Category Archives: Dylanosophy

On Bob Dylan’s Q & A in the Wall Street Journal

I guess this must be Bob Dylan’s version of a book tour: He answers a list of questions supplied by Jeff Slate for the Wall Street Journal. The substance of it is also posted on the official Bob Dylan website.

It’s pretty clear that Dylan’s answers are written ones. In fact, a lot of the answers sound very much like his own writing in the book that prompted the interview, namely The Philosophy of Modern Song. He’s alternately serious, playful and provocative, and it’s a fun read.

Since a lot of what I’ve written in the past about Dylan has involved the religiosity of his music (and his self), I feel like it would be remiss not to note a couple of things that turn up here.

In response to a question about whether he binge-watches things on Netflix, he amusingly declares that he’s a fan of the ancient British soap opera “Coronation Street,” in addition to the “Father Brown” mysteries and (least surprisingly, perhaps) “The Twilight Zone.” But then he asserts that he never watches anything “foul smelling or evil,” and volunteers the following:

I’m a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination. The Five Books of Moses, Pauline Epistles, Invocation of the Saints, all of it.

In a way it’s a neat and funny form of evasion, which Bob has practiced before: that is, to make a grand overstatement. “What do I believe? I believe ALL OF IT! So don’t you bother trying to pick it apart.” Of-course there’s no need to evade, as this is a written response, and he’s volunteering the information, but he still likes to deliver it with a punch. And good for him. As to the breadth of his faith, I think if you spend long enough listening to his songs you come to know that he can see the hand of God everywhere and in everything.



More particularly, it’s true that he is again asserting his faith in the God of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as he’s done on many past occasions, although some still like to wonder about it. He’s been doing this publicly in one way or another since the Slow Train Coming album in 1979, and I strongly suspect his sense of private belief goes back much longer than that. You can find an awareness of God and a very biblical view of human nature embedded in even his earliest songs.

Later, asked what kind of music was his “first love,” he answers, “Sacred music, church music, ensemble singing.”

Putting these statments together, I’m reminded of an oft-cited quote of his from an interview with David Gates in 1997:

Here’s the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like “Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain” or “I Saw the Light”—that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.

People are always saying that Dylan contradicts himself and is an incorrigible shape-shifter, but I believe he’s actually incredibly consistent on the big things if one takes the time to understand where he’s coming from. Sacred music is prayer, and there’s no truer path to God than prayer.

Dylan also gives an interesting answer to a question about whether technology “aids or hinders” daily life and creativity, saying among other things:

Technology is like sorcery, it’s a magic show, conjures up spirits, it’s an extension of our body, like the wheel is an extension of our foot. But it might be the final nail driven into the coffin of civilization; we just don’t know.

But after going around for a while on the ways in which technology might help or hinder, he sums up this way:

Creativity is a mysterious thing. It visits who it wants to visit, when it wants to, and I think that that, and that alone, gets to the heart of the matter.

That’s an acknowledgement—again, a consistent one of Bob’s—that it all comes from somewhere else: from the mother of muses, from the girl from the Red River shore, from the “Spirit on the Water.”

What a great thing that we still have Dylan around.

The Philosophy of Modern Song – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s new book, The Philosophy of Modern Song, gives us his take on 66 different songs, delivered by means of a variety of quasi-poetic riffs and short essays. And that’s certainly what it is: his take. This is an intensely personal collection of writings. Dylan’s always been known for being guarded (although I think that theme’s been overdone at times). It is striking, however, that he seems here at his most relaxed and open, just writing about songs and what they mean to him, in addition to following some of the tangents they proffer.

The stream-of-consciousness pieces toss out images, characters and scenarios that the songs evoke for Bob, and these are quite rich and far reaching (as great songs can be when they work in our soul). The prose essays generally make for spirited good reading, with amusing and sometimes ornery digressions from the topic of the song in question. On occasion, however, there are lines that are jarringly boilerplate in nature.

Bob Dylan is clearly a consummate fan of popular music, and other brands as well. That was revealed for anyone who needed to know it years back when he hosted the delightfully contrived radio show, “Theme Time Radio Hour,” putting a hundred odd episodes in posterity’s can. Doubtless the commentary he came up with for the records he played then led to the idea for this book (and indeed a number of the people involved with the production and packaging of the book are former collaborators on “Theme Time Radio”).

