Complete Album Collection

The final album that Bob Dylan released in 2013 was, appropriately enough, every album that he had ever released. In many ways The Complete Album Collection was an impetus for this blog – something that would give me an organizing structure and a theme. At the same time, the blog was an excuse to buy the CD set and a way to force myself to listen to Dylan albums that I had not previously bothered with, and might have skipped again. I had a strong sense that, absent the lunacy of this blog, I was setting myself up to buy an expensive package of CDs that would sit on the shelf. I have lots of DVDs and books that have, unfortunately, done the same.
I got a lot of use out The Complete Album Collection – even though it didn’t ship to me until part way through the project. Each week I would put the new CD (or CDs) in my car, which is the only place were I have a CD player (talk about a rapidly fading technology….). I kept the bonus disc there all year round, only listening to those tracks as they arose, trying very hard not to skip ahead. Though I also had MP3 versions of all the albums (I cycle to work more often than I drive) and my phone syncs to my car stereo by bluetooth, I preferred the actual CDs. I do think that there is notable difference in tone, but that might be psychological.
The Complete Album Collection, of course, is about to become Incomplete with the February release of Shadows in the Night. I have taken a look on Amazon and have found no indication that that album will be released in a format compatible with my box set, which is vaguely upsetting. All of the albums in The Complete Album Collection come in their own sleeve, and they are numbered on the spine. I want a copy of Shadows in the Night that I can just slip right in there – there is ample space, but I’m not sure that I’m going to get that. Dylan’s website is no help on this front. I don’t want a jewel case and all that stuff.
Of course I knew when I bought it that The Complete Album Collection would never live up to its title, and as I’ve noted a few times it doesn’t do that anyway. While it does have the first CD release of Dylan, the album he never acknowledged, and it unites his non-Columbia material with the Columbia material, there are no Bootleg Series discs and a large number of singles and soundtrack contributions were omitted. The two disc bonus selection really probably should have been about four discs. That was an irritant.
This afternoon I put the lid back on my Complete Album Collection box set, and put the whole thing up on the shelf. For fifty-two weeks it has allowed me to trace the fifty-two years since Dylan released his self-titled debut album, one year per week. I’ve learned a lot more about Dylan this year than I think I even imagined that I would, but more interestingly I’ve learned a great deal about other aspects of the culture as well.
I went into this project thinking that Dylan was someone who constantly changed who he was. In recent weeks, listening to his more contemporary albums, I have been able to clearly see the through lines that unite his work across five decades. I’ve begun to think that it isn’t Dylan who was constantly changing so much as the world around him.
The one thing that most strikes me after listening and re-listening to all of this music (I don’t think that there is a single album in this box that I listened to fewer than seven times) is that I’m not really any closer to figuring Dylan out – to coming up with the grant unified field theory of Bob Dylan. People (me included) keep trying to put Dylan into a box of their own making; trying to find a simple explanation for what he does. In his 2012 Rolling Stone interview, Mikal Gilmore wants Dylan to talk about mortality (the last three songs on Tempest all have characters that come to their deaths). Here is how Dylan responds:
The people in “Frankie and Johnny,” “Stagger Lee” and “El Paso” have come to hard endings, too, and definitely it’s that way in one of my favorite songs, “Delia.” I can name you a hundred songs where everything ends in tragedy. It’s called tradition, and that’s what I deal in. Traditional, with a capital T. Maybe people have to have a simplistic way of identifying something, if they can’t grasp it properly – use some term that they think they can understand, like mortality. Oh, like, “These songs must be about mortality. I mean, Dylan, isn’t he an old guy? He must be thinking about that.” You know what I say to that horseshit? I say these idiots don’t know what they’re talking about. Go find somebody else to pick on.
After a year spent listening to Dylan, he may be right – I don’t know what I’m talking about when I’m talking about Dylan. But I’m trying
Happy New Year all, and thanks for reading! I’m going to continue through Sunday with a few thoughts about 2014 and a couple of notes about the blog in general, but this is, officially, the end of The Long and Wasted Year.

