Old man doesn’t know what to expect from Bob Dylan concert, blames Bob Dylan.

I am angry at a man I have never met.  His name is Stephen Wooten.  I’m about to say mean things about him.  So first, let me say a few nice things.  Stevie-bear, that’s a hell of a mustache.  I bet you are a great systems analyst/engineer and a better family man.  The writing in your piece for the Argus Leader is grammatically-correct and largely typo-free.

The charity ends there, for Wooten has written a stereotypically crappy review of a Bob Dylan concert.  This is the type of thing I lose sleep over.  I have already kicked my dog and thrown my trash on a neighbour’s lawn today as an indirect result of Wooten-based rage.

Here is a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of why Wootsy is now #1 on my shit-list.

After many weeks of anticipation, I attended the Bob Dylan concert at the Arena on Saturday night. I have been a Dylan fan for many, many years, from his folk days to his early electric, from his protest songs to his country songs and love ballads to his rowdy rock and roll. So I waited for the big night — waited for what should have been a great concert.

Not so angry yet.  He’s establishing that he’s a long-time fan, that’s fine.  He’s establishing his anticipation, great.  Motherfucking should have been a great concert, what the hell do you know Wooten?  Alright, breathe Mike.

Also, it’s funny how he capitalizes the word Arena.  Like it was the name of God.

The concert I attended was not the one I waited for. First of all, the sound system at the Arena is so bad that Dylan often was halfway through a song before I could tell what song he was performing. There was no spotlight on Dylan or the band, so you could not see them well. It might have been different for the first few rows on the floor, but back in row 13, you could not see well at all. It must have been even worse for the people sitting in the seats off the floor. Our chairs on the floor were padded, but they were so close together they made airline seats seem spacious.

My theory:  even with perfect sound you wouldn’t have recognized the songs until the choruses.  There are many rubes like you, and they all express this same complaint with the same degree of earnest outrage.  Guess what, the arrangements have changed a little bit since ’66.  If you listened to anything, anything other than your Greatest Hits CD (you just know this guy still listens to CDs, probably in either a boombox or one of those giant multi-disc changers from the 90s) you’d know that.  Man oh man, the Wootens of the world.

Couldn’t see from 13 rows back?  May I suggest corrective lenses, or stronger ones?

To his credit, Dylan did start on time and didn’t screw around. He played almost two hours straight through. And he does rock. But there was no interaction at all with the audience. And because the sound was so poor, you could not understand what he was singing, so the relationship wasn’t through his poetry either.

My dog was just kicked for a second time.  He is in the corner right now licking at his ribs.  In this paragraph we find Wootsy’s only reference to the music, which he seems to have enjoyed, claiming it “rocked.”

Then comes the line that has my other dog currently cowering in fear beneath the bed. If you Google,  “Bob Dylan talk to audience” you will find an estimated fifty million reviews by small-town hack newspaper reporters issuing this lament as informed criticism.  What do you want him to say, “Big shout out to my friends at the fucking Argus Leader, that news organization is really making an impact in the world.  The answer my friends, can more often than not be found in the Argus Leader.”  Or, “Hey the Outback Steakhouse you have here in Argus[1] is way better than the Outback Steakhouse in Garretson[2].”  Bob doesn’t really say much during shows you fools.  When he does it is subtle and hilarious.  Also, Stephen Wooten, Bob Dylan does not want to have a relationship with you. No matter how many discs can be played in your CD player at once, got that?

I have been to many concerts at the Washington Pavilion. This was my first and last concert at the Arena. I longed for the Washington Pavilion.

Sir, no one cares about your regional venue concerns.  But please do not use them in an article that is headlined Bob Dylan Concert Dissapoints Fan or in any way as to convey Bob Dylan = disappointment.

And again with that capitalized Arena.   I notice in the comments it’s always the Arena so maybe these people have some weird, reverential Arena-worship thing happening.

By the end of the night, I was sorry: Sorry that I had spent money on a disappointing concert, sorry that I had missed the master poet and artist Dylan, and sorry that he had missed the opportunity to connect with me. I should have stayed home.

Oh no, Stephen Wooten is experiencing regret.  Worse, Bob Dylan, get this, missed the opportunity to connect with Stephen Wooten.  That should have been the Argus Leader’s headline, 26-point superheader: “Dylan does not connect with fellow great man Wooten.”

Should have stayed home?  Do everyone a favour and always stay home.  And Argus Leader, do everyone a favour also and disband the Argus Leader Opinion Advisory Panel immediately so that nothing like this will ever appear again.

[1] I don’t know if Argus is a place or what and I really don’t care.

[2] Home to Steve “Stache-Man” Wooten.

Toronto Singer/Songwriter Jack Marks discusses Bob Dylan

Mike Sauve:   Your act usually contains several Bob Dylan songs.  At your most engaged you deliver lyrics with a hostile immediacy that may seem familiar to some Dylan fans.  You have a song called Good As I’ve Been To You which is also the title of a 1992 Dylan album of traditional songs.  You have another original song that sounds a lot like Leopard-Skin-Pillbox Hat.  It seems like Dylan is, if not front-and-centre, then at least prominent in what you’re putting across, discuss:

Jack Marks:   Let me start by saying certainly I am a Dylan fan but by no means would I consider myself a Dylan scholar. I remember hearing Masters of War when I was like 15 and thinking how great it was someone could get that much feeling across with just a guitar and some singing – which was all I really had at the time. It also struck me that the character of ones voice could be as or more important than the quality. Not that I consider Dylan’s voice to be of poor quality but there are those who do and who did. What struck me with Dylan was that his poetry was at the forefront of the song where as in many other forms of popular music the rhythm and the melody were at the forefront. As a kid who was interested in writing and that didn’t think too much of his own voice, Dylan seemed like a perfect place to start.

I wouldn’t say that my act contains a bunch of Dylan songs for any particular reason other than that I enjoy playing them and I can remember the words. Any band that is starting out needs material and so when I first was forming a band I would just play the songs I knew the words to. Often songs I had learned for the purpose of busking or otherwise – because I liked the chord structure or the melody or the words. If I play a Dylan song or a Roger Miller song or a John Prine song or a Leonard Cohen song it is usually just because it is one that stuck with me along the way. In saying that, it makes sense to assume that many of the covers I do have influenced my own writing in some way. I’m sure there are many things that I have borrowed that I may not even be conscious of having done so just because all the songs I’ve ever heard are swimming around in my subconscious somewhere. I became aware of that a long time ago.

