Category Archives: Dylanosophy

“When Death Comes Creepin’ (Whatcha Gonna Do?)” – Bob Dylan and a Few Good Questions

Whatcha Gonna Do When Death Comes Creepin' Bob Dylan
“Death Comes Creeping” is a song which originated as a Negro spiritual and has had many incarnations over the eons. One version of it is actually titled “Soon One Morning,” with verses including these:

Soon one morning
Death comes a-creeping in the room
Soon one morning
Death comes a-creeping in the room
Soon one morning
Death comes a-creeping in the room
Oh my Lord, oh my Lord what shall I do

You may call your father
Your father will be no use
Call your father
Your father will be no use
Call your father
Your father will be no use
Oh my Lord, oh my Lord what shall I do

(Hear a version on YouTube from Fred McDowell, 1959, recorded by Alan Lomax)

Bob Dylan picked up on the song from someone somewhere, and recorded a number of different versions, changing the lyrics as he went. The song was ultimately published as a Dylan original under the title “Whatcha Gonna Do?” but no recording was officially released until 2010 on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964. And the officially released performance is of the very same lyric as in the published version (right there in the original Writings and Drawings book). That performance, being a Witmark demo, was precisely for the purpose of publishing. Continue reading “When Death Comes Creepin’ (Whatcha Gonna Do?)” – Bob Dylan and a Few Good Questions

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“Forever Young” at the 2014 All Star Game

All Star Game Forever Young Dylan Idina Menzel

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. Continue reading “Forever Young” at the 2014 All Star Game

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Regina McCrary Talking Bob Dylan

Regina McCrary talks about Bob Dylan

There’s a recently-added video on YouTube of singer Regina McCrary appearing for a talk at Belmont University in Nashville. (Thanks to Ronnie for the tip.) She is interviewed by Mark Maxwell. McCrary is a wonderful singer from a very musical family, and, when only about 21, she happened to be selected by Bob Dylan in late 1978 to be one of his backing singers on the album Slow Train Coming, and she went on singing for him both live and on record during what we call his “gospel phase.” In the interview she talks about how it all came about and shares anecdotes and insights. She seems an extremely sweet and likeable woman with a heart that fairly bursts out of her body, so if you’re interested in Dylan generally, and that period in particular, I think you’ll find it a pleasure to hear what she has to say. It’s a little more than half an hour and the strictly-Dylan-related stuff starts about ten minutes in. Continue reading Regina McCrary Talking Bob Dylan

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Full Moon, Empty Arms, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Full Moon and Empty ArmsIn one of those brilliantly-orchestrated-completely-unanticipated-moves, Bob Dylan posted to his website today his version of “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” a song written circa 1945 by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman, with a melody based on a Rachmaninoff tune. It reportedly heralds a forthcoming album release which may or may not be titled “Shadows in the Night” (based on some artwork also posted on his website today). Continue reading Full Moon, Empty Arms, Bob Dylan

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Preserved in Desire (Bob Dylan)

(Marking the death of Hurricane Carter, here’s a reprint of this piece from some years back reflecting on Bob Dylan’s songwriting around the time of his 1975 album, Desire.)

Bob Dylan DesireThanks to Jay for sending me links to two stories from NorthJersey.com (one and two) which ruminate on the case of Hurricane Carter, to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the shootings in Paterson, New Jersey.

Just past 2:30 a.m., June 17, 1966, Paterson police detective Jim Lawless enters Lafayette Bar & Grill, 428 E. 18th St. A half dozen other officers are on their way to the scene.

Behind the long wooden counter, bartender James Oliver, 51, lies in his own blood, his spine severed by a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. Dead.

Fred Nauyoks, 61, shot in the head, shot-gunned in the back, ice still melting in the drink in front of him, slumps onto the bar. Dead.

His friend, William Marins, shot in the head with a .32 caliber handgun, staggers around, blood flowing from his forehead and left eye. He dies in 1973, of unrelated causes.

Hazel Tanis, 51, hit in the left side with shotgun pellets and shot in the right breast, stomach, lower abdomen and genital area, has been rushed to a hospital. She lives, in severe pain in St. Joseph’s Hospital, for another month.

The articles take a fairly detailed and long view of the entire case, and are well worth reading if that interests you.

Relevant to Dylan’s famous song, there is this mention:

The New York Times features Carter in a front-page story in 1974, and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan brings out “Hurricane,” a decidedly one-sided account that includes the verse, “Here comes the story of the Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame, for somethin’ that he never done. Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been, the champion of the world.” It has at least one local side-effect: Patricia Valentine, a key witness, finds her dog dead outside her house. Someone puts a bullet through her front window.

