50th Anniversary Collection

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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?

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Tempest

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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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Rolling Stone Interview (2012)

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I’m not currently aware of any major interviews with Bob Dylan from 2013 or 2014, so this cover feature from Rolling Stone will likely be the last interview that I write about for this project. There’s plenty to say, and, indeed, I’m holding some pieces back for other posts (including a couple for tomorrow). This was both the weirdest and the most eventful interview in the Bob Dylan reading this year.
Let’s start with the weird. Dylan and Mikal Gilmore get into deep water right around the point that Bob Dylan stands up at the Santa Monica restaurant that they’re in and fetches the biography of Sonny Barger that he is carrying around with him. He has Gilmore read a passage from the book that details the death, in 1961, of a Hell’s Angel named Bobby Zimmerman – who was in a motorcycle collision with another Hell’s Angel. You can see why Dylan might find this story interesting – same name and they both had motorcycle crashes. But he takes it way, way beyond that. I’m going to quote this at length here:

Yeah, poor Bobby. You know what this is called? It’s called transfiguration. Have you ever heard of it?

Yes.
Well, you’re looking at somebody.

That . . . has been transfigured?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not like you, am I? I’m not like him, either. I’m not like too many others. I’m only like another person who’s been transfigured. How many people like that or like me do you know?

By transfiguration, you mean it in the sense of being transformed? Or do you mean transmigration, when a soul passes into a different body?
Transmigration is not what we are talking about. This is something else. I had a motorcycle accident in 1966.1 already explained to you about new and old. Right? Now, you can put this together any way you want. You can work on it any way you want. Transfiguration: You can go and learn about it from the Catholic Church, you can learn about it in some old mystical books, but it’s a real concept. It’s happened throughout the ages. Nobody knows who it’s happened to, or why. But you get real proof of it here and there. It’s not like something you can dream up and think. It’s not like conjuring up a reality or like reincarnation – or like when you might think you’re somebody from the past but have no proof. It’s not anything to do with the past or the future.

So when you ask some of your questions, you’re asking them to a person who’s long dead. You’re asking them to a person that doesn’t exist. But people make that mistake about me all the time. I’ve lived through a lot. Have you ever heard of a book called No Man Knows My History? It’s about Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. The title could refer to me.

Transfiguration is what allows you to crawl out from under the chaos and fly above it. That’s how I can still do what I do and write the songs I sing and just keep on moving.

When you say I’m talking to a person that’s dead, do you mean the motorcyclist Bobby Zimmerman, or do you mean Bob Dylan?
Bob Dylan’s here! You’re talking to him.

Then your transfiguration is . . . 
It is whatever it is. I couldn’t go back and find Bobby in a million years. Neither could you or anybody else on the face of the Earth. He’s gone. If I could, I would go back. I’d like to go back. At this point in time, I would love to go back and find him, put out my hand. And tell him he’s got a friend. But I can’t. He’s gone. He doesn’t exist.

OK, so when you speak of transfiguration . . . 
I only know what I told you. You’ll have to go and do the work yourself to find out what it’s about.

I’m trying to determine whom you’ve been transfigured from, or as.
I just showed you. Go read the book.

Really, this was the moment, after spending fifty-one weeks doing little more with my recreational time than reading about Dylan and listening to Dylan and thinking about Dylan that I finally thought: Why in the world am I doing this? Who is this guy? I mean,  it just the sudden crushing realization that I don’t understand him AT ALL. Not even a little bit. I thought I did. I thought I had a whole thing ready to roll out tomorrow morning about this latest art show and I thought “yeah, I see what he’s doing” and then I read this interview and I realized that no, no I do not get it at all. I feel like Gilmore here – stammering out half questions, and there’s Dylan saying “go figure it out” or, more bizarrely, read this Hell’s Angels book. Seriously. I’m Mr. Jones again.
The other piece of this interview that was striking was Dylan’s discussion of race. The interview took place right before the re-election of Barack Obama. Gilmore pushes him on that topic – noting that Dylan had seemingly made some pro-Obama remarks in 2008 – but Dylan stonewalls him. He disavows his previous remarks, suggests he didn’t actually say them, or if he did he didn’t recall, or he might not have even meant it. Who knows? It’s clear that he doesn’t vote, and that he isn’t engaged at all with contemporary politics. So his comments on American race relations come from his mystical side. Here’s what he says:

This country is just too fucked up about color. It’s a distraction. People at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color. It’s the height of insanity, and it will hold any nation back – or any neighborhood back. Or any anything back. Blacks know that some whites didn’t want to give up slavery – that if they had their way, they would still be under the yoke, and they can’t pretend they don’t know that. If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.