One of the roadblocks all artist’s face I guess is the feeling that what they are producing isn’t original enough. One of the things that really got me about Dylan particularly was the fact that he was taking a lot of existing chord structures and melodies and re-working them to create new songs. In the same way that Dylan borrowed melodies from an old slave ballad like No More Auction Block for Blowin’ in the Wind and a traditional song like Lord Randall for A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall I began to consider borrowing from Dylan, or anyone else for that matter, as simply carrying on a tradition that they had already started.

One of the first Dylan songs I learned was Song to Woody. I loved the song immediately for the way it celebrated being a travelling musician and how it, in essence, was Dylan’s way of thanking Woody for inspiring him to carry on the tradition Woody had already started. When I soon after discovered that Dylan had borrowed the line “come with the dust and are gone with the wind” from Guthrie – for the song he had written for him – and that he’d borrowed the melody from Guthrie’s own 1913 Massacre I was blown away. It changed the way I thought about songwriting entirely. I became less focused on the idea of creating something that was unequivocally original and began to see song writing as a craft that like any other skill had rules and structures to learn. Rules are often broken in the pursuit of art but it is always helpful to know what the rules are before you set about tearing them down.

Dylan, of course did a lot of groundbreaking in terms of what a song could be, how long a song could be and the content of the lyrics etc. but he also wrote in standard structures. I usually think of this structure – verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / verse / chorus – as the most common structure in popular music (I’m sure others may argue differently, but that is at least my perception). As a form, it isn’t a bad place to start if you have an idea for a song and just want to see if it will go somewhere. Say that doesn’t work, though. Maybe it just doesn’t feel right – it feels stale and used up. You could try a structure that doesn’t have a conventional chorus or verse or bridge at all. Dylan uses forms like this all the time. Instead of having a chorus these songs often have a tag line attached to the end of the verse that creates the poetic refrain eliminating the need for a chorus at all. See Shelter from the Storm and Tangled up in Blue. I always loved Ballad of a Thin Man because it is essentially a song written in this structure and then out of nowhere comes a bridge to keep you hooked for the back half of the song. Visions of Johanna is beautiful in the way the tag line is modified each time revealing the visions’ varied effects. When you hear songs structured like that nowadays I imagine most people associate it with Dylan because he was such a master at it. Of course it was a structure that he’d learned from traditional songs – but try writing a song like that and see if people won’t compare you to Dylan these days.

When I picked up Dylan’s album of traditional arrangements, Good as I Been to You I was staying up north for a few weeks writing a lot of songs. I immediately noticed that the album title was taken from a line in, and not a title of, one of the songs. I thought that the line sounded like a great title for a country song and so I wrote one. The song set up perfectly to be a duet and so I had my friend Stacey Burke come in the studio and perform the female part. It’s because of her that the song is still one of my favorites on my first record.

Mike Sauve:  You do lot of up-tempo Dylan material like Pledging My Time, From a Buick 6 (I’m a big fan of your delivery on “need a steamshovel mama to keep away the dead”) or You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, but as a songwriter who’s written some melancholy numbers like Two of Everything and What Good are Dreams, do you ever think of performing something weepy like Restless Farewell or Girl from the North Country? Or even something from the hospice-toned Time Out of Mind?

Jack Marks:   I never really think about doing many slow Dylan tunes. We are often playing venues where having a few extra upbeat tunes to keep people dancing at the end of the night is handy. There are hundreds of Dylan songs I like and wouldn’t mind covering but these days I am much more concerned with my own words.

Mike Sauve:   Talk of your history.  I’ve seen YouTube clips of you performing in other countries (Germany), so can we get a ruck-sacking, self-mythologizing troubadour story here, or were you on an international accounting scholarship or something?

Jack Marks:   Ha. Actually, it was a German promoter’s idea. He had become a fan of my music after a friend who’d been passing through the year before had given him a copy of my album. He proposed a way for me to come over and play and I jumped at the opportunity. There was also some interest for me to play in Holland after my first album charted briefly on the Euro americana chart so it soon turned into a tour. I met a lot of great folks over there – played some interesting venues – saw a lot of fantastic architecture. I would love to get back there soon and bring a band next time.

Mike Sauve:   Dave Van Ronk’s mentorship of Bob Dylan is something I find quite touching, did any Toronto musicians mentor you in this fashion?

Jack Marks:   I wouldn’t say that anyone mentored me like Van Ronk mentored Dylan, necessarily. When I got to Toronto on a permanent basis I was already in my mid-twenties so I was already somewhat formed in my opinions about music and had already crafted a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do if given the chance. I was lucky enough to meet a great guy and fellow songwriter named David Baxter who saw some potential in me and eventually offered me the opportunity to make an album. Bax was a mentor and a colleague all at the same time. His experience was invaluable in teaching me something about the business and how records got made and people got paid – but at the same time we were both working on our first solo efforts and plotting to have them heard. It was an important time for both of us I think.

Mike Sauve:   Give me a few words on a Toronto mainstay like John Borra?

Jack Marks:   John was one of the first guys I met after starting to play around the Toronto scene. He is a great guy – a hell of a songwriter – a guy who makes his living through music. I always tell him he does the best Hank Williams in the city.

MS:     Upstart Devin Cuddy?

JM:     Devin is the master of ceremonies. I think he sees himself in some sort of Duke Ellington role down the line now that his hockey career is on the shelf. He plays a mean blues piano and knows more about music than just about anyone I know. I think everyone is looking forward to his first record.

MS:     Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands-type Whitney Rose?

JM:     Whitney is a premium blue chip entertainer. Not only does she have a powerful voice and stage presence but she writes great songs too. On top of that I believe she may have a different dress for each day of the year. Again, everyone is looking forward to her first record.

MS:     Back to Dylan: What’s your favourite Dylan album and why?

JM:     That is a tough one. It is hard to pick a favorite. Right now when I reach for Dylan I guess I usually grab Planet Waves or New Morning. I’m not sure why. Nobody likes folks that play favourites, anyway.

MS:     Most underrated Dylan tune?  (or three or four most underrated if you prefer)

JM:     That is kind of an easy question because he didn’t have many hits so I guess most of them are underrated. How about Love is Just a Four-Letter Word. That was one of the ones where I was thinking, “he didn’t write that, did he?” Plus I don’t think he ever recorded it. Baez must have overcooked it for him. That should qualify as underrated.

MS:     I didn’t get seriously into Dylan until my early 20s.  As a kid I had the Greatest Hits V. 1 and 2 and for youthful stupidity didn’t look beyond that.  It was actually Time Out of Mind that first inspired me to dig deeper.  How did it go for you?

