The Great Music Experience



Seven and a half months into this project there are still some things that surprise me about Bob Dylan, and, very rarely, there are still some things that astound me. This morning fell into the latter category, where I found myself watching a 1994 video of Dylan and thinking “Wait, what? He could still perform like this?”.

The place was Nara, Japan. UNESCO had the very good idea of producing a series of concerts at UNESCO World Heritage Sites in order to draw attention to them. Get a bunch of big western musical stars to come to Japan to perform with traditional Japanese artists at the Buddhist temple at Todai-ji and call it The Great Music Experience (it sounds inelegant, but perhaps it scans better in Japanese). The whole thing was produced by Tony Hollingsworth, orchestrated by Michael Kamen, and Beatles producer George Martin was there, in the role of the guy with enough gravitas to tell people what to do and actually be listened to. The list of western stars was a bit mid-1990s: INXS, Jon Bon Jovi (who was apparently terrible), Richie Sambora, Ry Cooder, The Chieftains, and Joni Mitchell. The show also featured the Chiba-based heavy metal band X Japan, whose fans were unruly. The idea was to bring two musical cultures into dialogue through rehearsals, and then play three shows (May 20-22) with the third one broadcast worldwide.

I have no memory of this show at all, so if it was broadcast in Canada I completely missed it. You can watch the whole thing here on YouTube, or skip ahead to the Dylan section (48:30). I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that incredible? Who knew Dylan could still sing that way?

This was the first time that Dylan ever played with an orchestra (the Tokyo New Philharmonic Orchestra). That completely changes the way that he has to approach the song. As Hollingsworth’s remarkable blog on the event (I strongly recommend this article) makes clear, for the first time probably ever Dylan was following a band rather than leading them. A sixty piece orchestra is playing from sheet music – they are not going to improv with him like GE Smith – he has to sing it the way that they practiced it or the whole thing is going to fall apart. Apparently this approach – or the venue, or the sushi, who knows? – brought something out of Dylan, because that is just about the most beautiful version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” that he’s ever sung. It is really an eye-opening revelation.

Yesterday I was writing about how Dylan should have toured doing his acoustic band versions of songs to breathe new life into his music. Today I’m thinking he should have done a tour with a full-fledged orchestra. The fact is that Dylan definitely still had it in him – there can be no doubt of that after this – it’s just that he only rarely let it all out.

Dylan and the orchestra did the same three songs each night – “Hard Rain”, “I Shall Be Released” and “Ring Them Bells”. On the last, they use bells from the temple and it is a lovely effect as well. I’ve only heard this night’s performance, but it sounds like all three nights were remarkable. Quite the surprise for a Sunday morning in 1994 of the Long and Wasted Year.

David Letterman (3)


A little postscript to the Supper Club shows. At each of those four shows, Dylan and his band did “Forever Young”. Two nights after the last of those shows they turned up on Late Night with David Letterman for Dylan’s third appearance on that show playing this new version. If Dylan’s first appearance had been one of his most interesting ever performances, and his second was an absolute disappointment, this was a triumph.

You may have to be on Facebook to be able to click through to watch this, but it is totally worth it. Dylan sings beautifully, and the instrumentation is lovely. The slide guitar (by Bucky Baxter) works wonderfully, and about three minutes in Dylan plays a great solo. You can see Paul Schaeffer playing organ in the background, but it’s tough to make it out. For the most part, this is another tease of how Dylan might have sounded had he opted to tour his old material with a toned down band and acoustic guitars. Sadly, it was not to be. But this is a great performance of this song.

The Supper Club Shows


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I spent most of this week listening to the same four recordings. I missed out on listening to any of Dylan’s 1993 US tour with Carlos Santana (some days Dylan headlined, some days he opened; they never played during each other’s sets) and the European tour and everything else. Instead I became somewhat fixated on November 16 and 17, when Dylan performed four short concerts at New York’s Supper Club.

