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I can’t let 1997 draw to a close without noting that it was the year that Bob Dylan (or his people, to be more precise) launched I have had that website open as one of my the tabs in my browser every single day of 2014 so far, and I can’t imagine that I will close it before this project has wrapped up – it is an indispensable, if sometimes frustrating, resource.

The 2014 version of has six main parts, only a few of which are genuinely useful. The News section, for instance, currently lists absolutely no news – it’s essentially a dead link. There is plenty of Dylan news – new album coming out, new US tour – but this is not where you will find that information. The News Archive is only slightly better. Strangely, every once in a while the site will accidentally reset its news archive and roll out news that is a few years old. No idea why. Hype is an area that is barely used – only once in the entire year so far.

The second section, Music, is the one that I use on an almost daily basis. You can sort by Album and by Song, searching by lyrics and so on. Every time I cut and paste Dylan lyrics, I do so from this site – even though it is occasionally wrong (i.e. for the songs on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). You can also click on a tab that will give you a list of every time Dylan has played any given song – that is incredibly awesome. I can imagine someday in the future where we’ll then be able to click on the performance and hear that version – they’re almost all out there digitally – but that will be long after Dylan is gone, if ever.

The Tour section is helpful – I got tickets through it for his upcoming show in Cleveland – the set lists is similarly helpful. They are updated extremely promptly. In cases of discrepancy between this and Bjorner, I usually credit Bjorner – super-fans are super-fans for a reason.

Bob Dylan 101 and Books are sort of dead ends. The Fine Art section leads to sales of his prints, which I don’t care for that much. The Shop section is remarkably bad, actually. I did buy a Rolling Thunder Revue shirt through the Shop (good quality cotton too, comfortable shirt!), but that’s about it. If people want to take up a collection and buy me the “Individually Hand Signed Harp in a Carved Ebony Box” for $5,000, I’ll take it, even if I’d prefer it in G.


The internet wayback machine helpfully provides us with a glimpse of the way the site used to look. This is from January 1998, which is the earliest image available. Remember when the web used to look like this?

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Dylan seems to have embraced the internet earlier than a lot of other musicians, making a lot of material available from the site for a long time. In 1997 we were all still on dial-up, so downloading a whole song was a major undertaking. He was well ahead of the game at the time, but in a lot of ways the site could probably use an overhaul (certainly in the hype department).

This year I have gotten so used to the site, that I am still thrilled when it changes in a big way, as when “Full Moon and Empty Arms” debuted. One thing that I’ve noted this year, though, is that I am not the type who ever otherwise goes to the sites of musicians that I like unless someone sends me there directly. I don’t have that kind of relationship to music anymore – I guess with the exception of Dylan.

Kennedy Center Honors



On December 7, 1997 Bob Dylan received the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award, which earned him the right to wear a tuxedo and sit in a balcony with Bill and Hillary Clinton (and, more importantly, Lauren Bacall) while watching others sing his praises.

The Kennedy Center Honors are a bit of a strange thing insofar as the recipients don’t give a speech and, when they’re musicians, don’t perform. They sit and nod and, in Dylan’s case, fidget an awful lot. There are cutaways to them looking on appreciatively while they are talked about, and you get to watch the president and the first lady gaze over at them appreciatively.

This was the second big meet-up of the Clintons with Dylan, who, of course, also sang at Bill’s first inauguration celebration. I actually don’t know if the president is involved at all in choosing these things (I doubt it), but it is the apt culmination of the Clinton administration on its last legs, honouring the voice of the sixties, even if Dylan shed that label a long time before.

Dylan was the last person to be honoured during the three hour show. The other nominees were the awesome Lauren Bacall, the horrible gun nut Charlton Heston, singer Jessye Norman, and dancer Edward Villella. Bit of a mixed bag.

Dylan was introduced by Gregory Peck. That is infinitely cooler than sitting with the president, I have to think. Peck misquotes the epic “Brownsville Girl” during the introduction, but the sentiment is a good one. They then play a pretty terrible video package that, of course, focuses almost entirely on Dylan’s output in the 1960s, which is probably not what he would have wanted, but that’s what you’re going to get.