JM:     I guess the first thing I heard – or listened to – was Like a Rolling Stone when I was 14 or 15. My Dad used to play Dylan sometimes in the car when we were on road trips when I was young. He wasn’t a big Dylan fan by any stretch and I think he thought of Dylan as somewhat of a novelty but at the same time he was always into exposing us to different things. From there I took a fairly chronological approach starting from his early folk records on up. I wasn’t really into the later Dylan stuff at all when I was young. I was hooked on the Woody Guthrie / Jimmy Rodgers mythos back then and liked the idea of just a folk guitar and singing – something I could do without a band. I used to dress in pretty raggedy clothes and just tote my acoustic around everywhere. I guess I thought there was something noble in it – standing in front of a bank or a liquor store and hitchhiking around and playing songs. By the time I was 16 I was starting to write some songs tailored after Dylan songs – they weren’t any good – but I was trying. A gal I was seeing around then used to play Desire and Nashville Skyline like they were the only two records that ever existed. I didn’t mind one bit. It was like something that we knew about that nobody else had figured out yet.

MS:     I sometimes hear an early-Dylanesque drawl in your singing voice, particularly on the repeated “hards” in your song So Hard, how intentional is this?

JM:     It is completely intentional but at the same time comes somewhat naturally if that makes any sense. I like to think that I come from the school of songwriting that allows for a certain flexibility of character. When you hear Mick Jagger sing Far Away Eyes, do you ask if he is faking a southern accent? No – you just accept that it is in keeping with the character of the song. When you see early Tom Waits stuff you know that he is putting on a character – but yes – that is the point. That is the school of songwriting I like to think that I come from. If I write a funny country song like Greasy Maggie there is a sort of natural drawl that comes out because that is how I envision the character in the song. If I am singing a song from the point of a down and out drunk who fancies himself a poet that misses his woman like in So Hard my voice takes on something different maybe – something more like a blues or jazz singer. At the same time I try not to ever affect my voice so much that you don’t know it’s me. They are all just kind of versions of me. I have lived lots of different places too in my life and they all serve to add something to the way I talk and write. It comes down to being a fiction writer and an entertainer. My songs are written from experience to a certain extant but are not what I would call confessional. Each one is kind of like a monologue with its own character. Some characters are more closely related to me than others.

Nashville Skyline is an interesting example of your question in relation to Dylan – and this is just an opinion – but on Nashville Skyline it almost seems like his voice is probably closest to his “real singing voice” than the voice he uses on most of his records. Some people would disagree but I think it was just such a departure that people described it as affected. In reality it was the “folk voice” that he had developed early on that was the affected voice. By the time he got around to using his real voice people wouldn’t buy it anymore.

MS:     Some Dylan songs you play live might not even be recognized by younger audience members…another good one might be Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.  It has a lot of funny lines I could hear you talking out like, “Don’t know what I could say about Claudette/that wouldn’t come back to haunt me/guess I began to give her up/about the time she began to want me.”  Take that Claudette.  Kind of sounds like something from your acerbic Song for Me.

JM:     Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar is a great song. I was first introduced to it off the Biography collection. I remember sitting in my buddy’s Chevy Nova in the parking lot of our high school smoking a joint listening to it and we just kept rewinding the tape and playing it over an over again. We were mostly blown away by how many words he was fitting into a line. I’ve never heard anyone cover it. It would be a pretty bold undertaking.

[At 25 seconds, it sounds like Bob says, “Facebook”]

MS:     You’ve been in the studio recording a third album called Blues Like These, how will it differ from the first two?

JM:     For one thing, I am using a new band and a new producer (Aaron Comeau) this time. It has been two years since the last time I made a record so a lot has changed and evolved in that time. The first two albums represented a certain amount of purging of a backlog of material I had written that had never been recorded where as the new album will be comprised mostly of songs written in the past few years. Also, I tried to make the recording process this time around a bit more organic going with more of a live off the floor approach. I think it is going to translate the songs really well.

You can check out Jack’s website here.

Downtown After-hours Club Attracts All Kinds, Including Police – National Post, Toronto Section – 2008/03/28

DJ Booth at the Comfort Zone

I’ve been to The Comfort Zone about 10 times.  There are dealers, junkies and general scumbags just as you’ve read in the news.  One area was always filled with hulking shirtless gay dudes, Russian gangster-looking types or Chinese gangster-types.  Relatively normal people are the slight majority however.  I met a television producer at The Zone once, a real-estate agent, and a couple lawyers.

Other intimate morning promotions like The New Basement are patronized by house aficionados and scenesters, but seem quaint, almost prudish by comparison.  With crowds of up to 300 hardcore partiers stuffed into a dirty little basement from 4 a.m. Sunday morning, till 4 a.m. Monday morning, The Comfort Zone has been in a league of its own since the mid 90’s.  It’s even buzzed about in club scenes like Sydney, London and Miami.  There is no other place like The Comfort Zone in Toronto.

With a second consecutive Sunday morning raid on Easter Sunday, police hope to discourage people from going.  They’d like to close the place down, but currently don’t have legal grounds. Club regulars are confident it will remain open indefinitely.  Some even gloated that the DJ Deko-Ze dropped a hard beat before authorities had even left the building after Sunday’s smaller scale raid during which two men were charged with selling ecstasy, ketamine and GHB.  The previous raid resulted in 33 arrests and the confiscation of $30,000 worth of drugs.

Typically, the College and Spadina venue attracts those who’ve partied all night at a massive club like Guvernment, an all-night gay club or anywhere a DJ spins house music.  People show up between 4 and 8 a.m. on a Sunday.  If a party-person takes ecstasy at 5 a.m., their serotonin-happy brain might consider resting at home far more objectionable than this dank, weirdo pit.

Glance over your shoulder and a 65-year-old Korean woman is energetically bopping to the hard drum and bass beat.  One regular had a severe neurological impairment, he’d sit shirtless in the middle of the dance floor steering his wheelchair to the repetitive beat.

There is a black-light on the dance floor that makes everyone appear somewhat monsterish whether you are on drugs or not.  This creates a sinister element that thrills and disgusts at the same time.  There are gorgeous 19-year-old girls and terrifying old hags who claim they’re 35.  You can spill your guts about your divorce to some kid who listens better than your therapist, or get ripped off by a career hustler.

“It’s the only club I know of that you can attend in pajamas if you want. I’ve done it once, and I give everybody props that I see in sneakers, a tee, and pajama pants. It is after all the ‘Comfort’ Zone. Anything goes, within reason,” said Danny Rosado, an event planner now living in New York.

At 11 a.m. The Silver Dollar opens. Walk up a flight of stairs and show your ID, get searched by a bouncer, then listen to a different DJ, maybe take in a break-dancing competition and pour a little booze on top of your drug buzz.