These shows took place just after the release of World Gone Wrong (which came out in October). Dylan performed with his touring band (Bucky Baxter, John Jackson, Tony Garnier and Winston Watson) for an intimate series of acoustic sets that were professionally recorded and filmed at Dylan’s expense for a television special that never happened. There are countless bootlegs of this material. The ones that I have are the “Genuine Supper Club Shows” and they seem excellent to me. Given how well these shows were recorded I would expect most of the bootlegs are pretty comparable. I also would not be at all surprised if they eventually show up as part of the Bootleg Series. They probably should.

Over the course of four one hour long shows, Dylan performed nineteen different songs. Three of these, “Ring Them Bells”, “Forever Young” and “Queen Jane Approximately”, appeared in each of the four sets. The last of these was somewhat surprising, because Dylan had only performed this song a couple of dozen times in his life before this – it was not at all a common song in his rotation. He does a beautiful version of it here:

Other songs from the shows included some of the recently released traditional pieces (“Jack-A-Roe”, “Jim Jones”, “Delia”, “Ragged and Dirty”, “Blood in My Eyes”) and classics like “One More Cup of Coffee” and “My Back Pages”. Not everything works – I don’t like the phrasing on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – but some things are fascinating (“Tight Connection to my Heart” from Empire Burlesque is stripped of all the bullshit). If you’re the type of person who likes Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, these are very tantalizing shows, suggesting a direction that the touring Dylan might have taken in 1994. Sadly, it’s not to be – he tours relentlessly in 1994 (most shows since 1979) – but is back to a full band sound.

These would have been tremendous shows to have attended live. I don’t know how many people the Supper Club holds, but I’m guessing it is not that many. These shows seems to be one of the real high points for Dylan in the 1990s, and they are the shows that I had been most looking forward to since the beginning of summer. They’re a sort of frustrating tease of a Dylan era that might have been.

Dylan will sort of return to this terrain with his MTV Unplugged show in 1995, although I do think that these shows were stronger. Hopefully they will get a full-fledged official release, although they’re easy to find on the web. Here, for example, are both November 16th shows as a single stream.

These four shows have been my favourite Dylan thing in weeks and weeks. I love these shows.

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World Gone Wrong



The problem with writing about Bob Dylan is that I can’t write as well as Bob Dylan. When you pause to consider what you might say about an album like World Gone Wrong, don’t make the mistake of reading the liner notes, because it will freeze you dead in your tracks. These liner notes can’t be topped by way of explanation.

World Gone Wrong, released in 1993, was a sort of sequel to Good As I Been To You. Recorded in a very similar fashion in his garage, without any over-dubbing or accompaniment, the album was the last on his then current contract with Columbia, and after it he was a free agent. Although it didn’t do much business (peaking at #70), it did win Dylan another Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1995 (neither Wikipedia nor the Grammys website lists the other nominees, which is pathetic when you think about it – it was the big year for Alanis Morissette and Hootie and the Blowfish won Best New Group. Yikes!).

World Gone Wrong is actually more of a blues album than a folk album. It is considerably darker in its song selection than was Good As I Been To You. I like it considerably better than its predecessor, particularly “Blood in My Eyes”, “Jack-A-Roe” and the title track. It is a tired sounding album, deliberately so. The rumour is that all the songs were recorded without even a single change in guitar strings. It isn’t polished (it is an anti-Jeff Lynne album), and there are even some bum notes that most people would have cleaned up and polished off. The album is probably all the better for those minor miscues. Dylan is starting to sound like he’s being recorded in the fields by Alan Lomax, which may be what he wanted.

Dylan had been criticized on Good As I Been to You for not properly citing his arrangements of traditional songs, and a series of disputes arose. That album had very little information, but this one has epic liner notes written in a style that would have been at home in Dylan’s records from the 1960s. “Broke Down Engine”, he says is about “the fortunes of the privileged elite, flood control”.  “Stack A Lee”  is “not some egotistical degraded existentialist dionysian idiot, neither does he represent any alternative lifestyle scam”. “Blood in My Eyes” and “World Gone Wrong” are credited to the Mississippi Sheiks (who also did “Sitting on Top of the World”, which Dylan recorded on Good As I Been To You).

