Welcome to my 'Evert Listens to Dylan'-blog.
In this blog I describe my listening experiences to 'Bob Dylan - The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1'.
(I love that 'Vol. 1' - as if Vol. 2 with another 50 or so CDs is to appear soon).
If you want to know why, read the very first blog entry of this blog.
Comments welcome!
And may I invite you to check my other blog, 'Everts World of Music'?

donderdag 25 mei 2017

12. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

I am going to be very short on this one. I knew "Knocking' on Heaven's Door". For the rest, if ever there will be an opportunity to see the movie, having heard the sound track will surely be another way of making connections to the moving.

11. New Morning

Long, long time ago I wrote an entry here. The thing is, as I wrote earlier: I keep going back to those 3 albums of the mid-1960s. I can't get enough listening to Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. And occasionally I go back to the albums before that. So there I am: supposed to be walking in a forward direction, but after having travelled a mile or so I keep returning on my earlier footsteps, walking back and forth. It seems to become a form of the nowadays so popular mindfulness: abiding in what is already there, rather then adding to it.

Well, anyway. It is nearly summer holiday by now. And New Morning was the album I listened to last summer holiday, when we were on a camping in Luxemburg. The album has stuck to my memories of that holiday. It wasn't the best one we ever had - a camping slightly too crowdy, and because of a hurt foot I couldn't do the hiking I had hoped to be doing with the family; so we were rather stuck on the camping. It was nice enough, however. And the songs of the album do remind me immediately of the camping, of sun, of making a coffee and then sitting on the veranda of our holiday cottage at 11 o'clock in the morning, of doing the dishes and listening to 'Day of the Locusts' and seeing the face of David Crosby ("his head was exploding", as Dylan sings) and hearing in the recording the chirping of the locusts - and now I am thinking about the story behind that song, about Dylan getting a Princeton honorary degree and being upset because he had to wear a robe and hat for the ceremony, and I am thinking of my own inauguration ceremony in fall where I indeed have to wear a robe and hat - a Harry Potter disguise, in a sense, which my two youngest kids like because they have been reading and watching the Potter oeuvre very intensely lately. But of course last year summer I did not know I would have a inauguration ceremony coming a year later...

And in that way the 'webs of meaning' keep on forming around the Dylan oeuvre (having visited a concert recently hooks me up especially to the idea that I 'Went to See the Gypsy', another song at the album). I like this album - apart from 'If Dogs Run Free' because the scatting of the jazz singer in that song puts me off; to me it's a form of senseless virtuosity, something I don't like in jazz in general. It sounds too convinced to my ears - the 'listen what I can do, isn't it great'-atmosphere doesn't connect to what I have constructed over the years as what music in essence is for me personally.

But for the rest, a fine album. One which I do replay occasionally, if I want to listen to a relaxed Dylan and find myself mentally on a veranda at about 11 o'clock in the morning in a summer's holiday.

zondag 25 december 2016

10. Self Portrait

It took me a lot of time to start writing this one. There was no urgency: I am relistening to the albums of Dylan I have listened to so far, and apparently that is more than enough to keep me busy. I simply didn't feel the need to write so that I could allow myself to start listening to the next album. And I notice that some of these albums already have assembled lots of connotations - for example, Dylan's first album is connected to a camping in Denmark and the world football championships of 2014 (Holland loosing the semi-final).

That is not to say I kept relistening to Self Portrait. Rather, I kept returning to the Big Three: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and especially Blonde on Bonde. Occasionally, the earlier acoustic work (I am currently listening more to that) and John Wesley Harding. The span in years of those albums is approximately the span in years of the complete work of The Beatles - and although there is no way to compare both 'oeuvres', it is amazing in both cases that only in some eight years' time a singer or a band can come up with such a body of work.

Having said that, the strangeness of this album makes that I am not attracted to listening to it too much. There are songs I like - the laid back 'Alberta #1' (yes, there is a #2), 'Days of 49'. There is very lightweight but nice music - the Hawaiian tinge of 'Early Morning Rain', or 'Belle Isle' with its humming strong orchestra. There is the instrumental 'Woogie Boogie'. There are completely outrageous songs, like 'In Search of Little Sadie', the remake of 'Little Sadie' also on the album, with all its bizarre modulations just out of reach of Dylan's vocal capacities. And there is the polished crooner's voice of songs such as 'Let It Be Me' and Blue Moon'. And then there are the live versions of Highway 61's 'Like a Rolling Stone' and of 'The Mighty Quinn', and there is a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Boxer'.

It sounds completely haphazard, and probably that was the idea at the time - to stop being Dylan-the-Saviour and to become Dylan-Just-Another-Musician. The opening song, 'All the Tired Horses', with an absent Dylan (at least I don't recognize his otherwise rather recognizable voice), is telling. He was well on the way of deliberately erasing himself. Which is, having read the biography, admirable in its own right.

maandag 29 februari 2016

9. Nashville Skyline

"Coming back I quickly recorded what apeared to be a country-western record and made sure it sounded pretty bridled and house-broken. The music press didn't know what to make of it. I used a different voice, too. People scratched their heads. [...] Journalists began asking in print, "Whatever happened to the old him?" They could go to hell, too."