Rosado points out that DJs like Deko-Ze measure up with talent at the hottest clubs in the world.  “The sound system is incredible. The fact that it’s a basement with low ceilings makes the bass even more powerful, and the tracks that much more intense. It’s very dark with subtle lighting that gets you more in tune with your senses. It’s almost primal when you’re in the zone at Zone.”

“The reason the music appeals is the tactile high MDMA gives you, and to have that subsonic pressure in the air you literally feel it.  It’s like pushing yourself in a womb,” said Scott O’Nanski, a bouncer who’s worked in the industry for over a decade.  “I’d like to say it’s about the music and the scene, but it hasn’t been about that since 1998.  It is about drug use.”

On Facebook many call it their church and consider the police raids a brutal injustice.   Rosado sees something of value in The Zone that he feels hasn’t been recognized.  “The community proves to be beneficial for so many people. For some people like my best friend, his friends from the scene are his family. We are all he has. And some days, with great music and great friends, Comfort Zone can feel like home for some people.  The people that love that place take care of that place and each other.”

Zone rats, as some proudly identify, don’t deny the dangerous and unsavoury elements, but they prefer to focus on the kind-hearted people who discuss Noam Chomsky on couches or the open vibe that allows many new friendships to blossom.

O’Nanski doesn’t buy the “family of music-lovers” line.  “The number of people who aren’t there for drugs is negligible,” he said.  Finding drugs isn’t difficult.  Dealers circle the club asking if you need anything.  Ecstasy costs the uninitiated $15 and could be cut with DXM and other elements far removed from MDMA.

“Anyone with even the most basic observational skills can determine the traffic flow will gravitate towards one individual, and he’s the guy to go to because he has the good stuff at a good price.  You’re looking at a four to six hour high for as low as $10,” said the 34-year-old O’Nanski.

He believes The Comfort Zone appeals to suburbanites and 905’ers like Andrew Fazio because “it’s a subculture, not mainstream and not readily acceptable.  It’s a hedonistic lifestyle people can’t experience in their daily life and it is over the top to the point where people can die.”  He points out that after tripping from midnight to 8 a.m., some who don’t live downtown come down at The Zone to avoid driving home stoned.

Whether Comfort Zone culture intrigues or horrifies you, it’s hard to deny that reckless ingesting of drugs containing unknown chemicals makes The Zone a hazard, especially for new patrons.  O’Nanski is amazed more people haven’t died for this reason, “They don’t know GHB can be concentrated to an extent where you won’t know how potent what you’re taking is.  They don’t know that an E could have chemicals that your liver can’t break down.  They don’t understand the inherent dangers.”

The Confederate Orbs of Ghostly Savannah

I’ve committed the federal crime of harassing an alligator.  I’ve received photographic evidence of the malevolent entity that has afflicted me for the past year or two.  I’ve learned that the phrase “washroom” is not understood in the American south. I’ve participated in a game of “blues bingo” wherein a blues musician extemporizes blues phrases like “B39, I been walkin’ down that line.”  I swam in the ocean for the first time since I was very young.  I was improbably conveyed on something known as a “boogie board.”  I’ve been moved nearly to tears by the effect of Virginia Oaks against the backdrop of 18th-century Savannah architecture.  I’ve drank in a bar where at closing time the bouncer insisted I pour my unfinished drink in a traveller, a convenience that if attempted in my native Toronto, one risks a potential tarring/feathering/tasing for.

My long suffering companion (Hereafter:  LSC) and I got our first taste of Southern Hospitality at a Wild Wing Cafe.  After drinking one of those large margaritas that in Canada would maybe have two shots of tequila but here have between 7 and 12, we met another couple out on the town.  They took us to a bar where we engaged in a spirited game of darts and learned about a beer called Yuengling.

Monday:   S.O.P. Savannah trolley tour.  Hangovers often produce in me a strange reverie and a heightened emotional state, so it was no surprise that my first view of the historic district surrounding Forsyth Park, where Savannah is most beautiful, moved me near tears.  But maybe they were near-tears of relief, me being the sort who is constantly let down by any kind of vacation investment…as David Foster Wallace wrote in Consider the Lobster:

As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. […] To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.

That’s how I usually feel.  But I didn’t feel that way in Savannah.  I felt like I was watching a film by Terrence Malick, listening to Dylan circa 1975; I felt blessed by good fortune.

That night we dined on subs at Jimmie John’s—and seriously, when can Canada get these?  The freshness of their simple subs made all the salt-preserved garbage of Subway seem like some kind of sandwich-in-a-can product.

Monday night:  the ghost trolley tour didn’t disappoint.  Many patrons had Iphone apps with names like “Spectre Detector” to measure electromagnetic anomalies.  Though no base-line was first sought out, any kind of spike was a thrill for these app-enthusiasts.    (And man, did they ever seem to love apps in general.)

But then something legitimately spooked us.  Outside a graveyard filled with victims of the revolutionary war, a blue orb was photographed in my vicinity in five different photos.   Photos taken in opposite directions proved it was not a smudge on the lens.  It did not appear to be an halation, “a halo-shaped exposure-pattern around light sources seen on chemical film…” or as one of Wallace’s characters describes halation in Infinite Jest, “That most angelic of distortions.”

Normally my LSC works hard to dismiss things of this nature before I can get “carried away.”  Her attempts at scepticism aren’t based on the usual blind rationalism however, but out of a serious fear of all things creepy.  Fortunately, I was among many Spectre Detector app owners, for whom the orb pictures justified their $35 tour fee, and saw them burst forth in basically paroxysms.  Pretty cool orbs though, judge for yourself.

The tour then visited The Pirates House, a bar in operation since 1753, and the place where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island.  I had my picture taken in front of a tunnel that was once used to shanghai soldiers aboard ships.  “Shanghai” meaning, some old dude is buying you drinks, someone hits you from behind, a quick trip through this tunnel later and soon you’re scrubbing floors on a ship bound for China.

Tuesday: a Civil War Walking Tour that really brought to life Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the Civil War I’d began reading in preparation for the trip.  Lesson:  The Civil War is interesting as hell.  If not necessarily so for the LSC, then at least for students of history, both serious students and dilettantish ones like myself.

Also, for non-Americans, I might note that a Confederate flag is not just the signifier of racism ever-present in the stereotype (see for example, the flag hanging in the truck of white rapists in A Time to Kill), but actually represents all sorts of positive tradition and pride[1].  But, I think the perception in the North, is, like, confederate flag = pro slavery, which is true I’m guessing less than 5% of the time.

Then a S.O.P. dolphin tour and S.O.P ocean swim.  All of which should not be denounced as standard or boring but to what lengths would anyone want me to go to describe the feeling of swimming in the ocean, certainly this has been done better in thousands if not millions of places.

