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Bob Dylan Shadows in the Night - By Peter Stone Brown

Shadows of Dylan Standard Time

by PETER STONE BROWN

Last week, an old friend who is a musician emailed me when news broke that Bob Dylan’s new album Shadows In The Night is not original songs, but an album of standards that all happened to be recorded by Frank Sinatra. My friend wanted to know what my take was on Dylan performing material from what some refer to as “The Great American Songbook.”

Those who have closely followed Dylan’s 50 plus year career should not be surprised in the least by this development. Dylan has been toying around with standards since he recorded “Blue Moon” for Self Portrait in 1969. In 1985, at the first Farm Aid concert, Dylan sang “Lucky Old Sun” (which closes this album) and performed it several times the following year and occasionally after that. In 1987, Dylan performed a solo acoustic version of Gershwin’s “Soon” at a tribute concert in Brooklyn. Dylan has occasionally tried his hand at other standards and Sinatra songs in the studio. Some have surfaced on bootlegs, some haven’t. The song “Tomorrow Night” recorded on his album Good As I Been To You and recorded by numerous performers from blues singer Lonnie Johnson to Elvis Presley surely qualifies as a standard, and in 2,000, Dylan rearranged his song “Trying To Get To Heaven” in a jazz flavored manner that was approaching standards territory as did various songs on the albums of original material he’s released in this century. More to the point is the simple fact that during his career Dylan has tried his hand at virtually every type of American music, and this album is part of that musical expedition.

In an interview currently running not in Rolling Stone but in AARP magazine, Dylan says if he had to do it all over again, he would like to be a teacher. Sometimes Dylan can be a knucklehead and especially in this case because he already is one. One couldn’t possibly estimate how many people decided to find out who Woody Guthrie was because of him or the Stanley Brothers when he sang their songs at concert after concert in the ’90s or any of the other musicians he’s covered, referenced in his lyrics or mentioned in interviews.

In choosing to do this material, Dylan followed a route similar to that of Willie Nelson on his Stardust album by using his own band occasionally augmented by a small subtle horn section. The songs were recorded live in the studio apparently in the order they appear on the album. There were no overdubs. The only microphone Dylan wanted to see was the one he was using to sing into. The arrangements are all based on Sinatra recordings, though some are a little shorter or less extravagant. It is the first Dylan album where he doesn’t play an instrument and as such, given that this is an album of standards, there is no piano on the album. The use of percussion is minimal. dylanDeserving of a huge amount of credit is pedal steel guitarist Donnie Herron whose brilliant playing provides much of the ambiance and feel of the album, along with the bowed bass of Tony Garnier. The guitars of Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball are often in the background, but some forward at just the right time on songs like “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Full Moon And Empty Arms.” Overall this is ensemble playing and not about solos.

Once Dylan starts singing, all talk of tribute albums or standards vanishes in the wind and it becomes a Bob Dylan album, and a fairly dark one at that. There are no fast songs, and all the songs, many of them from Sinatra’s 1957 album, Where Are You are torch songs. Loss, heartbreak and loneliness are the dominant themes.

From the first track, “I’m A Fool To Want You,” it becomes clear that this is some of the most committed singing Dylan has put on a recording in some time. It is Dylan without a mask. His voice is quiet, yet vulnerable and he never tries to phrase like Sinatra, emphasizing the words he cares about. The track is close to chilling in its intensity, leaving the listener no doubt Dylan has lived what he’s singing about. And that feeling extends to every song on the album.

The album gets slightly upbeat with “The Night We Called It A Day,” which is followed by “Stay With Me (Main Theme From The Cardinal)” the surprise highlight of Dylan’s recent US tour.

By recording live without overdubs or earphones for that matter, Dylan is clearly going for emotion over musical perfection and yes there are times when he almost makes the note or his voice cracks, but all of that adds to the feel of the album and works to enhance tracks like “Autumn Leaves.” His rendition is downright spooky, you can practically feel the leaves falling in the early twilight, as the singer gazes out the window from a house where the emptiness rules everything.

Dylan sings “Why Try To Change Me Now” like it was written solely for him, with lines like “I’ve got some habits even I can’t explain” or “Why Can’t I Be More Conventional?” Even though the song is one of inherent sadness, Dylan’s voice suggests a sly smile behind the lyrics and as such it’s a standout.

While “Some Enchanted Evening” is sung by other singers, with a tone of optimism, Dylan sings it as if it’s a dream that couldn’t possibly come true. The way he sings the last line, “Once you have found her, never let her go,” would not have been out of place on Blood On The Tracks.

“Full Moon And Empty Arms” was released on the internet on Dylan’s official site last spring and remains the perfect example of what Dylan is attempting and achieving – a feeling of dreamy mystery that pervades the entire album.