It’s not clear how the direct link can be made between Dylan’s record and those attacks on Patricia Valentine, but there you go. There can be no doubt that “Miss Patty Valentine” felt oppressed at hearing her name pronounced on the airwaves in a very unflattering tone.

Certainly, “Hurricane” is a “one-sided account” of the controversy. And it would be hard to think of a ballad ever written to honor or defend someone that didn’t present a one-sided view. It would be strange indeed to hear a song with verse after verse of arguments presenting both the defense and prosecution cases, and ending with something like, “Now it’s up to you the listener to figure it out.” One would guess that Dylan himself hopes to this day that Rubin Carter was indeed innocent. Clearly he believed it at the time: “Hurricane” cannot be dismissed as merely an exercise in writing a very particular type of song (although I think it is also that); it was an unabashed joining of the battle to have him freed. It would be interesting to ask Dylan how he feels about it now. Of-course, he didn’t sit in the courtroom through all the trials and appeals, so he can’t be expected to deliver a detailed and balanced opinion. But the question would be what made him give himself over entirely to this particular cause (when he had most certainly been entreated in vain for the sake of many others) and does he feel any ambivalence about it all these decades later? He hasn’t performed the song publicly since 1975. Continue reading Preserved in Desire (Bob Dylan)

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Bob Dylan Walks on Hate Charge but Freedom Still on Trial

Bob Dylan hate charge dismissed in France
In a victory for those who would like to see Bob Dylan avoid a year in a French jail and/or a fine of 45,000 euros (but not so much for supporters of free speech) a court in Paris has ruled that he is not liable on a charge of incitement to hatred due to remarks he made to Rolling Stone magazine in 2012. He is not liable, according to the judge in the case, because he supposedly did not give permission for the remarks to be published in the French-language edition of the magazine. So, the charge is being transferred to the boss of the French edition of Rolling Stone instead.

It is a victory for Bob Dylan’s French attorney, Thierry Marembert, who is quoted as saying, “I’m very happy the justice system understood that Bob Dylan never intended to hurt or defame anyone.” This is all legal nonsense, of-course. But let’s recap what Dylan said that caused all the ruckus. He was opining about persistent problems around the issue of race in the United States (prompted by questions from the Rolling Stone interviewer) and this came out: Continue reading Bob Dylan Walks on Hate Charge but Freedom Still on Trial

Death is not the End

Death is not the end
Death was the chief topic at church this morning. It is a sturdy old standby. Death, ironically enough, never seems to get old. Just when you might think it’s become old hat — that you’ve been there, done that and moved on — death has this way of reasserting itself in one’s life in some novel and unexpected way. Endlessly resourceful, death may sometimes take a holiday but, just like taxes, will always return demanding to be paid. And even if you purchase an island and declare personal sovereignty, you turn out still to be within the dominion claimed by death. You may argue and protest, of-course, but while the case is tied up in the courts death will simply take everything you own and move on. (Exactly like taxes, then.)

Someone who is well aware at the moment of the truth of all the above is Miley Cyrus. A few days ago her dog Floyd died suddenly. I intend no mockery here: as a lover of dogs, I have no doubt as to the genuineness of the grief felt by a dog owner when one dies. There can even be an added nakedness and rawness to the emotion. The mechanisms and rituals we human beings have for finding consolation and closure after the death of a fellow human being aren’t there in the same way when a pet dies. And no matter how senior, a dog’s life always seems to have been too short, because their lifespans are so short compared to ours. Continue reading Death is not the End

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Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1) – Various Artists

Review of Bob Dylan in the 80s Volume 1Tribute albums, or albums dedicated to the songs of one particular songwriter, come and go, and probably no living musician has had more such albums made in his or her name than Bob Dylan. This new one, however, called Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1), seems unusually pure in its fundamental motivation. It does not purport to contain the best ever Bob Dylan songs and certainly not the most popular ones. It does not feature artists who are household names, and no one could be expecting it to sell in enormous quantities. Its clear motive instead is to lift up songs from Bob Dylan’s most maligned and least hip decade. There was no perennial critical favorite like Blonde on Blonde from Dylan in the 1980s, no classic of heartache like Blood on the Tracks, no universally lauded return-to-form like Time Out of Mind, and no chart-topper like Modern Times. There was Saved, to start out with, and Under the Red Sky to end with. Both albums (though more the former than the latter) have their advocates, but when they arrived they seemed to disappear promptly into deep pools of opprobrium. And the albums in between generally didn’t do a whole lot better in terms of popular or critical reception. Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1), then, seeks to help people listen freshly to some of the lesser-known work of America’s most remarkable living songwriter, and enjoy aspects of it that they might not know about or might have missed. In this, and in just being fun, it succeeds. Continue reading Bob Dylan in the 80s (Volume 1) – Various Artists

