The Best Leg of the Never-Ending Tour in Years? – Philadelphia, Tower Theater, Nov 11-12, 2017.

The following details are mandated by the Guild of Ignorant, Regional, and Irrelevant Music Reviewers:

  • Bob Dylan did not speak to the audience.
  • On these occasions, he did not wear a hat.
  • His band did wear hats.
  • Except for Tony Garnier and Donnie Herron, who did not wear hats.
  • Nobel Prize!
  • Songs from the 60s, unrecognizable.
  • Sinatra songs sound like Sinatra isn’t even singing them!
  • Turns out, Frank Sinatra is dead.

Note 1: I hereby wave my guildmember’s right to regurgitate my one-of-a-kind revisionist take on the gospel songs of Trouble No More.

Note 2: This review focuses primarily on the Nov. 12 show, but relies on impressions drawn from both Nov. 11 and 12.

Note 3: Low-end turns of phrase punning on Bob Dylan lyrics do adhere to guild standards.

*

These shows represented my 13th and 14th Dylan concerts. While this failed to impress some of the more seasoned Dylan fans drinking at the Waterford Inn prior to the show, bear in mind I didn’t start seeing Bob Dylan until 2006. The “upsinging” years. Soon after came the “instrument of torture” era.  While surely not as difficult as the alcoholic slogs of 1991, the loud and monotonous shows were better suited to some ZZ Top cover band than the greatest living songwriter.

Between 2006 and 2013 there’d usually be one or two songs of merit. For a while I hung my hat on Gonna Change My Way of Thinking because a lyric or two had changed. Yelling “No!” after the line “You think I’m over the hill” in Spirit on the Water was always a personal point of pride for me. Sometimes there’d be a poignant Workingman Blues #2 or Nettie Moore. Often the second song would be the lone surprise in the set, and so some casual salutation of If You See Her Say Hello would serve as the lone justification for my trip to stupid Syracuse, New York or stupid Rochester, Michigan. No offense to these towns; they are stupid only insofar as they are stupid places to vacation for any reason unrelated to Bob Dylan enthusiasm.

Seeing consecutive Dylan concerts in those early years would have been hard to fathom. The thrill came from being around other true believers, and from being in proximity to the man himself. Truth was, I was often bored during the shows.  No matter how spirited a reading of Shake Shake Mama was delivered, I had no qualms about acquiring much needed libations in the longest of beer lines.

But, happily, things have changed. I first noticed that something was happening at Toronto’s Sony Centre in 2014. He closed that set with Stay with Me. It was the first of the Tin Pan Alley standards I’d heard live. He was vulnerable, his voice was cracked but not broken, and as all the standards now do, it suited the best remaining aspect of Bob’s voice: his lower register. While each subsequent tour has benefitted from the tonal breakup of these standards, each one serves a specific thematic purpose: Stay with Me is a paean to fans whose enthusiasm had been stretched thin over the previous decade of sub-mediocrity.

Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love ’cause I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

Stay with Me.

The show begins with a little medley described on most bootlegs as Guitar Riffs? Somehow it sounds like several Bob Dylan songs but is actually none of them. Or maybe it is. There are over 600 of the damned things. Ultimately it’s goal is to get asses in seats. It also calls to mind the heyday of the NET when Larry Campbell and company would engage in a five-six song acoustic set.

The man walks to his piano and Things Have Changed is barked out in a fashion not much better than any of 2010’s bark-outs, but one bark out is good. One bark out is kind of cool. Then the casuals and lifelongs alike are satisfied by an It Ain’t Me Babe that features more melodic notes than were divulged in entire calendar years previous. His ‘voice of the 60’s counterculture’ contractual obligations are met with a Highway 61 that’s treated like Freebird, or in terms of NET Freebird’s, Silvio. The big, loud song of the night.  

At the Nov. 12 show, this led to dancing from not just the obsessives in the front rows, but nearly the entire theatre: millennials, the middle-aged, and seniors were swaying, head-banging, or doing hip-replacement-friendly versions of The Twist.

There’s no rhyme or reason as to why the Sunday crowd was so much more energized. Certainly Saturday’s gang was considerably deeper into their 24oz cups. Perhaps, and this is just a theory I’ve been working on, perhaps alcohol is a depressant that more often than not inhibits one’s ability to experience joy. I digress.

Bob Dylan, it turns out, likes to see people dancing and having a good time. And while no, he will not remark, “Hey, great dancing fellows!” just as he will not remark upon the local baseball nine or any ongoing gubernatorial elections, what he will do is give it his all to try and maintain that energy.

Why Try to Change Me Now sees a confident (even pompous, were it any other musical personage) strut to the mic. He commands the stage like an arthritic James Brown for a moment or two, selling the song with his droll mannerisms before a note is sung. His leg is cocked in a motionless version of the duck walk that justified several years’-worth of concerts for me. He holds the mic at an angle like Elvis. And then he sings the song with every ounce of emotion in his 76-year-old lungs. Though the song was not written by Dylan but Joseph McCarthy (1885 to 1943), the words must be written on Bob’s soul. Or more likely it’s simply easier to put some emotion into a song you haven’t sung several thousand times.

Summer Days is the first of the dramatically-improved songs on this leg of the NET. So often the soggiest of the loves/thefts, it now has a bouncy tempo invigorated by Donny Herron’s down-home fiddling. This quicker tempo also showcases another of Dylan’s still-extant vocal gifts: his excellent phrasing. All while he plunks away at the grand piano to his own internal rhythm.

This sets up a pattern for the next few songs. Melancholy Mood sees more strutting and emoting. Honest with Me is the best of the new arrangements, and sees sardonic deliveries of lines like

You say my eyes are pretty and my smile is nice
Well, I’ll sell it to ya at a reduced price

As ExpectingRain.com user Smoke pointed out, the song borrows the guitar riff from The Beach Boys’ Dance Dance Dance.

Once Upon a Time sees more central-stage crooning. It’s a sin to just lump it in with the previous torch songs however. Each of these vocal deliveries would have been a goddamn event just a couple years ago. And again, each one is delivered totally fresh because the palate has been cleansed by the jumpin’ and jivin’ on songs like Summer Days and Honest with Me.

If the slightly speedier Tryin’ to Get to Heaven works least among the new arrangements, it’s not without poignancy to hear Bob Dylan, still grinding away at the NET, either for himself, or for us, singing, “I been all around the world, boys.”

After the first night I determined the following two songs would constitute my bathroom/libations break. The human kidneys pay heed to no man or musical bard. Pay in Blood would have constituted the highlight of many post-2012 concerts I attended, simply because I like the song. Now it just harkens back to the more destitute days in the swamp, and it can be missed.

Even if I didn’t require the bathroom or the beer line I’d probably just go admire the $40 t-shirts at the merch stand during Tangled Up in Blue. I always skip it on bootlegs. It seems almost perverse that Bob dusts it off every night. Rarely is it performed with any enthusiasm. I believe it’s the most-played song on the NET by a country pie or two; the song obviously means something to Dylan, so I can’t understand why he doesn’t give it a rest and bring it back with a little more meaning for everyone involved. Oh well, why try to change him now?

September of My Years holds particular resonance not just for another excellent delivery, but also for lyrics like

As a man who has always had the wandering ways
I keep looking back to yesterdays
‘Til a long-forgotten love appears
And I find that I’m sighing softly as I near
September, the warm September of my years

Early Roman Kings and the tour debut of Scarlet Town will ever remain swamp creatures to me. But if I strain to hear them devoid of the context of all those forgettable 2013 renditions, I can see how they add layers to the set as a whole.