“Where Are You” and “What’ll I Do” though very different in mood and feel both add to the impression that this is also a concept album about a man looking back at his life and wondering how he screwed up so many relationships.

Dylan concludes the album with “Lucky Old Sun,” which will stand with the best vocals he’s ever put on record. I can’t listen to it without playing it again. It’s the track where you suddenly realize who the person is who’s been singing for the past half hour and every incarnation, every voice of a half-century suddenly flashes by. The track is simply magnificent.

While Shadows In The Night will no doubt have its detractors, in terms of feel, cohesiveness and intensity, it’s one of the best albums he’s released this century. Acutely aware that he was one of the contributors to knocking these songs off the charts, there is no doubt that he put a lot of thought into both the presentation and the performance and cares about this music deeply. Dylan has always been about music tradition, even when people thought he was breaking with it. In making this music sound vital, not like a relic, without the slightest hint of camp, he is clearly saying this too is part of the tradition. And while he’s aiming this towards his older fans, he’ll probably end up teaching some kids about Frank Sinatra, popular music and musical arrangements along the way.

Peter Stone Brown is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter.  His site and blog can be found here: http://www.peterstonebrown.com/

 

05/02/2015 18:51. plotino #. BOB DYLAN No hay comentarios. Comentar.

On The Situation Today

 Outsiders will never be told this by the propaganda machines, but we in the US who care about our country and the rule of law know full well that obama hates the US and is doing everything in his power to distribute our wealth around the world. Like it or not, our wealth has been created by hard work and ingenuity. Not just war and taking from other countries as most claim. The combustion engine, the auto, the lightbulb, electricity, telephone, television, radio, and on and on none have anything to do with war. It is the entrepreneurial heart and freedoms this country once provided us that made us who we are and once were. Now, the europeans have brought this keynesian socialist communist cra to the US and have destroyed our wealth and our moral character via hijacking our universities, banking and media complexes. Laws are being enacted to punish the hard working entrepreneurial class in this country, most of whom have nothing to do with wall street. The cronyism and printing of money is killing our freedoms. Taxes are no longer used to fund the govt. they are used to steal from the prudent, ethical hard working folks. At some point we will revolt and the French Revolution will look like a Disney movie. We are 300 million people carrying nearly 200 million weapons. We are the largest weaponized civillian force on the planet and you can bet your ass, politial class or no politial class on board, we will fight to defend our country and way of life. We are waking slowly but surely. The first casualty will be the resolution and convictions of many in ou political and banking class. I am convinced this is just starting to warm up here in the US. So, sit back and enjoy the fireworks. We are fixing bayonets.

05/02/2015 20:41. plotino #. THIS WORLD No hay comentarios. Comentar.


Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night by Matt Powell

If a Dylan-does-Sinatra record sounds like a bad idea that's because it probably is. But whatever Shadows in the Night is, it isn’t that. Not in the obvious way at least.

The first thing you notice upon listen is something I've long suspected: far from ravaged, Dylan currently possesses a voice capable of subtle, sweet pitch control and nuance. Soft and whispery, sure, but neither weak nor degraded. From the opening “I’m a Fool to Want You” he assures us it will serve a strong and steady guide through the forthcoming enveloping terrain, navigating the complex harmonic changes and modulations of the Great American Songbook with effortless awareness. There is nary a buried phrase, not one interval soured by failed attempt. Dylan does not mask his voice with bouncy brass riffs or allow it to lazily piggyback on propelling swing; he lays it bare on top of a floating bed of steel guitar, rising and falling with the dynamics of the strings, tensile and exposed. Understanding, like Sinatra, that when working with songs of this caliber - contrary to the approach of the great jazz instrumentalists, or even Dylan himself - every performance is in service to the song, not the other way around. What a thing it is to think of Bob Dylan at 73 with not only something new to say, but a new way of saying it, like a secret he's grown too guilt ridden to conceal from the world any longer.

Dylan’s vocals are only made more impressive when considering the method of recording Shadows. Just as Sinatra would record his vocals live with the orchestra playing along in one big room, Dylan huddled with his band in a small circle inside Capitol Records Studio B and recorded each song live, no overdubs, no punching in. They didn’t just record the album live, but also in sequence.

Donny Herron’s pedal steel guitar is the other star of this record. While Tony Garnier’s bowed bass and Charlie Sexton’s and Stu Kimball’s tasty guitar phrases swim in and out periodically, the steel guitar is practically the only audible instrument for much of the record. Like Bucky Baxter’s sinister steel guitar parts that elevated Time Out of Mind, or Al Kooper’s mid-60’s organ, Herron serves as the perfect compliment for this particular Dylan performance.

