 192 kHz and 24 bits, versus the 44.1 khz and 16 bit audio of CDs, and versus the MP3 and other compressed digital formats which strip data from those CD quality recordings to make the files more quickly downloadable and portable. However, the Pono player will still play those lower-resolution formats as well. [Read more →]
I’m cognizant that it could be considered a little odd to pen an appreciation of an appreciation, but here I do so anyway (just in case, I suppose, someone might appreciate it).
The multifaceted writer Mark Steyn recently reposted on his website an audio tribute he made to the late songwriter Hugh Martin (who died in 2011). Martin is the composer of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” surely one of the most poignant popular songs of Christmas. That was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, and for which Martin also wrote “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song.” [Read more →]
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