You can watch a VHS dub of that whole part here – the sound is kind of out of synch though:

Three were three performances of Dylan songs that evening. The first is pretty predictable – Bruce Springsteen arrives on stage in a nice suit with a guitar and a harmonica rack and some genuinely nice words about “The Times They Are A-Changin’”. He then utterly and completely fucks up the moment by, I don’t even know, singing a parody of Dylan? It’s not a Springsteen performance and it is not a fitting tribute to Dylan at all, except perhaps to the Dylan who always shits the bed in the big televised spotlight. It’s really awful. Springsteen, by this time, had grabbed the role of the rock star who explains Dylan to the kids – he did it at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame too – but here he comes across as a jerk. Dylan, to his credit, sort of stares him down. Hillary, to her credit, does too. Watch her glare at the end of this video:

The Kennedy Center, unfortunately, has not posted the other two songs to YouTube, which is sad because apparently they were both much better. There is pretty much universal acclaim for the version of “Don’t Think Twice” that David Ball produced with the backing of longtime Dylan guitarist GE Smith. Apparently there is a shot of Bill Clinton joyfully singing along to this – singing it, in fact, to Hillary. Bill, it is not a love song. Well, the Clintons have always had a different kind of relationship.

The final song of the night was Shirley Caesar doing “Gotta Serve Somebody”. This isn’t on YouTube but it is on DailyMotion (which WordPress doesn’t get along with). You must click through this and watch her sing this song. Incredible. That is the way that you honour Bob Dylan – he’s the first to stand to give her a standing ovation. I hope Springsteen felt awful.

So, seventeen years ago – Bob Dylan officially proclaimed a living monument to Americana by the President of the United States.

Best of Bob Dylan



I wasn’t going to even note this one, but then I saw that it was missing. The Best of Bob Dylan, that is.

Released in June 1997, this CD was only available in parts of the Commonwealth – the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t know that. It’s the type of thing that you see regularly in Canada when you flip through the Dylan CDs at a chain record store (when you can find one of those) and I had no idea that it wasn’t available in the US until I was looking at Dylan’s site and didn’t see it there. See for yourself:

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Not there!

I’m not sure that there’s much to say about this album. It’s a greatest hits collection that covers most of the bases that you would expect a 72 minute greatest hits collection to cover. Sixteen songs cover 1963 to 1979, two take care of the next eighteen years. Re-examining the Dylan of the 1980s was apparently not yet fully in vogue.

The strangest selection on the CD is the inclusion of “Oh, Sister” as the selection from Desire. I’m not sure if that had appeared on any previous Dylan greatest hits collections, but it is certainly an outlier here. The best thing on it is probably the version of “Shelter from the Storm” that was used the previous year on the Jerry Maguire soundtrack.

Here’s a bit of that again:

Pretty terrible album cover, by the way. There are a thousand Dylan bootlegs that did a better job.

Bob Dylan and the Pope



Bob Dylan made a career out of disappointing his fans by doing whatever he wanted. In 1997 he got the opportunity to disappoint the pope.

On September 27, 1997, three days before the release of Time Out of Mind, Dylan and his band performed three songs at the 23rd World Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy in the presence of Pope John Paul II, who sat on a dais off to the side of the stage. It was a strange scene, with the pope and his entourage watching Dylan in his cowboy hat and western wear, and his touring band on stage (Bucky Baxter, still rocking that slide guitar!). This wasn’t part of a major Dylan tour – he had played the US that summer – rather it was a papal invitation. Dylan, being Dylan, tacked on a few shows in the UK on the way home.

The scene was more than a little bizarre. 300,000 young Catholics gathered to listen to the pope, who based at least part of his sermon on Dylan’s lyrics. Dylan performed two songs – “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (the title is apt, though probably not the lyrics generally) and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” before the pope spoke. You can see both of those songs here (the whole event aired on RAI UNO in Italy):

After Dylan met him, John Paul spoke to the crowd, basing at least  part of his sermon on Dylan’s lyrics:

A representative of yours has just said on your behalf that the answer to the questions of your life “is blowing in the wind”. It is true! But not in the wind which blows everything away in empty whirls, but the wind which is the breath and voice of the Spirit, a voice that calls and says: “come!” (cf. Jn 3:8; Rv 22:17).