Fiftieth Anniversary Collection (1963)

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner in Toronto with my friend Peter, who admitted to falling behind on this blog. Talk turned, as it has so often for me this year, to Bob Dylan. He asked me if I had complete recordings of the Town Hall Concert from 1963 and the Carnegie Hall show from October of the same year. He mentioned that one of his customers – Peter is a retailer – had unexpectedly brought him some CDs of this show, and he’d be happy to copy them for me. We checked my phone – more than half of its storage taken up with Dylan songs – and I told him that I did have a complete Town Hall, but not a complete Carnegie Hall show.
Just as at the end of 2012, at the end of 2013 Sony dumped a bunch of Dylan material into the European market in order to extend their copyright on it. This time they did it as a series of six LPs, and only 100 copies were made. It immediately became a hot collectible and wound up on the torrent sites. This set is a little better than the 1962 set and it has some interesting choices. Most of the material that had not yet received an official release was well circulated as bootlegs.
The set opens with unused outtakes and version from the sessions for The Times They Are a-Changin’. This stuff has been extremely picked over by the various Bootleg Series releases, so we’re now down to the items that have almost no chance of an official release. This is for the diehardiest of the diehards. It is followed by a Greenwich Village set from Gerdes Folk City, that I already had.
The Town Hall show takes up most of the second and third LPs. As I said, I had this already, but once again Sony has made it sound just that little bit better. The fourth LP includes five songs from the “second MacKenzie tape”. My version of that bootleg had thirteen, including a number of instrumentals. Perhaps there is a reason that they deemed some of the music not worthy of protecting. The sound quality here means that this is unlikely to get a commercial release anyway.
The set continues with Dylan’s songs from his interview with Studs Terkel, but not the interview itself, and the Bear Club show, which I already had. They include his performances from the March on Washington and from the television show Songs of Freedom (two songs that I did not have).
Finally, the set ends with nine songs from the Carnegie Hall show in October 1963. This was professionally recorded by Columbia for a potential live album that never came to be. It is now entirely available legally, although you have to do the work of putting it together on your own. Here is the complicated release history of this show, which included nineteen tracks.
Songs #3 (“Who Killed Davey Moore?”) and #5 (“Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues”) were released on the first Bootleg Series.
Songs #12 (“Hard Rain”) and #19 (“When the Ship Comes In”) were released on No Direction Home, the seventh Bootleg Series album.
Bizarrely, six songs were put out on the promotional EP Live at Carnegie Hall in 2005, bringing the total to ten.
The remaining nine were put out on this release for the lucky 100 people.
Fortunately you can patch all this together on an iTunes playlist and listen to the whole thing.
I guess that they aren’t going to put this album out, which is a shame. The Bootleg Series has included a 1964 show and a 1966 show, so a 1963 one might not be forthcoming.
I’m happy to be able to piece this all together now, but the whole thing is like a metaphor for this blog – a lot of scrambling around to try to figure out how to get all the Dylan parts that I want!
Here’s “Seven Curses” from Carnegie Hall

Owen Wilson Anecdote


I don’t have anything much to say about this anecdote other than it is just about a perfect late night talk show story told by Owen Wilson about going to Bob Dylan’s house with Woody Harrelson. A great non-story, wonderfully told.

Another Self Portrait

Another Self Portrait
Perhaps appropriately for the final week of this blog, Bob Dylan released not one, not two, but three albums in 2013. Interestingly, none of these had new material – they were re-releases, copyright protection and a new instalment of The Bootleg Series: Another Self Portrait.
As Dylan releases go, Another Self Portrait was a ballsy move. To take Dylan’s least appreciated album – one of his least appreciated periods – and shine a spotlight onto it was a big risk. It is one that, I think, paid off really well. While it isn’t enough to redeem the earlier album, the stripped down and under-produced demos of some of this material provide a context for recalling that Dylan makes great songs, but almost never makes great albums.
I listened to Another Self Portrait today as I took my dog for a walk and I immediately had a strong sense of nostalgia. I like this album much better than I like the albums it actually relates to, and I can imagine that in the future it will occupy a higher spot on the rotation list than will Self Portrait or New Morning. Listening to the demo version that opens the album I was struck by the fact that “Went to See the Gypsy” may be my current favorite Dylan song. It is the one that has most recently been coming to my mind most often, and I think it is absolutely flawless. I say surprised though because I haven’t heard this song in months – Dylan has never played it live. Not once. So I’ve never heard another version on any of the many bootlegs that have dotted my trip through this year. Maybe that’s why I like it so much?
Here’s the thing about Another Self Portrait. It made the uninteresting Dylan period fascinating. Here’s the thing about this blog – for me it made the entire Dylan period fascinating, so an album like this becomes doubly so. I have no idea where they’ll go next with the Bootleg Series. I’d love a mid-1970s one, for example, but I’m incredibly grateful that they put this material out there so that I have three versions of “Went to See the Gypsy”. I wish there were three hundred more.