Later, he recorded those Sinatra songbook albums: five LPs worth of popular songs from the pre-rock’n’roll era, put down with breathtaking passion and a stunning level of artistry.

Dylan can in fact be presumed to have the kind of gargantuan music collection—accompanied by books about his favorite performers—that, after he kicks the bucket, will cause his next-of-kin to curse him as they have to haul it out to the sidewalk for the Sanitation Department to pick up. He’s obviously one of those people who can listen to music in the morning, the afternoon, the evening and the deep dark night. As music fans ourselves, we can relate to that. Songs, records, favorite performers: they’re with us through bad times and good, through our childhood, stormy adolescence, love affairs and heartbreaks, successes and setbacks, the dreams realized, and the ones hopelessly lost. Many of the same recordings sound subtly different to us as the years and decades pass; this is due, perhaps, not only to the loss of frequencies in our hearing, but also our ever-deepening appreciation, through life experience, of what those songs were and are about.

Dylan, naturally, is the same. “The Philosophy of Modern Song”? (Not even “a” philosophy, mind you, but the philosophy.) The portentous title is a diversion and a gag, very typical of Bob. I would suggest that a more accurate (but somewhat less amusing) title would be, “The Joy I Have Found in Music”—by Bobby Zimmerman. He could have written this book if he’d never become Bob Dylan (although he is very unlikely to have found a publisher). It is not an attempt to offer a definitive or objective take on anything. It is not some deeply researched and scrupulously footnoted tome that would be part of a college curriculum on popular music (not that those can particularly be trusted either). It certainly is a love letter to the music that has meant so much to him.

Most of us will never get to sit down and have a conversation with Bob Dylan about music, or anything else, but much of what is in this book evokes those conversations we may have with longtime friends and fellow musical aficionados, oddball or otherwise. We share favorites, we trade takes, we make some statements that are serious, and others that are for laughs. We recall details and trivia that we read somewhere in a book that’s no longer in print, or that we heard someone say on the radio who-knows-how-many years ago. We share some of how a record affects us, where we were when we first heard it, why this version of the song is so much better than someone else’s version—what it all may mean. We argue and BS and laugh and come out of it all a little bit expanded, somehow.

Along the way, we might feel moved to jump on top of the couch and forcefully advocate for something we know no one else will agree with, just because we feel called in the moment to do so.

“Perry Como lived in every moment of every song he sang […] When he stood and sang, he owned the song and he shared it and we believed every word.” (page 13)

Other times we’ll slip in something deep and meaningful to ourselves—then quickly move on lest we choke up.

“The greatest of the prayer songs is ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ None of these songs come even close.” (page 184)

And other subjects will come and go and we’ll take them on with our pearls of wisdom and one-liners.

“People keep talking about making America great again. Maybe they should start with the movies.” (page 317)

We might get passionate and genuinely angry.

“But divorce lawyers don’t care about familial bonds […] They destroy families. How many of them are at least tangentially responsible for teen suicides and serial killers?” (page 118) Then we sip our drink, light a cigarette, and propose our ingenious solution to the entire problem of divorces and broken families: polygamy! For both sexes.

Then a record comes on—“Your Cheatin’ Heart”—and we go back to the music, and to contemplating just why this particular record is so damn good.

“The song seems slower than it is because Hank doesn’t let the band lead him. The tension between the chug of the near-polka rhythm and the sadness in Hank’s voice drives it home.” (page 166)

I think that you could approach this book just as that kind of conversation with Bob, where he is speaking to you as his intimate friend. Sometimes he’s being serious, and sometimes he’s winding you up. Except here you’re only getting his side of the conversation. You can feel free to interject your responses and/or objections. Bob won’t hear you, but he’ll be glad you bought the book.