The audience is then treated, or in some cases, subjected to, eight minutes of Desolation Row. I understand how important this is to people seeing Bob Dylan for the first time ever, or for the first time in decades. And yet it’s a lot of lyrics to get through, and Dylan struggles to do it prolonged justice night after night. Too often the song sinks into a sing-songy pattern, and what flourishes are meant to brighten the chorus aren’t quite sufficient.

Thunder on the Mountain is the most fun of the new arrangements. Among the most played of his post-millennial compositions, Bob has changed his way of thinking about Alicia Keys and his army of “tough sons of bitches,” having borrowed the guitar riff from from the Beach Boys’ Shut Down, Part 2.

Love Sick is delivered in a serviceable fashion that, again, would have been a strong point of any 2012 show. Now it is reduced by all the previous high water marks. It calls to mind a piece of novelistic advice I read somewhere: that a writer can judge the strength of her novel based on the quality of what she’s willing to cut from it.

The band leaves the stage for an encore break that fools nobody. Or maybe it fools a few. Or maybe those few people are just ready to leave for whatever reasons. Maybe they’d expected 4.25 x 6’ images of the hanging, postmarked ‘66. At this juncture it is my time to shine. I wait for someone in the first couple rows to leave and I appropriate their seat. The gamble is that by this time of night security is disinterested in tackling and tasing anybody.

In any case, it’s worth the electroreceptive risk to get close as possible to Dylan even for these couple songs. There he stands, light come shining through that inimitable Jew fro. I see him drink from a cup of coffee, thinking and breathing, human and hunched. It’s Based Bob Dylan. And here’s where the early seat evacuator is missing out, because it is that ’66 Dylan. He may sound and look different. The human body does completely regenerate itself every seven years. But it’s the same man.

The audience becomes one big collective Bob Dylan appreciation society for Blowin’ in the Wind and Ballad of a Thin Man. It is my custom to point directly at Bob Dylan while yelling words to the effect of “Thank you Bob,” “Alright Bob,” or “We love you, Bob.” While this may prove unsettling to the long-suffering Bob Dylan, it gives me some meagre sense of connection. Older attendees nearby close their eyes, perhaps considering where they’d been when they first heard those singular lines of philosophical inquiry…How many roads…

At the conclusion of Thin Man, Dylan and his band take centre stage for a bow. And on the 12th the fans are given a little gesture from Bob, kind of like, “Applause? Why no, but if you must, I insist that you applaud only your own selves.” And while so slight a gesture won’t register for the ‘didn’t talk to the audience’ Music Critic at HatFancier.com or wherever, it’s a substantive gesture. It means the audience helped give Bob the energy needed to deliver a standout performance in a lifetime of performances, that we, by funding leg after leg of the NET through patience as much as our pocketbooks, have allowed Bob Dylan to be where he belongs: still on the road, heading for another joint.

Mike Sauve has written for The National Post, McSweeney’s, Variety, and many other publications. Novels include The Wraith of Skrellman, The Apocalypse of Lloyd and the forthcoming I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore. He’s currently working on a book about the Bob Dylan film Masked and Anonymous.

Now It’s Your Turn, You Can Cry a While – Bob Dylan at The Beacon

Before discussing how Bob Dylan sounded at the Beacon Theater this past week, let’s talk about how does it feel to see Bob Dylan in New York City in 2018.

And before I can describe how does it feel, I need to put my own capacity for feeling into context. I live immoderately and immodestly. I subject captive audiences in Uber pools to long bouts of pressured speech about my enthusiasm for Proust. I tip service providers, at best, erratically. At a hotel bar after the concert I shouted pseudo-intellectual opinions concerning the concept of nonlinear causality at a neuroscientist for 45 minutes. I then boasted to the beautiful English girl whom we were all trying in vain not to love (the one who looked like Rita Hayworth and laughed so sonorously that a train would cry) how I was in fact smarter than the neuroscientist, but then the neuroscientist was standing right beside her, and the neuroscientist just looked as though he felt deeply sorry for me. All of this is to say that, overtly, I do not always present as the most empathic individual. Less charitable parties might even remark that I bare a troubling resemblance of affect to the fictional Patrick Bateman of American Psycho notoriety. But let me tell you what happened at the Beacon on Saturday night. During Simple Twist of Fate, the young woman sitting beside me, a stranger, started to cry. I had but a moment to think, “Ahh quixotic youth!” and then Dylan broke into one of those harmonica solos in which he channels every fibre of his being, what is sometimes called Pure Dylan, and then I too started to cry. I’m not talking a single tear running down my cheek. I’m talking about gasping for breath and snot running into my mouth, all while concerned and embarrassed New York men in the vicinity were palming me their drink napkins in lieu of Kleenex. Just as I would regain my composure, the girl would lose hers again, and that would set me off, and this continued well into the next song. In one of those perfect moments of synchronicity  borne of a life of intemperate Bob Dylan enthusiasm that song was one of Dylan’s late-period comic masterpieces, Cry a While.

And nor was I the only grown-ass man on the fringes of the night, fighting back tears that I couldn’t control. I met a man of high spirits who I took to calling “late-period Orson Welles,” after he’d made it clear that ball-busting was not just acceptable but required. This bro-iest of bros admitted gleefully that he’d been, “Crying like a little bitch,” throughout the entire Friday performance. And of course in a classic New York swerve even this stereotypical Irish bastard turned out to be a playwright of serious renown.

The three of us and countless others were moved this way because Bob Dylan has become Great Again. Of course you can argue that Bob Dylan Never Stopped Being Great. As a wool-dyed Dylan apologist I have made this very claim, repeatedly. But right now—he is singing. Singing. Singing as only Dylan can. Remember that old bootleg, Nobody Sings Dylan. The part that’s left out is “…like Dylan.” The joke is that it doesn’t need to be said.

I credit his turnabout to the latest trilogy of cover albums. The two early 90’s albums of Americana covers led to the creative resurgence that birthed Time Out of Mind through to Modern Times, but also, depending on your interpretation, a five- to ten-year run of shows that were often total barn-burners. Now the Sinatra-inspired albums have reminded Dylan how to croon. The addition of these tin pan alley standards had improved his shows immeasurably in recent years. No longer did it feel like a monotonous ZZ Top cover band fronted by a rapping, shouting, and disengaged Tom Waits. There was a new sonic variety, but also a performative one. He would leave the organ to duck-walk and preen centre stage.  Since Bob Dylan is among the funniest people in the world, the reintroduction of his comic sensibilities into the shows cannot be understated. Even better, it occurred to Bob that he didn’t need the standards anymore. He could preen and croon on songs like When I Paint My Masterpiece and even Like A Rolling Stone.

Casual Dylan fans are often shocked when I tell them I’ve been to eighteen shows. Doesn’t get you a lot of cred in New York City, however. 300+ was the highest total I heard. A guy in his mid-30s (hereafter referred to as The Great Man) like myself had been to 90. (He was the partner of the Rita Hayworth woman, incidentally. It was out of respect for his greatness that we were all doin’ our best to deny her Hayworthian effects upon our collective sensorium.) But for the less hardcore fans, it’s important that Like a Rolling Stone be performed in a memorable way. Maybe some of them are assholes singing along to show they know the words to one of the most iconic songs of all time. But those assholes must have cared deeply about Bob Dylan at one point. So they deserve something substantive in the LARS slot, as we assholes of a more elitist ilk call it.