After this album came out Dylan was without a recording contract for a few months,and explored some options before eventually signing a new ten album deal with Columbia (which he is presumably still on, because he hasn’t released ten albums since this one). He won’t release a new studio for four more years, when he gets back together with Daniel Lanois for his next career reviving album, Time Out of Mind.

I think that this may be my favourite Dylan album cover, by the way. What a photo!

Here’s the Mississippi Sheiks:

With Willie Nelson



l was camping last weekend with five other fathers and a total of nine children between the ages of four and eight. At night we would drink, play cards, and listen to music from a bluetooth speaker connected to an iPhone, because this is the twenty-first century, and that’s what you do now. Since nobody wanted to listen to more Bob Dylan (seriously, none of these guys – all friends of mine – even read this blog! One didn’t even know I was writing it!), we settled on Willie Nelson. When you are camping with a bunch of guys, everyone is in favour of Willie.

The relationship of Dylan and Willie Nelson goes back a long way, and is clearly a close one. Nelson started Farm Aid because of an inappropriate Dylan quip, and he played at the Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration. A few months later Dylan returned the favour, playing at Nelson’s sixtieth birthday party celebration. You can watch the entire show online (Waylon Jennings! Kris Kristofferson! Ray Charles! BB King! Bonnie Raitt! Lyle Lovett! Paul Simon! – seriously, it’s good!), or you can skip right to the two Dylan songs. Here (skip ahead to 5:25) he and Nelson do a pretty good version of “Pancho and Lefty”.

Here (starts right at the beginning) Dylan does a version of “Hard Times Come No More” by himself. Also pretty good.

I have a lot of Willie Nelson on my phone, more than enough for a camping trip. I was surprised, though, to learn that his first album, And Then I Wrote, came out in 1962, the same year as Dylan’s debut. I was not as surprised to learn that he has recorded more than sixty studio albums – an incredible number. Nelson is almost as much a legend as Dylan – more, in certain circles – but even though he has a huge body of work (thirty films in addition to all those albums), I don’t think I could write about him for a year. Nelson has a totally different kind of celebrity, one that is built around his incredible consistency. Listening to Nelson sing at his sixtieth birthday doesn’t sound that much different than he did at forty. He is smooth and professional, but he’s not the change agent that Dylan is. Dylan has higher highs than Nelson (not trying to pun off Willie’s famous taste for marijuana) but also lower lows. Nelson may have created the genre of “outlaw country” with Waylon Jennings, but he never re-invented himself the way that Dylan consistently. It’s hard to imagine Nelson confounding his audience in the same way. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

The other night I was talking about Nelson at the birthday party of a friend (also not a reader of this blog!) and my friend Derek (who is a reader, thankfully) asked me if I was going to write about Red Headed Stranger. I had to admit that I didn’t know that album at all, and then Derek got excited and then he got me excited about the first ever country music concept album (“Better than The Wall!”, he exclaimed). That was an interesting moment, because it recast Nelson a bit in my mind’s eye. I had an image of him as someone who didn’t aspire to the sorts of things that Dylan attempted, and so I was pleased to learn about this album. I’m happy to have my assumptions proven wrong, when it’s for the better.

I read a great line from Dylan in the past couple of weeks about Nelson, but for the life of me I can’t find it now. In response to critics who said one of his recent albums was a disappointment (probably Under the Red Sky) Dylan wondered why no one gave Willie Nelson crap for putting out a disappointing album. He noted that Nelson put out two or three albums a year (in 1994 he put out three, for example) and no one expected them to redefine the art form every time. Why, Dylan moaned, couldn’t people just let him be like Willie Nelson? That, of course, is the key to the difference between the two men.

One final note: The last time Dylan performed in Calgary, Rebecca and I went to see him. One of the reasons that we went was the Willie Nelson was the opening act. Unfortunately, Nelson didn’t play the Canadian dates, and there was no opening act. That was a greater disappointment than the relatively poor Dylan set.

Maybe I should do a Nelson blog next year, though it is an awful lot of made-for-tv westerns….

PS. Despite having played 66 concerts in Texas, Dylan has never played Luckenbach.