That's what Dylan writes about this album. Of course, one notices the changed voice and the flatness of the material on this album immediately. Nevertheless, after some listening I just had set myself a New Project: keep listening to this album until it becomes meaningful to you.

Then I read the above, from Dylan's "Chronicles Volume I", his autobiography. I realized that this album cries out: "'This is not Bob Dylan." As Dylan explained, he did not want to live up to his audience's expectations anymore, who saw him as the Big Rebel, if not the Saviour of the World ("All code words for Outlaw", writes Dylan). And then I became not interested anymore - why listen to albums which were made with the purpose not to show the singer?

But I relistened to it, and I guess in time I will, in spite of myself, build up a relationship with this album or some of its material, in spite of the flatness of it all. Because I guess one builds up relationships by listening in spite of oneself, and because listening is so contextual. For example, I listen to the first song, Girl of the North Country. A duet with Johnny Cash. And through the messy rendering (on purpose?) I hear the greatness of the earlier version Dylan sang, and when Cash starts to sing I hear the absolute greatness of his voice and his possible - unrealized - interpretation of the song. In Country Pie, I am remembered of the Beatles' Honey Pie, and of their Savoy Truffle. Peggy Day reminds me of Ringo Starr's Step Lightly. In To Be Alone With You I hear the excellency of the accompanying band, referring to earlier Dylan albums. Et cetera.

I am now listening to Beatles albums again. Every song is great to me. I know, Across the Universe and The Long and Winding Road could have done without the orchestras and the choirs. But I got attached to them, because I have lived with them most of my life.

And so it will go with Nashville Skyline.

And so I am looking forward to hearing Dylan's next album, which is an album of covers, ironically named Self Portrait.

Is this the album about which Dylan says: "I released one album (a double one) where I just threw everything I could think of at the wall and whatever stuck, released it, and then went back and scooped up everything that didn't stick and released that, too."?

zaterdag 13 februari 2016

8. John Wesley Harding

It took me lots of time to start writing this entry. Not because listening to and getting acquainted with John Wesley Harding has been a huge task; but because I kept also listening to Blonde on Blonde, and to Highway 61 Revisited, and to Bringing It All Back Home.

I like John Wesley Harding, though. Dylan's voice starts to change, it is sometimes less gruff, more polished. Musically he leans more towards a country-sound. The funny thing is that when I listen to Blonde on Blonde I am so impressed with the musicians - and those same musicians produce on this album to me an adequate but hardly ever a remarkable sound. If I listen concentrated, I hear great things - but it is not the shere awe of Blonde on Blonde to me.

Many great songs, though, and many sentences I love. A turn towards country (John Wesley Harding) and folk (As I Went Out One Morning) idiom. The great All Along the Watchtower and Dear Landlord. The Beatles' Rocky Raccoon in the shape of The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest (and a sleeve text that reminds one of Lennon's writings - or maybe vice versa?). And that strangely mellow last song, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight".

I am looking forward to the next album. And I wonder how my taste for this album will develop in the times to come.

woensdag 28 oktober 2015

7. Blonde on Blonde

It is going to take a decennium to finish this blog, if I carry on listening to new Dylan albums in the tempo I do it now. But the thing is: there is no speeding up when utter joy is concerned.

Blonde on Blonde - I have been listening to it for months now, and will keep listening for years. What a great album! There is not one weak song, I feel (although I am not a huge fan of the first track, which I wrongly called 'Everyone Must Get Stoned' some time ago; of course (?) the right name is 'Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35'). And what I especially love are the musicians in the band - listening to the drummer in for example 'One of Us Must Know' or 'Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine' makes me decide I have to take up drumming soon (and what about the long tone Dylan holds on in the chorus of 'One of Us Must Know', one beat longer than you would expect - it is song-writing genius for me), and the organ in the absolute masterpiece of the album 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' is terrific, and 'Visions of Johanna' comes in on a solid second place for me.

Basically, the whole album breathes the blues - 'Pledging My Time', 'Memphis Blues Again' (no blues though - and great Otis-Redding-sound-underwater-bubbly-electric-guitar), 'Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat' (great timing of the lyrics, again), 'Obviously 5 Believers', they all ask for playing them at high volume while driving the car fast, while the lazy 'Temporary Like Achilles' ("I'm helpless like a rich man's child" - such a brilliant phrase) asks for playing while cruising slowly on a warm summer evening along the lake.

