The Simpsons



In the same year that Bob Dylan appeared for the first time on 60 Minutes, he also appeared for the first time on The Simpsons. Sort of. Interviewed by Chloe Talbot, Dylan (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) tells the world what religion he is converting to next:

According to this site, Dylan was actually asked to be on The Simpsons playing the role of Homer’s spirit guide. The role went to Johnny Cash instead. He’s great in that, so it was probably for the best.

60 Minutes




The way that YouTube serves up a sidebar of recommended videos on the right side of the page means that I’ve seen a link for “Bob Dylan Interview and a very revealing one at that” at least once per day every day this year. Seriously. When you troll YouTube looking for clips long enough, this is what eventually winds up at the top. I’m not sure why – though it has 1.2 million views I’m not sure that it’s the most watched Dylan clip on the site (probably close though, given how fast official Dylan material seems to evaporate). Must be a popularity-based algorithm.

For whatever reason I never clicked on it – not once. I could tell it was late-era Dylan by the lines on his face, and the title made it sound unenlightening – it seemed to be promising too much. Plus it’s a bit long. I figured it would roll around at some point.

As it turns out, when I searched the site for Bob Dylan + Ed Bradley, to find Dylan’s one and only appearance on 60 Minutes, there it was. Hiding in plain sight all this time!

Until I got to 2004, it never seemed odd to me that Dylan hadn’t been profiled on 60 Minutes, but as soon as I heard Ed Bradley’s voice it surely did. We didn’t go to church much in my family, but every Sunday we watched 60 Minutes after football. Every Sunday. It was – and still is – my father’s favourite show, the only one that he makes an effort not to miss. Bradley, Wallace, Reasoner, I watched these guys every week for most of my youth, and, actually, I’m grateful, because despite its flaws 60 Minutes at least aspired to present television news that was insightful, investigative, and engaged.

Not so much with their celebrity profiles, however, which was always one of the show’s flaws. This interview is not really typical of the 60 Minutes format, which generally has to include at least one shot of the interviewee leading the interviewee around his property. This is clearly a hotel room – Dylan surely was not about to let any tv crew into his house.

The piece also suffers from the 60 Minutes way of arranging the story – all of those cut-ins of old Dylan footage that just serve to interrupt the flow of the piece. It seems clumsy, probably more clumsy than is typical of the show. Ham-fisted.

As for the interview itself, I’m not sure that I would call it “revealing”. I don’t think it lifts away any part of the Dylan mask – indeed, it cements ever so much more firmly in place. At first I wasn’t sure that I could even get through it – the discussion of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Dylan’s taciturn answers put me off. I think that the most interesting part might be his admission that he can’t write the way he once did – and that perhaps no one can. That’s self-mystifying, sure, but it’s also self-pitying in a way that few stars ever really are. The sense at the end of the interview that he is still worried that things might be taken away from him – that all the fame is transitory – might be what the YouTuber uploader found revealing. It is an interest moment that almost seems unguarded, but may just well be another form of put on.

Dylan was appearing on the show – seemingly under some form of duress given his performance – as a way of promoting Chronicles, which is referenced by Bradley a few times. I’ll have more to say about that book later this week, though I think I may have already written about each of its chapters individually.

I thin that in my mind the combination of two important elements of my youth – Dylan and 60 Minutes – would have been much more magical than this was. A disappointment, to be sure.

I will say, though, that I always thought Ed Bradley was the best part of that show.

Victoria’s Secret Ad

Way back in January, the whole world (well, people on Twitter) got really upset that Bob Dylan appeared in a Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl. He’d sold his soul! A betrayal! Won’t somebody please think of the children?! How could he do this to us? It was all very alarming. And, of course, it all happened once before.
In 2004 Dylan appeared in an ad for Victoria’s Secret, who were selling a new type of underwear. The ad only ran for three weeks, but it was one of the most talked about ads of the year. It generated op-ed pieces in USA Today, in Entertainment Weekly, and, horribly, in Slate (click through for their embarrassing headline – I won’t even dignify it by putting it here). If there had been a Twitter, I’m sure that it would have exploded.
I’m not really sure what to say about this ad. I’ve included the longer version here (there is also a 30 second edit). I like this video because someone has tagged a famous section of his San Francisco press conference (December 1965) to it in a charming fashion. Oh the irony!
So, yeah, it’s an ad for underwear. It features a model in angel wings and underwear. Dylan’s role is to sort of leer at her. They play “Love Sick”. There’s not really any way to make that come across as not creepy. It is sort of creepy. That’s advertising pretty much in a nutshell. Creepy.
A lot of the discussion at the time – and probably still today – focuses on motive. Why would Dylan do this? For the money? Does he really need the money that badly? He tours all the time – he must be making money. For the free trip to Venice? I’m sure Dylan can afford a trip to Venice (his website is acting up – I can’t look up how often he has played there). To ogle a semi-clad model? I’m sure he’s had more than his fair share of those opportunities. To mess with his fans? That would be my own guess, but the fact of the matter is that I have no idea why Dylan does almost anything that he does. This is no more or less odd to me than his appearance on Dharma and Greg, or his beard at Newport. Dylan’s brain doesn’t seem to work in a way that I understand.
So, this is his first ad for a product, and it is for lingerie. It’s a weird piece of the puzzle that is his life.