Clinton Inauguration



Ladies and gentlemen, let’s help Bob Dylan usher in the Clinton era! Oh, what a wonderful fit. The election of America’s first baby boom president, the draft-dodging, pot-not-inhaling policy wonk from Arkansas and the mercurial legend from Minnesota.  Clinton’s first inauguration, January 20, 1993, featured a veritable who’s who from the 1960s (Bill’s people) and the 1990s (to prove that he was with it): Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, and, um, Michael Bolton, and, er, LL Cool J. Look, maybe we can blame the transition team for a couple of those names. Or Chelsea.

Dylan did one song at the inauguration celebration on the mall, “Chimes of Freedom”. His performance, which you can see in full above, raises a few distinct questions, not the least of which is: Where can I get one of those jackets? That thing is incredible.

The video is goofy as hell. Clinton himself jumps around in his seat with an air of excited glee when Dylan comes out, sort of pretending to be surprised. Every time the camera shows the Clintons and Gores you are struck by how phoney the whole thing is – they have to play the role of audience for this show because they know that they may be on camera at any moment. Clinton does a terrible job of it, frankly.

Dylan isn’t doing such a great job either. First, even though “Chimes of Freedom” may in fact be the fastest rising song in my estimation this year (going from a song I cared little about, to one that I think is close to the best thing he ever wrote), it is a somewhat odd choice for such an occasion, because it is elliptical and not entirely on point. But it sounds upbeat, particularly if Dylan garbles the lyrics. And garble he does! I can’t even imagine what this would have sounded like at the back of the mall with 100,000 people and tinny speakers. I watched it four times this morning with the lyrics open in front of me and I still struggled to make out what he was saying.

For the record, “Chimes of Freedom” is a six verse song. Dylan comes out and sings the first verse, half of the second combined with half of the third, half of the fourth combined with half of the second, and then the sixth. It is a mystery. I’m not sure you could really fully say you understand anything other than the title of the song.

Regardless, here we have Dylan donning the mantle of voice of a generation for the first time in a quarter century, as his generation takes its place at the centre of the universe. The last time Dylan sang from that location he was in the company of Martin Luther King, Jr., and now here he was singing for a president who in three years would sign into law a welfare reform that King would have fought with all of his might.

Oh well, baby boomers.

Dylan also performed at the Arkansas party later that night. He did “To Be Alone With You” backed by Steven Stills and The Band. I don’t have video for that one, but here is a picture.


Cool jacket, bro.

Good As I Been To You



When it came out in 1992 I think I listened to Good As I Been To You, Bob Dylan’s twenty-eighth album once or twice. I was twenty-three and it had absolutely nothing of interest to me and I quickly and decisively disposed of it.

In retrospect, this is a very interesting Dylan project, if not necessarily a really good one. Dylan’s first all acoustic album since Another Side of Bob Dylan way back in 1964, it is also only his second to contain no songs that he himself wrote (and the other, Dylan, was a collection of warm-up pieces released by Columbia out of spite, rather than by Dylan’s choice). Coming as it did almost immediately on the heels of the Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration, it probably should have been a bigger hit than it was.

I think that if this album were released today the music press would have a way to deal with it. A songwriter like Dylan returning to classic country songs and folk tunes from the past would have an obvious hook – a return to the roots – that would be a much more obvious selling point. Think of the reaction to Springsteen’s album of Pete Seeger covers, for example (both that album and this one include “Froggie Went a-Courtin’”, not that that is a good thing). This Dylan album was a disappointment both commercially and critically (it peaked at #51 in the US and spawned no singles). It seems like an album that few people even bother to have an opinion about.

One thing is certain: Dylan went in this direction deliberately. In May and June 1992 he recorded a number of tracks in Chicago with David Bromberg. Some (though apparently not all) of these circulate among collectors, and two were included on Bootleg Series 8 (the traditional song “Duncan and Brady” and the Jimmie Rodgers song “Miss the Mississippi and You”). Here Dylan was doing standards, but with a full band. To my ears it didn’t sound like much.

