Monday, August 22, 2005

Listening to the man

One of our faithful correspondents writes,

If you could only have one Dylan compilation, what would it be?

I'll change the rules a bit. If I were stuck on the infamous desert island with nothing but Peg's iPod and one Dylan playlist set on shuffle, here's what it would have...

From "Guitars Kissing and the Contemporary Fix" (Soundcheck version) 2-CD set.

Original Scorpio Bootleg -- Free Trade Hall (Manchester, UK); May 17, 1966

Track List

Disc One (solo)

  1. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (soundcheck)
  2. She Belongs To Me
  3. Fourth Time Around
  4. Visions Of Johanna
  5. It's All Over Now Baby Blue
  6. Desolation Row
  7. Just Like A Woman
  8. Mr. Tambourine Man

Disc Two (w/ the Hawks)

  1. Tell Me Momma
  2. I Don't Believe You
  3. Baby Let Me Follow You Down
  4. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
  5. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  6. One Too Many Mornings
  7. Ballad Of A Thin Man
  8. Like A Rolling Stone


This is, of course the infamous "Judas" concert that took place at the Manchester (England) Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966. Many bootlegs of this concert have been misattributed to Royal Albert Hall (May 26-27, 1966), aka "RAH". At one time probably the most essential Dylan bootleg (in my and many other collectors' opinions), it's become an item only for the completist with the release of the official "Live 66" set.

The first boot I ever owned (bought in 1970!) was a vinyl 2-record set called "Zimmerman: Looking Back." The electric set - with the absence of the soundcheck - was this one, misattributed to RAH, and as I later found out, the acoustic set was also misattributed as recorded at the Berkeley Community Theatre. Portions of the acoustic set were actually from the `63 Town Hall concert and the remainder from a Dublin `66 concert, relate the completist Dylan geek.

I picked up my copy of "Guitars" in San Francisco 27 years later. This is the so-called "enhanced" version, with the sound mix reportedly improved over the original "Guitars" release, and the addition of a new track, the "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" soundcheck. As opposed to "Looking Back", the acoustic set is actually from the Manchester concert.

I listened to "Looking Back" so many time over the years that now hearing the acoustic set of either "Guitars" or the official release weirds me out, as I expect "Ramblin' Through the World" to open, and "Visions of Johanna" doesn't sound right without the drop-out I expect at the song's beginning.

Jesus, memories. "Looking Back" is a good title for reminisces. I picked up "Looking Back" in Westwood, CA from a pair of hippie street vendors, a guy and chick who had a little baby sitting on the blanket amidst the various paraphernalia they were selling. There was something wrong with one of the baby's eyes and it was wearing a medical eye-patch. Being the fool that I was, I thought it was all great and free and wonderful. My girlfriend Maggie, who at 16 was decades more mature than me, thought they were sad and frightening. Looking back from age 52, I think she was probably right. At least more right than I was.

It was the second Dylan album I owned, and made me a hard-core Dylan fan. I took it with me in `71 when I went see Maggie at Cornell University where she was attending a summer session. She had asked that I bring it along so one of her friends could hear it, a guy who Maggie confessed had engaged her in a heavy necking session and had gotten her shirt off (what's that, around second base?). As it turned out, I don't think I ever saw him the entire time I was at Cornell, let alone loan him the album. He later wrote Maggie a bizarre letter filled with Dylan quotes.

I sold "Looking Back" in the early `90s when my wife and I bought a CD player and I packed away the turntable. I made more money from that one boot alone than I did from the several hundred other albums I sold at the same time.

Maggie and I were already on the downhill slope when I visited her at Cornell, although our relationship would drag on until the Fall of `72, progressively becoming more and more poisoned. My fault, though looking at it from the 52-year-old's perspective, Maggie was in many ways the stereotypical spoiled Jewish American Princess who wasn't prepared to cope with an increasingly bizarre boyfriend.

Two Maggie stories. When she was around 6 or 7, she was on one those local "Bozo"-like kid's TV show for her birthday, where she was given a ton of toys by all her friends. After the show ended, her mother made Maggie give all the presents back. Turned out Maggie's parents had actually bought all the stuff, and then decided that it was too much for her to keep.

Maggie's parents were Europeans, her mother a Holocaust survivor. Both had heavy accents, and were concerned after she was born that Maggie wouldn't speak English properly. So they hired her a nanny to ensure her English would be accentless. Years later I realized that those two stories Maggie had told me perfectly described our relationship, her relationship with her parents, and even my relationship with her parents.

At the end, I think she was relieved that she was getting away from me. She was moving on with her life. I seemed to be stuck in an inescapable circle. I was an unhappy, scared, frustrated kid with no idea what to do with my life, and could find no adults willing to provide help or advice. Looking back now, I really believe I would have been diagnosed with clinical depression if a professional had examined me. I'm sometimes amazed that I survived those 18 months at all, let alone turned my life around. And, of course, I did it in the most ironic way possible, by going into the Army, kicking and screaming after hiding from the draft for over a year.


During the electric set the audience continuously murmurs like an angry sea, the sound roiling over the band's endless tune-ups. The tension is so powerful that you can feel it, even now, 39 years later. A round of rhythmic clapping is answered by Dylan mumbling into the microphone until the crowd quiets and he says, " ... and I just wish you wouldn't' clap so loud."

The music is furious, direct, bitter. It's perfect, like ice.

"Ballad of a Thin Man" ends, greeted with not more than polite applause, as all the songs were. A shout from the crowd. Laughter. Boos. Then a clear voice.


More laughter. Something is tossed on stage. "Pick up your silver!" a voice calls.

You can hear Robbie Robertson laugh. "Go ahead, pick it up," he says.