Absent the photos and other paraphernalia, this would be a lightweight tome, and I imagine some critics will dismiss the content as lightweight too. Still, some very lovely things can weigh very little: a butterfly, a snowflake, a fine cigar. For those who appreciate it, there’s plenty to enjoy in this very personal little book by Bob, and all the more if one doesn’t squint painfully at it and take it all too seriously. The breathless declarations by the publisher along the lines that it is “a momentous artistic achievement” may be doing it a disservice in that respect, but so goes the never-ending hype machine.

Dylan does know a lot of stuff about music, of-course, and so there are some genuinely revelatory moments. And, unlike most of us, he actually has met and been friendly with quite a few of the artists he writes about here. It’s notable, however, that he never leans on that personal experience in the text. There’s no: “as Frank Sinatra confided to me when he had me over for dinner,” or: “I have it on good authority from Johnny Cash himself …”. He limits himself to the evidence of the songs and recordings themselves, and what is, generally speaking, the public record.

Will anyone learn “the philosophy of modern song” by reading this book? Well, taken as a whole, you probably would soak up some of whatever that is, because it’s surely in between the lines here somewhere. But I also think it’s the same thing you’d soak up by just listening to the truly great popular music of the past one hundred years: living with it, learning of it, crying with it, moving to it, and treasuring it as the dear and faithful friend it can surely be through time.

That’s what Bob Dylan did.

Bob Dylan’s Shadow Kingdom

For about a month now fans have been awaiting this somewhat mysterious “exclusive broadcast event,” a pay-per-view-type online streaming performance by Bob Dylan, and now it has aired, and will continue to be available to watch for 48 hours. Access in the United States costs $25.

It features Dylan performing in a stylized small club setting, alternating between at least three different stagings. The arrangements and performances are sharp and quite beautiful. The instrumentation includes accordion, mandolin, Spanish guitar, and acoustic bass, and sometimes electric guitar and bass. No drums at all. Dylan’s singing is superb (assuming you’re someone who can take his singing at all).

He has an audience of heavily smoking actors and actresses. (It appears that they inhale very little smoke, the better to blow it out for effect. Still, this viewer appreciates Bob’s support for the struggling tobacco farmers.) The band wear black masks while everyone else breathes and smokes freely.

The whole thing is directed by one Alma Har’el, an Israeli-American who has a prize-winning feature film and documentary in her belt, as well as various music videos.

While initially the show was billed as featuring songs from throughout Dylan’s body of work, this broadcast is actually subtitled “The Early Songs of Bob Dylan.” And indeed it does focus on the 1960s, although there are a couple of exceptions in “What Was It You Wanted?” from 1989 and “Forever Young” from 1974. The show is about 50 minutes in duration. That surprised me: I thought it would probably be around 90 minutes.

Taken together, the subtitle “Early Songs” and the relatively short duration leads this viewer to conclude that this is going to be a series, and that there are likely at least two more “episodes” in the can.

It’s a brilliant business idea, to be sure: I bet Dylan could easily fetch a million views, globally, for something like this, and at $25 a pop, well … I’m not great at math, but it’s a fair bit of revenue for all concerned. And after the last year and a half of worldwide Wuhan weirdness, people are certainly well accustomed to substituting online experiences for the real thing.

In the end, for a fan, it’s one of life’s miracles, and something for which to be grateful. Bob Dylan is 80 years old, and here we get to see and hear him — in exceptional form — reworking his songs yet again in a scintillating and eye-opening manner. The version of “Forever Young” he performs is jaw-dropping: I’ve never heard him sing it so movingly (and I’ve heard him sing it quite a few times). “To Be Alone with You” is an almost entirely rewritten lyric, incorporating something of a religious passion. “Queen Jane,” “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “Tombstone Blues” — all standouts. Every song reveals something new of itself. It seems to this listener that the enormous work that Dylan did in recording five LPs worth of songs from the Great American/Sinatra songbook has enhanced his ability to reinterpret his own songs in especially gorgeous and sensitive ways.

The songs often sound like a commentary on our strange times, but that’s how Dylan’s songs always sound, grounded as they are in an awareness of death, eternity, human nature, and the things that remain.

And it’s all going to stand up to quite a bit of re-watching.

