A friend tagged me on Facebook about this, so I am sharing it here. Apparently there is a person named Blake Lively who is an actor and who is married to Ryan Reynolds. She has an extensive list of credits, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of her before because I am old and not cool and I blog about Bob Dylan. Anyway, she just launched a website that sells lifestyle objects. This is one of them:
So you’re thinking, like I was, “Hey, cool lamp!”. But wait! This is the description of the lamp, er, art object:
Bob Dylan pursued his dreams and through hard work and determination, made them a reality. Follow the path of his 1978 USA tour in this inspired illuminative map of America.
Now, if you’re me, you’re gone from thinking “Hey, cool lamp!” to “Whoa! Awesome Bob Dylan lamp! I’m going to buy that!”
However, one caveat before you act. Bob Dylan’s 1978 tour was 114 shows long and started in Tokyo and also went all over Europe. “But Bart,” you say, “It’s just the USA part of the tour – it says so right there!” Okay, okay. Yes. But that part of the tour had sixty-five shows. Sixty-five! This map only has fifteen bulbs (possibly one or more might be obscured by the flag). So how is it a map of his tour? It’s not, that’s what.
Still, nice lamp. All of my readers should take up a collection and buy it for me, but only if it comes with the copy of Rolling Stone.
There are things that I’ve done in writing this blog that I’m not proud of. Things that only a truly desperate man would do. For example, last night I watched the 1990 film Catchfire just to see a one-minute cameo by Bob Dylan. It left me feeling ashamed of myself.
Catchfire, according to the fine folks at Wikipedia, was a 1990 film, produced by Dick Clark, that was disowned by its director and star, Dennis Hopper. Wikipedia indicates that Hopper insisted that his name be removed, and that the film is credited to Alan Smithee. The copy I watched (online here, but, really, don’t watch it) did include him as director, so I don’t know about that. Apparently there is a longer cut that is known as Backtrack also. The running times on Wikipedia indicate that I watched the shorter version. I could not have survived the long version.
Let me lay out the plot for you (I lost some notes due to a poorly executed email migration at my workplace, but it shouldn’t matter). Jodie Foster plays Anne Benton, a feminist conceptual artist in LA. Benton’s art is provided by Jenny Holzer, in what was surely the worst mistake of Holzer’s career. It’s not a case of them hiring Holzer to make faux-Holzer pieces, they just use well-known (now) Holzer pieces. Anyway, Anne is about to have her big gallery opening when she accidentally witnesses mobster Joe Pesci killing someone. She is then tracked by dim-bulb mobsters played by John Turturro and Tony Sirico (Paulie from The Sopranos with the same hair, minus the silver) who try to kill her at her apartment, but who only kill her boyfriend, played by Charlie Sheen. When federal agent Fred Ward is unable to protect her (in a sign of how awful this movie is he offers to put her in the “Federal Protection Witness Program” and they don’t bother to fix that), she goes on the lam. The mob hires a sax-playing hit man (YES! REALLY!) played by Hopper to find her. Several months later he does so – recognizing her work in ad and going to the ad firm. For some reason the Feds also are able to do this and they show up simultaneously. She flees to Taos, NM and Hopper finds her again (as do the Feds – again, I’m not sure how). Here’s where it becomes really bad. Rather than killing her, Hopper kidnaps her as he has become obsessed with photos of her in lingerie. He thens forces her into a relationship and she learns to love him and they flee the mob, and there is a helicopter chase (really!) and then they blow up the bad guys and the end.
It is easy to see why Hopper wanted his name off of this. Despite the cast (in addition to the above, add Catherine Keener, Vincent Price, Dean Stockwell….) this is a total piece of crap: no tension, no drama, no nothing. Worse, it is generally pro-rape. When Hopper’s character finally rapes Anne, it is played super-sexy, and, of course, it is what the feminist conceptualist has always secretly longed for. This film is truly an abomination.