Dylan looks out into the sea of faces and plays a chord. "I don't believe you," he answers. And then, more strongly, as the other instruments come in, "You're a liar!"

He turns to the Hawks. "Get fucking loud," he hisses furiously, and "Like a Rolling Stone" explodes.

Everything ends. Everything begins.


From "Partners -- Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash"*

*aka "Dylan & Cash Sessions"

Track List

  1. One Too Many Mornings
  2. Mountain Dew
  3. I Still Miss Someone
  4. Careless Love
  5. Matchbox
  6. That's Alright, Mama
  7. Big River
  8. Girl From The North Country
  9. I Walk The Line
  10. You Are My Sunshine
  11. Ring Of Fire
  12. Guess Things Happen That Way
  13. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
  14. Blue Yodel # 4
  15. Blue Yodel # 5
  16. I Threw It All Away Live, The Johnny Cash Show ' 69
  17. Living The Blues Live, The Johnny Cash Show ' 69
  18. Girl From The North Country Johnny Cash Show-duet w/Cash, J. Cash Show ' 69
  19. Nashville Skyline Rag Nashville Skyline quad mix
  20. I Threw It All Away Same as track 19
  21. Peggy Day Same as track 19
  22. Country Pie Same as track 19
  23. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You Same as track 19


A mixed bag in more ways than one, and I would probably - unlike almost everything else I've listed - cull out some of the tracks for my Dylan compilation playlist.

This would have probably been better named the Cash & Dylan sessions, as Cash takes the lead in the duets, with Dylan sounding unusually tentative and uncomfortable, especially on songs where he appears to be learning the lyrics on the fly. Listen to Dylan trying to guess the next word in "Just a Closer Walk With Thee", a song that Cash probably first sang some Sunday morning as a child, but that apparently was seldom heard in the Minnesota synagogues. It doesn't help that harmonizing has never been a Dylan strength.

And yet there's also much to enjoy here. When they do Dylan songs ("play Bob Dylan music," a voice calls out in my head), you're listening to a different man, using the self-assured "Nashville Skyline" voice. There are a few duets that work. "Ring of Fire" is about as good as that song gets without the mariachi horn backup. The "Blue Yodels" are funny, with Cash exhorting Dylan on (you expect to hear him introduce `Yodeling Bob Dylan', at any point), and Dylan, after giving it his best shot, saying "I'm not going to yodel anymore." And there's the added benefit of Carl Perkins guitar backing on a few tracks.


From "Folksinger's Choice"

Cynthia Gooding Radio Show (New York, NY); February(?) 1962

1. Lonesome Whistle Blues
2. Fixin' To Die
3. Smokestack Lightning
4. Hard Travelin'
5. Death Of Emmett Till
6. Standing On the Highway
7.Roll on John
8. Stealin'
9. Long Time Man Feel Bad
10. Baby Please Don't Go
11. Hard Times in New York

The early Bob Dylan always makes me grin, and this one had me feeling like a Cheshire Cat throughout an hour-long drive the first time I heard it. An added bonus is the between songs chatter. Gooding seems enthralled by Dylan, proclaiming "Death of Emmett Till" as one of the greatest contemporary ballads ever written, and enraptured with Dylan's stories of his carnival life, which he apparently took up at the age of six.

If you've every wondered what the young Dylan in New York was like after reading one of the biographies, this is the one for you. Highly recommended. There are unconfirmed reports that some or all of the Gooding interview may finally be officially released as a bonus disc to the forthcoming "Dylan bundle" being offered by Sony Music.


From The Rome Interviews 1 & The Rome Interviews 2

Anyone who thinks Dylan is an inarticulate mumbler should listen to this nearly 2-hour long interview conducted by a group of European reporters in July 2001. A thoughtful Dylan on subjects ranging from past to future...

We live in a world of fantasy where Disney has won, the fantasy of Disney. It's all fantasy. That's why I think that if a writer has something to say he should say it at all costs. The world is real.


From "Blood on the Tracks: New York Sessions"

    1. Tangled Up In Blue
    2. Simple Twist Of Fate
    3. You're A Big Girl Now
    4. Idiot Wind
    5. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
    6. Meet Me In The Morning
    7. Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts
    8. If You See Her Say Hello
    9. Shelter From The Storm
    10. Buckets Of Rain

The original as it was meant to be heard. A message from some alternate universe. And one of my all-time favorites. Possibly the last Dylan album where I had an epiphany - without even drugs - while listening to it. "Some are carpenter's wives"?


From Peco's [sic] Blues

Mexico City:
Tom Turkey
Billy Surrenders
And He's Killed Me Too
Good-bye Holly
Pecos Blues
Pecos Blues
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Sweet Amarillo
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Final Theme
Final Theme
Rock Me Mama
Rock Me Mama2
Billy-7 1
Billy-7 2
Final Theme
Final Theme

One of the most underappreciated albums in the Dylan canon is the soundtrack from "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," almost all-but-forgotten if not for "Knocking on Heaven's Door," which has become something of a war horse to be trotted out in concerts.

These are the outtakes from the two recording sessions that produced the album. As with Partners, I'd probably edit this one down, but there are lots of nice instrumentals that never made it to the finished album, "Call this, ah 'Tom Turkey'," plus an insiders look - or listen - of what goes on during a Dylan recording session.

1 comment:

Maudie said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Far more than I expected in an answer. I asked because I had no idea where to begin gathering my Dylan collection - the only album I have is that Newport Broadside with 2 cuts. I know - shameful for an original hippy, but I'm aiming for redemption by pulling together a compilation for the iPod..

Thanks for the answer and the stories.