All of Good As I Been To You was recorded by Dylan in his garage studio in July 1992. He originally intended to add a few solo songs to the full band covers that he recorded with Bromberg, but the project morphed in a new direction. This was the most minimal Dylan in almost three decades. There is no accompaniment other than his own guitar playing and harmonica, and there are nothing really in the way of effects. It is stripped down, spare, and intimate.

I do have to say, after having criticized Dylan’s recent guitar playing in a few posts, that he is quite good here. Often on Dylan albums and at live shows you can’t tell what Dylan is doing on guitar – he frequently delegates the guitar to Mark Knopfler or Mick Taylor or GE Smith or whomever. On this album you can really pay attention to what it is that he’s doing. There is a lot of very lovely playing on this album. So, sorry for suggesting you were losing it! (though I still don’t get that Kinky Friedman thing….)

As for the album itself, well, I’m a lot more sympathetic to it now than I was two decades ago. Since taking up the banjo myself I find that I listen to almost nothing but this kind of music – so this is right in my contemporary wheelhouse. If anything, the album falters for me when the songs are ones that I now know far too well (“Blackjack Davey”, or “Sittin’ On Top of the World”) because I hear other, often better, versions in the back of my mind.

I think that my judgment on this one is that there is not a single song on that I dislike – which is a first for me since, I don’t know, probably Desire. By the same token, however, there is no song on here that I actually love. Nothing that I will rush back to listen to again in the future. The whole thing is sort of beige noise. The songs have a samey feeling to them and there is not much variety in terms of key or pace. A slow, bluesy, folksy finger-picking style. It’s nice, but you don’t need to go back for any of it. There is nothing memorable here at all. It’s elevator music, essentially.

Of all the Dylan albums so far, this is the one that I sort of wanted to will myself into liking. It so closely aligns with my current musical tastes that I hoped it would be a revelation. As it turns out, however, it just reminds me that I have a dozen versions of “Blackjack Davey” on my phone, and I like almost all of them better than this one. Heck, I can play that song myself, and I like that better too…

Here’s a version I have on my phone, by Almeda Riddle. Now this is a great version of this song:

Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration



Things like the Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration are confusing to me. If you go to the Wikipedia page you get a listing for it as a double-album. Even this is a bit of a disaster (two different songs are listed as the sixteenth song, for example), but I think it is an accurate ordering of the tracks. If you watch the broadcast (recently re-released) you see that the album does not sequence the tracks in the order that they were played on the night of 16 October 1992 in Madison Square Garden. Bjorner notes that John Hammond was to play “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” but that the song was scooped from him by Kris Kristofferson, so Hammond did “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” (which Dylan recorded, but did not write). That doesn’t appear on the album nor on the video. Bjorner also lists Dylan as doing five songs, where he does four on the video. Missing is “Song to Woody”, which is probably the song I would have most wanted to hear him perform on that night. Aargh! Now I will need to hunt that down….

I absolutely remember watching this show live on television. I don’t know who aired it in Canada (also sources note that it was aired by a wide range of channels – it wasn’t like an NBC special or anything). I guess probably MuchMusic up here, but that’s just a guess. I also remember liking it, and, of course, for more than twenty years I have recalled the Sinead O’Connor segment and how angry it made me at the time – how much I hated that New York audience, how much I respected Kristofferson and O’Connor, and how I was sad that Dylan didn’t acknowledge the incident. The mythical Bob Dylan that was stuck in my twenty-three year old mind would have done something to that audience, but it didn’t happen.

Let’s start with Sinead.

I was an enormous fan of Sinead O’Connor from the time I was twenty years old. I can recall with absolute total clarity the first time I heard her sing. I was driving down the QEW with my friend Marc towards Toronto and we were listening to CFNY (the new wave station in Toronto) and they played “Mandinka” from her first album. We thought it was just the greatest thing ever. When the song ended the deejay, Alan Cross I am almost positive, literally picked up the needle and put it back at the start of the song and said something to the effect of “nothing we’re going to play here today is going to be better than that, so we might as well do it again”. I know that I bought the single later that day.