Murder Most Foul

It seems apt that amidst the ruination, Bob Dylan drops a new song. And also apt in that it strikes a lot of us initially as a non-sequitur in today’s context — this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. What’s Dylan on about? But in the end we get that it’s no more a non-sequitur than anything he’s ever done. The curious thing about Dylan is that all of his songs are relevant to the occasion, because he’s always retained that crucial perspective of death and eternity. It suits every moment. Whether we like it or not.

… good day to be living and a good day to die …

You can drill down to all of the references in the lyrics, if that’s what seems right, but to me it’s so much more enjoyable just to let it all wash over you, igniting so many lovely light bulbs along the way. Deep riches here. And such a beautiful, delicate, vocal.

Dylan accompanied this release with the message: “Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.”

Here we thank Bob for keeping the faith, so many long years now — as short as they seem — and may God be with him, and with all of us.

Age of Light Update

Back in the year of our Lord two thousand and eight, on November the fourth, Barack Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States. Bob Dylan happened to be playing a show in Minnesota that night, and came back for his final encore obviously having heard the news backstage on how the electoral contest was going. He introduced his band as he normally did and then made some off-the-cuff comments, which were covered back then in this space in excruciating (although highly accurate) detail.

So, in total, he said:

I wanna introduce my band right now. On the guitar, there’s Denny Freeman. Stu Kimball is on the guitar too. Donnie Herron as well, on the violin right now, playin’ on the steel guitar earlier. George Recile’s playin’ on the drums.

Tony Garnier, wearin’ the Obama button — [applause] alright! — Tony likes to think it’s a brand new time right now. An age of light. Me, I was born in 1941 — that’s the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. Well, I been livin’ in a world of darkness ever since.

But it looks like things are gonna change now …

Change was the thing: it was “hope and change,” the theme of Barack Obama’s campaign, as older readers might remember.

Dylan’s remarks caused quite a hoopla, hailed ’round the world as an optimistic endorsement of the new president, who would clear away all of that post-Pearl-Harbor darkness for Bob and for everyone.

We took a different view here, as expounded upon in that post way back then. In short, we thought Dylan was being ironic and philosophical rather than triumphalist.

Things always change, of-course. And things have changed. An age of light? With all respect to Tony Garnier’s touching optimism, I think there is now probably exactly no one who would say the past eight years have been an age of light (albeit that we may have wildly varying reasons for saying so).

I was greatly struck, and still am, by Bob Dylan’s performance at President Obama’s White House in February of 2010 (just one year into that presidency), billed as a “Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Era.” He showed up and played only one song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”; not as a celebratory duet with Joan Baez (who was also there that night) but in a new, spare, and quite melancholy arrangement.

There’s a lot more that could be said, on January 19th, 2017, but it would be way too much. Those times, they sure just do keep on a-changin’. (And that I can tell you.)

FALLEN ANGELS by Bob Dylan Review

Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels (and Rising Prayers)

Review of FALLEN ANGELS by Bob Dylan

Darling, down and down I go, round and round I go
In a spin, loving the spin that I’m in
Under that old black magic called love

A few months from this time of writing, Bob Dylan will be performing at a big music event in California, sharing the bill with his contemporaries–and fellow septuagenarians–the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. No doubt the Stones will be singing “Satisfaction” and “Paint it Black,” and no doubt McCartney will be singing “Yesterday” and “Band on the Run.” And no doubt Bob Dylan will be singing … well, “Autumn Leaves,” “All or Nothing at All,” and “That Old Black Magic.” You have to pause a moment to contemplate how wonderfully absurd and amazing that actually is. In his most recent shows, more than a third of the titles in his set list have been what we might call these “Sinatra” songs, and of the “Bob Dylan” songs in the show most have been from the past decade and a half or so, with only 3 dating back to the 1960s or 70s. And although some concert attendees have been heard griping (and when has that not been true at a Dylan show?), the most notable fact is that he’s actually been getting away with it in quite fine style. Dylan is conspicuously deriving great joy from singing the standards and puts his whole body and spirit into the effort. Singing these gorgeous old tunes (from songwriters he had some significant role in putting out of business) seems undeniably to be making his own heart feel young. Continue reading Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels (and Rising Prayers)

Bob Dylan "Melancholy Mood"

Bob Dylan, “Melancholy Mood”

Bob Dylan "Melancholy Mood"
It is (in the sense of those things these days) Bob Dylan’s hot new single: “Melancholy Mood.” The song is best known from its recording by Harry James and his Orchestra, with brand new boy singer Frank Sinatra, in 1939. It was the B-side of “From the Bottom of My Heart.” Neither side charted, though both are masterful and lovely records and show the promise of the Sinatra to come. Bob Dylan’s version is embedded below here via YouTube, with a little more on the song and his own quite lovely take on it coming under that.

