Of Booing and Bootlegs



When I was thinking about spending all of 2014 listening to nothing but Bob Dylan a few people urged me on. One was my friend Rusty, whose enthusiasm for the idea may have been what sealed the deal for me. The one piece of advice that Rusty had was “I’d be inclined to limit the project to official albums and  find some sort of principle for selecting from the boots.  I mean, “Great White Wonder” or the Broadside stuff is too important historically to leave out, but you don’t want to have to trudge through a bunch of repetitive live shows with dodgy sound, either.”

I should have listened to Rusty (that goes for most things, of course).

Driving to and from Nakiska today I listened to a series of Dylan live performances from the fall of 1965. Specifically, his Long Island show from August, his Hollywood Bowl show in LA from September, and his show in Berkeley in December. Each of these shows was half acoustic and then half electric. The first thing that one notes is that the booing of the electric sets was out of control in the months after Newport. The Long Island crowd is having none of it. The revisionists who try to suggest that the Newport crowd was simply booing the mix are completely out to lunch – these crowds hate hate hated Dylan’s electric performances.

Yet the other thing that you notice is that some of these bootlegs are amazing and some are, charitably, pretty much trash.

The Long Island set is pretty tough to listen to, particularly the electric set because it is taken from a crowd recording, while the Hollywood Bowl show (a soundboard recording) is nearly perfect. The Berkeley show, released as a bootleg titled Long Distance Operator (since it is the first and perhaps only live recording of that song), is a really difficult one to listen to – another crowd recording at a time when the technology really wasn’t there for that.

I’d love to read a good history of the manufacturing and distribution of bootleg albums in the pre-internet days, because the subject is quite fascinating. I’m sure that there must be a Grateful Dead scholar who can explain the whole system and its relationship to head shops, music shops, the underground press, underground comix and all the rest – but I haven’t read it yet. Would absolutely love to.

In the meantime, I’m using Bob’s Boots to guide some of my listening, but even that is proving somewhat problematic – they give a really good score to the Berkeley show, although mostly for the quality of the show itself, not for the recording.

There is a fourteen CD Italian bootleg that covers 1965 really thoroughly. Nick Hornby mentions it in 31 Songs, but I discovered it too late to really be helpful for this week, as I head into 1966 starting in the morning. It seems that I’ve missed the audio recording of the Nat Hentoff Playboy interview (published in February 1966, I’ll read it next week). Oh well, Dont Look Back…

Here’s a copy of “Freeze Out”, the 1965 version of “Visions of Johanna”, that was recorded in New York for Blonde on Blonde. The version on the album was recorded in Nashville in February 1966, as was the vast majority of that album. This is the kind of thing that you get from the bootlegs that makes the hunting so worthwhile. Since this is the best song on Blonde on Blonde, more on this song next week.


One thought on “Of Booing and Bootlegs

  1. Rusty Witek

    I’m honored to have contributed a tiny bit to getting this amazing project going–it’s been fascinating, and I’ve already learned a lot about one of my all-time fave raves. I’m especially looking forward to your takes on the post-1970 period. I caught the Dylan bug–hard–when the newest thing out was GREATEST HITS, Vol. 2, followed by the execrable “frack-you,-dead-to-me record company” DYLAN, and the not-quite-a-real-album PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (which would have made an awesome EP). But it was a great time to dive down deep into the back catalog.
    You might consider installing a “Bob Dylan’s Comeback Album” counter or graph as a sidebar; offhand I’d guess we eventually reach a point where there’s about a one-to-one ratio of “stunning comebacks” to “regular Bob Dylan albums.”

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