Do you remember record stores? I almost do, through the hazy mists of time. Way back in 2005 people still went to record stores (though, even then, their days were beginning to seem numbered). Napster had come and gone, but BitTorrent was on the rise, and the record store was looking for a way forward.
In Canada, the last remaining large chain of record stores is HMV. Most of the malls around here have one of them, and they increasingly don’t sell music. 2005 is probably around the time that they began a definitive shift towards DVD retailing, and most of the stores that I was aware of began to give more floorspace to movies and television box sets than to music CDs. These days, with the rise of Netflix, even that seems like a bad business model, and the stores sell a lot of Sons of Anarchy shot glasses, toys, and t-shirts. Whenever I go in a HMV now, it seems sort of sad.
In 2005 HMV made some noise when they pulled all of Bob Dylan’s albums from their store shelves. The cause of the dispute? Dylan and Columbia released an album exclusively through Starbucks. This, for many, was another sign that the post-Victoria’s Secret ad Dylan had lost his way, and that he was a thoroughly corrupted sellout. The album, Live at the Gaslight 1962, was a natural for the coffee chain – connect themselves to the legacy of one of Greenwich Village’s most famous coffee houses. It’s a no-brainer for them. But for HMV the eighteen-month exclusivity was a slap in the face, and so they pulled all of Dylan’s albums for that period (I do recall that they left in dividers where the CDs should have been noting the reasoning, and also noting that they would special order his material if you were unable to simply order it from Amazon like a normal person would do).
Today, all of the HMVs around me have about seven Dylan CDs in them – a lot of greatest hits collections, and usually a random couple of albums. The whole model is crumbling away. The appeal of an HMV to me today is the ability to walk in and pick up the physical copy of Bootleg Series 11 for the booklets that accompany it – a bonus serious enough for me to turn my back on iTunes. But, of course, Amazon spammed me months ago based on all the Dylan books I’ve been buying, and one-click – you can’t beat it.
As for Live at the Gaslight 1962, well, that’s a blast from the past. First week of January to be precise! This material is well circulated in Dylan tape trading circles. It was recorded in October 1962 on a reel to reel run through the PA system, so the sound is really quite good given the technology of the period. The bootleg known as “The Second Gaslight Tape” tape is seventeen tracks, ten of which appear here (there is some dispute about the second and third Gaslight tapes – I can’t sort that out, I leave that to my betters. Actually, check that. Go here for a good breakdown of the tapes: It seems that this album combines performances from two different sets). It’s great material – a couple of original songs as they’re beginning to take shape (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “John Brown”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”) – and then some traditional folk music like “Barbara Allen” and “Handsome Molly”. It’s a very intimate recording – when there is applause it always sounds like there are about eight people there. In fact, it is so intimate that on “Hard Rain” you can hear someone singing along. I don’t think that’s a backup singer – I think it’s someone in the audience! It’s a very solid sampling of the proto-Dylan just before he would hit the big time.
Strangely, this album is not listed by BobDylan.com as one of his albums (also strangely, they list both versions of Bootleg Series 11 as separate albums). I’m not sure why that is at all. It’s not included in the Complete Album Collection, and it isn’t part of the Bootleg Series. Seems like a strange orphaned thing, but I have no idea why that is. Also, it is no longer in print. Amazon.ca has it for sale at $130 and Amazon.com for $88.
If you don’t have that kind of money sitting around, you can hear the entire album here.