Passion and Betrayal – Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs reassessed

(This article is an expanded version of a review that I wrote when this album first came out. I was really unhappy about the way that the magazine, who commissioned me to do it, published it. They changed the title. They printed it in a way that removed paragraph breaks and they made editing changes to it without consultation. Needless to say, I stopped freelancing for them shortly afterwards. I revisited the article, originally just with the intention of restoring it to the way it was meant to be but then as I read it and listened to the music, I figured perhaps there was more to say. It concentrates on the spiritual and faith-based references in Mr Dylan’s lyrics but touches on other matters too.)

“Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book.  All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from `Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain’ to `Keep on the Sunny Side.’ You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.’ I’ve seen the light, too.”

This was Bob Dylan speaking in 1997 – a period which provides 11 songs on his 3-disc set “Tell Tale Signs” (10 out-takes from his “Time Out of Mind” set and 1 live recording).

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Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan

What: The Girl from the North Country

When: February 2020

Musical by Conor McPherson, Songs by Bob Dylan (used by permission, Dylan has no formal involvement)

This is not “We Will Rock You” or “Mamma Mia”. The Queen and Abba musicals are essentially vehicles to promote the greatest hits in the back catalogue of two acts that are no longer recording. The songs are made to measure into storylines of varying ridiculousness and unbelievability.

It is also not “Jersey Boys”. There the story of Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio’s musical partnership is told (albeit in a truncated form) and the songs are inserted to illustrate the development of the 4 Seasons’ career. This indeed was a level higher and a completely different approach to your average “jukebox musical” as the first category has often been labelled.

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Seasonal music – another good reason for the season

If you’d have said to me when I was a young adult that I’d be enjoying Christmas music later in my life, I would probably have laughed at you.

But here I am, it’s 2019 and I have many Christmas albums and it feels untrue how we develop and change. Now, it has to be said that any fascination for Christmas I had when I was younger had been turned right around by the time I hit my teens and in the intervening years some remarkable transitions have taken place in my life. These have caused me to re-evaluate why Christmas should be celebrated – and celebrated in a totally different way. But, back then I had exactly one Christmas-flavoured record. It revolved at 45rpm and had one song on each side. Now, I have more than thirty albums of seasonal music – mostly songs of faith and about the birth of Jesus but some that are just about the festival and carry their own joy.

This list may come too late for you to listen to them but at least it gives you some time to add to your own collection before next year. It is the nearer the day when the true love brought five gold rings than the day when we celebrate the birth of the Messiah – so perhaps you’ll find some jewels here for 2020:-

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Does Bob Dylan have Christmas in his heart? – 4th time around

“When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time — that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the ’50s or ’60s. This guy was like rock ’n’ roll personified — volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution — when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30 or 40,000 of them. If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There’s never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody. He could fill Giants Stadium more than even the Giants football team. Seems like a long time ago. Long before Mick Jagger sang his first note or Bruce strapped on his first guitar — that’s some of the part of rock ’n’ roll that I retained. I had to. I saw Billy Graham in the flesh and heard him loud and clear.”

~Bob Dylan speaking to AARP magazine in 2015

BILL FLANAGAN: You really give a heroic performance of O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM The way you do it reminds me a little of an Irish rebel song. There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.
BOB DYLAN: Well, I am a true believer.

~Bob Dylan speaking to Bill Flanagan about the “Christmas in the Heart” album. The album benefits homeless charities and this interview was published in the UK in the “Big Issue” magazine which helps unemployed and homeless people to rehabilitate.

In 2009, Bob Dylan released an album of traditional Christmas songs. Since then I’ve written about it on three occasions and I thought that I had nothing more to say on the subject but then I read a couple of comments that I didn’t really understand and it got me to ruminating on the album again.