Face Value



While it likely won’t be his final art show, the last one that I will be writing about it on this blog is Face Value, an exhibition of a dozen new paintings at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It ran from August 2013 to January of this year. It was pretty okay.

I like the National Portrait Gallery, which is sort of an adjunct to the National Gallery. Like a proper National Gallery, both offer free admission, and since they’re right in the heart of things at Trafalgar Square I always make an effort to stop by when I’m in London. The National Portrait Gallery has the advantage of not being completely swamped with people during tourist season, and they often have good, small shows.

This Dylan show was probably intended to be one of them. It is only twelve paintings, all portraits of course (in keeping with the theme of the museum). They are all the same size (two feet high, a foot and a half wide) and each is pastel on paper. There is a real consistency to them – strong lines, smudged colours, straight address of the sitter to the viewer. Each of the works is titled with the name of the sitter, but none of them were names that I recognized. As drawings I think that they’re better than anything else Dylan has yet shown, though I don’t love them.

The catalogue features an essay and interview with Dylan by John Elderfield. This is the best example of Dylan speaking about his art, so if this is a topic of interest to you it is probably worth checking out the interview. Dylan, as is typical of him, constantly thwarts the questions, rejecting their premises. The most interesting moment is right at the end:

JE: There must be hundreds of individual characters in your songs, yet there is hardly any description of their appearances. Is that why you have wanted to make sketches and paintings of the appearances of characters you have seen?

BD: No, that’s not the reason. I don’t feel that anything is lacking or absent from my songs. I haven’t been waiting fifty years to put “Girl From the North Country” on canvas, as if the song wasn’t enough. The songs don’t inspire me to paint. Painting for me is a secondary occupation. I’m thinking of anything but lyrics when I paint; mine or anybody else’s. If you want to talk about songs we can do that all day. And if you want to talk about paintings we can do that, too. If you see a relationship between the two art forms, that’s up to you, but I certainly don’t. I just did a series of New Orleans-based paintings for the Palazzo Reale in Milan and nobody assumed they had anything to do with the songs I’ve written. There’s a simple reason for that: there is no connection. I know there are some people uncomfortable with that idea, but that has nothing to do with me. That’s them thinking that they’re thinking.

So there you go.

Also, the catalogue has a great photo of Dylan from the 1990s in his painting studio with one of dogs. He’s wearing Zubaz and a tank top that says “Italia Roma”. It’s awesome.


Kohl’s Ad


Continuing the march of Bob Dylan songs in television ads, I give you this rather maudlin entry from the folks at Kohl’s. We don’t have Kohl’s here, so I actually had to look up the fact that they are a department store. Apparently they specialize in sappy niceness. Here you go:

This is not a good version of “Forever Young” and it’s not really even a very good ad. As Dylan ads go, this one has very little to recommend it.

“Like a Rolling Stone” (Video)


I know what you’re saying: Sure, you’ve written about Bob Dylan for fifty-one weeks and got me all the way up to 2013, but how have you really improved my life? Other than watching that Dennis Hopper movie so that I didn’t have to?

Well, here’s how: I watched the “Like a Rolling Stone” music video sixteen times in a row this afternoon. You’re welcome.

So, as a way of promoting the release of the Complete Album Collection, Bob Dylan opted to create a music video for “Like a Rolling Stone” forty-eight years after it was released. That is, to say the least, risky. Let’s say that Rolling Stone magazine has already called your song the best rock song ever written. You now have no where to go with it but down. So you’re going to make a video for that song? Really?? Are you sure you want to do this? Because it needs to be epic. EPIC. Best music video of all time kind of thing. Are you sure? Ok, let’s go.

Dylan, who made a lot of really poor videos in the 1980s and 1990s, but whose videos have come on strong thanks to Nash Edgerton, turned to Vania Heymann. I hear you saying “Who?”. Yep, Vania Heymann. Charged with making a video for the Greatest Rock Song of ALL TIME ™ Dylan and Sony chose a young Israeli filmmaker who’d done about five videos and some tv ads. Umm, what?

And what did he do? Well, he might have created the greatest music video of all time. If it’s not, it belongs in the conversation.

Here’s what they did. They recorded, over a period of two and a half months, sixteen different music videos for the song. Sixteen! Each and every one of which is meant to look like a different genre of American television programming. Then they combined them all together and made it so that you could change the channels like you’re watching tv but that all of the channels are playing “Like a Rolling Stone” now and forever. It is, in a word, awesome. Seriously, it’s just the best thing ever.