So I’ll instead describe the somewhat disappointing Blues and Bingo event we attended.  Looking for a bar playing blues music, I assumed the game of Bingo would be going on separate from the blues performance.  Not so, the musician, a well-known local regarded as a technical whiz, was calling out the Bingo numbers in tandem with standard blues lyrics, “A24, oh my girl walked out the door.”

The LSC was bit by many noseeums and these bites swelled to horrific proportions leading to no small amount of complaining, CVS trips, and angry calls to the previous night’s hotel manager filled with malicious and capricious bed bug accusations & c.

Wednesdsay:  Driving towards South Carolina we stopped at a Wildlife Refuge and took pictures of Alligators and crazy looking birds.  Also the Virginia Oaks were particularly prevalent and beautiful on the 4-mile stretch of drivable preservation.

Thursday:  The second of a couple nights at Hilton Head on an ocean-front resort.  But more like hotel really.  Bad food.  Rental fees for beach chairs.

Friday/Saturday:   Staying two nights in the Mansion on Forsyth Park really put things over the top.  Keller, who owns five-star hotels in all the best cities in America, seems to furnish them as a labour of personal love with little concern for when he’ll earn the money back.  There looked to be about $10 million worth of art on the walls, a pool right out of Beverley Hills that was the nicest I’ve ever swam in, with the whole gorgeous property just oozing Savannah charm.

While staying at this joint we attended a Savannah Sand Gnats game (the A ball affiliate of the New York Mets), went to mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, sat by the pool, and then ended things with the coolest tour of the trip.

Ghosts again but this time on a pub crawl.  At the first bar I ordered a vodka-soda that I swear had 3-5 ounces of alcohol in it.   The host was incredibly charming and funny.  Hit all the right notes.  Didn’t try to get serious till the very end when she talked about ghosts following her home, scratching her, accosting her daughter, etc.

It ended in what I considered comedy of the highest order.  But I was forbidden by the LSC to confirm the accuracy of the perceived comedy with the host.

A woman on the tour with fairly slim shoulders and legs, but a rather protrusive abdomen became very woozy and upset and was pantomiming low-scale possession, so the tour’s host asked her, “You know why it’s affecting you don’t you?”

On previous tours it had been stated that ghosts are fond of pregnant women due to certain hormonal energies the putative ghosts can latch onto.  But the victim of wooziness just looked confused and answered, “No.”

I believe the host was implying pregnancy, but now doubting the nearly-implied pregnancy, she back-pedalled somewhat weakly, “Because you’re special.”

The host probably wouldn’t have speculated in the direction of pregnancy if she’d observed the 8 or so Long Island Ice Teas the wooziness/possession-victim had consumed.  The victim then sort of fell on the stairs and continued lying on the stairs until she was attended to and removed.

It seems like most people in Savannah, excluding the wealthy elites, are employed in either tourism or in the maintenance and restoration of historic sites.  That’s pretty cool.  What really struck me is how those making minimum wage at Sub Shops and so forth really had a positive vibe.  In Toronto, take a good hard look at people behind the counter at a fast food place and you’re going to absorb some sadness/low-scale anger if you’re an empathic person.  Savannah’s minimum wage-earners seemed perfectly content.  There’s perhaps something less materialistic about life in Savannah.   There’s also something nourishing about the history and the proud upkeep of the place.  I wonder if a gas station or supermarket would sponsor me for a Visa?




[1] In addition to perhaps some signifiers of racism I suppose it must be granted.

Dylan Can’t ‘Stay in Mississippi’ Long Enough for True Fans

To the astonishment and gratitude of serious fans and to the ambivalence of lesser ones, Bob Dylan has played Mississippi for more than ten concerts in a row.  Prior to this he had only played it on a few (?) occasions shortly after its 2001 release on Love and Theft.  There are also two lovely versions of it on Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8.  Both Sheryl Crow and The Dixie Chicks have covered it.

A friend of mine was in an argument with an ill-informed girl who said with an assured arrogance typical of the ill-informed that she didn’t listen to any Dylan post-1966 (a year in which she was not even alive).  He sent her not even the song, but just the lyrics to Mississippi and she quickly changed her tune.

It contains couplets that measure with some of the best verses in Dylan’s peerless body of work.

I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

As someone who was raised in a small isolated community and still misses his old life, still dreams of his old friends whether I want to or not, and has suffered plenty of  metropolitan heartbreak, this line will always be particularly resonant for me.

But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Not only a beautiful line, but this is refreshing for long-time fans to hear.  The Dylan of the late 80s certainly gave the impression of having a weary, heavy heart.  The Dylan of the early 90s was a confirmed alcoholic.

The second line is also such a warm and generous remark from a person who has long been accused of being aloof and leery of hangers-on, manipulators, etc.  Here we see the warmer incarnation of Bob’s spirituality, as opposed to his End Times a Comin-style evangelical masterpieces like Blind Willie McTell or Slow Train Comin’.  This is an older, wiser, kinder Bob.  I’ll take ten.

Sung live, I see that affection line as a good replacement for this applause-generator in Spirit on the Water:

You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin’ good time

It’s like Bob, who has previously said that he’d have to retire if people stopped showing up to his concerts, is offering an appreciation to the effect of:  “Hey you’re still here; I got nothing but affection for you!”

So many things that we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

This simple message of forgiveness, one of the most concise and beautiful lines Bob’s ever written, is delivered with heartbreaking pathos on the official releases (some might argue:  because Dylan could still sing then) but in 2011, live, it’s delivered in the fashion of a mentally insane children’s performer.  The too being practically yodelled like many, many octaves higher than the pure gravel of the preceding lyrics.   A critical listener might sneer and say, “Uh, is it meant to be funny Bob?”

Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interestin’ right about now

Yet more built-in encouragement for we fans who aren’t going anywhere no matter how funny/weird/scary Bob sounds.

And things getting “interesting right about now,” is fascinating given the time period in which the song was written—immediately preceding the glorious comeback years of 1997 through 2003 (it’s debatable in which year the purest glory of this comeback ended).

Maybe he’s singing Mississippi again because he’s confident he’s on the verge of yet another reinvention/resurgence.

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way

A possible admission that Bob understands he’s lost something [like his ability to sing melodic notes (except in that bedeviling White House performance{below})]?

So, as said above, serious fans are counting down the days to whichever show they hold tickets for, hoping this song remains in the setlist.  Fickle fans who only hope to hear Like a Rolling Stone are murmuring “Is this one of his new ones?”

What’s important is that Bob has another collection of ingenius lines to play with in his inimitably fun way.   It’s probably not a huge deal to Bob what anyone thinks anyway—say anything you wannna, the bard has heard it all.