O’Connor appeared on Saturday Night Live on October 3, 1992, two weeks before what Neil Young termed “Bobfest”. During that performance she sang Bob Marley’s “War”, announced “Fight the real enemy” and tore a picture of Pope John Paul II in half. I remember watching that live and thinking “Wow, that was really great”. Of course, the conservative press went bonkers. SNL behaved rather shamedly, with Joe Pesci threatening her with physical violence on the following week’s monologue. Madonna later ripped up a picture of Joey Buttafuoco on an episode (young people, look that up) because even then she was afraid of seeming washed up. I remember that was one of the first times that I thought Madonna was getting pathetic.

Anyhoo, so when O’Connor came out to sing “I Believe In You”, one of Dylan’s most touching Christian songs, the New York crowd was pretty split between people who cheered her and those who booed her. The booing part of the crowd persisted longer, and eventually it becomes clear that a beautiful, quiet song like this one is not going to go off as scheduled. Kris Kristofferson then comes out and tells her “Don’t let them get you down” and she defiantly says “I’m not down”. She thens waves off the band and does “War” again.

I thought it was great. I also thought, this ridiculous crowd. These were the same people who booed at Newport. Of all the things to be booing, and at all the venues. Well, it seemed very very wrong to me at the time, and it bothers me even more now. At the time I was sad that Dylan let it pass unremarked upon. Today I realize that a) he might not have even noticed; and b) he probably didn’t care any more. The Dylan of 1992 was not the Dylan of 1964, not by a long shot. It was her battle, and I probably shouldn’t have expected anything from him at all.

Rewatching the concert over the past two days (it is soooo long) I was struck by how great most of these songs are as songs. Listening to this much Dylan all in a row, you get a sense of decline. Last week I listened to Bootleg Series 1-3 as a 1991 release but ran out of time to write it up. Too long didn’t read version: It is remarkable to go back in time to listen to the Dylan that had all the promise in the world. To realize again how great he was so fast. I can still find things to like in 1990s Dylan, but even his cast-offs in the 1960s and 1970s were so much stronger. Following the Ottawa concert in August with a show like this where Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Roseanne Cash just kill a song like “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is almost unfair. That’s a song I’ve never really thought was that good, but last night I thought it was one of the greatest things ever written because they just brought such joy and life to it and made the goofball lyrics breathe. And then you recall that a young Dylan probably wrote than in ten minutes while stoned in a basement. Wow.

The Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration is almost all like that. The O’Jays doing “Emotionally Yours”. Stevie Wonder doing “Blowin’ in the Wind”. So great. There are moments where songs are elevated well past what Dylan ever did with them. The best example, undoubtedly, is Lou Reed doing “Foot of Pride”, a lyrically brilliant Dylan piece from the 1980s that he himself doesn’t do justice to. Reed has to read the lyrics off the teleprompter, but if you listen to the CD that isn’t apparent. It’s a great piece.

There are a lot of likeable moments on the show. Eric Clapton, who I generally don’t like, does two songs (“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, which is not on the album, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, which is) but then pays a lovely homage to The Band when he introduces them. They appear with two accordions (!) but no Robbie Robertson, who is one of the most notable absences (Elvis Costello, who often guested at Dylan shows, and Van Morrison, even more so, were both scheduled no-shows – wonder what the issues were?). Nothing is a disaster, at least nothing that made it to the album or to the video. GE Smith is back leading the band for the night, and I will say that I need to give him credit: he does a remarkable job. If you just watch him leading the multiple singers and guitarists through “My Back Pages” alone you’ll recognize that he has a great relationship with Dylan, and his time on SNL made him comfortable directing musical superstars. I still don’t think that highly of his tours with Dylan, but he comes across really well on this night.


As for Dylan, well I haven’t heard his “Song to Woody”. His “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is more than fine. It’s not a disaster like the Grammy show or the Letterman 10th Anniversary show. His voice seems limited, but he acquits himself real well. He plays the song solo acoustic, and his guitar-playing is right there, so I don’t know what was the problem with some of his recent debacles on that instrument. He does “My Back Pages” with Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Clapton, Neil Young and George Harrison – it works well and the crowd is super into that. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, with the whole ensemble, is sort of blah, the way these huge group things always are. Sinead stands on stage with her arms crossed and scowling – seems like they did get her down. Finally, everyone leaves and Dylan does a solo acoustic “Girl from the North Country”. It’s great. If that had been the last time anyone ever saw him onstage it would be legendary. Of course, there was no chance of that! Dylan immediately went back on the road again. This show just a one-off distraction.