Comparing Dylan’s to the Harry James/Frank Sinatra side (also on YouTube at the moment) reveals that it is the very same arrangement, as adapted by his five piece guitar-based band. You would think that someone like Dylan would do it as a song, rather than in the style of a big band, where the singer comes in only after the band has gone through the tune already—but you would think wrong. Where Harry James played his trumpet, we have beautiful solo guitar, and on it goes to about the one minute and seven second mark (just as on the James side) and then Bob Dylan steps to the microphone—the most grizzled boy singer you’d ever want to see—and caresses the lyric the rest of the way.

That has been the modus operandi of Dylan on these “Sinatra covers;” that is, to take one of Sinatra’s original recordings (in a lot of cases there were multiple Sinatra versions to pick from) and to simply try to recreate the arrangement with the five piece combo (and occasional extra). In so doing, and in each case, they come up with something beautiful of their own. Dylan’s singing, of-course, is always his own.

And as with his previous interpretations of these old popular songs, Dylan brings resonances to “Melancholy Mood” beyond the boy/girl love theme that would have been the given way of hearing it before. This song, from a lonely soul, even has something to say along those lines, which sounds so right in Dylan’s gentle and aged voice:

But love is a whimsy
And as flimsy as lace
And my arms embrace an empty space

The singer’s soul is “stranded high and dry”—all he can see is “grief and gloom / till the crack of doom.” Still, he prays for release from his melancholy mood, and in Bob’s voice it seems to me this has less the sense of a boy praying for his girl to come back and more the sense of the creature praying to his Creator for an infinitely greater kind of release.

Dylan’s gift to these songs is to show just how deep they can go, without changing a note or a word.

“Melancholy Mood” was written by Vick Knight and Walter Schumann.



Bob Dylan’s forthcoming album, from which “Melancholy Mood” is taken, is titled Fallen Angels, and is to be released on May 20th. The full track listing is as follows:

1. Young At Heart
2. Maybe You’ll Be There
3. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
4. All The Way
5. Skylark
6. Nevertheless
7. All Or Nothing At All
8. On A Little Street In Singapore
9. It Had To Be You
10. Melancholy Mood
11. That Old Black Magic
12. Come Rain Or Come Shine

And to all that I can only say: Golly! It’s a great time to be alive.

Dylan Guns Cancellations

Bob Dylan Chooses Hired Guns Over Cancellations

Dylan Guns Cancellations
The U.S. State Department has warned Americans abroad to steer clear of numerous sites in Italy that are apparently threatened by jihadist attacks. These include in particular the Vatican in Rome, and two sites in the city of Milan: the Duomo and La Scala opera house. The warning also mentions more general targets “such as churches, synagogues, restaurants, theatres, and hotels” in both Milan and Rome. Continue reading Bob Dylan Chooses Hired Guns Over Cancellations

Bob Dylan obsessed with aging

Bob Dylan: “Obsessed with Aging”?

Bob Dylan obsessed with aging

Anything Bob Dylan does continues to be grist for the media machine, as if he were a slightly more hirsute Taylor Swift, and the news that he would appear on the second to last episode of the “Late Night with David Letterman” show duly got the presses rolling. I was struck by the angle taken in New York’s Daily News, where, underneath a photo of the “legendary rocker” was this bit of editorializing: “The singer has been particularly obsessed with aging as his own career winds down.” Aside from begging for the observation that we all should be glad to have as many number one albums as Dylan when our careers are winding down, it made me wonder: Is Dylan really obsessed with aging? The article also states: Continue reading Bob Dylan: “Obsessed with Aging”?