More than that, Herron is essential. His warm and fluid, draping steel serves as the string section, a one-man Nelson Riddle chart. Part of Sinatra’s secret was to surround himself with the best: the best songs, the best players and, especially, the best arrangers. Different arrangers suited Sinatra’s different needs at different stages, but there was an incomparable magic between Sinatra and Riddle. Just as Riddle’s string arrangements on albums like In the Wee Small Hours or Close to You seem to ebb and flow with Sinatra’s voice, swelling and retreating as if in conversation, or courtship, so here do Herron’s steel and Dylan’s voice dance, complementing each other, dependent upon each other. There is no one without the other and there is seemingly nothing else. Herron’s work here lies among the landmarks of sidemen achievement.  

Sinatra was capable of getting inside a song with the commitment of a method actor, yet with an effortless, conversational delivery that suspends us in his world. This is his genius. When Sinatra sings “I dim all the lights and I sink in my chair / the smoke from my cigarette climbs through the air,” for example, from “Deep in a Dream” on In the Wee Small Hours, you can see the shape of the wisps of smoke filtered through the shadows of the street light intruding on his dark room. You can see the smoke climb as it circles in the warmer, higher air dissipating above the singer’s head. Sinatra gets inside a song like no one ever has. So it is here.

“Autumn Leaves,” for example, is a song that has been recorded so many times I thought I never needed to hear it again. After Dylan’s opening line breaks Herron’s haunting intro, I wondered how I lived this long without this version. When Dylan sings, “the autumn leaves drift by the window,” letting his voice linger on the word “window,” as if trailing off through the cold pane and out into the crisp chilly wind, shaping the hard, barren landscape, you don’t merely see the leaves and see him standing there at the window; you are there, riding his lonesome voice as it fogs the frozen glass. You are there as the dead leaves in all their reds and golds fall away like the love of which he sings; death - the mother of beauty, dripping from each phrase. He sings the song one full time through and out; there is nothing more to say, it is a complete thought.

Frank Sinatra invented, and perfected, the concept album. For Sinatra, a concept album was not just a collection of songs about the same subject, although that is true for some, such as Moonlight Sinatra. Nor was it necessarily linked thematically lyrically, although most of them were. For Sinatra, the concept was in the atmosphere and vibe of the record itself, right down to the cover art. It is in its consistent mood and volume - in the music and lyric equally, but especially in the music, the arrangement - its amorphous expanding of vast, dark holes of sound into which the listener is drawn. The vocals, and thus the lyrics, become just one more part of the overall whole. There is so much space in those Sinatra records it is easy to fall in and remain there until politely excused at its conclusion, as if coming out of hypnoses. The great melancholy, string-laden Sinatra concept records are meditative; they are almost prayers. That specific vision and consistent execution is Sinatra’s true artistry and that is what Bob Dylan has achieved here.

The real star of the album isn’t Dylan’s voice or Herron’s steel guitar – it is the sound of space. This is Dylan’s great gift to us in modern times. Here and now, in 2015, Bob Dylan has returned to us the artistry of the best of Frank Sinatra without resulting to imitation, nostalgia or caricature. None of the 10 tracks on Shadows are what one thinks of when one thinks of “Frank Sinatra songs.” Yet Dylan has captured the very essence of Sinatra more than the obvious, cartoonish attempts from the likes of Manilow, Bolton or Buble. How insignificant every pale attempt at recreating Sinatra magic seems after experiencing the very marrow of the man that drips here from each weeping steel guitar passage, that collects in the dark space between each audible breath. It is the gift of craft. The craft of singing; not merely emoting a series of notes and words in sequence, but of singing the song from the inside and, by example, the craft of songwriting itself. It is the craft of recording, of capturing the sound of empty space.

Whenever confronted with one who professes not to like Frank Sinatra, I assume the machismo swing of “Luck Be a Lady” or “Fly Me to the Moon” does not resonate somehow with such a person, or that the sweaters and bowties remind them of their parents’ or grandparents’ tastes. I usually ask if they have heard the albums: Close to You, In the Wee Small Hours, Where Are You?, Only the Lonely. Invariably, no one who has ever confessed to me that they did not like Frank Sinatra has ever heard a Frank Sinatra album. And despite the infinite brilliant singles that have permeated the fabric of our collective esthetic, Frank Sinatra is absolutely an album artist, and it is in his albums where he is best understood. 

The true essence of Sinatra is not in the irresistible hepcat swing and swagger, the “coo coo witchcraft,” the “groovy wind in her hair,” the “doo-be-doo-be-doo.” All that is wonderful and delicious and the world is a better place for it. But Sinatra’s great achievement is his ability to create sophisticated music, polished and consummate yet resonating with emotion, affecting all who listen, as deeply as they choose, dependent not on demographics or eras or ages.   