Did I mention that I like to drone on about Proust? What makes Proust so rewarding is that you have to work for it. Pages and pages and pages are concerned with the trivial minutiae of French society and how Monsieur du Charlus eats his soup or some shit. But it’s these long stretches of inanity that imbue the beautiful passages with their power. So all those 2009 shows when Bob plunked away at his stupid circus organ (or Instrument of Torture) have given this resurgence its depth of meaning. That ominous Ballad of a Thin Man that was too often the lone high point of that darker era is gone from the set list, but each and every person capable of truly caring knows that Something is Happening Here. Bob Dylan is back motherfuckers. He’s like a fighting rooster again. Increasingly, he even kind of looks like one. So let’s get 27 drinks at The Dublin House. Let’s weep openly and fall into each other’s arms.

Cockfighting.jpg

And when Clinton Heylin is one day replaced by the writer who can appreciate the contemporary Bob Dylan experience, I will read of these Beacon shows in her books knowing that I bore witness to my time period’s northeastern leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue, or this epoch’s Judas Concert that wasn’t really at the Royal Albert Hall. When I consider my brief interaction with the history of Bob Dylan, I will think of the Irish playwright pounding me on my already-compromised kidneys. I will think of the feats of strength that The Great Man and I engaged in, just moments after meeting ourselves, to provide a physical run-off for our spiritual cups that had runneth over. Out of respect for The Great Man I will try not to think of any individual smiles that may have evoked the highway blues from any 1940s screen siren-resemblant persons lest I become too inappropriately reverential. I will however think of weeping beside my seatmate and understanding the exact depths of emotion she was experiencing, which was one of the more profound experiences of my life.

I’ve yelled this into your ear long enough. It’s time that I should be Bringing It All Back Home Again. Have you heard the Good News? It’s that Bob Dylan, who both the religious scholar Seth Rogoyov and I believe is a genuine prophet of God, is Back in the New York Groove. And nothing compares to seeing Bob Dylan in the town that birthed Bob Dylan. The Great Man said that as a Brit, he understood Visions of Johanna in a new way once he was able to walk the streets of Greenwich Village and set his eyes on that crummy little hotel over Washington Square. The Great Man and I speculated on what Bob Dylan would be like if he didn’t make it to New York at the exact time period he did. But not possible isn’t it? As Bob Dylan has said, he was ready for New York.

Did I mention that, in addition to Proust, I like to yell about nonlinear causality? It’s the idea that an effect needn’t follow a cause, meaning the future might be capable of influencing the past. You can imagine how much this proposition must have annoyed the neuroscientist: but humour me. Maybe all those real tears cried at this miraculous run of 2018 shows were part of what brought Bob Dylan to New York in 1961. Though The Great Man and I wouldn’t be born for another twenty years, nor the tearful girl in the abutting seat for another thirty, maybe he was coming for us.

*

bob1961

A Provisional Forensic Linguistic Analysis into Authorship of the John Titor Posts

Earlier this year I reached out to the Forensic Linguistics Facebook group hoping for some assistance in finally answering the question “Who Authored the John Titor Legend?” A linguistic profile had been done by the Hoax Hunter in the past, but his efforts relied on a generic computer program rather than the use of professional techniques.

Several forensic linguists reached out to me, but the most accomplished and also the most engaged was Andrea Nini, a professor of forensic linguistics at the University of Manchester, who has published widely on questions of authorship ranging from the Jack the Ripper letters to the Bixby letter.

Nini was interested in using the John Titor story as a case study for his class of post-graduate forensic linguistics students. I assembled writings from whom I consider to be the four most likely candidates, including Joseph Matheny, Morey Haber, Oliver Williams, and Temporal Recon, and sent them to Nini along with the complete John Titor posts. Each suspect was assigned to a pair of students, and each group worked on similarities and differences between that subject and John Titor, with the goal of trying to either clear their suspect of suspicion or determine that they could not clear their subject of suspicion.

The students (including but not limited to: Fatma Hamaid, Jiaqi Zhang, Christoper Powell, Sarah Mahmood, Lisa Donlan, and Guadalupe Pulido Casas) have come to at least one provisional conclusion at this point in their work in progress: that John Titor was not a real time traveler.

This has to do with a small change in the language over time that hardcore Titor-ites may be inclined to quickly dismiss, but that does possess a significant degree of validity, and that is the spelling of the word “web sites.”

“In his posts he writes ‘web site’ as two words,” said Nini, “One thing we know about English is that new word compounds of this type usually take the same path to become lexicalized into one word. Usually there’s a cycle. Students looked at a collection of words called a ‘corpus’ of English that include historical data, and you can see clearly that ‘website’ behaves as it should. You can see it behaves like all the other compounds. Back at the time John Titor was writing, it was spelled as two words and that variant basically died, and now it’s just one word. It would definitely disappear in the future.”

 

In a typical assignment, due to a relative lack of data for each subject, the students would apply qualitative analyses. In this case however, due to a high volume of data for each subject, computational analysis would be required, and this was where Nini stepped in, writing a unique program to compare the Titor posts with the writings of the four subjects.

With the extensive John Titor posts, Nini had to exclude everything under 100 words, as anything under that amount is considered unreliable. “When you remove everything under 100 words from the John Titor corpus, not a lot is available. Having a short disputed sample [the John Titor posts] is not a problem. Harder is a short known sample [the writings of the subjects.]” That’s not an issue for each subject when there’s a lot to compare,” said Nini.

“I ran features that involved taking the top 100 most frequent word sequences of 2-5 words, then taking punctuation, and taking average word length for each text, sentence and paragraph length. All of the markers were found to work in stylometry, the disciplines that studies the quantification of style. So you get all these measurements for each text, and what you want to find out is if there are any differences in the way all the suspects behave, say they all have the same average sentence length. So I ran tests of significance for variables. You take all the ones that are significantly different. You test statistically whether Morey Haber has a higher average sentence length than another suspect. If it does then you take that marker and put it in a basket, if not, you exclude it.”

“[Now] you have a basket of features you know are important. At that point you still have a problem because you probably have 100 or so of these features. It’s very difficult to make sense of all of that. So you reduce the dimensionality of that, and one way this is done is by using principle component analysis, a classic statistical technique used in several fields. It reduces many variables to a few. It finds common patterns and puts them together and gives you only a few variables which are like super variables that account for as much as possible. In this case, we found that The first components for the first super variable accounts for registers. The authors are different because they’re doing things differently.”

In other words, a person writes differently when they are posting in an online forum as Titor did, versus when they are writing a cyber security blog in the case of Morey Haber, or writing a non-fiction book in the case of Temporal Recon.

The following diagram is a visual representation of the distribution of values for this ‘super-variable’ created statistically. The ‘super-variable’ distinguishes the suspects as the boxes of the suspects do not overlap and each suspect has their own region in the plot. TI (John Titor), however, does appear to overlap with MH (Morey Haber)..“This technique only tells you which suspect is the most similar, or who [has] the most similar style to the disputed text. But that starts on the assumption that your suspect is in that sample,” said Nini.

Nini stresses that this inquiry remains a work in process, and is far from concrete. New forensic linguistic ideas that may shed further light on Who Authored the John Titor Legend? will be published here as they develop.