Autumn Leaves Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – “Autumn Leaves”

Autumn Leaves Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan recently added the song “Autumn Leaves” to what has been for some time a very fixed live set list. He’s long been playing two sets divided by an intermission, and now he is finishing that second set with “Autumn Leaves,” whereupon he and his band depart the stage and are entreated back for the encore, which continues to be “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Stay With Me.” “Autumn Leaves” is only the second song from his new album Shadows in the Night that he’s chosen to play live (alright: he did “That Lucky Old Sun” live some years back but that’s a different context). Recent accounts say he’s knocking them dead with this song and in fine form overall. Continue reading Bob Dylan – “Autumn Leaves”

bob dylan shadows in the night review

(Review) Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

Review of Bob Dylan Shadows in the NightI’ve long harbored the sense that it’s a bit farcical of yours truly to “review” a new Bob Dylan album; being as much of a fan as I obviously am, my enthusiasms tend to run over: I get carried away (especially absent any humorless editor to beat me down). Why pretend to offer an unbiased review? On the other hand, everyone has his or her own biases, declared or no. A review is most useful or interesting to a reader to the degree that the reader either shares those biases or at least appreciates their presence.

However, the special way in which it is impossible for me to pretend to offer a coldly objective review of Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night is this: I happen to know that he recorded this album for me. That has to affect things on some level. You see, while I like to think that I have eclectic taste in music, a quick glance at the CDs on my shelves or the gigabytes on my external hard drive would reveal that the music I’ve collected from two particular artists far exceeds the music I’ve collected from any other. Although I’m not into making lists of favorites—top ten favorite female singers, top ten favorite country songs, blah blah blah—there’s no necessity to sit back and wonder who my two all-time favorite musical artists are. They are Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan. Continue reading (Review) Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

bob dylan interview

Bob Dylan Talks (Post-Speech Hoopla) to Bill Flanagan

Bob Dylan Bill Flanagan February 2015 interview

Many of the remarks Dylan made in his MusiCares speech a week ago are still echoing around the solar system, upsetting some as much as they’ve been entertaining and/or fascinating others. He covered a lot of ground and he named names, not always in a complimentary fashion. He said himself at the end of the speech: “I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some.” That was a pretty good bet. So, obviously in the spirit of smoothing some, er, misimpressions, Dylan talked to writer Bill Flanagan, who has always been a worthy interviewer of Bob. Their conversation is posted at BobDylan.com and you can read it yourself. He also expands on some subjects he brought up, like the blues, rock & roll and all that jazz. Continue reading Bob Dylan Talks (Post-Speech Hoopla) to Bill Flanagan

Kris Kristofferson Dylan MusiCares speech

Kris Kristofferson in Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Speech

Kris Kristofferson Dylan MusiCares speech

It would be remiss not to make note of the very special tribute that Bob Dylan paid to Kris Kristofferson in the speech he gave last Friday, February 6th, at the MusiCares benefit. (Transcript “from Bob’s notes” now at this link.) After speaking about how the Nashville scene was once “sewn up in a box” by a collection of songwriters and power brokers, he goes on: Continue reading Kris Kristofferson in Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Speech

Blackwood Brothers with Bob Dylan?

Reactions to Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Speech; Plus The Blackwood Brothers Quartet

Bob Dylan Musicares Speech Reactions
In his speech last Friday night, accepting the “Person of the Year” award from MusiCares, Bob Dylan remembered many old gratitudes, for such as John Hammond, the Staple Singers, Joan Baez, Lou Levy, Johnny Cash, and others, and then he also used the occasion to take issue with many of the tropes that music critics have employed when writing about him. And he also took a couple of knocks at some individuals in the music business who he believes disdained his songs many years ago, contrasting those individuals with others who said nice things about his music. People have been reacting different ways to his speech, some focusing on the gratitudes, some focusing on the knocks, some seeing a lot of humor in it all, and some hitting back at Dylan for being petty or cranky. I think one issue is that people have been reading the speech (full transcript here) and of-course Bob wrote it to be delivered—which is a different kind of writing—and there are laugh lines and so forth which temper the crankiness quite a bit. I haven’t seen much video of the speech as yet, but for some reason this Belgian website has a fairly good series of short clips spliced together that do go a long way towards conveying the tone of the delivery. Bob was having a good time. Continue reading Reactions to Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Speech; Plus The Blackwood Brothers Quartet

The Cinch Review

Bob Dylan Gives 30+ Minute Speech at MusiCares gala

[UPDATE: Full transcript via Randall Roberts of the LA TIMES at this link.]