Shadows in the Night has nothing to do with Frank Sinatra; yet it has everything to do with Frank Sinatra. It is Bob Dylan in a context in which we have never heard him, yet it is a context in which we feel we’ve always heard him – vulnerable, reflective, yet orchestrating with the cunning of the Magus; a poet with malice aforethought (once you think you’ve finally figured out what Dylan has achieved with this record, flip it over and ponder the back cover). From the opening steel guitar phrase through the concluding, fading final lyric, Frank Sinatra does not enter the listener’s mind once. In fact, it is difficult to note what - if anything - does, for the listener is that entrenched, that entranced, that consumed in the space between the shadows and the very central expression of life.

 

07/02/2015 23:06. plotino #. BOB DYLAN No hay comentarios. Comentar.

Grammys 2015: Transcript of Bob Dylan's MusiCares Person of Year speech

Bob Dylan was honored by MusiCares, the charity organization that aids musicians in need, at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday night. After performances by artists including Tom Jones, Sheryl Crow, Neil Young, Beck, Jackson Browne and others, Dylan himself took a rare opportunity in the spotlight to deliver a 30-plus-minute acceptance speech.

Expansive, funny and insightful, Dylan didn't pull any punches, calling out songwriters who had criticized his work while indicting Nashville and commercial country music.

He was introduced by former President Jimmy Carter, and walked out to a standing ovation. After thanking the organizers, Dylan referred to his notes and began by saying, "I'm going to read some of this." 

Because of moments of applause, and some echoey acoustics, a few of Dylan's words were inaudible on the recording I've consulted, and I've noted as such. Though it upsets him to hear it (see below), Dylan does sometimes mumble and slur his words. 

Bob Dylan's MusiCares person of the year acceptance speech:

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I'm glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn't get here by themselves. It's been a long road and it's taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, they're like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they're on the fringes now. And they sound like they've been on the hard ground. 

I should mention a few people along the way who brought this about. I know I should mention John Hammond, great talent scout for Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was nobody. It took a lot of faith to do that, and he took a lot of ridicule, but he was his own man and he was courageous. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. The last person he discovered before me was Aretha Franklin, and before that Count Basie, Billie Holiday and a whole lot of other artists. All noncommercial artists. 

Trends did not interest John, and I was very noncommercial but he stayed with me. He believed in my talent and that's all that mattered. I can't thank him enough for that.

Lou Levy runs Leeds Music, and they published my earliest songs, but I didn't stay there too long. Levy himself, he went back a long ways. He signed me to that company and recorded my songs and I sang them into a tape recorder. He told me outright, there was no precedent for what I was doing, that I was either before my time or behind it. And if I brought him a song like "Stardust," he'd turn it down because it would be too late. 

 

He told me that if I was before my time -- and he didn't really know that for sure -- but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up -- so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it. But he was encouraging, and he didn't judge me, and I'll always remember him for that. 

Artie Mogull at Witmark Music signed me next to his company, and he told me to just keep writing songs no matter what, that I might be on to something. Well, he too stood behind me, and he could never wait to see what I'd give him next. I didn't even think of myself as a songwriter before then. I'll always be grateful for him also for that attitude. 

I also have to mention some of the early artists who recorded my songs very, very early, without having to be asked. Just something they felt about them that was right for them. I've got to say thank you to Peter, Paul and Mary, who I knew all separately before they ever became a group. I didn't even think of myself as writing songs for others to sing but it was starting to happen and it couldn't have happened to, or with, a better group. 

They took a song of mine that had been recorded before that was buried on one of my records and turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it -- they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it and I don't think that would have happened if it wasn't for them. They definitely started something for me. 

 

 

The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher -- they made some of my songs Top 10 hits but I wasn't a pop songwriter and I really didn't want to be that, but it was good that it happened. Their versions of songs were like commercials, but I didn't really mind that because 50 years later my songs were being used in the commercials. So that was good too. I was glad it happened, and I was glad they'd done it. 

Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers -- long before they were on Stax they were on Epic and they were one of my favorite groups of all time. I met them all in '62 or '63. They heard my songs live and Pervis wanted to record three or four of them and he did with the Staples Singers. They were the type of artists that I wanted recording my songs. 

Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. These were the artists I looked up to. She recorded some of my songs that she [inaudible] to me. She was an overwhelming artist, piano player and singer. Very strong woman, very outspoken. That she was recording my songs validated everything that I was about.