I read that without it ringing any bells, until a few hours later when I thought “Hold on, didn’t that get him into hot water in France?”. And, yes, it did. The Gilmore interview ran in the French version of Rolling Stone a month later, but almost exactly a year after that – in late 2013 – a French-Croatian group sought to bring charges against Dylan for promoting hatred. I read a few articles about that case today, and you can as well. Here’s The Guardian simply laying out the facts of the issue at the time. Here’s a New York Times op-ed giving the Croatian side, and another piece from The Forward that indicates a belief that Dylan was not speaking about the 1990s, but rather about the role of the Ustasha in the Second World War. It’s hard to say exactly what Dylan was saying, though I do lean towards the point of view put forward by The Forward myself. Finally, here’s The Guardian again noting in April of this year that the case against Dylan has been dropped, but it is proceeding against the publisher. (By the way, the conclusion drawn by Dylan’s lawyer at the end of this article seems entirely wrong given that the case is proceeding against the magazine). That does not strike me as a good resolution, but France is not exactly a country that I would turn towards for its thoughts on liberté, egalité, or fraternité in the current historical moment.
So, not a great interview. I came out of this liking Dylan a lot less and some people came out of it wanting to see him imprisoned in France. Yikes!

Pawn Stars

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(This post is accidentally belated. Dylan appeared on Pawn Stars in 2010, not 2012. My confusion stems from the fact that the YouTube clip was dated 2012. Sorry to break the rules but I figured that this was worth posting anyway)
Last week I noted the poor coverage that Dylan’s trip to China received – he was accused of censoring himself when it appears that no such thing actually took place. My interest in the poor coverage of Dylan continued while reading about his appearance on Pawn Stars in 2010. Let’s set that up first.
Pawn Stars is a “reality” show set in Las Vegas in which people come into a high end pawn shop and the shop owner, Rick, haggles with them about the price of their goods. Generally external experts are brought in to verify authenticity (or not). The show is clearly scripted, particularly all of the parts in which Rick interacts with his employees and with his father.
So. In one episode Rick pays $50 for a copy of Self Portrait, which is a ludicrous sum for that album considering that he’d need to sell it at a profit. Rick dispatches Chumlee, one of his hapless employees who is used for comedic effect, to track down Dylan, who is playing in town that night (he played Caesar’s Palace on August 18, 2010 – the set included an encore performance of “Happy Birthday” for bassist Tony Garnier). So this is when that was filmed. He was in Utah on the 17th and California on the 19th, so the sequence is definitely from the afternoon of August 18. Okay. Not sure why that matters to me, but there you go.
So. Chumlee wanders around Vegas looking for Dylan. Then he miraculously finds him walking by himself towards his tour van. He approaches Dylan, Dylan signs the album, and that is that. The show ends with Chumlee back in the shop, presenting his trophy to his boss, and his boss noting that it is signed to him, which makes it valueless. Cue horns. Whaaa whaaaaa.
Here’s the video:
The scene is entirely typical of Pawn Stars, a show that, for whatever reason, I often found myself watching in hotel rooms around this time. I even saw this episode! It is not really funny, more like “funny”, and it is clearly scripted. The real question would probably be: Does Bob Dylan like Pawn Stars enough that he agreed to be on that show? And, is that a stranger guest spot than Dharma and Greg?
However, multiple entertainment news sites seem to want to run with the show’s story that the whole thing wasn’t staged. Rolling Stone has Chumlee swearing that it wasn’t a set up, a story that is impossible to believe based on the fact that Dylan doesn’t ask a basic question: “How the hell do you spell Chumlee?” Similarly, Ultimate Classic Rock just reiterates the press release. Are there people out there who believe that this might have in any way been a spontaneous event?
Anyway, there you have it. An atypical Dylan/fan interaction in 2010. You can imagine yourself as Chumlee if you want, tracking down a solitary Dylan and finding that he is nice to you. Seems pretty implausible though, based on all other accounts of trying to get a Dylan autograph in this day and age.

“Duquesne Whistle”

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I don’t have another Christmas themed Dylan tidbit for 2012 (though I’ll remind you that today is an excellent day to listen to his album Christmas in the Heart!). If you’re not up for that, here’s the video for Dylan’s last ever single (to date, he may well have one next year for the new album). Returning for his third shot as director is Nash Edgerton. You’ll recall him from the brutally violent “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” and the goofy, but still sort of violent, “Must Be Santa”. What has ol’ Nash served up for us this time? Well, check it out!
To my mind, this is, without a doubt, the best Bob Dylan music video of all time (though hold for next week….). This one is astoundingly great – it almost comes across as an apology for the gendered violence of his first Dylan collaboration. Here Edgerton uses the standard trope of the charming white doofus who chases after a woman on the street (a staple of perfume ads during my youth in particular) and turns it delightfully on its ear. Every time through Edgerton ups the levels in very unexpected ways. The narrative through line here is, again, very violent, but this time it is a kind of comic violence that works.
I also enjoy the (almost unrelated) shots of Dylan and his bizarre entourage of hispanic tough guys and a guy oddly dressed in Kiss gear (seriously, WTF?) striding down the streets until they walk right over our erstwhile hero. I love this video. It’s just one of my most favourite things of this whole year.
I’m also quite fond of the song, the first on Tempest, Bob Dylan’s 35th album (about which more on Saturday). Ironically, since I didn’t much care for Together Through Life, partly because of the collaboration with Robert Hunter, this is one of the things I like best about Tempest – the only collaboration with Hunter. You just never know. Musically, this is the liveliest song on the album: it owes a lot to his earlier “Thunder on the Mountain” but also to “K. C. Moan” a Memphis blues song that even includes some of the same lyrics.
Good song, great video. Merry Christmas!