These are good times. Or maybe the world’s about to end. Or both. Bob Dylan puts out this beautifully recorded, wonderfully executed (my own self-indulgent review to come shortly) album called Shadows In The Night, a tribute to Sinatra but more than that a great work in itself, and now this: Last night Bob Dylan gave a speech well over thirty minutes long when accepting his “Person of the Year” award from MusiCares (a charity for musicians suffering hard times). Dylan, unfiltered by any interviewer or editor, giving his gratitudes and picking some bones along the way.

Except that no one at this point seems to have a full transcript, let alone a tape (though the whole event was recorded for later use). However, significant extracts of Dylan’s speech are quoted here, here and here. Sharp, funny, utterly direct, great stuff.


He picked the perfect moment, didn’t he? That’s what usually happens at charity galas: everyone sits around, has dinner, and then there’s a big speech. Except usually it’s not preceded by a two-hour concert. One may recall if one is old enough how Frank Sinatra was awarded some special mega-Grammy award very late in his life. He was introduced by Bono, who got to make a big speech. Then Frank came on and said “thank you” and was continuing, but was abruptly interrupted. The lights went down and the camera went away. They weren’t expecting a speech; he was supposed to just take the award and go. Maybe he wasn’t in great shape to give a speech—I really don’t know. But no one was going to get away with interrupting Bob Dylan last night.

Good times.

Addendum: And if you read the full transcript (now available) you might possibly note like I did that the climax of the speech on paper, i.e. the end of the main speech where Bob is basically talking about himself and his career and his critics, is this section:

The Blackwood Bros. have been talking to me about making a record together. That might confound expectations, but it shouldn’t. Of course it would be a gospel album. I don’t think it would be anything out of the ordinary for me. Not a bit. One of the songs I’m thinking about singing is “Stand By Me” by the Blackwood Brothers. Not “Stand By Me” the pop song. No. The real “Stand By Me.”

The real one goes like this:

When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea / Thou who rulest wind and water / Stand by me

In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou who never lost a battle / Stand by me

In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends don’t understand / Thou who knowest all about me / Stand by me

That’s the song. I like it better than the pop song. If I record one by that name, that’s going to be the one. I’m also thinking of recording a song, not on that album, though: “Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Anyway, why me, Lord. What did I do?

So that’s how he chose to end, essentially, and what he’s saying there seems clear enough, and also an echo of that quite obscure song once sung by Frank Sinatra that he chose to “uncover” on his latest album, namely, “Stay With Me.”

He then closed by appropriately thanking MusiCares for their work in helping hard pressed musicians, in particular singling out his friend Billy Lee Riley, and then he said “goodbye” this way:

Like the spiritual song, I’m still just crossing over Jordan too. Let’s hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams said, “the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Shadows In The Night: A Sinatra Tribute or NOT a Sinatra Tribute?

Bob Dylan Tribute to Frank Sinatra?

Back when the album Shadows in the Night by Bob Dylan was first announced, in May of 2014, Rolling Stone magazine and others were all labeling it as “Dylan does Sinatra.” Although Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan have long been the sun and moon in my own musical consciousness (and I’ve always been fascinated by any even-tentative connections between them) I greatly hesitated about jumping on that notion, knowing that a lot of people who don’t know better tend to regard any old popular standards as “Frank Sinatra songs.” We didn’t have a track list. It wasn’t clear what the album was really going to be based upon.

Then we got the track list, and it was immediately obvious to any serious Sinatra aficionado that this album was in fact centered around songs closely associated with Frank; it included songs written for him, songs debuted by him, one cowritten by him, no less than four from a single Sinatra album (1957’s Where Are You?), and most were songs where Sinatra’s rendition is indisputably the one that matters most in musical history. (“That Lucky Old Sun” is an exception, and “Some Enchanted Evening” is assuredly a song that almost everyone has done.) Continue reading Shadows In The Night: A Sinatra Tribute or NOT a Sinatra Tribute?