I watched this video when it came out – it got a lot of press, and you couldn’t miss it. But I didn’t really watch it watch it. I didn’t flip through and try to imagine what might be the best possible way to watch it. Each airing of the video ends with the same opening and a seemingly random channel is given to you (I’m not sure how random – I got most of the channels in the 120s twice, but never got some in the 130s. I only watched it sixteen or seventeen times though). You can then flip however you want. As you do you will note that every person on screen is lipsyncing the song.

The appeal of the video is that you can’t take it all in – you’re always going to miss something. Unless you tune to one channel and leave it there. It is possible to pause the video immediately after the opening, tune to the channel you want, and then watch the whole thing, all 6:13 of it.

So, of course, that’s what I spent the afternoon doing. 96 minutes of “Like a Rolling Stone” over and over and over and over again. So here’s what’s on every channel – graded.

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121 Mus1c Classics. This channel shows a live version of Dylan and The Hawks playing “Like a Rolling Stone” in England in 1966. The video is in color and jumps around a bit, but is otherwise pretty great. This one is a B+. If this had been the video for this song it would have made sense, but it would have got no attention at all.

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122 Mus1c Bass. This is a more contemporary video starring rap star Danny Brown. He eats a lot. That’s pretty much the video. Danny Brown walking around New York eating Chinese food, and pizza, and a hot dog, and pop corn. He plays on the swings, and there is some low level animation that pops up the lyrics and the pizza cheese oozes all over the place. I like the swish cuts to different version of Brown. It’s pretty good. B

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123 Shop TV: Dustbuster. This is a home shopping channel demonstration of a dustbuster. It looks like a good dustbuster, but that’s all there is here. No real jokes or anything. It is immensely accurate to the lighting and pacing of the home shopping channel, which is what it wants to be. But you shouldn’t watch it. D for entertainment, A for accuracy.

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124 History Channel: “Inside the Great Depression”. This starts sort of like “Dustbuster” – it’s just a very good impression of the genre, with three talking head experts (two men, one woman), interspersed with footage of New York from days of yore. Here’s the thing though – new footage has been inserted into the old footage. A newspaper barker barks the lyrics. Two guys hang out a window lipsyncing. Best of all, a sign in Times Square says “Make a Deal”. It is the alteration of this historical material that makes this – it’s very subtle. A+. This is the best channel.

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125 Moviez: “Love is Love”. This is really well done, but you shouldn’t stick with it. This is a parody of a contemporary romantic comedy with a young, white couple hanging out on the steps of an upper west side apartment. They talk. They kiss. She walks away. She comes back. They walk in almost slow motion. They go to a diner. Never have two people smiled at each other for this length of time. It is uncanny in its send-up of rom-com tropes, but there isn’t much happening here. It’s too much. C. Small doses only!

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126 TTC: “Bachelor’s Roses”. I’ve never seen The Bachelor, but I think that this is probably eerily accurate. Three women in improbable outfits sit around gossiping. A fourth appears on a balcony. Yelling ensues. The fourth at one point goes and gets an outfit and throws it down the stairs. Drama! For the last verse it shifts to the bachelor in a hot tub with Lesley, a paralegal from Duluth. They sip champagne and laugh. Bonus points for “paralegal from Duluth”. This one is watchable. B+

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127 MTC Business: “Wall Street Market Update”. This would be boring – it just tosses from a guy in the studio to a woman reporter on Wall Street – were it not for the scroll at the bottom. The first clue that something is going on is the headline: “Some stocks went up and some stocks went down”. From there it is just a litany of ironic one-off jokes:

  • Banks still dealing in imaginary money
  • Just in: Police still occasionally killing some hooded teens
  • Richest 1% controls 33% of wealth
  • Small minority exploiting democracy as a means of establishing themselves as a superclass #conspiracytheory
  • Greece to default on everything, just an overall default
  • Breaking: The wealthiest country on Earth boasts some of the largest rich-poor divides #guesswho
By far the most interesting scroll is this one:
  • West: “I throw these Maybach keys, I wear my heart on the sleeve, I know that we the new slaves, I see the blood on the leaves”

A Bob Dylan video that quotes Kanye West’s “New Slaves” as part of a business parody? The best. A+

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128 Cuisine “Childhood Flavors”. With your host, Suzy Altman. This is what it looks like. This woman makes desert. She chops berries, puts them in a bowl. Adds sugar and starch, mixes. Makes some dough, mixes that that. Puts the berries in the bowl, plops on some dough and puts it in the over. The timer speeds up, then she takes it out and eats it. Delicious! But you don’t need to watch this (though I think the recipe is probably accurate). D