Stumped by Springsteen

I fell behind on 2003 Dylan for the most frustrating reason – I finally discovered something that I wanted to write about that I couldn’t find a copy of!
Dylan’s touring in 2003 included several shows where he opened for The Grateful Dead and a couple where he opened for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He played a bit with each, but that’s material that I’ve already covered in weeks past. What was new this year was Dylan joining Bruce Springsteen on stage at one of his shows. Specifically, the final show of Springsteen’s The Rising tour, at Shea Stadium in New York on October 4, 2003. Springsteen and Dylan sang “Highway 61”.
Given the fact that each man has an extensive bootlegging culture around him, and given the fact that the show was in New York, you’d figure that the audio and video would be all over the place. Indeed, there is an incredibly poor quality video of the prior evening’s show on YouTube. So if you can get that whole thing, it should be easy to get this one song. Right? Right?
Yeah, not so fast. Everywhere I’ve turned all week – and I spent about an hour on this yesterday, and about the same again today – I get this:
Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 6.42.30 PM
l can find accounts written by people who were there, but for the life of me I can’t find the video.
That’s okay – I’ve had to write about things where I didn’t have the video previously, but this case is unusual in that I also can’t find the audio. There are Springsteen bootlegs out there (here’s a video of the concert, for instance), but I’m not interested in paying that to hear one song. I tried dipping into the online world of Springsteen bootleggers, but I had no luck in that regard, finding only the commercial bootleg dealers.
It might seem logical that this song would be widely anthologized across Dylan and Springsteen fandoms, but my sense right now is that it isn’t at all. It seems that there was a problem with Dylan’s mic on the first verse that negatively impacted the song, and that might account for the lack of interest in sharing it – not many anthologizers are going to bother to include a partial recording or a poor performance, even if it does have a touch of history about it.
So, this has been one of my few straight failures. Generally I’ve been able to come by almost everything that I’ve wanted (I couldn’t find some of Dylan’s earliest ads), but this time I’ve come up blank. If you’re a Springsteen enthusiast with a deep bootleg collection, let me know. I’ve become fixated on this one.

“Cross the Green Mountain”



A strong contender for “best hidden Dylan song”, “Cross the Green Mountain” was written and recorded for the film Gods and Generals. I had forgotten that this film even existed. This is a Civil War film that was entirely financed by Ted Turner as a personal pet project. It was then nearly universally loathed by critics and faded into oblivion. I don’t think that I have ever so much as heard someone mention it. I’ve never seen it, I don’t think I’ve ever really had the opportunity to see it, and I can’t imagine that I will ever see it.

However. It has an eight-minute Dylan epic on it. A Dylan epic with fiddle! This is a really simple song, musically repetitive with Dylan sing-talking a long story. It’s nearly a perfect use of his talents by this point in his career. I am sure it must be the best thing in the film (my guess is that it likely plays over the end credits). Seems like it may have been a bid for a second Oscar, but for that to happen some one in the Academy probably has to watch the film. So no luck on that.

Dylan included this song on Bootleg Series v8: Tell Tale Signs, which is where I first heard it. Had he done so, it might have been forgotten by all but the most hardcore (actually, it probably still is – my guess would be that that is the least purchased part of the entire Bootleg Series to date). It really is too bad, because this one ranks among his best epic songs. It should be far better known than it is.

Here is a sadly abbreviated version that was used as the official music video. It will give you a taste, but you want the whole thing.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”



If you haven’t heard this one, you really owe it to yourself to listen. In a lot of ways it is the most bizarre thing that Dylan has ever recorded.

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is Bob Dylan’s contribution to a compilation of covers of his own gospel songs. He sings it with Mavis Staples, of the Staples Sisters. All that sounds pretty straightforward. However, the song opens as Dylan solo, with the scratchiest Dylan voice we have yet heard on album, and then it stops after about thirty seconds. At this point Dylan says “Well it looks like someone is coming up the road, boys”. After a knock on the door, Dylan introduces Staples and the two have an old time radio show dialogue about Hawaii, chickens, and “SnoozeWeek”. Dylan tells her that he has the blues and she tells him that they need to sing about it to get over it.

I mean, this one comes right out of nowhere. There was no part of me that thought I would be listening to Dylan and Staples doing radio comedy in the middle of this song. Gobsmacked, would be the word.