The Best Leg of the Never-Ending Tour in Years? – Philadelphia, Tower Theater, Nov 11-12, 2017.

The following details are mandated by the Guild of Ignorant, Regional, and Irrelevant Music Reviewers:

  • Bob Dylan did not speak to the audience.
  • On these occasions, he did not wear a hat.
  • His band did wear hats.
  • Except for Tony Garnier and Donnie Herron, who did not wear hats.
  • Nobel Prize!
  • Songs from the 60s, unrecognizable.
  • Sinatra songs sound like Sinatra isn’t even singing them!
  • Turns out, Frank Sinatra is dead.

Note 1: I hereby wave my guildmember’s right to regurgitate my one-of-a-kind revisionist take on the gospel songs of Trouble No More.

Note 2: This review focuses primarily on the Nov. 12 show, but relies on impressions drawn from both Nov. 11 and 12.

Note 3: Low-end turns of phrase punning on Bob Dylan lyrics do adhere to guild standards.

*

These shows represented my 13th and 14th Dylan concerts. While this failed to impress some of the more seasoned Dylan fans drinking at the Waterford Inn prior to the show, bear in mind I didn’t start seeing Bob Dylan until 2006. The “upsinging” years. Soon after came the “instrument of torture” era.  While surely not as difficult as the alcoholic slogs of 1991, the loud and monotonous shows were better suited to some ZZ Top cover band than the greatest living songwriter.

Between 2006 and 2013 there’d usually be one or two songs of merit. For a while I hung my hat on Gonna Change My Way of Thinking because a lyric or two had changed. Yelling “No!” after the line “You think I’m over the hill” in Spirit on the Water was always a personal point of pride for me. Sometimes there’d be a poignant Workingman Blues #2 or Nettie Moore. Often the second song would be the lone surprise in the set, and so some casual salutation of If You See Her Say Hello would serve as the lone justification for my trip to stupid Syracuse, New York or stupid Rochester, Michigan. No offense to these towns; they are stupid only insofar as they are stupid places to vacation for any reason unrelated to Bob Dylan enthusiasm.

Seeing consecutive Dylan concerts in those early years would have been hard to fathom. The thrill came from being around other true believers, and from being in proximity to the man himself. Truth was, I was often bored during the shows.  No matter how spirited a reading of Shake Shake Mama was delivered, I had no qualms about acquiring much needed libations in the longest of beer lines.

But, happily, things have changed. I first noticed that something was happening at Toronto’s Sony Centre in 2014. He closed that set with Stay with Me. It was the first of the Tin Pan Alley standards I’d heard live. He was vulnerable, his voice was cracked but not broken, and as all the standards now do, it suited the best remaining aspect of Bob’s voice: his lower register. While each subsequent tour has benefitted from the tonal breakup of these standards, each one serves a specific thematic purpose: Stay with Me is a paean to fans whose enthusiasm had been stretched thin over the previous decade of sub-mediocrity.

Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love ’cause I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

Stay with Me.

The show begins with a little medley described on most bootlegs as Guitar Riffs? Somehow it sounds like several Bob Dylan songs but is actually none of them. Or maybe it is. There are over 600 of the damned things. Ultimately it’s goal is to get asses in seats. It also calls to mind the heyday of the NET when Larry Campbell and company would engage in a five-six song acoustic set.

The man walks to his piano and Things Have Changed is barked out in a fashion not much better than any of 2010’s bark-outs, but one bark out is good. One bark out is kind of cool. Then the casuals and lifelongs alike are satisfied by an It Ain’t Me Babe that features more melodic notes than were divulged in entire calendar years previous. His ‘voice of the 60’s counterculture’ contractual obligations are met with a Highway 61 that’s treated like Freebird, or in terms of NET Freebird’s, Silvio. The big, loud song of the night.  

At the Nov. 12 show, this led to dancing from not just the obsessives in the front rows, but nearly the entire theatre: millennials, the middle-aged, and seniors were swaying, head-banging, or doing hip-replacement-friendly versions of The Twist.

There’s no rhyme or reason as to why the Sunday crowd was so much more energized. Certainly Saturday’s gang was considerably deeper into their 24oz cups. Perhaps, and this is just a theory I’ve been working on, perhaps alcohol is a depressant that more often than not inhibits one’s ability to experience joy. I digress.

Bob Dylan, it turns out, likes to see people dancing and having a good time. And while no, he will not remark, “Hey, great dancing fellows!” just as he will not remark upon the local baseball nine or any ongoing gubernatorial elections, what he will do is give it his all to try and maintain that energy.

Why Try to Change Me Now sees a confident (even pompous, were it any other musical personage) strut to the mic. He commands the stage like an arthritic James Brown for a moment or two, selling the song with his droll mannerisms before a note is sung. His leg is cocked in a motionless version of the duck walk that justified several years’-worth of concerts for me. He holds the mic at an angle like Elvis. And then he sings the song with every ounce of emotion in his 76-year-old lungs. Though the song was not written by Dylan but Joseph McCarthy (1885 to 1943), the words must be written on Bob’s soul. Or more likely it’s simply easier to put some emotion into a song you haven’t sung several thousand times.

Summer Days is the first of the dramatically-improved songs on this leg of the NET. So often the soggiest of the loves/thefts, it now has a bouncy tempo invigorated by Donny Herron’s down-home fiddling. This quicker tempo also showcases another of Dylan’s still-extant vocal gifts: his excellent phrasing. All while he plunks away at the grand piano to his own internal rhythm.

This sets up a pattern for the next few songs. Melancholy Mood sees more strutting and emoting. Honest with Me is the best of the new arrangements, and sees sardonic deliveries of lines like

You say my eyes are pretty and my smile is nice
Well, I’ll sell it to ya at a reduced price

As ExpectingRain.com user Smoke pointed out, the song borrows the guitar riff from The Beach Boys’ Dance Dance Dance.

Once Upon a Time sees more central-stage crooning. It’s a sin to just lump it in with the previous torch songs however. Each of these vocal deliveries would have been a goddamn event just a couple years ago. And again, each one is delivered totally fresh because the palate has been cleansed by the jumpin’ and jivin’ on songs like Summer Days and Honest with Me.

If the slightly speedier Tryin’ to Get to Heaven works least among the new arrangements, it’s not without poignancy to hear Bob Dylan, still grinding away at the NET, either for himself, or for us, singing, “I been all around the world, boys.”

After the first night I determined the following two songs would constitute my bathroom/libations break. The human kidneys pay heed to no man or musical bard. Pay in Blood would have constituted the highlight of many post-2012 concerts I attended, simply because I like the song. Now it just harkens back to the more destitute days in the swamp, and it can be missed.

Even if I didn’t require the bathroom or the beer line I’d probably just go admire the $40 t-shirts at the merch stand during Tangled Up in Blue. I always skip it on bootlegs. It seems almost perverse that Bob dusts it off every night. Rarely is it performed with any enthusiasm. I believe it’s the most-played song on the NET by a country pie or two; the song obviously means something to Dylan, so I can’t understand why he doesn’t give it a rest and bring it back with a little more meaning for everyone involved. Oh well, why try to change him now?

September of My Years holds particular resonance not just for another excellent delivery, but also for lyrics like

As a man who has always had the wandering ways
I keep looking back to yesterdays
‘Til a long-forgotten love appears
And I find that I’m sighing softly as I near
September, the warm September of my years

Early Roman Kings and the tour debut of Scarlet Town will ever remain swamp creatures to me. But if I strain to hear them devoid of the context of all those forgettable 2013 renditions, I can see how they add layers to the set as a whole.