The whole thing was quite good, really. Hard to imagine that it could have been much better(the low light for me would be the guys from Pearl Jam and Vedder’s one-note singing on “Masters of War”). It did a fantastic job of establishing Dylan as the legendary artist to a new generation after a series of recent misfires like Live Aid. For a brief moment Dylan might have even been cool again.

Dylan in Ottawa (1992)


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1992 was the year of my brief re-interest in the career of Bob Dylan. According to the information provided by Bjorner’s site, this brief interest must have last about ten weeks. I’m going to put each in a separate post, but here’s the timeline:

August 22. I, and my girlfriend of the time (but I think no one else that I knew) attend Dylan’s show in Ottawa at the absolutely dreadful Landsdowne Stadium. This was a nostalgic venture for me.

October 16. The Thirtieth Anniversary Concert Celebration is broadcast. I remember watching this at my apartment, though I don’t remember who else was there, but I know that people were.

October 30. The release of Good As I Been To You. I probably received this before its release date because one of my good friends worked at a local record store and they received promotional cassettes in advance of albums coming out to help with sales and ordering. Occasionally he would give me some of these and, miraculously, I still have this copy of this tape. I think I listened to it once. Love affair over again.

So let’s start with the concert in Ottawa. This one actually gets mentioned on Bjorner’s Dylan timeline because it was the live debut of “Unbelievable”, the only single from Under the Red Sky. I had no idea at the time that it was so momentous! In actuality, it’s not much of a performance of that song.

I was able to get a bootleg copy of this show, and it seems as bad as I remembered it. To be fair, that might not have all been Dylan’s fault. Bjorner lists the previous show, in my home town of Hamilton, as one of the best of the tour, and I had I been a super-fan I suppose I might have even traveled to that. The Ottawa show had little hope of being good. Landsdowne is an outdoor open-ended football stadium used by a successive series of bankrupt CFL teams. It is an absolutely terrible live music venue, even by the low standards of football stadiums as live music venues. I lived in Ottawa for two years, and this is the only show that I ever saw there. The acoustics were mind-boggling awful. I really don’t remember anything more about it than that, and the recording didn’t bring back any memories either.

To be fair, the concerts in 1992 are better than they have been in a few years. Dylan has started mixing in a lot of covers and traditional songs (hence, Good As I Been To You at the end of October). At this show he did “Pretty Peggy-O” (which he had been doing for thirty years) and “Little Moses”. This was not a greatest hits show (the three biggest songs on the show would be “Watchtower”, “Maggie’s Farm” and “Times”). Material was taken from across the full range of his career. I wish it had been better.

I know that I left this show, like a lot of people, disappointed. Not just by the sound, but by the fact that I was so unfamiliar with so much of the music. I hadn’t been doing my homework, hadn’t kept up. I wasn’t thrilled by any stretch of the imagination. Pretty much a disappointment. I had sense that Dylan was about to quit it all, I do remember that.

Chabad – Now with Video!


Yesterday I was talking about this blog with one of my colleagues who I had no idea was reading it, and he mentioned that he had seen video of the Chabad telethon where Dylan plays with Harry Dean Stanton and his son-in-law, Peter Himmelman. When I wrote about that performance I noted that I couldn’t find any such thing.

As fate would have it, this morning a friend sent me a link to this Open Culture article on the evolution of Dylan’s faith. I don’t fully agree with this article, but it is worth reading (I think it overstates his return to Judaism, but, frankly, it’s all just guess work on this issue anyway). The post has a video from the Chabad telethon of the trio playing “Hava Nagila”. Dylan plays harmonica here, rather than the flute that he played on the other two songs.

I normally don’t update past posts, but it is clear that the universe conspired in the past twenty-four hours so that I would bring this to you. Click through, because WordPress and Daily Motion don’t see eye-to-eye on embedding.