What is even more surprising is that the song was nominated for a Grammy: Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Dumbfounded. The album itself was also nominated in Traditional Gospel Soul Album. That’s a lot to have to process.

I can’t find a copy online anywhere (there are lots of videos of Dylan doing the song live, but that’s not what is interesting here). It is on Spotify (in Canada at the very least). Do yourself a favour and check this one out. Truly and utterly a bizarre moment.

Edited to add after Graham’s comment (below):

That’s what I get for blogging late at night and unthinkingly. Of course, Graham is completely correct that the dialogue in this song between Dylan and Staples is based on the dialogue in “The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in Texas”, with minor tweaks (you can almost see into Mexico from Rodgers’s house; you can almost see Hawaii from Dylan’s, for example). I should have caught this – I have a complete Carter Family discography, but since listening to Dylan all year I’ve begun to forget it all. Next year: nothing but Carter Family.

Here’s the Carters and Rodgers:

What I’m Listening To Now



Bob Dylan didn’t produce a lot of new work in 2003, other than the feature film Masked and Anonymous (which I guess is nothing to sneeze at as an accomplishment – more on that film later this week). No new album, no new Bootleg Series. He did, of course, continue his relentless touring. Indeed, in 2003 he played the 1,500th show of the Never Ending Tour, and many others.

I guess I could track down and listen to that particular show, but I can almost guarantee that Dylan did not mark it as a milestone, and that it is unlikely that there is anything especially noteworthy about it. One thing that I’ve learned in doing this project is that listening to complete Dylan concerts is not necessarily the optimal way to approach his ever growing body of work. Far from it. You need to curate this material – pick out the gems, and toss the mundanities. But that’s a lot of work. 1,500 shows. That might be 30,000 song performances. That’s too much for me to handle in a week, or even a year.

Last week I told some friends that I was going to create my own bootleg. In 2002 Dylan performed about twenty songs acoustically for the first time. What set me off was the appearance of an acoustic version of “Maggie’s Farm” in the same year that he returned to Newport Folk Festival, where his electric version of that tune caused so much consternation. Finally, nearly forty years later, an acoustic version! I tracked it down with great eagerness, determining as well to track down all the other acoustic firsts of the year and compile them. I had high hopes!

It’s not that I lost my enthusiasm after listening to that “Maggie’s Farm” – it’s not bad, it’s just not that different; the full band acoustic doesn’t sound all that different than the full band electric, after all – it’s that I immediately ran up against my limitations. While I could gather together all of the songs that I wanted, the quality of recordings ranged tremendously. I had thought the project manageable because I wasn’t seeking the “best” acoustic “Maggie’s Farm”, just the first. The project would be more historic than value-added.

Here’s the thing though, you have to master those songs together. You have to fade them in and out on recordings where that might not be done. You have to equalize. Then you have to get some art, and use Photoshop and develop a nice package, and write some liner notes. And then you have to decide that you’re actually going to put it out there into the world.

So none of that actually happened. I’d still like to do it, but I lack the skills and the time to master the skills. It seems like a 2015 project to me now.

What I do want to note, though, is that there are Dylan fans who do this work. Last week in the post on the 2002 Grammy Awards someone kindly dropped into the comments and left a link to A Thousand Highways, a Dylan blog that is even more hardcore than this one is. That site, now idle, in addition to being very opinionated and well-written, has the extreme virtue of hosting several dozen Dylan compilations assembled by the author. Indeed, the purpose of the blog is to make those bootlegs available. Before the comment arrived I had not stumbled across this blog all year. Within an hour of discovering it I had all of this music on my phone.

Let me say this about that: I have listened to a lot of Dylan bootlegs this year, and these ones are really incredible. The quality of the song selection, the mastering, the production (look at that cover for the 2003 live selection, which I’ve listened to three times already since Sunday (I love this “Desolation Row”!), it’s so fantastically elegant), everything about these is great. It’s a one-stop shop for people looking to catch up on some of the live material from the past couple of decades, none of which has been commercially released. The care that has gone into this project is astonishing. The files even come as both WAV and MP3 (in most cases).

For a long time I’ve thought about writing an article titled “Incompetence in the Pirate Community” about comic book scanners that misidentify issues, or put pages out of order, or live music bootleggers who leave off songs, misorder them, or master them too loudly or too softly. My feeling is that if you’re going to do something like this – as an act of devotion – do it well. These bootlegs are done exceptionally well, and I’m really glad to have found them.

I may still grab that concert number 1,500 (Wellington, NZ – 24 February), but now I feel like I don’t have to. Let’s hear it for the bootleggers who approach their work like craftsmen!

“Waitin’ for You”



I don’t have much to say about this song, recorded in March 2002 and included on the soundtrack for the film version of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a film that I’ve never seen because my aversion to Sandra Bullock is exacerbated by an aversion to Ashley Judd. The song is a waltz (a rarity for Dylan) and the lyrics seem cryptic and elusive, but don’t really inspire me to investigate it much further.

