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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Dylan Days

Spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks listening to this "new" Bob Dylan cd "Tell Tale Signs" which is proving a very worthwhile experience. More than anything this compilation of outtakes from 1989-2005 has made me realise how much I appreciate Dylan’s back catalogue. I have a fairly unusual take on Dylan’s albums in that against the prevailing trend I see a lot of worth in his albums of the early to mid Eighties – seeing only the period around "Down in the Groove" as the time that he really lost his vision of his music. Couldn’t choose which of his albums I’d take to a desert island so here’s a complete list of what I think of as his crucial records, in chronological order:

The Times They Are A-Changin’
Another Side of Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited
Blonde on Blonde
Blood on the Tracks
Street Legal
Slow Train Coming
Saved
Shot of Love
Empire Burlesque
Oh Mercy
Time Out of Mind
Live 1961-2000 (Japan only)
Modern Times

If I was going to round it out to 15, then the contenders would be "Bringing it All Back Home", "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid", "Infidels", "Knocked Out Loaded", "World Gone Wrong", and "Love and Theft". Oops, that makes it 20. Really poor Dylan albums: the aforementioned "Down in the Groove", "Desire" (sorry, awful production), and a number of the official live albums.

More on Tell Tale Signs when I’ve lived with it a little longer – and yes, I do have the three cd set and don’t feel I was robbed……..