The audience is then treated, or in some cases, subjected to, eight minutes of Desolation Row. I understand how important this is to people seeing Bob Dylan for the first time ever, or for the first time in decades. And yet it’s a lot of lyrics to get through, and Dylan struggles to do it prolonged justice night after night. Too often the song sinks into a sing-songy pattern, and what flourishes are meant to brighten the chorus aren’t quite sufficient.

Thunder on the Mountain is the most fun of the new arrangements. Among the most played of his post-millennial compositions, Bob has changed his way of thinking about Alicia Keys and his army of “tough sons of bitches,” having borrowed the guitar riff from from the Beach Boys’ Shut Down, Part 2.

Love Sick is delivered in a serviceable fashion that, again, would have been a strong point of any 2012 show. Now it is reduced by all the previous high water marks. It calls to mind a piece of novelistic advice I read somewhere: that a writer can judge the strength of her novel based on the quality of what she’s willing to cut from it.

The band leaves the stage for an encore break that fools nobody. Or maybe it fools a few. Or maybe those few people are just ready to leave for whatever reasons. Maybe they’d expected 4.25 x 6’ images of the hanging, postmarked ‘66. At this juncture it is my time to shine. I wait for someone in the first couple rows to leave and I appropriate their seat. The gamble is that by this time of night security is disinterested in tackling and tasing anybody.

In any case, it’s worth the electroreceptive risk to get close as possible to Dylan even for these couple songs. There he stands, light come shining through that inimitable Jew fro. I see him drink from a cup of coffee, thinking and breathing, human and hunched. It’s Based Bob Dylan. And here’s where the early seat evacuator is missing out, because it is that ’66 Dylan. He may sound and look different. The human body does completely regenerate itself every seven years. But it’s the same man.

The audience becomes one big collective Bob Dylan appreciation society for Blowin’ in the Wind and Ballad of a Thin Man. It is my custom to point directly at Bob Dylan while yelling words to the effect of “Thank you Bob,” “Alright Bob,” or “We love you, Bob.” While this may prove unsettling to the long-suffering Bob Dylan, it gives me some meagre sense of connection. Older attendees nearby close their eyes, perhaps considering where they’d been when they first heard those singular lines of philosophical inquiry…How many roads…

At the conclusion of Thin Man, Dylan and his band take centre stage for a bow. And on the 12th the fans are given a little gesture from Bob, kind of like, “Applause? Why no, but if you must, I insist that you applaud only your own selves.” And while so slight a gesture won’t register for the ‘didn’t talk to the audience’ Music Critic at HatFancier.com or wherever, it’s a substantive gesture. It means the audience helped give Bob the energy needed to deliver a standout performance in a lifetime of performances, that we, by funding leg after leg of the NET through patience as much as our pocketbooks, have allowed Bob Dylan to be where he belongs: still on the road, heading for another joint.

Mike Sauve has written for The National Post, McSweeney’s, Variety, and many other publications. Novels include The Wraith of Skrellman, The Apocalypse of Lloyd and the forthcoming I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore. He’s currently working on a book about the Bob Dylan film Masked and Anonymous.

The John Titor Legend: An Update from Pamela

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After reading my book Who Authored the John Titor Legend? Pamela Moore reached out to me.

Pamela is described in the book as follows:

No poster interacted with John Titor as frequently or as intimately as Pamela Moore. In addition to being one of the most frequent posters in both the Time Travel Institute and Post to Post threads, she also interacted with John over instant messenger (although never over the phone) and claims to have shared a deep bond with John.

Beyond this, Pamela also claimed that John Titor provided her with a “secret song” that could be used to verify anyone who’d come forward claiming to be John Titor. Most significantly, she claims that John Titor mailed her a piece of the IBM 5100 logo, and that while it came with no return address, there was an Orlando postmark.

The first thing Pamela set me straight on was that that she didn’t converse with John over Instant Messenger, but rather in UFO-themed chat rooms.  She also said that Titor mailed her a part of the “IBM 5110 label” not the “IBM 5100 logo.” Here’s a helpful discussion of the differences between the 5100 and 5110 models. She also sent me this picture of the label.

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From there things grew considerably more interesting. First she clarified that the secret song John Titor provided her with is not actually a B-52s song, which is widely believed, given that the inscribed copy of John Titor: A Time Traveler’s Tale sent to her by the John Titor Foundation did include a B-52s song, which she tells me, was the song Trism.

She has to leave
She has to go
The fastest way
Is by trism
Steps off the curb
Stella Corona hopes for the best
To be home by sunset
Gotta be home by sunset

She asked me to give her a ride
She said she had to go
Dropped her off by the trism
Through the atmosphere by prism

Go trism
Go trism
Go trism
Go trism
Go trism

Gotta keep, gotta keep movin’ on
Gotta keep movin’
Gotta keep movin’
Gotta keep movin’
Gotta, gotta keep on

It was a human race to get away
And then back again
Like the sun bends light through a prism
She bends herself through the trism

In the smokey streets of the night
She pulls the lever and then bright light

Trism
Trism
Trism
Trism
Trism

 

She points out how this song, “speaks of a man time traveling in the night and gives this girl a ride, pulls the lever and sees bright light. This may correspond with the dream I shared with him [that] I had.”

She discussed this dream of hers in some length.

“Everyone thinks I started out asking John too many detailed questions when he came in 2000. But the truth was I had a detailed dream of a time traveler in 1998. I didn’t know exactly when I had the dream when I started talking to John in the beginning but I remembered that dream. The questions I was asking him and his answers are what I saw in the dream so I kept asking detailed questions. By then I was intrigued by him. In my dream I was in a car time traveling with a man where what he described […] exactly matched my dream. Later before he left he said he had to stop in April of 1998. I went and grabbed my note book and at the top was the date April 1998. My mouth dropped then I told John about my dream.”

What intrigued me most was something Pamela had to say about the faxes sent to Art Bell in 1998 that bare a strong resemblance to the John Titor story.

The First Fax to Art Bell – Read on Coast to Coast AM on July 29, 1998

“Dear Art,

I had to fax when I heard other time travelers calling in from any time past the year 2500 AD. Please let me explain.

Time travel was invented in 2034. Off-shoots of certain successful fusion reactor research allowed scientists at CERN to produce the world’s first contained singularity engine. The basic design involves rotating singularities inside a magnetic field. By altering the speed and direction of rotation, you can travel both forward and backward in time.

Time itself can be understood in terms of connected lines. When you go back in time, you travel on your original timeline. When you turn your singularity engine off, a new timeline is created, due to the fact that you and your time machine are now there. In other words, a new universe is created.

To get back to your original line, you must travel a split second father back, and immediately throw the engine into forward without turning it off.

Some interesting outcomes of this are:

One, you meet yourself. I have done it often, even taken a younger version of myself along for a few rides before returning myself to the new timeline and going back to mine.

Two, you can alter history in the new universe that you have just created. Most of the time, the changes are subtle. Sometimes, I’ll notice car models that don’t exist, or books that come out late.

The oldest one was a skyscraper that wasn’t built in a near favorite store of mine in New York.

Interestingly, when you travel in time, you must compensate for the orbit of the earth. Since the time machine doesn’t move, you have to adjust the engines so you remain on the planet when you turn it off. Unfortunately, it was also discovered that anyone going forward in time, from my 2036, hit a brick wall in the year 2564.