'Absolutely Sweet Marie' reminds me of songs from I-don't-know-who; desperately I try to remember the singer's name for weeks now, he must be quite famous, a 70's pastiche-like song - so it goes, things hook somewhere in the back of your memory, waiting to relate to something in the future or remembered from the past. For me it's all about connections, the brain is filled not with facts but with relationships between facts, which makes me suspect that there is no end to the brain's capacity, because the more there is in it, the more will fit into it, relationship-wise.

I notice that it is easier for me to become a fan of songs I don't know yet - as if I become a fan of them because of the newness of the album to me, and the songs I know from the only Dylan-CD I knew earlier, the Essential Bob Dylan, ('I Want You', 'Just Like a Woman')  resist to share in this fandom-out-of-newness.

I must state as a besides that I just finished reading Robert Hilburn's biography of Johnny Cash. Dylan plays an enormous role in it, and the book states that the common element in both lives is the search for the independent expression of the own voice, regardless of the audience; something both have struggled with, leading to work that distracts from this own voice and work that has found it. Blonde on Blonde seems to be in the second category, as the early (Sun) and late (American Records) work by Cash, I guess; and I am curious to figure out how Dylan sounds in his weaker moments - I have not heard it yet. (As a besides to this besides: I can relate to this idea that life sometimes seems to consist mainly of pedantic attempts to keep to your road with all the distractions from that road the rest of the world offers to you.)

And I will leave you with the immediate recognition I had when I first heard '4th Time Around': that this is the Beatles' (Lennon's, rather) 'Norwegian Wood' in Dylan-remake. Then I stumbled on the Rolling Stone list of 500 greatest rock albums ever (the top 10 contains four albums of my beloved Beatles and two by Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited on 4 and Blonde on Blonde on 9; and none by Cash, I must add), and the following quote from the review of the Beatles' Rubber Soul album (nr. 5 on the list) tells it all: "Bob Dylan's influence suffuses the album, accounting for the tart emotional tone of 'Norwegian Wood', 'I'm Looking Through You', 'You Won't See Me' and 'If I Needed Someone'. (Dylan would return the compliment the following year, when he offered his own version of 'Norwegian Wood' – titled '4th Time Around' – on Blonde on Blonde, and reportedly made John Lennon paranoid.)"

dinsdag 11 augustus 2015

6. Highway 61 Revisited

I saw parts of a documentary on Dylan the other day, spanning mainly the first five years of his career. To me it was amazing to notice how much emotional involvement I have built up the past year, listening to his first six CDs. (By the way, in this tempo it will take me some seven or eight year to finish my project...)

I write this to remind myself that the aim of this blog-project is not to write music criticism. It is to report to myself about my particular experiences getting to know the work of Dylan. As those particular experiences involve - in my case, but maybe in yours too - a lot of comparison (it seems to me that in listening to music I am constantly busy to build a 'fit' between my new experiences and my older ones) the result inevitably looks a bit like music criticism, I must admit. But where the critic is supposed to have a sort of de-personalized, professional frame of reference, mine is purely personal. For a music critic, it would matter if he would know the later work of the Beatles much better than the early work; for me it doesn't, it simply is a fact of life making up my personal music biography.

Just a couple of observations on my listening to Highway 61 Revisited. This is a fully band-driven CD; Dylan the singer-singwriter is largely replaced by Dylan the band frontman. The music is heavily blues-oriented (I must remind myself that this album appeared roughly in the same time as the Beatles' Help; the Beatles were on their way to musically grow up, Dylan was grown up by his second album and already had taken a sort of U-turn in his career).

The lyrics are, to my ears, very impressionistic and associative, up to the point of being incomprehensible. As I am a non-native English speaker, this may matter to me in different ways than to native speakers. One of the things happenig to me is that I pick up particular phrases and remember them, rather than orient myself on the complete song or on the exact and deeper meaning of the words.

"They're selling postcards of the hanging" is one of those I pick up (first sentence of Desolation Row). Retaining such a sentence is more meaningful to me than trying to figure out who exactly 'Mr. Jones' from Ballad of a Thin Man is (however much I like the "Do you, Mr. Jones?"-phrase).

Musically, I love the band sound; it sounds fresh and improvized, but that may be because I know - because I have read so - that Dylan didn't rehearse much but simply played through the songs once or twice with the band and then recorded it.

One of the things irritating me is the Siren used in the title song Highway 61 Revisited. It is one of the few things that sound outdated to me in Dylan's work so far - it reminds me of cheap 1960s psychedelics too much (it also reminds me of the one song on the Dylan sampler I won I really don't like, Everybody Must Get Stoned - also because its message is so outdated by now). Indeed the remarks I read in Sounes' biography of Dylan that Dylan avoided references to specific persons and places (singing about "the president" rather than giving him a specific name) in order to make sure his songs would not be too specifically tied to contexts makes sense. As does Dylan's remarks that A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall is actually nót about 'atomic rain', so nót about the actual threat of nuclear fall-out after a nuclear war.

For the rest, it was a joy to listen and relisten to this one. Onwards to the next one!