You asked me: How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? I answer you: one! There is only one road for man and it is Christ, who said: “I am the way” (Jn 14:6). He is the road of truth, the way of life.
And, of course, speaking after the pope himself (tough act to follow), Dylan didn’t actually sing the requested and referenced song, instead closing the whole event with “Forever Young”. Sure, it’s got “May God bless and keep you always…” but Dylan certainly has written a lot of songs that would have been more appropriate. If you’re going to turn the request of the pope at a command performance, I mean that’s marching to your own drummer!

(According to Bjorner’s site, he didn’t even rehearse “Blowin’” at the soundcheck – though he did do “Maggie’s Farm” and “With God On Our Side”. What I wouldn’t give for a video of Bob Dylan singing “With God On Our Side” while the pope watched!)

Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, must have been at the sound check, because in his memoir of his predecessor he wrote that he didn’t want Dylan there. About the event:

The pope appeared tired, exhausted. At that very moment the stars arrived, Bob Dylan and others whose names I do not remember. They had a completely different message from the one which the pope had. There was reason to be skeptical I was, and in some ways I still am over whether it was really right to allow this type of ‘prophet’ to appear.

Wow. You probably have to live a pretty special life to play for one pope while another calls you a “prophet” with full-on scare quotes.

Here’s the video of Dylan actually meeting John Paul II (it isn’t included in the video up top). I wonder who was more impressed with the other? Actually, if you check at 5:34 of the video up top, you can tell that John Paul lacked enthusiasm for the whole thing.

The 1,000th Watchtower


I let 1996 Dylan slide a little bit because there wasn’t a lot going on except more and more and more of the Never Ending Tour. I thought about posting something about Dylan’s show at the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta but I couldn’t really find much to say about the show except for “Hey! Dylan! At the Olympics! Isn’t that sort of strange?”. A lot of that show is on YouTube, so you can check it out for yourself. Here he is doing “All Along the Watchtower”.

One of the fascinating things about Dylan at this point, now that I’m in 1997, is that things like another live version of “All Along the Watchtower” have become like white noise to me. I don’t actually skip the song if I’m listening to a live show, but I don’t actually listen to it either, if you know what I mean. It’s just sort of there.

One of the notable things about 1997 is that the show from April 7 (his only ever show in Fredericton, NB – so far) contained, as its third song. What was out of the ordinary was the fact that this was the one thousandth time that Dylan had performed this song live. 1,000 times. It sort of boggles my mind.

Actually, what is even more amazing is that, as of this writing, Dylan has now performed the song 2,243 times, including three times last week in Sydney.

If my counting is correct, there are seven songs that Dylan has performed live more than 1,000 times (in order):
All Along the Watchtower  2,243
Like a Rolling Stone  2,011
Highway 61 Revisited 1,783
Tangled Up in Blue  1,408
Ballad of a Thin Man  1,103
Blowin’ In the Wind  1,242
Maggie’s Farm 1,055

There are another half dozen that will cross that threshold this year or next at his current pace of touring.

I’ve listened to that 1,000th “Watchtower”. There’s nothing unusual about it at all. If Dylan knew if was his 1,000th (I highly doubt that he did), he did nothing to note that fact. It has the same sped up lyrical phrasing that he’d been singing for a while.

What is noteworthy is simply the sheer scope of what Dylan has done by this time as a touring act and, further, the fact that he would just continue to do it.

My favourite moment in the generally under-rated movie Funny People is when Seth Rogen asks James Taylor if he ever gets tired of singing the same songs over and over. I think I like that moment because that is exactly the question I’d like to ask. Don’t you just get bored of it? I feel like I would.