Everyone who has ever been there has reported that nothing exists. When the machine is turned off, you find yourself surrounded by blackness and silence.

Now, most time travelers are trying to find out where the line went bad by going into the past, creating a new universe, and proceeding forward to see if the same thing results in 2564. It appears the line went bad around the year 2000. I’m here now, in this time, to test a few theories of mine before going forward.

Now, for the future you might want to know about.

One, Y2K is a disaster. Many people die on the highways when they freeze to death trying to get to warmer weather.

Two, the government tries to keep power by instituting Marshall Law, but all of it collapses when their efforts to bring the power back up fail.

Three, a power facility in Denver is able to restart itself, but is mobbed by hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed. This convinces most that maybe we shouldn’t bring the old system back up.

Four, a few years later, communal government system is developed, after the constitution takes a few twists.

China retakes Taiwan, Israel wins the largest battle for their life, and Russia is covered in nuclear snow from their collapsed reactors.

Art, the reason I’m here now is because I believe a nuclear weapon set off by Iraq in the Middle East war with Israel might have something to do with the damaged timeline. I will test that theory and get back to you.

Please pray that we discover the reason why there is no apparent future after 2564.”

The Second Fax to Art Bell

“Dear Mr. Bell,

I am glad you’re back. I faxed this information to you the day before you left the air. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t lost in the shuffle so I am sending a gift. If you’ve already seen this please accept my apologies. If you choose to make this public please do not publish the fax number. I had to fax when I heard the other time traveler calling in from the recent time past in fact the year 2500 Ad.

Let me explain, Mr. Bell. I sent a fax with this opening on July 29 1998. As I said then I am a time traveler. I have been on this world line since April of this year and I plan to leave soon. Typically time travelers do not purposely affect the world lines they visit. However, this mission is unusually long and I’ve grown attached to some of the people I have met here.

Anyway, for my own reasons I have decided to help this world line by sharing information about the future with a few people in the hope that it will help their future. I am contacting you for the same reason. Unfortunately there is no historical reference to your program in my worldline.

I believe you can change your future by creating one now.

Some of the information presented on your program may be invaluable to up-line researchers. I suggest you isolate the programs that concentrate on military technology and new physics theories. Transcribe these programs and put them someplace safe away from the box. I recommend someplace in the midwest.

I also urge you to reconsider your paranoia to the Russians.

They are not preparing for war with the average US citizen. They are preparing for war with the US government. They will eventually save this country and the lives of million of Americans.

I realize my claims are a bit difficult to accept so I will send the following once I know you have received this fax. A few pages from the operations manual of my time machine. And a few colored photographs of my vehicle.

If you wish to contact me I will be happy to share with you the nature of time, the physics of time travel and some of the events of your future.

Please send a return package to…”

While these faxes provide a slightly different narrative than the John Titor posts, there are many similar aspects. Joseph Matheny, who has taken credit for the story, says they were a proto-attempt at telling the story. Others believe it could be an alternate John sent back from an alternate 2036.

Pamela believes as follows:

“One thing about the faxes that was so bizarre is not one single person remembered them in 2001 and yet they were obviously only a few years old from 1998. No one made the connection when John was here. Not even the diehard time traveler Art Bell fans. You’d think at least one of those people would have remembered about them. They were not even found until John left. Like they magically just appeared in the timeline.”

She also discussed her ongoing relationship with the person claiming to be John Titor’s mother, Kay, facilitated entirely by Larry Haber:

“The latest package I received had several things in it. A letter from Kay. A letter from John. An album with a record inside and a CD with some songs on it but I’m keeping what was on it secret because I am not really sure why he sent those to me.  I more than likely will find out later. I received it in September of 2016.

“Kay’s letter was just a nice personal letter. Thanking me and apologizing she couldn’t be more communicative with me but fear kept her back. And that John wanted this package sent to me before he left. That’s about all I feel I can reveal in her letter.

“John’s letter was a two page letter in a separate sealed envelope. It was written on nice stationary in pencil. With only the name Pam written on the outside. The first paragraph is as follows:

Dear Pam,

Over what has been fifteen years I’ve considered you to be a dear friend who deserves the best explanation I can give. You should know that your efforts played an important role in allowing me a chance to get home.”

“He then went on to explain how I was communicating with more than one John. That other Johns may arrive and they need the posts to stay up as long as possible.”

Pamela says this correspondence with John was written in a style similar to the Letter 177 Tempus Edax Rerum video that was posted to YouTube by Larry Haber.

 

“It sounded like the same person who wrote the letter also did the audio Larry Haber put up. The one that starts out ‘I am the man you know as John Titor….’ I want to share it with others but I just don’t know if he would have approved of it. But if you heard that audio of a John Titor this letter sounds very similar and I think the same person who did the audio wrote the letter.”

Pamela remains open-minded as to whether or not this was the original John she spoke to, an alternate John, or someone else entirely.

“I have to say he does seem a little different than the John I spoke to. But I honestly don’t know what that means. I am older. He may be a different age also. The John that I talked to before just seemed so much closer to me. For example this John just ended his letter with ‘thanks!’ The other John ended his final letter with ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will always be a true friend.’ (That’s just an example I can’t remember the exact words.) It’s just different.”

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Singer/Songwriter Jerry Leger Discusses Bob Dylan

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Mike Sauve:    One similarity I see between your best songs and some of my favourite Dylan tunes is they’re often centered, for me anyway, around one nearly perfect verse.  In “Idiot Wind” it’s the opening “They say I shot a man named Gray” story.  In “Highlands” it’s the waitress scene, although that’s like 15 verses long.  In your “East Coast Queen” it’s the culmination of the narrator’s search for the girl:

The boys on the island
The men at the docks
Say, “give her my pleas
If she comes back to me
She’ll get anything she wants

If I miss that part I might as well just lift the needle and start the song over.  But then, like those Dylan songs, a couple smaller planets orbit that one beautiful verse–like asking the doctor “I want to live healthy, is there something that I can use?” When writing a song, are you conscious of having one or two great verses that you then work around, or what?

Jerry Leger:  Well, with that song, it started with the first line, “On the East Coast, she’s living like a Queen by a throne…” then everything was written relating to that character in that environment. A lot of them start off that way, with the first line and that allows me to build a story or idea from that.

MS:  Dylan is the ultimate appropriation artist, so I have limited qualms grabbing his lyrics for my own use.  My fiction is littered with phrases that most would never realize are Dylan lyrics like, “I called out for another plate of food” or “The rising sun returned.” More cryptic tribute than self-benefitting theft, is my argument.  In a recent Exclaim! concert review I mentioned how your song “Isabella” contains the line, “I was young when I left home”, which is the title of an early Dylan track.  This is one overt way you’ve borrowed something from Dylan, can you discuss some less obvious examples?

JL:   Ya, I think that’s the big difference, tribute verses theft, or I guess you could also call it building off an idea instead of tribute. I don’t like when artists just steal a whole idea and don’t leave any imprint of themselves. Ya, I thought it was great you picked up on that line! I just always loved the sound of it and I think Dylan even grabbed it from an earlier tune. I just felt it was a fitting way to begin that particular verse and then the rest of it has nothing to do with that song, it doesn’t lift anything else from it. I did something similar in another tune “John Lewis”. A couple lines are very similar to an old Luke the Drifter (Hank Williams) number called “Make up Your Mind”. Tribute is a fitting word for that. I threw it in the middle of an 8 minute tune for the Hank fans to pick up on! Now I’m giving away all my secrets.