Oh, and can't forget Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames -- something like that. And Jimi didn't even sing. He was just the guitar player. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here. 

Johnny Cash recorded some of my songs early on, too, up in about '63, when he was all skin and bones. He traveled long, he traveled hard, but he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own. "Big River," "I Walk the Line." 

"How high's the water, Mama?" I wrote "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" with that song reverberating inside my head. I still ask, "How high is the water, mama?" Johnny was an intense character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing. 

 

 

In Johnny Cash's world -- hardcore Southern drama -- that kind of thing didn't exist. Nobody told anybody what to sing or what not to sing. They just didn't do that kind of thing. I'm always going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man, the man in black. And I'll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days. 

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Joan Baez. She was the queen of folk music then and now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts, where she had crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice. 

People would say, "What are you doing with that ragtag scrubby little waif?" And she'd tell everybody in no uncertain terms, "Now you better be quiet and listen to the songs." We even played a few of them together. Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. Love. And she's a free, independent spirit. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn't want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman with devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back. 

 

These songs didn't come out of thin air. I didn't just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock 'n' roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music. 

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that's fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one  song and sing it next in an hour if I'd heard it just once.

If you sang "John Henry" as many times as me -- "John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain't nothin' but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I'll die with that hammer in my hand." 

If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you'd have written "How many roads must a man walk down?" too. 

Big Bill Broonzy had a song called "Key to the Highway." "I've got a key to the highway / I'm booked and I'm bound to go / Gonna leave here runnin' because walking is most too slow." I sang that a lot. If you sing that a lot, you just might write, 

Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose

Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes

He asked poor Howard where can I go

Howard said there’s only one place I know

Sam said tell me quick man I got to run

Howard just pointed with his gun

And said that way down on Highway 61

 

 

You'd have written that too if you'd sang "Key to the Highway" as much as me. 

"Ain't no use sit 'n cry / You'll be an angel by and by / Sail away, ladies, sail away." "I'm sailing away my own true love." "Boots of Spanish Leather" -- Sheryl Crow just sung that.

"Roll the cotton down, aw, yeah, roll the cotton down / Ten dollars a day is a white man's pay / A dollar a day is the black man's pay / Roll the cotton down." If you sang that song as many times as me, you'd be writing "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more," too.

I sang a lot of "come all you" songs. There's plenty of them. There's way too  many to be counted. "Come along boys and listen to my tale / Tell you of my trouble on the old Chisholm Trail." Or, "Come all ye good people, listen while I tell / the fate of Floyd Collins a lad we all know well / The fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well." 

"Come all ye fair and tender ladies / Take warning how you court your men / They're like a star on a summer morning / They first appear and then they're gone again." "If you'll gather 'round, people / A story I will tell /  'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw / Oklahoma knew him well."

If you sung all these "come all ye" songs all the time, you'd be writing, "Come gather 'round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you'll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing."

You'd have written them too. There's nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that's all enough, and that's all I sang. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense. 

"When you go down to Deep Ellum keep your money in your socks / Women in Deep Ellum put you on the rocks." Sing that song for a while and you just might come up with, "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter time too / And your gravity fails and negativity don't pull you through / Don’t put on any airs / When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue / They got some hungry women there / And they really make a mess outta you."

All these songs are connected. Don't be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It's just different, saying the same thing. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. 

 

Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn't know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway. 

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn't think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down. You've just got to bear it. I didn't really care what Lieber and Stoller thought of my songs. 

They didn't like 'em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn't like 'em, because I never liked their songs either. "Yakety yak, don't talk back." "Charlie Brown is a clown," "Baby I'm a hog for you." Novelty songs. They weren't saying anything serious. Doc's songs, they were better. "This Magic Moment." "Lonely Avenue." Save the Last Dance for Me. 

Those songs broke my heart. I figured I'd rather have his blessings any day than theirs. 

Ahmet Ertegun didn't think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ray Brown, just to name a few. 

There were some great records in there, no question about it. But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Radical eyes that shook the very essence of humanity. Revolution in style and scope. Heavy shape and color. Radical to the bone. Songs that cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I'd rather have Sam Phillips' blessing any day. 

 

Bob Dylan, the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year, speaks of his life and music to the crowd. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Merle Haggard didn't even think much of my songs. I know he didn't. He didn't say that to me, but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard -- "Mama Tried," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive." I can't imagine Waylon Jennings singing "The Bottle Let Me Down." 

"Together Again"? That's Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody's blessing -- you figure it out. 

Oh, yeah. Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can't sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don't critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. What don't they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can't carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I've never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free? 

 

What have I done to deserve this special attention? No vocal range? When's the last time you heard Dr. John? Why don't you say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. Talk about slurred words and no diction. [Inaudible] doesn't even matter.