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129 Reality Check: “Pawn Stars”. This should have been better than it is. After Dylan appeared on Pawn Stars, the stars of that show appeared in his video. Rick and Chumlee negotiate with a seller named Michael over a Stauffer guitar. Scarily accurate to the aesthetic of the show, but kind of pointless. I would have liked them to indicate that there was no sale here. D+

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130 Look TV: “Fasion In and Out”. Of all the fake channels, this one has the best logo. Love that logo. This goes back and forth between a woman talking about a runway show (based on a tennis theme – all the clothes are white and the walkway is a faux tennis court) and then the same woman conducting woman on the street interviews. This might be accurate – I never watch this kind of show! In the middle is an ad for “Girl Code”, which I though was hilarious until I learned that it is an actual show on MTV. Who knew? Not me. I want to watch it. C-

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131 GSC: “The Price is Right”. This works in small doses. They use the actual set and the actual host (Drew Carey), but they don’t do a whole episode. They jump around too much – introducing the prize, but then moving to the big wheel. I would have liked this better if they had been faithful to the actual show. I am a nerd. B-

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132 WTFC: “Maron”. This didn’t work for me. Marc Maron is a podcaster and here he is podcasting. He gets 99% of the lyrics but there is nothing happening in this video. Skip. F

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133 SportsTime: “Pan-Asia Tennis Tournament”. This was filmed in Israel apparently. And Steve Levy, the in-studio host, is a real ESPN guy also. This should have been better. The problem with filming a fake tennis match (between the 117th and 226th ranked men’s players, which is funny) is that you reduce the lipsyncing. There is a lot of cutting back to the studio and Levy, but that breaks the verisimilitude since that is not how tennis is covered. The best part is the crowd member yelling “Ahhhh” and pointing at the net at the beginning of the final verse. D

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134 Home+ “Property Brothers”. Like Pawn Stars and The Price is Right, this is a real show (Canadian too!), starring the hunky Jonathan Scott and his hunky brother Drew. They sell people fixer uppers and then fix ’em up. They have the aesthetic of this show nailed (ahem), but there’s not much plot here. B-


135 Just for Kids! “Zoey and Socks”. I’m guessing that the girl is Zoey and that the floating cat is Socks. Just a guess though. There are also Murakami-esque smiling flowers. And word games. All the words are missing one letter indicating that the show is for two or three-year-olds, but the words are sometimes odd: ME_APHONE. Hard to pay attention to this one. The still sums up all the action, though later Zoey and Socks move to the clouds just to mix it up (or the flowers pissed them off).  D


136 BCC Newsdesk. Looks more like BBC than CNN, which is probably the Israeli influence. The scroll here isn’t meant to be as funny – the image above notwithstanding – and mostly is played semi-straight (a lot of stuff about Obamacare). They go through several stories each lasting roughly a verse and chorus:

  • Airport Nightmare
  • Riots on Park Avenue
  • Man Stabbed in Chelsea
  • Weather

The best of these is the stabbing. Here they use faux surveillance footage, and the stabbed man slumps into a corner and then starts singing “Like a Rolling Stone”. I suppose he was stabbed by the mystery tramp.  A

In an interview Heymann said: “The effect can only be surrealistic if the channels are realistic. In reality, channel-flipping is a very passive act. You’re sitting back in your house, doing nothing. We wanted to make it an active thing, reediting the song itself to make a new version.”

Well, it works. I think it is the most interesting music video I’ve ever seen. It was named best video of 2013 by Time, but MTV shunned it – it wasn’t even nominated for a music video award. Best video, for the record, went to Miley Cyrus for “Wrecking Ball”. Yes, Miley licks a sledgehammer and rides a wrecking ball in the nude, but there is nothing interesting in that video at all that you can’t get better on any of a thousand free porn sites. Ohh, MTV, are you really that hard up? Miley spawned a million memes, but Dylan and Heymann legitimately broke new ground. Again.