Bob Dylan Review 07/08/11 – Rochester Hills, MI

As a Dylan advocate (you might at times have said “apologist”) I sometimes fear my legitimate praise of the great man will be perceived as mindless fawning.

So let me first complain about the last show I’d seen at the Kitchener Aud (terrible acoustics) with a bunch of Greatest Hits enthusiasts, and poor Bob looking almost bored to tears.  Even at this type of vaguely disheartening show I’d rationalize:  “Well it looked like he was having a good time.”  I was saying this because he bobbed his knees a few times.  And because at previous shows I’d seen he’d looked like he was having a downright bad time.

Well, last night in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Bob looked (not just to me but to even a neutral observer) like he was having a fucking hell of a time.  I think the biggest improvement is that Bob’s new configuration of switching from organ, to centre-stage crooning to playing guitar really mixes up the dynamic.

Previously, when all Bob did was plunk away on his circus organ (sometimes called the “instrument of torture”) things began to sound dreadfully similar and it could lull you to sleep, even if there were some grand moments.  It also led to a lot of sing-songy shouting that disappointed the people who wanted the songs to sound at least something like the songs they love.

But, now, for the handful of songs played on the IOT you get a great attack between the organ and Charlie Sexton’s subtle, exquisite guitar slinging.  In the past there had been accusations among knowledgeable fans that Bob was drowning Charlie out.

But it’s when Bob is crooning that his shows are now the most fun.  During his early 60s appearances in Greenwich Village some compared him to Charlie Chaplin because of the comical way he’d look nervous and uncomfortable before tearing into some ballad that held the room in the palm of his hand.  Also maybe because he is really short and cartoonishly cute in appearance.

Well, now the Chaplin comparison has come full circle as Dylan seems to, more than ever, embrace the role of comedian.  He prances about in a way so comical that I couldn’t help pointing it out to the somewhat aggravated “long-time-listeners-first-time-attendees” beside me.

These people were also trying to have a kind of religious experience with Bob but a kind that wasn’t quite up to date.  The woman was interested in my tips about what to expect.  But her companion, after delivering a non-sensical speech about Blowin’ in the Wind that kept coming back to his condemnation of marijuana-smoking, was shushed by his more-savvy companion, so he eventually became insecure and boorishly yelled at me to leave them alone in stereotypical American nastiness, for which his date later apologized, referring to him as “her friend” as though she wanted precious little to do with him after his dickish outburst.

As I have a sensitive psychic constitution this rattled me for the remainder of the show.  Also, because the premiere area under the pavilion is seated, it’s a totally different vibe than standing general admission which encourages dancing (and in my case, a Bob-inspired duck walk).  When I was yelling out the encouragement I felt Bob deserved I was generally perceived as a lunatic.

That brings me to my main point.  In the past I’ve had a theory that when an audience is rocking, Bob gives them what they deserve, but when an audience is passive Bob phones it in to a degree.  This might explain why the shows in Europe and abroad are consistently better than the ones in America.  Last night he fought through that beer-drunk passivity and just did what he does best now.

It’s my opinion that songs two through four are usually the highlight of any Dylan show.  And the last time I saw him, once those were over it was a long slow death march through Highway 61, Thin Man, etc.

Last night was a totally even show, consistently good from top to bottom.  Those aforementioned songs that I usually skip when listening to bootlegs are becoming nightly highlights.  It could also be that they’re meant to be heard live where the power of the band really comes across.  But more so than usual, the band was drum-tight on those songs.

The addition of Mississippi allows Bob to play with the lyrics to one of his most beautiful songs in the way he’s been doing with Visions of Johanna and Desolation Row for the last few years. 

For some this is, to quote one message board commentator, “pissing on the Mona Lisa,” but for others, going to a Bob show and hearing one of these lesser played masterpieces is, like, a reason for living.  I can attest to that somewhat extreme statement.  The night previous I’d been at a wedding, and, as usual, due to my proclivity for hard drinking and the sensitive psychic constitution mentioned above had made a sort of minor scene.  So I was hungover, plagued by guilt and a Kierkegaardian “sickness unto death,” and in this sorrowful condition, watching and hearing Bob healed and nourished me in ways that would only sound silly to anyone but a fellow Bob freak.

Back to the music:  When this boot comes out…pay particular attention to the clipped yelling on Things Have Changed.   Clipped yelling is what people have grumbled about for years.  Some idiots have even called for him to quit because of it.  Maybe that lit a fire under Bob.  Because this is a new kind of clipped yelling that even the Greatest Hits fans can’t help but be amused by.

Something is happening here…

Five Jokes (or: Five Sad Cries for Help)

–        If you’re like me, and I hope that you’re not…you are really sad all the time.  It’s not funny.  It’s not funny.  (funnier when spoken to a laughing audience)

–        Does this car accept what used to be known as a cd?

–        Am I a flake?  And if so, Why?  What does that even mean?  Does it have something to do with the fear that I regularly experience?  Is there something funny in it?  Or just something terrible?  Is there at least something in it that could be compressed to status update length?

–        Hilarious thought:   seeing Bret Hart out and kind of walking around and feeling sorry for him because he’s not the man he used to be.

–        I know this girl with really bad breath, and it’s like “should I tell her for her own good?” but then, what if there are horrible things about me?   If there’s anything horrible about me that you know just keep it to yourself because I can’t fucking deal with it.

What Bob Dylan Fans Are Saying About Pablo Dylan


Son of Jesse Dylan, grandson of Bob Dylan, Pablo Dylan recently made a big Internet splash with his confident young The Times They Are A-Changin’ face a-gracing his recently released mixed tape.  Bloggers made their usual quick and easy jokes.  Many failed to note that young Pablo is singing the chorus and not rapping the verses.

As a hardcore Dylan fan I was hoping for something special, so I was a little disappointed by his generic “bitches and hos”-themed auto-tuned release.  I guess it was foolish to expect some kind of Positively 4th Street style call-out song so early in young Pablo’s career.

Maybe I’m just cynical, or hold Bob’s progeny to unrealistic standards.  So here’s what some other serious Dylan fans are saying, in most cases, more insightful that what the putative professional writers had to offer.  (My occasional comments are in italics.)

From Expecting Rain.com

Geranium Kiss says:  The way his head is tilted and he is looking at the camera reminds me of bob on cover of Nashville Skyline? Anyone else see that?

BobonMyMind says:  A little scary listening to a 16 year old rap about getting drunk and puking. Worries me…

Paul800M says:  Looks to me like Bob in High School.  

Blue Midnight says:  I get the feeling that he wants to hitchhike on the name of his grandfather … and I don’t like his music .