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Coming Soon: Bob Dylan in the 80s

Bob Dylan in the 80sAn album to be released on March 25th will feature a curious plethora of artistes performing versions of various Bob Dylan songs which Dylan originally released between 1980 and 1990. It may seem an odd decade to be celebrated in this fashion, but I believe that’s also kind of the idea.

Personally, I’ve always had a special affection for Dylan’s work during the 1980s, quirks and all, but it is difficult for me to objectively discern whether this is due more to the music itself or to the timing: I came of age as a Bob Dylan fan during that decade. I was about 16 when Infidels was out, and I was becoming a fan with help from my friend Brendan and his older brothers’ stash of records. Empire Burlesque in 1985 was therefore the first Dylan album whose release I anticipated with spine-tingly excitement, rushing to the record store to buy. (Note to younger readers: “record stores” were box-like structures, just sitting on the street, with people inside them, where we would walk, barefoot at times, to obtain recorded music that had been scratched onto black vinyl discs or magnetically applied to ferrous tapes, in exchange for pieces of paper and coins that the people in the record store—and ultimately also the musicians—could then use to purchase food for themselves. This system worked quite well until Al Gore invented the MP3.) Continue reading Coming Soon: Bob Dylan in the 80s

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Accentuate the Positive

Accentuate the Positive Bob  Dylan
Perhaps the first cover version Bob Dylan ever seriously took on was the Johnny Mercer / Harold Arlen tune, “Accentuate the Positive.” He sang it for relatives, at the age of four, after first insisting that everyone must keep very quiet. It became a part of Zimmerman family lore: it was the moment when people first said, “That kid’s some kind of genius!”

People have been saying the same thing ever since, along with many more colorful things.


That story is recounted in the first serious Dylan bio (and arguably the best), Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan.

I don’t know whose rendition the young Bobby Zimmerman might have heard which inspired him to learn the song. There were plenty out there, including by the redoubtable Bing Crosby. But it would also be cool if it were this one: Louis Armstrong, from a live radio broadcast on New Year’s Eve in 1945. (Bob Dylan would indeed have been four years old.)

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

Keep on the sunny side.

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Bob Dylan Chrysler Commercial (w/ video)

Bob Dylan Chrysler Ad

“We will build your car.” It’s weird-ass, funny, and ultimately-even-if-inexplicably cool. In other words, it’s typical Bob Dylan, and it’s his TV commercial for the Chrysler automobile manufacturing corporation which aired during the Super Bowl today. Video embedded below via YouTube.

Back In 2007, Bob Dylan starred in a commercial for the Cadillac Escalade. But in point of fact, you can’t accuse him of being fickle, because the content of the new ad is less a praise of Chrysler in particular as it is of American-made cars in general. And an ode to the uniqueness of America from a guy who knows a little something about it.

What can I say? I like it. (And I don’t even own a car.)

Addendum: Bob’s full text in this Chrysler ad, as transcribed by yours truly:

Is there anything more American than America? ‘Cos you can’t import a vision. You can’t fake true cool. You can’t duplicate legacy. Because what Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world. Yeah, Detroit made cars and cars made America. Making the best, making the finest, takes conviction.

And you can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line. You can search the world over for the finer things, but you won’t find a match for the American road and the creatures that live on it.

Because we believe in the zoom and the roar and the thrust.

And when it’s made here, it’s made with the one thing you can’t import from anywhere else: American pride.

So let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone.

We will build your car.


“Let It Be Me” – Bob Dylan, Clydie King

Bob Dylan Clydie King Let It Be Me

Bob Dylan first recorded the song “Let It Be Me” on his 1970 album Self Portrait, with that crooner-kind-of-voice and the soft and sweet country music sound that he was utilizing back then. This was not, however, his final take on the song.

Wikipedia naturally has some details on the song’s history. The Everly Brothers had the biggest hit with it, in 1960. The original composition was in French, from 1955, written by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delanoe. The distinct English lyrics with which we are familiar were written by Manny Curtis (aka Mann Curtis, aka Manny Kurtz, who also wrote lyrics for Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood”). It’s now been sung by too many singers to even think of listing.