What I do find interesting is how challenging, relatively speaking it was to find this. I don’t have it on my phone, which means that it is not included in the Complete Album Collection (which does have some of his soundtrack songs, like “Things Have Changed”) and it means it isn’t included on some of the various “hard to find” bootleg collections that I have. Fortunately Spotify has come to Canada recently, and it was on there (I don’t quite get Spotify yet – they only have about half of this soundtrack, for example).

Since I’m not quite sure how to link to a Spotify track through WordPress (and even if by linking to the Canadian version of Spotify the link would work elsewhere), I googled to see if someone had uploaded the soundtrack or song to YouTube. Not in this case, which is rare. There are three versions there, one from 2013, one from 2014, and a live version that isn’t dated by the uploader. I thought that was interesting, that Dylan was performing the song live recently, since it has to be one of his least-known recordings. So I went to look up its live history and I found that it’s not even listed there. Check it out:

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 9.53.50 AM

So, that’s a poser. I’ve found errors on before (and it has been acting cranky recently), but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a song that was just straight-up not listed. I could run through other sources and find out when he debuted it live, but I’m just not that interested in the song to do that.

One of the frustrating things about this project has been the collision between the incredible amount of sheer information that exists about Dylan on the one hand, and the frequent inability to bring it all together on the other. His site lists every single time that he has played (most) of his songs, and bootlegs exist for more than 99% of that material, but, since Dylan is anti-bootleg, there is no simple way of connecting all of that. For instance, I learned from Bjorner that in 2002 Dylan played his first acoustic version of “Maggie’s Farm” and then had to work to find that bootleg. I imagine some day in the future, long after Dylan has passed, that there will be a website, maybe even, where you click on a song, you get the list of every live performance, and you click on that to listen, like Spotify. When that day comes, those bloggers are going to have considerably less aggravation than I have had.

In the meantime, enjoy this live version:

Return to Newport Folk


August 3, 2002 was, in a lot of respects, an unremarkable day in the touring life of Bob Dylan. Concert #1432 in the Never Ending Tour opened with “Roving Gambler”, moved through a series of 1960s hits (“The Times They Are a-Changin’”, “Desolation Row”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (newly back in the rotation), “Mr. Tambourine Man”) with only a few of the more recent Dylan songs (“Summer Days” and “Cry A While”). The show included a cover of the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away”. If I played the show for you, you wouldn’t find it particularly remarkable. It sounds not much different from a lot of the other shows that Dylan played on his 2002 Summer US tour.

But what if I showed you this picture?


And then what if I told you that Dylan didn’t have a beard and a ponytail at the show on August 2 in Worcester, MA? Would you want to know what the hell was going on? I sure do.

Thirty-seven years after he told the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival, who had just booed him relentlessly, to kiss his ass with a harrowing version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, Bob Dylan returned to the scene of the crime. Yes, August 3, 2002 Dylan played, for the fourth time in forty years, the Newport Folk Festival.

Well, not quite. You see, Newport had changed just as much as Dylan had. By 2002 it was the Apple and Eve Newport Folk Festival (I had to look up Apple and Eve – I don’t think that we get their juices up here in Canada). Yes, they’d sold out. Gone corporate. Dylan should’ve booed them.

Instead, he showed up in a fake beard and a wig.

It is a serious WTF moment in the career of Bob Dylan.

Given the clearly traumatic history of the last time Dylan stood on that stage, he doesn’t really do much to address the history. Yes, he wears a wig and a fake beard (I probably can’t say that enough), but other than that he leaves well enough alone. If it were up to me (and it most assuredly is not), I would have loved for him to come out and play “Maggie’s Farm”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” and then leave. Better: He should have done the first three acoustic and then the final two electric. But I’m a spiteful person, and Bob Dylan just lets bygone be bygones.

The closest he really gets to talking about it is the fact that he plays “Positively Fourth Street”, a song he recorded four days after the 1965 debacle, and which is widely understood to be a kiss off to the folk scene. But Dylan so relentlessly juggled his song line-ups at this point, it’s hard to imagine that even that was deliberate. They asked, he played, he went on his way.

And, yet, the beard. I can only imagine that Dylan once swore that he’d never show his face around those parts again, and this was his way of keeping his word. It’s clear that he is fully aware of the potential for a scene – he alludes to the possibility – and then doesn’t deliver. There are no fireworks, no drama. He’s the consummate professional. Disappointing, once again, those who might have imagined a spectacular flame-out.

Good show, but not really essential.

Nice wig though.

I didn’t find any video, really. There are two fifteen second long clips on YouTube shot from a mile away. Here’s one of them (playing “Down in the Flood”):