From Huffington Post:

Rob Cypher says:  So is this kid and Tom Hanks’s kid going to do a rap collab soon? CAN’T WAIT!

Helioszephyr says:  Apparently grandpa didn’t have a long “sit-down” with Pablo about what inspired music in the 60’s… or at least didn’t proofread Pablo’s comments.  (That Jay-Z comment rubbed me the wrong way too!)

Facts About China says:  What’s with the faux hardass photo of Pablo?

Peeperay says:  Apparently you can only dilute the Zimmerman DNA so much with each succeeding generation­, though Pablo’s young enough to still pick up a guitar and figure things out.

Cynth says:  It’s got to be tough being in the shadows of Bob and Jakob. He’s showing initiative for a 15-year old, but he’s going to have to transcend the contempora­ry hip hop cliches, develop a better ear for rhymes, and have something real to say. If he can become a great hip-hop lyricist, as his grandfathe­r and uncle did in their genres, then he has a chance of “getting that crown.” He might also learn from Jakob and not invoke his lineage too much, if at all: keeping his head down and learning to be a solid artist will earn him respect; talking about being a Dylan descendent won’t. Good luck to him.

Cheekyspoon says:  I hope this is just a hobby.

TheEnergyDD2 says:  Sorry Bob… your grandson ain’t even as Hip-Hop as you are… Sounds like the same old watered down audio-tune rap that everyone is putting out… Nothing you would expect from a Dylan. I guess Jay-Z remains the “Bob Dylan of rap”…

Knothare1230 says:  What is up with all the bitterness towards this kid going after his dream? Tupac he isn’t. A young man that has a lot to learn about his chosen craft-True but he sounds as good as a 15 year old rapper does. What else do you think their is for a 15 year old rapper to do but hip-pop? When he has developed his style and has lived long enough to have something to say than we will know if he got a future in hip-hop. And Actually until then he still sounds like someone that could provide better music to his peers than 90% of the stuff they have to chose from.  (Good point Knotty, Bob himself wasn’t quite yet blowing people away at 15…in fact around that time his Little Richard inspired piano-pounding was downright frowned upon by those in charge of the high school dance he played at).

Coalman987 says:  Bob is rolling over in his grave…an­d he isn’t even dead yet. No but seriously this is just mediocre rapping. Kid doesn’t have flow.

VincentNegroMan says:  As a rap fan and a fan of his grandpa I must say, That was bad. Very remedial needs to up his word play and production­. If he gets hooked up with a good mentor he may be able to improve. As of right now he needs to go back to the lab and work on his rhyme book.

Jo Le Tiel says:  not just bad, embarrassi­ng. makes Tom Hanks’ kid sound good. Minstrelsy­, or what? Let’s add to those lists of “First World Problems” online: Being tragically born to families of the rich and famous. Really, what could be worse, dude? Buy a skateboard­.

Mexichick87 says:  The kid is trying to find himself. I’m sure that that he’s just latching on to the hip hop scene as a means of finding some way of tapping into fame (like any other rapper), but I have a feeling his experience on the street is what he saw on the way to the skate park or mall. He should have dropped the last name and just gone by Pablo. Then I might have taken him a bit more serious.

Yandor Thon says:  What an awesome idea. If he could intermingl­e Bob’s way of singing with gangster rap and reflect on modern issues and times as Bob did, then I think he would have something that is quite amazing.

From Rolling Stone

Vincent James Pia says:  Headline should read: “Bob Dylan’s Grandson Can’t Sing Either”

Michael Connoly says:  The Jay-Z of his time? I honestly despair…Or “I hope his music continues to live on through what I continue to do…” Pablo, I think his music will continue to live on already…most likely through what Bob Dylan continues to do. The last time I checked he was touring steadily and had a number one album.

Elliot Marx says:  What confuses me is this – you really get the major I’m-Dylan’s-grandson press once. So, while I am not impressed with this work, why on earth would his handlers, or his media savvy dad, uncle or grandfather not advise young Pablo to save the press release for A) a decent premier or B) a product which could be sold. There seems to be no album or future material coming from this kid. I know maybe this comment may be jaded, but this is a squandered opportunity.
Good luck getting Rolling Stone coverage for your next song.

Martin Kasdan Jr. says:  “Talkin’ [fill in the blank] Blues,” 21st Century style.

Joe Meservy says:  The lyrics in Pablo’s track are trash. Throwing out cuss words, demeaning others, and rhyming about being held down are not cool things to rap about. Bob Dylan told parables and stories in his songs…that is the key. He also mastered his art by practicing/working LOADS like The Beatles.

Vic Livingston says:  “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off
Look out kid, it’s something you did
God knows when, but you’re doing it again
You better duck down the alleyway, looking for a new friend
The man in the coon-skip cap in the big pen wants eleven dollar bills, you only got ten.”

Yep. That’s a rap.

The Songs Bob Dylan DID Play in China.

I’d say 90% of self-identifying Bob Dylan fans are more a fan of the idea of Bob Dylan, or the ghost of Greatest Hits Bob Dylan, or the Bob Dylan they perceive as a piece of hipster capital rather than the substantial, continually-evolving musician he is.

By this same token I feel probably 98% of Bob Dylan journalism is woefully trite, mal-informative and insignificant.  Was he wearing a hat?  What did he say to the audience?  Well, as someone who actually listens to Bob Dylan as much as possible, I can already tell you:  “He introduces his damn band!”  It’s what he does.  He does not make a comment about the local restaurant or the current political climate.  The reason people continue to write about this has something to do with  the intellectual laziness of the press.  But also, as the old saying goes, “We get the press we deserve.”  People, writ large, are happy with simple definitions of things, and Bob Dylan is but one fixture in the same tapestry as Lady Gaga, Bieber, et al, so there’s no time for understanding the complexity that is Bob Dylan in 2011.  That’s the reason behind all the Bob Dylan hat journalism.

Let’s not go into the Dowd fiasco concerning BD’s supposed concession of not playing The Times They are a Changin’ or Blowin’ in the Wind, or the Dowd-fiasco-response (that he did play Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’,) both of which have been done to death.  Let’s talk about the music Bob Dylan did play in China.

I’m going to start with April 3 in Taipei, even though it is technically Taiwan, or Chinese Taipei, or…well I’m not that geo-politically astute…but mainly because this was one of the most interesting concerts of this jaunt.  It began with one of my favourite hard-rockin’ openers Gotta Serve Somebody rendered to gravelly perfection, and noted with much enthusiasm in Bob Dylan circles far and wide.

Serviceable versions of It Ain’t Me Babe and Things Have Changed followed, and generally these are a welcome addition to any BD set-list.