Bob Dylan’s second recorded take on the song was some eleven years after his first. It was during the Shot of Love recording sessions, and it ended up being released as the B-side of the 45 rpm single, “Heart of Mine.” As on a number of the Shot of Love tracks, Bob is accompanied on vocals by Clydie King. To my ears, at least, this rendition of “Let It Be Me,” filled as it is with emotion and unfakeable spontaneity, is absolutely incandescent. You may be able to listen to it below via YouTube. (I hope this and other material from the era will be officially released before long in high quality form.)

And, especially as it comes from what was still Bob’s “gospel period,” I think that a listener is quite justified if he or she senses a poignancy in Dylan’s interpretation of the song that goes beyond the more obvious boy/girl sense of the lyric.

I bless the day I found you
I want to stay around you
Now and forever, let it be me

Don’t take this heaven from one
If you must cling to someone
Now and forever, let it be me

Each time we meet love
I find complete love
Without your sweet love what would life be?




Well, if you must cling to someone, indeed—the language of the song is especially clingy, with this persistent demand, “let it be me.” But with that affecting melody and when graced by the right kind of performance, that is not so much how it comes across. Rather than clingy, it is meek, and it is vulnerable and quite naked. It connects, maybe, with that meek, vulnerable and naked honesty at the bottom of all of us.

Any way you cut it, the song is a particularly shining example of the art and alchemy of great popular music.

……

Twyla Tharp / Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan’s album The Times They Are A-Changin’ (and wilful perversity always being our first instinct), here’s a review of the short-lived Broadway musical of the same name, originally published on November 11th, 2006.

Review Bob Dylan Twyla Tharp The Times They Are a Changin'

The Show Must Go On!

But it won’t go on. After being put down by all the major Continue reading Twyla Tharp / Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

It’s All Good: Bob Dylan and Saint Augustine

[Adapted from a version originally published in 2010]

Bob Dylan Augustine It's All Good

When, not very many years ago, I first read the great work, Confessions, by Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), I recall being a little inwardly nonplussed at the fact that while reading it I was persistently put in mind of Bob Dylan. It often seemed as if Augustine were subtly echoing Dylan, or as if the lines in Confessions were ever-so-close to flowing right into one of his songs. I thought: Is this what it’s come to? Am I so deranged now, on account of listening so much to this old warbler from Hibbing, that I can’t even read a great piece of literature, completely unrelated to him, without his songs flitting in and out of my head?

And unquestionably I am so deranged, but, with hindsight, it’s perhaps not so hard to understand why my mind was making the kinds of connections it was. Continue reading It’s All Good: Bob Dylan and Saint Augustine

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Bob Dylan to Stand Trial for Inciting Racism?

Bob Dylan Trial Inciting RacismWell, he’s always been aware that everybody must get stoned.

A group of Croat immigrants living in France have apparently gotten a court in Paris to accept a case against Bob Dylan, under France’s hate speech laws, in order to prosecute him for inciting racism against, naturally, Croatian people. You may not have been aware of Bob Dylan’s long-standing animus against the Croats, but it seems the Croats are very much aware of it. Dylan’s music was reportedly banned from Croatian radio station “Split” after an interview he did with Rolling Stone magazine last year which included the following quote:

If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.

Some Croats were apparently extremely upset at being associated, by implication, with KKK members and Nazis.

It’s really kind of fascinating. And it’s also a matter of interest that non-French citizens can be tried in France for “hate speech” that occurred somewhere else. There’s kind of a lot of hate in the world, isn’t there? It would seem to me that the French courts ought be overflowing with such prosecutions, and they would need to reopen the Bastille, and build a few more, to house all the convicted offenders. Continue reading Bob Dylan to Stand Trial for Inciting Racism?

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“Forever Young” in Kohl’s Commercial (Bob Dylan)

Forever Young Bob Dylan Kohl's commercialYesterday I griped cantankerously about BobDylan.com daring to make some kind of video for his song “Like a Rolling Stone.” Today I’ve become aware of further new visuals for a Bob Dylan song, courtesy of the U.S. discount department store chain known as Kohl’s.