Frank Sinatra Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, 2015: A Very Good Year

Bob Dylan Frank Sinatra 2015
Some of us are date-oriented and some of us are not. By dates, I refer neither to the fruity nor to the romantic kind (though the same statement would probably apply to both) but rather the chronological sort: anniversaries, birthdays, milestones and the like. Some of us are date deniers, wondering whether it matters that such and such happened so many years ago on this date. This day is still little different from yesterday or tomorrow, after all; it’s just another day, significant only for what it achieves for itself, surely, and not its numerical coordination with some other day.

Bob Dylan, however, has apparently been paying some attention to dates. The first track (“Full Moon and Empty Arms”) to be heard from his forthcoming Sinatra-themed album was released to the world last May 13th, the day before the anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s death in 1998 (perhaps someone’s itchy promotional trigger finger caused it to come out a few hours early, at least state-side). And the album itself is being released right here in the first part of 2015 A.D., which happens to be the centenary of Sinatra’s birth (his birth date being December 12th, 1915). Continue reading Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, 2015: A Very Good Year

Bob Dylan, “Stay With Me,” Studio Audio Released

Stay With Me Bob Dylan studio audio
Way back in May of last year we first heard “Full Moon and Empty Arms” from the forthcoming Bob Dylan album, Shadows in the Night. Today we have the release of the studio audio of “Stay With Me,” a song that Bob Dylan was closing his live performances with on his most recent tour, written by Jerome Moss and Carolyn Leigh and first recorded by Frank Sinatra. The audio can be heard via NPR (thanks to David H. for the tip). UPDATE: And now you can hear it below via YouTube: Continue reading Bob Dylan, “Stay With Me,” Studio Audio Released

The Cinch Review

It’s Real: Bob Dylan “Uncovers” Frank Sinatra on Shadows in the Night

Shadows in the Night Bob Dylan Frank SinatraWell, those North Korean hackers couldn’t stop Bob Dylan (Sony recording artist) from announcing today some details on his forthcoming album, Shadows In The Night, which will indeed as speculated consist entirely of songs that would be best known as sung by Frank Sinatra.

Dylan’s statement today as published on his website goes like this: Continue reading It’s Real: Bob Dylan “Uncovers” Frank Sinatra on Shadows in the Night

Bob Dylan Live at the Beacon Theatre, New York


Last night Bob Dylan played the first of a series of five concerts at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, the final stand of his current tour.

I thought I’d probably seen my last Robert A. Zimmerman performance a few years ago. I’ve seen him live quite a bit over the years, and that last show was a good one, and for a variety of reasons I just felt it best to leave it at that. (One also has the impression that Dylan really enjoys playing to the new faces in the crowds, rather than old fogeys like moi.) However, through the intervention of a very kind friend, myself and the missus found ourselves last night once again breathing the same air as Bob and his five superb sidemen: Tony Garnier, George Recile, Stu Kimball, Charlie Sexton and Donnie Herron. Continue reading Bob Dylan Live at the Beacon Theatre, New York

The Cinch Review

Bob Dylan Abides with “Stay with Me”

Stay with Me Bob Dylan

So, on his current tour—or, if you prefer, the current leg of his “Inevitably Going to End One Day” tour—Bob Dylan has been closing his shows in an unprecedented manner, with a song he had never sung in concert before. I’d daresay that precious few singers have sung this song in concert before (and I’d bet the house that no one has ever closed the show with it).

It is a song titled “Stay with Me,” and it was written specifically for a 1963 film directed by Otto Preminger called The Cardinal. Jerome Moss composed the score for the film, and Carolyn Leigh wrote the lyrics for this, the film’s main theme. And the film is about an actual Roman Catholic cardinal; that is, it follows the life of a protagonist named Stephen Fermoyle from Boston as he becomes a priest and goes through various dramas before ultimately rising to that office in the Church. (Curious fact: the “Vatican liaison” on the film was one Joseph Ratzinger.) Continue reading Bob Dylan Abides with “Stay with Me”