Oh yeah: Here’s the video! (I don’t think WordPress can embed it, probably requires Java)

50th Anniversary Collection

Hey! Do you want to hear seven different takes of “Mixed Up Confusion” all in a row? Legally? Well, now you can!
Released at the very tale end of December 2012 (indeed, most of the coverage of the album is from January 2013), The 50th Anniversary Collection was a collection of four CD-Rs (yes!) containing all of the material that Bob Dylan recorded (either live or in studio) in 1962 but which had not previously been released. For instance, “Mixed Up Confusion” was a single, then quickly deleted, then released on Biograph. This set contains all of the unused versions. Why? Because a change in European copyright law meant that these fifty year old songs would become public domain on January 1, 2013. So, literally, hours before that would have happened, Sony released all these outtakes commercially, buying them twenty more years of copyright. Slick or evil, your choice.
Here’s the quote:
“The copyright law in Europe was recently extended from 50 to 70 years for everything recorded in 1963 and beyond. With everything before that, there’s a new ‘Use It or Lose It’ provision. It basically said, ‘If you haven’t used the recordings in the first 50 years, you aren’t going to get any more.'”
“The whole point of copyrighting this stuff is that we intend to do something with it at some point in the future,” says the source, alluding to the ongoing Bootleg Series project. “But it wasn’t the right time to do it right after he released Tempest. There are other things we want to do in 2013 though.”
Oh, it must be also noted that they released this in an edition of 100 copies, just to drive collectors into a frenzy. Even though most die-hards would have most or all of this material, the idea of actually owning the Sony version was the type of thing that drove this sky high on the collector market. On the flipside, when you google the title a link to a torrent comes up on the very first page. Sony clearly missed an opportunity to sell some copies here, but I don’t think that they care. (Basically they could probably sell the exact same number of these that they did of the full version of The Basement Tapes set – hardcores gonna be hardcore).
Basically, this is a commercial version of home tapes and Freewheelin’ outtakes with some Village performances included on it.
There’s a good piece on NPR that explains the logic behind “Cliff’s Law”, as it is known in the UK, named for Cliff Richard, who pushed for the copyright extension. Richard argued that it wasn’t fair that his “creative juices” should be taken from him before he’s even dead, but critics note that the law almost exclusively helps megastars who own the rights to their recordings fifty years later.
The set itself would be of limited general value, but it’s quite awesome. Material that I have as other bootlegs (Finjan Club show in Montreal, for example) sounds much better on this. The New York Times, in their article about the album coming out, notes that the outtakes from Freewheelin’ sound better than the actual album. So this is a blessing.
I’ve tried comparing this to the bootlegs that I already have, and it has shed some light on things. This album cites the Gaslight Tapes as October 15, 1962 while the version I have just says “October”, but my version has seventeen songs and this has seven. The Finjan Club show in Montreal is the same (better sound on this version) as is the Carnegie Hall Hootenanny. I have a good chunk of the Freewheelin’ outtakes as “Early Recordings” but not everything that is here. Dylan recorded the Witmark Demos in 1962, but those had already had a commercial release as part of the Bootleg Series, so they don’t show up here. They put six songs out from the Mackenzie Home Tapes. There is no Gooding Tape material here for whatever reason.  Wikipedia has a complete rundown, of course,
For those of you who are interested, the whole thing seems to be up on Grooveshark. I’ve been listening to “Mixed Up Confusion” over and over again. It just gets better and better. By the way, now that I’m in the last week of this project I’ve come to the realization that “Mixed Up Confusion” was the most important early Dylan song, but no one realized it at the time. It’s the one song where he was seemingly expressing something true about himself both musically and lyrically.
Remember when he used to look like this?