"Why me, Lord?" I would say that to myself.

Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? Let me tell you something. I was at a boxing match a few years ago seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it and it was beautiful. It was heartfelt and it was moving. 

After that it was time for our national anthem. And a very popular soul-singing sister was chosen to sing. She sang every note -- that exists, and some that don't exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was on a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny. 

Where were the critics? Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don't really think I do that. I just think critics say I do. 

Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, "Well that's very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth." Think about that the next time you [inaudible].

Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that's coming along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new song, and he couldn't understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about. 

Now Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a song James had called "Country Road." Tom was going off in this  interview -- "But James don't say nothing about a country road. He's just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don't understand that."

Now some might say Tom is a great songwriter. I'm not going to doubt that. At the time he was doing this interview I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio.

It was called "I Love." I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think that he's just like you and you're just like him. We all love the same things, and we're all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow-moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleeping without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on the vine, and onions.

Now listen, I'm not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I'm not going to do that. I'm not saying it's a bad song. I'm just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable, doing their thing.

This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time. He's still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until -- until -- Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain't seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat, flew his helicopter into Johnny Cash's backyard like a typical songwriter. And he went for the throat. "Sunday Morning Coming Down."  

Well, I woke up Sunday morning

With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt.

And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad

So I had one more for dessert

Then I fumbled through my closet 

Found my cleanest dirty shirt

Then I washed my face and combed my hair

And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

You can look at Nashville pre-Kris and post-Kris, because he changed everything. That one song ruined Tom T. Hall's poker parties. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard any of my songs. 

You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

You say, “Who is that man?”

You try so hard

But you don’t understand

Just what you're gonna say

When you get home

You know something is happening here

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

If "Sunday Morning Coming Down" rattled Tom's cage, sent him into the looney bin, my song surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the minivan. Hopefully he didn't hear it. 

I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., maybe Brian Wilson's done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done 'em. But the reviews of their records are different than the reviews of my record. 

In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, [inaudible] they've got to look under every stone when it comes to me. They've got to mention all the songwriters' names. Well that's OK with me. After all, they're great songwriters and these are standards. I've seen the reviews come in, and they'll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody's heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few. 

 

But, you know, I'm glad they mention their names, and you know what? I'm glad they got their names in the press. It might have taken some time to do it, but they're finally there. I can only wonder why it took so long. My only regret is that they're not here to see it. 

Traditional rock 'n' roll, we're talking about that. It's all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best: "Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues." Very few rock 'n' roll bands today play with rhythm. They don't know what it is. Rock 'n' roll is a combination of blues, and it's a strange thing made up of two parts. A lot of people don't know this, but the blues, which is an American music, is not what you think it is. It's a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out. But it's true. 

The other half of rock 'n' roll has got to be hillbilly. And that's a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. That's a term that includes the Delmore Bros., Stanley Bros., Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley ... groups like that. Moonshiners gone berserk. Fast cars on dirt roads. That's the kind of combination that makes up rock 'n' roll, and it can't be cooked up in a science laboratory or a studio. 

You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can't hardly play the blues, how do you [inaudible] those other two kinds of music in there? You can fake it, but you can't really do it. 

Critics have made a career out of accusing me of having a career of confounding expectations. Really? Because that's all I do. That's how I think about it. Confounding expectations. 

"What do you do for a living, man?"

"Oh, I confound expectations."

You're going to get a job, the man says, "What do you do?" "Oh, confound expectations.: And the man says, "Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don't call us, we'll call you." Confounding expectations. What does that mean? 'Why me, Lord? I'd confound them, but I don't know how to do it.' 

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? 

Anyway, I'm proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I'm honored to have all these artists singing my songs. There's nothing like that. Great artists. [applause, inaudible]. They're all singing the truth, and you can hear it in their voices.

I'm proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They've helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. I'd like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn't work. Billy was a son of rock 'n' roll, obviously.

He was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along. You just don't stand a chance.

 

So Billy became what is known in the industry -- a condescending term, by the way -- as a one-hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who's got 20 or 30 hits behind him. And Billy's hit song was called "Red Hot," and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life. 

He did it with style and grace. You won't find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas -- I know they're in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan -- I've got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet. 

I'd see him a couple times a year and we'd always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we'd cross paths now and again. We'd always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I'd heard "Red Hot." I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it's impressed me to this day.

 

I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn't bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was. 

And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing -- because John sang some truth today -- one day you get sick and you don't get better. That's from a song of his called "Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days." It's one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain't lying. 