Dylan, of course, changes his songs so frequently and so dramatically that maybe it keeps him from getting tired of it all. He just keeps marching ever forward. Tonight, Fredericton. Tomorrow St. John. Then on to Bangor and Portland, Durham and Waltham. Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

With Gerry Goffin



Here’s an odd one. In 1996, a rare year in which no new Dylan album came out, he collaborated on two songs on a Dylanesque album by Gerry Goffin, Back Room Blood. Goffin, of course, was the songwriter who co-wrote fifty top forty hits, many with his first wife Carole King. These included “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “The Loco-Motion”, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Up On the Roof” and many, many others. He was one of the great rock songwriters, particularly when he worked with King. The two of them were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Dylan worked with King a few times – she sang back-up on “Like a Rolling Stone” on the Letterman Tenth Anniversary show, and also sang back-up during some encores on a couple of his 1995 shows. The two clearly had a good relationship. With Goffin things seem a little more mysterious. Goffin, who passed away in June of this year, wasn’t known much as a performer. He recorded an album in 1973, and Back Room Blood was only his second ever. He wasn’t much of a singer – Dylan, even at his scratchiest, has a more melodious voice. But for whatever reason they decided to get together and put down a couple of songs.

“Masquerade”, apparently, was mostly written by Dylan in the mid-1980s around the time of Knocked Out Loaded. There is speculation that Goffin altered some of the lyrics, but the music is from Dylan’s tapes and he is credited as co-producer of the song.

“Tragedy of the Trade” was the more genuine collaboration, with Dylan approaching Goffin with a title and parts of the first verse. Goffin wrote the rest of the song and the music was written by Barry Goldberg when Dylan didn’t have time to work on it (perpetual touring and all). Dylan is credited with playing on the recording but that seems unlikely.

Neither of the songs strike me as offering much in the way of lyrics. “Tragedy of the Trade” is slightly better. It begins with a typically dark Dylan image of a young woman dead in the gutter, and then goes on from there. It’s a lament about the changing times:

The world’s been run with Backroom Blood
Long before the time of the flood
And it’s you who are betrayed
The tragedy of the trade

“Masquerade” name drops Ronald Reagan, which is something that Dylan seemed unlikely to do, and just sort of rambles. It’s easy to see why he might have given that one away.

Goffin isn’t a big enough name, apparently, to have people posting his music to YouTube for me to embed here. You can hear samples of both songs on places like AllMusic here.

Let’s send him out with something a little better than the Dylan collaboration. This is The Shirelles:

“Ring of Fire”


The first new Dylan music in a couple of years appeared in a venue so obscure that I don’t think I even knew it existed until yesterday. Dylan’s cover of the Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire” appeared on the soundtrack of the 1996 “romantic comedy” Feeling Minnesota. I put “romantic comedy” in scare quotes there because I’ve never seen the film, and since the wikipedia plot description begins with Cameron Diaz’s character being sold into sex slavery, well, colour me skeptical.

I’m not sure how or why the song is used in the film because I’m not going to watch a Keanu Reeves/Cameron Diaz film from twenty years ago to find out. Here is the trailer:

So, yeah, not watching that. I like how the voice over tells us it is a film “by Steven Baigelman” as if that should mean something. This was both the first film that he wrote and directed, so he wasn’t exactly a household name – and he hasn’t gone on to much acclaim either.

The trailer uses the Johnny Cash version of “Ring of Fire” rather than the Dylan one, so maybe they didn’t think Dylan was a selling point. The soundtrack doesn’t include the Cash version, so it is likely that it isn’t even in the film itself.

Dylan’s version here, you can hear it in this YouTube clip, is perfectly fine. “Ring of Fire” is so absolutely associated with Cash that it can seem almost pointless to bother covering it; everything is liable to feel thin in comparison. There’s nothing wrong with this version at all, but neither is particularly new or noteworthy. I guess I like the drumming here, but not the back-up singers.

Dylan had recorded “Ring of Fire” once before, in 1969 in sessions with Cash that led to the inclusion of “Girl From the North Country” on Nashville Skyline. That version, with Dylan’s crooner voice, trades phrases with Cash and is more interesting for the duet, although the band is so totally doing the Cash guitar work that is almost distracting.

This is it for new Dylan songs for this week, so you’d better enjoy this while you have a chance!