It seems like it hasn’t been that long, but four days before the end of the LongAndWastedYear, we have arrived at Bob Dylan’s thirty-fifth – and most recent – studio album, Tempest.
I think a lot of people thought that this would be it for him. He’s cruised past seventy years old, and he released an album whose title bears a striking resemblance to the name of Shakespeare’s final play. It’s not the case though. Dylan noted that Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest” and his is only Tempest, and, besides, there’s the Frank Sinatra covers album coming out in March. Dylan is never going away.
I half love and half hate this album. For a while I was thinking that this was a great album that just falls apart at the end. The two songs that I like least are the final two, “Tempest” and “Roll On John”. Then I added “Tin Angel” to that list, making it the final three tracks. Combined that trio is an astounding 30:24 of running time (including 13:54 for “Tempest” alone). The album is just over 68 minutes long, so thirty minutes of dead time is quite a bit.
Looking at the song list right now, however, I think that there may a correlation between how much I like a song on Tempest and the run time of that same song. So instead of taking them in order, let’s take them in length!
1. “Soon After Midnight” (3:27). This is my favourite song on the whole album, and (I hope and pray) a hint of what to expect from the forthcoming album. This is crooner Dylan and it is just so damned good. Oh, this is a great song and it is sung so well. Dylan using all the remaining power of his voice here.
2. “Long and Wasted Years” (3:46). Well, I named my blog after this song (minus the plural). This is one of those aphoristic Dylan songs, and I think it’s great. Just a whole bunch of rambling sentiments about loss (“I ain’t seen my family in twenty years / That ain’t easy to understand / They may be dead by now”). I love the declensions at the end of every line. Musically this is my favourite song on the album, except for “Duquesne Whistle”.
3. “Pay in Blood” (5:09). This is another good one right here. Lyrically this is probably the most complex song on the album, and it’s a hummable tune too. 
4. “Early Roman Kings” (5:16). My wife complains about the blues riff here (whaaa whaaa wha-whaaa over and over again until the end of time), but the lyrics are great: “All the early Roman kings / In their sharkskin suits / Bow ties and buttons / High top boots”. This song sounds a lot better live than it does on the album because the band is able to blues it up all the better.
5. “Duquesne Whistle” (5:43). I previously wrote about this one, and I still like it. It’s actually probably my second favourite thing on the album. 
6. “Scarlet Town” (7:17). This is the first song that I’m sort of indifferent to. It goes on too long and it never hooks me in. I could live without this one, but it doesn’t actively annoy me or anything.
7. “Roll on John” (7:25). Too long, too maudlin, too predictable. Has an all-time bad Dylan lyric: “Down in the quarry with the Quarrymen”. Yuck.
8. “Narrow Way” (7:28). This one I think actually starts really well but it just goes on far too long. I lose my interest in this, and then there’s a point near the middle where it comes back a bit, but then it goes away again. Good chorus.
9. “Tin Angel” (9:05). I can’t concentrate to the end of this one. This is a sort of remake of a song like “Blackjack Davey” and I’d rather listen to that. It’s the first of the three songs at the end of the album that are all about death, not that that really makes it any more significant.
10. “Tempest” (13:54). To my mind the worst title track of any Dylan album. This one is long and insufferable. Dylan sings about the sinking of the Titanic, mixing in historical detail and the plot points of the James Cameron movie (seriously!). It’s a real droner. He rhymes “quarterdeck” with “quarterdeck” at one point. It also has some lines that scan terribly badly:
Calvin, Blake and Wilson

Gambled in the dark
Not one of them would ever live to
Tell the tale on the disembark
The whole thing has a ba-dump ba-dump rhythm that just annoys me, and it comes across not as tragic but as overlong and pointless. I guess in that way it is akin to the James Cameron movie….
So, I like about half this album, which is a pretty good ratio, but not as strong as some of the latter day Dylan material.