There are some differences. It is not one of Bob Dylan’s versions of the song, but instead a simple cover version by a female singer with a guitar. And it is about thirty-three seconds long. As commercials go, it is tasteful, not pushing the sale of anything in particular but just trying to create a general good feeling. One may understandably recoil from being manipulated, but Lord knows there are worse ways of being manipulated. You can watch it below, embedded via YouTube. Continue reading “Forever Young” in Kohl’s Commercial (Bob Dylan)

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New Video for “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

New video for Like a Rolling Stone Bob DylanWhat’s this about? A “new video” for Bob Dylan’s 1965 masterpiece “Like a Rolling Stone” is to debut on BobDylan.com tomorrow (Tuesday, 11/19/13). The Associated Press reports:

The video will allow viewers to switch between 16 different story lines that mimic television channels. The actors and hosts on each of these channels lip-sync the lyrics to the song and viewers can move from one to another during the song seamlessly. There is a Dylan channel as well that features vintage footage.

It is part of the promotion for the new Complete Album Collection Volume 1. Continue reading New Video for “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

Listening to the Remastered Saved (Bob Dylan)

Listening to the Remastered Saved Bob DylanAs previously noted, the most interesting thing about the forthcoming mega-Bob-Dylan-Box-Set seemed to me to be the prospect of hearing a remastered version of his 1980 album, Saved, which no one seemed to be satisfied with in its original incarnation, including Bob Dylan himself. The question was how one might obtain only that item (legally) without buying the entire two hundred dollar set. Well, the remastered albums from that set have apparently already been made available in MP3 and similar compressed formats, on Amazon and elsewhere, although the actual box set isn’t officially released until November 5th (thanks to to Ben for originally giving me the heads-up).

Given my druthers, I’m someone who would like to be able to buy the music in question in a lossless format, e.g. FLAC, or on an actual CD. However, given the significance of this particular content, and the unlikelihood of easily getting it as I would prefer, I could not resist splurging for the MP3 version a few days ago. Continue reading Listening to the Remastered Saved (Bob Dylan)

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Saved, by Bob Dylan, to be Remastered

Bob Dylan's Saved to be remasteredOn November 5th, 2013, Sony/Columbia will release a remastered version of Bob Dylan’s 1980 album, Saved. It is customarily characterized as the second of Bob Dylan’s three “gospel period” albums. It contains the most straightahead gospel songs of the three, drawing deeply from black American forms of worship music. It is the first time that the album has been remastered, although there were complaints about the audio quality of the record from the outset, including from Dylan himself. That way I’d put it is that the album has an odd kind of muted nature, lacking the life and presence you would expect. Some might use different terminology. It’s not the performances that seem lacking (and Dylan and his band were delivering galvanizing live performances of the same material during this period) but something about the sound of the record or CD itself. It has even been speculated over the years that possibly some Columbia execs—unhappy with Dylan’s foray into religious music—deliberately caused the album to be sabotaged. On the face of it, this seems nuts (why would businessmen undermine the sales of their own products?) but on the other hand even more bizarre things happen in this world every day, so who knows? Continue reading Saved, by Bob Dylan, to be Remastered

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Another Self Portrait – Bob Dylan (Bootleg Series Volume 10)

Review of Bob Dylan Another Self Portrait Bootleg Series 10I burst out laughing yesterday. I was listening to “Wigwam,” the version of the song on the new release from Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10, without the overdubs from the original Self Portrait album in 1970. Heard this way, it is a very unassuming performance: voice, guitar, piano: a pleasant, contemplative melody. I think that it is, in its way, a joke, however, because, while there are no lyrics, Dylan sings “la da da da” type stuff throughout. Put that together with what he said (in 1984) about the original 1970 release of Self Portrait, and how he wanted to alienate the people who were looking to him for big statements and answers:

I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. They’ll see it, and they’ll listen, and they’ll say, ‘Well, let’s get on to the next person. He ain’t sayin’ it no more. He ain’t given’ us what we want,’ you know? They’ll go on to somebody else.

What better way to do that than for the great lyricist and poet and “voice of a generation” to record a song with nothing but “la da da’s” in it? Continue reading Another Self Portrait – Bob Dylan (Bootleg Series Volume 10)

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Property of Jesus – Chrissie Hynde

Property of Jesus Bob Dylan Chrissie Hynde

I don’t know exactly when this performance by Chrissie Hynde of Bob Dylan’s song “Property Of Jesus” took place, but it’s embedded via YouTube at the bottom.

I’d heard reference before to Chrissie Hynde singing this song, and was curious about it, but I hadn’t actually heard it until I came across this clip the other day. The rendition is word perfect and tightly-performed, so it’s clearly not a casual or one-off thing. Musically, Bob Dylan’s original on Shot of Love from 1981 is pretty much straight-ahead rock & roll, but Chrissie Hynde and her band turn it into a kind of shuffle, and a pretty groovy one at that. Continue reading Property of Jesus – Chrissie Hynde