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A Comforting Old Wooden Chair (Foreword to a Bob Dylan book)

(Sometime over the last few years I was approached to write a “blurb” for the cover of a book of thoughts about Bob Dylan by an Australian author, Phil Mason. I’ve never met Phil but I’ve been privileged to help him with his research. By the time the book was approaching readiness, the idea had expanded and I wrote a foreword for the book which eventually appeared under the title of “A Voice From on High”. As well as reproducing that foreword here, I take the opportunity to recommend Mr Mason’s book which can be obtained through Amazon in softcover and for your kindle.)

 

“Well I’m sitting in church
In an old wooden chair
I knew nobody
Would look for me there”

Bob Dylan – Marchin’ to the City (Disc 3 of Tell Tale Signs 1989-2006)

In 1707, Isaac Watts, the Christian hymnwriter, wrote a lyric called “Marching to Zion” in which he referred to Zion as the beautiful city of God. Now, this was long before Zion had become a short-hand for some Western European political scheme to establish a physical homeland for disenfranchised Jewish people in the middle East (a scheme commonly referred to as Zionism). It is Watts looking forward to the end of an earthly journey where all the faithful people of God, Jew and Gentile, would be gathered in to an eternal home.

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Steely Dan – “The People Request”

Who: Steely Dan

Where: The Beacon Theatre, Manhattan, New York City, USA

When: 21st October 2018

What: By Popular Demand

On the first days of booking tickets for this “popular demand” show, ticket-buyers were asked by Ticketmaster to write-in their requests for songs to be featured. Now those who booked on the first day were probably (for the most part) die-hard Dan fans who had in mind songs that they had seldom heard before. But if this was the case then, there was little evidence of it in the set that emerged with this more closely resembling a “Greatest Hits” show than two-hours of rarities and deep cuts. Now that is not to say that this wasn’t a wonderful show to see. This band are tighter than they have ever been. Older bands like this either barely tolerate being on the stage as each other (look at the recent Fleetwood Mac debacle) or they have grown close and closer still through years of musical and personal inter-action. The latter is the case with Steely Dan

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The New York Yankees – The Batters in August (2018)

The Yankees form had taken a dip by the time the season reached August and the dog days. From a .281 batting average (BA) in the month of July, they fell to a team .240 in the eighth month and a 17-13 win/loss record. Part of this was due to under-performance (let’s all say Greg Bird together and shake our heads sadly). Part of this was due to injury (Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, although whether in Sanchez’s case that’s a blessing or a curse remains to be seen) but mostly it is down to over-performers coming down to earth. However, that tandem of wonder-rookies, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are still playing everyday and still showing great ability (at least offensively). Read on…

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Dylan in concert and a non-Jungian synchronicity that makes me smile

Last night was the first night of Bob Dylan’s tour of the Far East and Australasia.

On Friday, here and elsewhere, I published an article which argued that more care and consideration should be shown in our critiques of Dylan’s art when we considered his albums and his live performances and argued that at a very minimum we should use his written lyrics as a lexicon to try analyse who he is and what he is speaking about:

If you haven’t read it already you can see it here:

https://twilightdawning.com/2018/07/26/bob-dylan-sloppy-analysis-and-hearing-what-we-want-to-hear/

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Bob Dylan, sloppy analysis and hearing what we want to hear

Literary criticism, musical criticism and theological criticism are notoriously difficult. The reason that they are so hard is the question of subjectivity. In the early years of the 20th century, a noted conservative theologian said the following of a liberal scholar:

“The Christ that he sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.”

It is a very clever idea but could the equal statement also be said of the more conservative thinker. We want our God to be like our theology says he should be. Otherwise we are wrong and that is hard to bear. We want our heroes to be like us. Otherwise that is burdensome.

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The Enigma of Larry Norman

What: Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

Author: Gregory Alan Thornbury

Publisher: Convergent, NY

Publication date: 2018

“Larry Norman…”

(Bob) Dylan replied.

“Tell your brother I’m a fan.”

Gregory Alan Thornbury “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock” p.253

I am a fan of Larry Norman’s music also. Seems I might not be in bad company.

I was never quite sure what to make of the man himself.

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