Okay, fine, but what about Bob? Well, you can see his entire performance here:
Dylan plays an artist who works with a chainsaw (the art is supplied by Charles Arnoldi, hat tip on that to my friend Robert Boyd who also, sadly, watched this film so he could blog about the art; somewhere there is a Dennis Hopper blogger suffering through this as well). He isn’t able to help Hopper, and Hopper gets mad at him. The end. Dylan’s performance here may be his worst yet. Think about this: he is worse than he is in Renaldo and Clara, and at least during the filming of that he was mostly drunk.
So, the film is worse than Hearts of Fire, Dylan is worse in it, and he doesn’t even sing. It’s ninety minutes that I’ll never get back.
Note to Robert: Anne’s character has two Ed Ruscha’s on the walls of her apartment, but they didn’t get mentioned in your blog! By the way, I saw the Hopper photography exhibition at the Royal Academy last week in London, and he had a great photo of a mid-1960s Ruscha, who was more handsome than I thought he was. No photos of Dylan, though they did play The Band’s “The Weight” throughout the space on an endless loop, presumably to drive people insane.
Also, I have NO idea what the title of this film is supposed to refer to. I mean, none.
I completely missed out on Oh Mercy when it was released in September 1989. Having been burned by the previous several Dylan albums, and burned badly by the atrocious Dylan and the Dead, I wasn’t having any of it. Since I hadn’t particularly liked his concert at the end of July, when I was back at university I had other things to do and to listen to.
I’m not sure when I actually first listened to the album. I knew that it got good reviews, but I believe that I probably went years – maybe even a decade? – before I ever listened to it. The thing is, I’m not sure that I would have liked it that much at twenty even if I had listened to it.
Dylan, approaching fifty, finally redeemed his 1980s by releasing his fourth come-back album (his come-back albums are, it seems to me, in order: New Morning, Blood on the Tracks, Infidels, and Oh Mercy; and he’s not done coming back yet!). Reversing a trend in which he just didn’t seem to care at all, Dylan finds his songwriting groove, and finally gets a producer who seems to know what he’s doing.
Dylan’s relationship with producer Daniel Lanois was the result of a dinner with Bono, who pushed the Canadian on him. Lanois worked extensively with U2 and the Neville Brothers, and after meeting him Dylan moved his family down to New Orleans to cut this album. The relationship is extensively detailed in Chronicles, and it sounds, on Dylan’s part, a little vexed and somewhat frustrating. In Chronicles he writes that working with Lanois was, at times, “was like being cast into sudden hell”. Dylan was someone who was used to being in charge, and Lanois sounds like he took some of that away from him. This was one of Dylan’s first negotiations in a long, long time: “He’s got ideas about overdubbing and tape manipulation theories that he’s developed with the English producer Brian Eno on how to make a record, and he’s got strong convictions. But I’m pretty independent, too, and I don’t like to be told to do something if I don’t understand it. This was the problem we were going to have to work through”.
Oh Mercy is a mature album. It is not the album of a young man, but of a man approaching middle age who is struggling to define himself. It is Dylan rediscovering his talents after a period of drought and disinterest (in Chronicles he writes that he considered hanging it all up and becoming a business investor, but he couldn’t find any businesses that interested him!). The album is thematically coherent in a way that he hadn’t been since Saved.
I don’t think of Oh Mercy as the masterpiece that many others have found it. In fairness, I think that virtually every one of the songs on the album is at least good, and a couple of them are really great (“Most of the Time”, “Shooting Star”). Dylan’s vocals are very present, and the production is clearly superior to anything else Dylan had done. I think it is probably his second best album of the decade (after Infidels), as some of the techniques that Lanois used haven’t dated very well. It was, of course, massively better than everything between it and Infidels. I greatly prefer the second side to the first, partly because I think “Political World” and “Everything is Broken”, the two most up-tempo songs, are the least interesting.
That said, I wish that I had had more time to listen to this album and to its outtakes (which I never got to at all). I feel like I’m under-appreciating this one, but it is time to move on.