Revisionist Art

revisionist art
Here’s something that I never anticipated contemplating this year: Did Richard Prince paint paintings under the pseudonym Bob Dylan?
To answer that, let’s take another trip into the land of Bob Dylan, Painter.
Having written about a couple of Dylan museum shows, I skipped over Dylan’s first significant gallery show in 2011 because I didn’t have a copy of the catalogue and I didn’t see the show myself – I had too little to go on. Let’s do a little resumé of that show now.
In 2011, Dylan showed work at Gagosian Gallery. Larry Gagosian, of course, is one of the biggest names in contemporary art. He has eleven galleries, including three in New York and two in London. He is a worldwide art-dealing phenomenon. After moving from LA to New York in the 1980s, he became the dealer for many of the best known artists of that decade, including Eric Fischl, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Salle. Since then he has expanded backwards in time to venerated minimalists (Richard Serra) and abstract expressionists (Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock) and internationally. If you go to the wikipedia page for his galleries and scroll down to the artists represented section it is literally a who’s who of 20th – and 21st – century art. Oh, and also Bob Dylan is listed there.
Dylan’s first show with Gagosian was his “Asia series”. Ostensibly painted from life while he was on tour in Asia, in reality the paintings were copied from photos. I’m not sure how long it took for this to come out – here’s a Rolling Stone article about it – because these are based on very well-known photos. Like, there’s no attempt to hide this fact, any more than Duchamp was trying to hide the inspiration for L.H.O.O.Q. Anyway, art reporting being what it is, people went bonkers saying that the Dylan was a plagiarist, and others pointing out that he was just doing what artists have been doing since, well, Duchamp, and certainly since the 1980s at galleries like Gagosian’s.
The Dylan plagiarism charge is an interesting one, and the one that I feel like I may spend more substantial time with once this project is done. Here’s Dylan from the 2012 Rolling Stone interview with Mikal Gilmore on the topic:
MG: Before we end the conversation, I want to ask about the controversy over your quotations in your songs from the works of other writers, such as Japanese author Junichi Saga’s “Confessions of a Yakuza,” and the Civil War poetry of Henry Timrod. Some critics say that you didn ‘t cite your sources clearly. Yet in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. What’s your response to those kinds of charges?
BD: Oh, yeah, in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me. I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing – it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified. All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell.
Ok, so that goes a little off the rails at the end. I’m not sure if it’s the person who yelled “Judas!” in 1966 that is actually out there criticizing Dylan for plagiarism, but is interesting to hear Dylan equate the two.
Let’s take a step back from the issue and come at it again. Listen to “Roll on John”, the final track on Tempest:
The song, clearly, is about John Lennon. Anyone can see that. Because we know that it is about Lennon, we are not surprised by lines like: “I heard the news today, oh boy”. We recognize that as a nod to “A Day in the Life”. It’s not plagiarism, it’s a citation. Similarly, in the same song, Dylan sings “Tiger, Tiger burning bright”, which we recognize as a reference to William Blake, and we know that Dylan is adding depth to his song be drawing an equivalence between the pop star and the Romantic poet. It is up to us, of course, to give flesh to that comparison, but the quotation is so well known that it isn’t hidden. There is no desire to deceive, which is the key to accusations of plagiarism.
But here’s the thing. To understand “Roll On John” from Tempest we also have to understand that Dylan previously played a song called “Roll on John”, and that song is a folk song. Here he is playing it on Cynthia Gooding’s radio show:
The Tempest version doesn’t make any sense without that earlier song, and, indeed, I would suggest that is imperative to our reading of the latter song (this article in The Atlantic offers an interesting reading of this song as being not really about John Lennon the person so much as John Lennon the myth – I am very sympathetic to this interpretation). 
So, there are lines here that are very self-evident – thus citational – thus not plagiarism. There is a deep structure that is necessary, but also citational – if you happen to know it. And there’s the rub. Dylan knows all of this stuff – and I think that he thinks that you should too. I think his exasperation over the Timrod accusations stem from his exasperation that we are not keeping up! Read Henry Timrod, for god’s sake, and then you’ll know what I’m talking about. But don’t say that he’s trying to rip off Timrod and hide it – he’s not hiding it any more than he’s hiding Blake, it’s just that nobody is reading Timrod. That’s not on Dylan, that’s on us. 
That’s the short version, at least. Dylan has been recycling older tropes from the very first moment that he wrote a song, and he has never stopped. Now he does it in his paintings too.
So, in the “Asia Series” he paints versions of well-known photographs and then presumably marvels that people don’t realize that the photos are well-known.
So, in 2012, along comes his second Gagosian show: “Revisionist Art”. This is a major aesthetic change from the earlier shows. Dylan isn’t painting here – he’s using appropration techniques (self-evidently) and silkscreen. All of the images are collages of well-known magazine covers – Rolling Stone, Playboy, Architectural Digest – that have been detourned with unlikely text and even more unlikely imagery. Photos of bleeding professional wrestlers and female nudes adorn the covers of Time, with non-sequitur headlines. For the most part the women are sexualized and the men are beaten up. The images themselves run to the garish. These are not images that I enjoy (I wouldn’t want one in my house) but I get them – or at least I get the trajectory of art history that they come from.
Since the work is so different than what Dylan has previously done – sketchy modernist portraits – it’s not surprising that there was some question about the work. Some critics suggested that perhaps the works weren’t even by Dylan, they could be by Richard Prince (who has worked this line for a long time). Prince, after all, is a Gagosian artist who wrote the catalogue essay for the “Asia Series”, so maybe it is an elaborate hoax?
Maybe it is. All of the coverage of the show indicated that Gagosian didn’t even price these Dylans – if they were even for sale we don’t know what was being asked. Prince commands a high price in the contemporary art world – probably even more than Dylan would, so I’m not sure what the benefit of this hoax would be, unless it is just to pull off a hoax, which, of course, would be a work itself. I just sort of doubt it.
The Revisionist Art catalogue has a nonsensical (deliberately so) essay by Luc Sante, and is annoying laid out since the images are inset on pages that are smaller than the rest of the book. Dylan (or Prince? or Whomever?) has continued to work in this style. His show at the Halcyon Gallery in London offered a greater number of works – and, I think, many that were a lot better. As a visual artist Dylan is becoming more interesting all the time.