MS:  You’ve been listening to Another Self Portrait.  I think the album’s tone is best exemplified on one of the “Little Sadie”s, when Bob says “Let’s just take this one.” You get the feeling you’re hanging in the studio with Bob.  I love “Spanish is the Loving Tongue”, “Only a Hobo”, “Pretty Saro”, “Wallflower”, and about 14 other treasures. Describe some of your favourite songs on the album?  Why is it interesting to hear them unearthed in 2013?

JL:  I’ve been loving it. It does have this feeling of freedom, of trying any tune that popped in his head and seeing if it worked well enough. “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” is beautiful, there’s something sad and relatable about it. I love the version of “Time Passes Slowly”, “Pretty Saro” has haunting vocals and I really dig the version of “Copper Kettle”.

For me, It’s interesting to hear because there’s no tricks, no bells, a lot of these tunes are sparsely arranged, if arranged at all. It’s a very honest way of putting something down on tape. You feel like you’re in the studio with him because there’s no strange wall between you. I mean, he’s almost always been like that, that’s been a big influence on the way I make records.

MS:  The original Self-Portrait was my dad’s favourite Bob Dylan album. During a 1999 trip to Toronto, he was thrilled to order it from Sam the Record Man back when that was the only way for a Sault Ste. Marie man to locate an unpopular album. I remember listening to it and asking, “This is Bob Dylan?” I hadn’t listened to Nashville Skyline at that point, so the whole crooning thing threw me for a loop.  But I never thought it was a bad album.  At one stage of my life I played the cover of Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” about 500 times in a five month period.  The original Self-Portrait had its warts, was thoroughly shat upon, but what did you think of it?

JL:  Our old bass player, Corey, his Dad used to play it all the time! That’s wild it was your Dad’s favourite. I always liked it. I always felt it was a fun record to listen to and full of surprises. I don’t know, I grew up with a lot of country records, some from the 40’s/50’s period and the rest being from the 60’s and early 70’s when strings and female background singers were key. I thought covers like “I forgot more than you’ll ever know” sounded great and suited Dylan’s voice of that period. I love his version of “Early Morning Rain”. I always heard it as a playful record and a scattered one in a good way.

MS:  You saw Dylan at the Molson Ampitheatre in July, and seemed pretty positive about it.  Maybe you’re just generally more positive than I am, but I’m wondering if doubt or disillusionment crept in at any point?  A few years ago I based my whole vacation life around seeing Dylan.  It’s getting harder for me though.  Maybe I listen to too many bootlegs.

JL:  Well, I know his voice continues to weaken but it’s how he uses it. I felt that particular show he was working with the limitations better than the last couple times I’d seen him. There were some great moments where he was very expressive in the same way he is on record. “Soon After Midnight” knocked me out and “Love Sick” was perfect.

MS:  You participated in a Bob Dylan tribute show on Bob Dylan’s birthday at the El Mo Cambo.  What’s it like playing in front of an audience who might not know much about you, but showed for a night of live Bob Dylan music?  Is it a different kind of pressure or perhaps pleasure vs. performing your own songs?

JL:  Ya, it was fun. I wouldn’t normally do something like that but a good friend was putting it on and knew I was a big Dylan fan, so he asked if I would be part of it. There was no pressure because I wanted to just approach the songs the way I would approach my own, just to not over think it. I didn’t really wanna listen to the album versions to make sure we were getting it note for note. I wanted to just go out and play them.

MS:  In an Exclaim! interview with Rachel Sanders you mentioned looking forward to the day when you make a bad album similar to a bad Bob Dylan album.  That seemed kind of strange to me.  Were you being facetious in that if you have the cache to make a bad album you’ve made it?  Or what exactly?

JL:  Well, sometimes it’s nice to do something that nobody understands but you. Any one of us can go in an opposite direction and there’s something rewarding about that. So, I was sort of half joking about it. One day I could decide to make an album of throat singing and you might not understand it but it wouldn’t be artistically dishonest of me if that’s where my mind’s at.

MS:  What do you think the worst Bob Dylan album is?  For me it’s Down in the Groove because there’s almost nothing to redeem that one.

JL:    Ya, I would say that one and Knocked Out Loaded. There’s a couple great things on it, obviously “Brownsville Girl” but it’s a pretty weak album. I think those are the only two that I never really listen to.

MS:  What was the first Bob Dylan song that really blew you away, and when was that?

JL:  Strangely, it was the version of “Oh, Sister” off the live album, Hard Rain. That was also the first Dylan album I heard. My dad used to play it at home and in the car when I was growing up and for some reason that was the tune that always stood out. I still prefer it to the album version. It just seemed real, gritty, full of life, good and bad.

MS:  That doesn’t seem so strange.  Top Five Dylan recordings the casual fan isn’t aware of?

JL:  I don’t know, it’s hard to tell these days what casual listeners would and wouldn’t know but… “Sign on the Window”, “True Love Tends to Forget”, “Red River Shore”, “Going Going Gone”, “Most of the Time”.  That’s a good start. I love “Heart of Mine” off of Shot of Love as well, a real hidden gem.

MS:  Favourite Dylan album?

JL:  Another Side of Bob Dylan, because it was the record that changed the way I thought about songwriting, about how I wanted to write. I remember taping the LP when I was 15 and listening to it on my walkman in the high school library. I would skip classes and go there to sit and study it.

Get Jerry Leger’s latest album here.  Still not convinced?  Check out this review.

Scholar and Falconry Enthusiast Adrian DeVuono Discusses Bob Dylan

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Adrian DeVuono might be the funniest and most intelligent person to come from my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. Unless that’s astronaut Roberta Bondar, who can be seen at the Thunder Bay Yuk Yuks this Friday through Sunday.  DeVuono is rumoured to have delivered his dissertation while sporting a foam #1 finger. When he goes to a Sault Ste. Marie fine-dining establishment like Wacky Wings he says things like, “I’ll have a large grapefruit juice,” and when the waitress says, “We don’t have grapefruit juice,” he says, “I’ll just have a small.”  He is, to the increasing disdain of his peers, a world traveler.  Above all, he is a Bob Dylan fan.

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Mike Sauve:  Every time we talk there seems to be at least one “Wiggle Wiggle” reference or discussion of some abysmal Dylan song or 80s album.  Why do you think bad Bob Dylan music is so much funnier than bad music in general?  I guess one obvious reason is that he’s made so much good music.

Adrian DeVuono:  I think Dylan’s bad music is especially hilarious because, unlike other, lesser artists who simply make bad decisions and carry them out with obnoxious sincerity, Dylan always sounds like he can’t remember who made a decision regarding a song’s lyric or production element, or why that decision was made, even as he’s meandering helplessly through it. That quality, which they called “mystical” in the sixties, in the later years is just a kind of shellshocked confusion. On these awful recordings he sounds like a heavily-medicated Marx Brother or, better yet, Chance the Gardener from “Being There.” He’s completely lost. He just utters these bizarrely cryptic lines (“Wiggle Wiggle ’till you vomit fire”), sounding as if he’s in constant danger of slipping back into the fog of a dental anesthesia while an amateur band herded from the local casino  blissfully and vacantly hammers away at a vaguely “bluesy” chord progression. Listen to “Brownsville Girl”: while Bob is unspooling eleven exhausting minutes of a plot summary of a Western he thinks he remembers seeing, a group of Gladys Knight impersonators starts shrieking out inappropriate responses like a gospel choir moaning in exaggerated sexual distress. It’s almost as if, with every inappropriate “mmmm-hmmmm” and “whrrraaaaoooogh,” Dylan gets startled to the point of distraction (“What the hell was that?”) and loses his place in the story. It’s very funny to hear Dylan so lost, confused, and kind of apathetic, especially after something like “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”

MS:  While we’re talking humour, one of my favourite things about Bob Dylan is that even if he hadn’t written so many important songs, so many beautiful songs, so many groundbreaking songs, he’d still be adored as one of the great humorists.  In the early 60s he was often compared to Charlie Chaplin, and even in recent years his dancing has been downright hilarious.  Can you discuss Dylan as humorist?