And I ain't lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend's doctor bills, and helped him to get spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can't be repaid. Any organization that would do that would have to have my blessing

I'm going to get out of here now. I'm going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that's OK. 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 willing and the creek don't rise."

 

09/02/2015 18:36. plotino #. BOB DYLAN No hay comentarios. Comentar.

Keith Venturoni i‎n EDLIS Café

After his last post on Bob, Lefsetz proves he's at least impartial. MusiCares-Bob Dylan

And if my thought dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine

“It’s Alright, Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding)”

What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where Bob Dylan comes back from the dead and delivers the paramount rock and roll experience of the twenty first century?

That’s right, MusiCares is a clusterfuck nonpareil. The number one networking dinner of the year. Not only is it peopled by wannabes and no-name Recording Academy members, the movers and shakers all show up, the conversation is scintillating and informative, and then you retire to the ballroom where household names go through the motions, singing songs via Teleprompter.

Now the best stuff I saw in the auction room were the photos donated by Richard Lewis. That’s right, the comedian. He had one from the A.R.M.S. concert with every legend known to man, from Jeff Beck to Joe Cocker to Jimmy Page to Eric Clapton to Ronnie Lane, the inspiration for the show. Even more fascinating was the picture of Tim Hardin, before he was grizzled by heroin addiction, it was almost a completely different man.

And during the speeches I conversed with my table neighbors, nothing relevant or interesting was being said.

And then came the performances.

Now first I have to mention the crack band. Using all their chops and rehearsal to operate on a level so high, I don’t think it can be topped. Don Was the bandmaster. And Kenny Aronoff pounded the skins. Heartbreaker extraordinaire, Benmont Tench, tickled the keys. The legend only insiders know, Buddy Miller, picked the strings. And Greg Leisz was on pedal steel, this guy deserves to be more well-known.

Anyway, all the stars were good, but I can’t say there were many memorable performances. The song choices were confounding. A track from “Saved”? Another from “Oh Mercy”? Even the most dedicated Dylanologist would not only be disappointed, but would struggle to know the lyrics of these obscurities.

I figured John Mellencamp was gonna amp it up with a ripping version of “Highway 61,” but he turned it into a dirge.

And Tom Jones was fluid, but he never put the pedal to the metal, he usually blows us away, here he just barely brought the kettle to a boil.

Beck was all one note, there were no dynamics.

Jackson Browne was really good on an endless number from the early catalog that evidenced magic, but didn’t grab you by the gut and twist you.

Unlike Bonnie Raitt.

Bonnie Raitt, the Grammy darling, came back over the hill to reclaim her title as the sassiest mama with the best interpretive skills, all the while being a soulful slide player who can hold her own with the boys. She took the tertiary track “Standing In The Doorway” and not only made it her own, far eclipsing Dylan’s original, but delivered the best musical performance of the night. It was like being jetted back to 1992. Or 1972. As if no time had passed. There were a few lines in her face, but Bonnie was every bit as good. Really, if you’re a music lover, you would have smiled and then jumped to your feet, as we all did.

The second best performance, by a hair? Willie Nelson’s rendition of “Senor.”

Talk about a professional… Willie couldn’t read the Teleprompter at the back of the room. And the one on stage wasn’t working. So he and the band vamped endlessly until the glitch was rectified. Minutes. Talk about draining energy from the performance… But then Willie sang so beautifully, so soulfully, picked so amazingly, that he converted everyone on the fence into a fan. This guy is a deserved legend. He’s heads above everybody else. He wrung meaning out of that song that we didn’t know was there.

Jack White earned his place in the movie “It Might Get Loud.” He wailed.

And the Boss did a solid rendition of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” and whipped out some leads to demonstrate that he’s not about to hang up his rock and roll shoes.

And then came Mr. Z.

Well, first we had Neil Portnow’s monotonic introduction. What a juxtaposition, a legend and an administrator.

But credit Mr. Portnow for knowing it was not his night, that he was not up to the task, for he relinquished the mic to Jimmy Carter.

That’s right, our 90 year old ex-President who was put into office by the Allman Brothers. And I didn’t believe half of what he said, but then he got truthful, you could feel the connection, and out came Zimmy.

Now this is usually the lamest moment of the show. When the winner holds the trophy, thanks the usual suspects and says nothing meaningful.

But not the poet laureate from Hibbing.

Bob talked in that insane voice he’s developed, like his skin is a different color and he was brought up in the holler. And he made some perfunctory remarks. And then he told us he was gonna read.

Oh god, he’s afraid of making a mistake, he can’t do it off the cuff, get ready to be bored.

And all night we were wondering if Bob would perform. Most people do, but when Neil Young was honored he did not. And really, I don’t want to see Bob mangle his old material, but maybe on this occasion he’ll hearken back to the originals.