AD:   Dylan’s humour has so many sides, so many modes of expression. Sometimes he’s silly (“The Basement Tapes”) and sometimes he’s giddy (“I Want You”); sometimes its scathing social satire (“The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar”), sometimes it’s derisive put-downs (“Positively 4th Street”) and sometimes it’s theatre of the absurd (Bob Dylan’s Dream). Dylan’s best songs, however, are convulsive and cubist in structure. Here, humour is used as one more prop in Dylan’s bag of lyrical tricks. Even at his most topical, Bob understood how tears of rage, tears of sadness, and tears of laughter are indistinguishable. Listen closely to “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol,” especially the last verse, and you’ll hear how he constructs it as an elaborate, difficult joke. William Zanzinger’s six-month sentence, within the construction of that song, is played as a cruel prank, a horrible joke — but a joke nonetheless. The way he builds up to that last line, with mawkish, sarcastic rhymes and perfectly-timed delays, shows that he’s arriving at a punchline. Elsewhere, the image of “guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” comes off as no less absurd than any of the brilliantly arranged comic set-pieces in “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.” Within the absurdist, cubist universe of his lyrics, no image is stable enough to be confined to a single mode of expression. There’s a current of sneering, derisive, impudent, impish, downright goofy laughter on those early masterpieces. No one comes away without being riffed on. I think he picked this up from Allen Ginsberg who would read “Howl” to college audiences and would have them all howling with laughter. Everyone got mocked. I’m glad Bob rediscovered this skill on his recent albums and I think that’s why they’re so much better than the stuff that preceded them. When he excavated the surrealist side of Americana (particularly on “Love and Theft” and “The Tempest”), he seemed to find rejuvenation from wearing that mischievous mask again. It’s amazing to hear him, in a growling voice, stacking these complex, multifaceted comic images that fuse Mark Twain’s riverboat ribaldry and Guillaume Apollinaire’s cubist verse until he’s rehearsing this hilarious and horrifying apocalyptic vaudeville. It’s open mic night with Stagger Lee! Howlin’ Wolf doing his impression of Benny Goodman! There’s still plenty of laughter for, and at, this brutal world he seems to be saying on his most recent recordings. That’ll be his legacy as a humorist.

MS:  As an academic what do you think of the surge of Bob Dylan studies, Bob Dylan wings being built at all the major institutions, etc.?

AD:  I know it’s inevitable, but it is unsettling all the same. I just hope that students don’t forget what made him so dangerous, what made him such a threat to the very establishments they’ll be publishing papers for and pursuing tenure within, in the first place. I hope, also, they appreciate the irony of studying a poet who railed against these places which sell “roadmaps for the soul.” I take comfort, however, in the fact that his recordings – especially the live ones from 1966 and 1975 – are so volatile, so threatening, so aggressively defiant, that they’ll retain their unsettling power for decades to come.

MS:  Every year there’s some buzz that Dylan should receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, then some grey-bearded defenders of Literature harrumph their way into the conversation and say it should go to someone experimenting with aphonetic clicking sounds as text.  You think he should get it?

AD:  No, I don’t think he should get it. To explain why, I’ll paraphrase a terrific argument I read once, though I can’t for the life of me remember where. The author of that piece argued, quite rightly, that Dylan, though deserving of the award, doesn’t need it and we don’t need Dylan to receive it. No one will discover Dylan because of the award; he has all the recognition he needs and requires to transmit his art. He was in a Victoria’s Secret commercial with Adriana Lima, for God’s sake. No one needs a Nobel after that. His genius has been acknowledged worldwide. But there are other brilliant and deserving writers, who are reading their novels or poems to rooms of maybe twenty or thirty people (while Dylan continues playing incomprehensible versions of “Blowing in the Wind” to basketball arena-sized crowds), who do need the Nobel – which immediately guarantees financial stability and a wider audience – in order to continue creating. Yes, the Nobel committee makes indisputably pretentious selections but, for every poet exploring aphonetic clicking, there’s a Jose Saramago or a Kenzaburo Oe whose books start appearing on bookshelves, in deserving translations, outside of their homeland. I’d rather see the attention and cash go to Peter Nadas or Adonis, just for the sake of discovery, rather than pinning one more gold medal on the chest of the man who gave the world “Down in the Groove.”

MS:  Tarantula is not a very good novel, but it does have some funny moments.  From a literary perspective, what do you think of just reading Dylan songs on the page.

AD:  I have trouble with it. The music belonging to those words is too deeply set in my memory for the lyrics themselves to take on any independent rhythm or meaning. I wonder if you can even divorce the two like that. I mean, it’d be like reading a poem in translation – there would always be an element missing. It would be an interesting experiment though: give, say, “Visions of Johanna” to a scholar who has never heard the song and ask for an analysis.

MS:  Do you ever mishear Dylan until you read the lyrics?  For years I thought “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun” was “He understands your orphaned with his gun”, which, to the credit of my subconscious, may be a better line.

AD:  There was a long period of time when, if asked, I couldn’t say with absolute certainty that I recognized more than ten words in “Jokerman” as belonging to the English language. Everyone who has ever wanted to do a bad Dylan impersonation at a party for easy laughs should start here.

MS:  I think you understand that for a serious fan, to see Dylan in recent years is to really hope to hear one or two perfect songs.  I remember you were ecstatic to have heard “Nettie Moore” in 2006, and some other song when you were in Italy, can you talk about that moment when you realize he’s playing the song you came to hear?

AD:  When I saw Dylan in Viareggio, I remember that I had half an hour to get my ass over to the station to catch the last train back to Florence. I decided to stay, as I hadn’t really heard anything memorable up to that point. I was rewarded with an absolutely mesmerizing version of “Not Dark Yet” where Dylan sang the line “sometimes I don’t know why / I should even care” in a soft Dean Martin croon, where he adopted the attitude of what, in Italian, we call a menefreghista – someone who simply doesn’t give a fuck. Suddenly, the song shed the bottomless despair of the studio version and took on this resigned, accepting, satisfied sadness. For six minutes I watched Dylan inhabit the ghost of Roberto Murolo as he transformed “Not Dark Yet” into one of those unbearably light Neapolitan canzone of sweet Mediterranean melancholy. It was a perfect fusion of sound and place. Dylan as early Roman king. I slept in the train station that night on a bench. I have no regrets.

MS:  Top Five Dylan songs the casual listener has never heard?

AD:  To Ramona

One Too Many Mornings (Live 1966)

Romance in Durango

Red River Shore

Highwater (for Charley Patton)

MS:      Favourite Dylan album?

AD:      Blonde on Blonde.