It was better than that. Bob didn’t play a note, but he delivered a speech that dropped jaws and had you tingling, not believing you were there in attendance.

You remember that experience, don’t you? When the gigs weren’t productions matched to clicks and if you didn’t go to the show you didn’t know, there was no MTV, never mind YouTube? When you went because you never knew what would happen?

Well, something happened last night.

And what happened was that Bob Dylan revealed he’s been listening all the while, he knows what we’ve been saying about him, he’s got an opinion about it, and unlike everybody else in this sold-out business he’s not afraid to step on toes, he’s not afraid to offend.

It had a somewhat historical structure. These were not notes, Bob had written an essay, nearly a book, it took him half an hour to deliver it, turning the printed pages all the while. And he didn’t go all the way back to Minnesota, then again, there was a reference to Highway 61, but he did start with John Hammond, giving the man props for signing him, alluding to the luck he was the beneficiary of that no one likes to talk about.

It’s more than luck, it’s personality and drive and cunning and making opportunities others cannot see, never mind take advantage of. But there’s always luck.

And from there to his initial publisher Lou Levy, and Joan Baez, who he praised to high heaven, all the way to Jimi Hendrix on up to today.

Lou said Bob was ahead of the game, and if he was lucky the audience would catch up with him in three to five years.

Bob didn’t want to write novelty tracks like Leiber and Stoller, whom he excoriated. Bob was only interested in the truth, which he got from folk songs, which he knew by heart and played incessantly.

Yes, Bob told us where his songs came from. Made the connection from the past to the present. It was positively mind-blowing, the guy who obfuscates for a living is giving us the god’s honest truth in a way no one ever does. It’s like the fathers of our country telling us what’s behind the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the only difference being Dylan is still alive.

You see Dylan impacted the culture, we’re just pawns in his game. The big story this week was the “Billboard 100,” the executives who run this enterprise. That’s how far we’ve come, we lionize the rip-off businessmen who’ll soon be forgotten. Even David Geffen’s almost been forgotten.

But Bob Dylan won’t be. Great artists cobble together something new from the past and inspire those who come after. Bob Dylan is a great artist.

And what a perspective!

He talked about his voice and the criticism of it. Wondered why he was singled out and Leonard Cohen was not. Why everybody else can do a covers album and get away with it but the critics put him through the wringer.

The truth is Bob Dylan is different from the rest. We hold him to a higher standard. Because he’s at the pinnacle, and we need to believe in him.

But Dylan’s an elusive sort. Bobbing and weaving like a boxer. Confounding expectations.

That was a highlight, when Dylan said this was not a job description, this is not what he does, he’s just following his own muse in search of the truth.

And I could recite more verbiage but if you’re interested in the details you can read excerpts online.

But ultimately it was more than the content. It was the fact that Bob Dylan trail blazed again. That he did confound our expectations. That he pushed an envelope we could not even see.

And we were there. When he went on not worrying what we thought, not worrying about losing us, because that’s what great artists do, follow their own path and not worry about pandering to the masses.

But now pandering rules the business. And those who are unique don’t realize that Bob Dylan could get away with his unique voice because he was the best lyricist of all time. Are you? I don’t think so.

And Bob Dylan is still demanding our attention. Who else can we say that of?

And I won’t say everything he does is good. But you’ve got to respect the man for trying, for continually being born instead of dying.

So there you have it. This is what got us to go to the shows way back when. Because a friend went and couldn’t stop testifying about what he’d experienced.

Last night I experienced the best speech by a rock musician ever.

And the honor is bogus, but all awards are. That was another of Dylan’s targets, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. An empty institution where the second-rate are members and the genuine article is excluded. That’s right, Billy Lee Riley might have only had one hit, “Red Hot,” but that track got inside Dylan in such a way as to not only inspire, but never be forgotten.

You remember inspiration, don’t you?

You remember the indelible experience, don’t you?

Or are you just about the money, and if someone’s got it they’re above criticism?

If so, I feel sorry for you. Because you wouldn’t have gotten Bob Dylan’s speech last night, you wouldn’t have understood where he was coming from, and you wouldn’t have been made to believe that the future is still in front of us as opposed to being in the rearview mirror, and you wouldn’t know that art trumps money every minute of the day, every hour of the week, and that without Bob Dylan our lives would be so much emptier.

So you can pledge fealty to false idols.

But the empty icons won’t keep you warm at night.

Grammy weekend is already over. Bob Dylan took home all the trophies, made the entire ceremony look small and he never sang a note.

That’s an artist.

Your move.

10/02/2015 00:00. plotino #. BOB DYLAN No hay comentarios. Comentar.

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