Then things got real interesting with a heart-achingly beautiful Sugar Baby, a rarely played slow-burn of a ballad that reminds us Bob still has something of immense significance to offer.  (As a non-musician music writer, like most of my ilk, I tend to rely heavy on the adjective.)

This was followed by a fairly by-the-numbers Cold Irons Bound, a song that like Highway 61 and Ballad of a Thin Man I often skip because otherwise I would hear them 1000+ times a year.

Simple Twist of Fate offered some classic Blood on the Tracks Bob.  His melancholy delivery of this always reminds me just how much the great man has been through in his life, and of Jacob Dylan’s quote that Blood is his dad’s lone album he can’t bring himself to listen to because it invokes memories of his parents’ divorce.  Gorgeously done.   This also appeared in every set-list of the China leg. I challenge any Bob detractor to tell me this isn’t a pretty performance of a fine song.  Even with the growling, Bob Dylan offers two things at this stage in his career:  pure emotion and fine, nearly peerless phrasing, and both are on full display here.

Then came a slightly revamped version of Honest with Me. a tune that usually gets kind of bogged down in the general swamp-bluesy, would-be-ZZ Top sound of Bob’s uptempo songs.  A quick-paced little riff at the beginning creates a new imperative for this number and reveals Bob is forever tinkering, if not producing new arrangements every night as many publications erroneously report.

Then a particularly growly Desolation Row I felt fairly neutral about.  I prefer when the melody gets warped a little more, but hey, I don’t complain when Bob dishes out the desolation, in fact if I don’t have time to listen to a whole set I always make sure I listen to Desolation in the early going.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum is another song I’ve heard just way too much of.  But it always gets the older folks dancing.

Forgetful Heart:  as with Time Out of Mind, some of the better numbers from Together Through Life, particularly this one, are improving with age on the road.  Bob really poured his heart into this performance, perhaps trying to convince people TTL wasn’t such a dud after all.

I often skip the last third of shows, and will do so here.

April 6 Beijing:  Bob starts with another of my fave openers Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.  This once-forgotten little gem from Slow Train Coming is a real showcase for both the excellent guitar-slinging of Charlie Sexton and Bob’s current delivery.  It was the focus of many anti-Dowd retorts due to the line “So much oppression, can’t keep track of it no more,” which Bob howls with a particular vehemence here.  Eat it Dowdy.  Me, I prefer the line, always delivered excellently, “We’re living by the golden rule, whoever got the gold…rules.”

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue:  Vocals weren’t great.  But hey, that’s the mystery of a Bob Dylan show, greatness next to the generic, or an amazing performance of a song most fans consider insubstantial like My Wife’s Home Town but then a ho-hum effort on one of the best tunes the man has ever written.

Case in point, the next song, Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, with some horns, was a knock-em-out-leave-em-dead highlight, perhaps because it benefits from Bob’s current voice whereas with a song like Baby Blue one can’t help recalling the relatively dulcet tones it was originally sung in.

Tangled Up in Blue is another tune I often skip, although there are often little moments of genius in it, it’s one that Dylan often slips into a sing-song with which can be really hit-or-miss.

Another great performance of Honest With Me, another serviceable Desolation Row, another vaguely annoying (to my ears) Tweedle Dee/Dum, but then an excellent little suite of Love Sick (a song I never get sick of hearing and really works well for contemporary Bob,) Rollin and Tumblin (which I always think of as a superior Tweedle Dee-type number) and the always welcome Hard Rain.

Spirit on the Water is always nice to listen to and was no exception here.  Ballad of a Thin Man was particularly resonant on this occasion because of incendiary lyrics like “Something is happening here, and you don’t what it is.”  And this was one of the more engaging performances of it I’ve heard in some time.

April 8th Shanghai began with another effective Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’.  Then there was an absolutely gorgeous Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright that contradicts everything I said about the previous night’s Baby Blue.  How to describe the difference?  Well, in a hackneyed way:  feeling.  Also there are some nice tonal things going on, something soft and tender.  This is what keeps a guy downloading bootleg after bootleg.

More excellent Fate Twisting, Things Changing and Rows of Desolation, but then there were two surprise gems Blind Willie McTell and The Levee’s Gonna Break, both relatively rare and both performed about as well as a Dylan aficionado could ask for.

There was a strong close to this show with a better-than-average Like a Rolling Stone and a simply glorious (read:  as good as 1997-2003 Bob) Forever Young that I can’t imagine complaining about a lack of Wind Blowin’ or Times Changin’ afterwards.

April 12 Kowloon Hong Kong:  In my massive Bob Dylan storage folders I sometimes make little notes, here I have, “Excellent sound.”  The sound of this bootleg is about a zillion times better than the 8th in Shanghai, which wasn’t even that bad.

Gonna Change for example was a real eye-opener when heard with this  sound quality, and it had me duck-walking around the apartment in the fashion my girlfriend has grown to loathe.

Senor: a personal favourite of mine.  Some great harp from the Bob-man as always, and a good one for Bob to snarl out Tom Waits-style.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is always a crowd favourite from the outset of its recognizable intro.  Bob fought through it with a noted lack of melodic vocals.

More tangled, honest, fate-twistin’ that was all very good and wouldn’t be skipped over here were it not for concerns of repetition.  And again, if you only DL one of these boots, this or April 13th are the best because of superior sound.

Two more songs off TTL, My Wife’s Home Town and Jolene, were both more engaging than I’ve heard them in the past.  This creates a real hope for me that 2011 is going to be closer to one of my favourite Bob Dylan touring years, 2009, and less like 2010, which I found kind of drab.

This set really closed with a flourish, I’ve listened to it in its entirety several times and it’s my favourite show from his Chinese stint.

April 13 Kowloon Hong Kong also has damn fine sound, and I think these two will be packaged together as gold-star bootlegs for years to come.  On that note I think years from now all the Dowd crap will be an interesting footnote to a really great collection of Bob Dylan performances.

Gonna Change opened yet again and Lo and Behold, I haven’t gotten sick of it  yet.  Open with it every night BD, it’s good with me.

It Ain’t Me Babe is always a good bet in the 2-hole, kind of the Derek Jeter of Bob’s setlists.  (I know Jeter leads off now).  He always manages to pour a little something extra of himself into this beauty.

Then the best Things Have Changed from China.  I like when Bob mucks with this one on the organ, which he does here to interesting effect. There seems to be a correlation between how much disturbance Bob inflicts on his so-called “instrument of torture” (so-called by his organ-detractors) and how interesting the vocals are.  This song that “doesn’t pussyfoot around human nature” is a great showcase for his dark, sardonic, wise, been-through-it-all…(I am just going to stop mid adjective-parade w/r/t to Bob’s voice.).

Several more repetitions I won’t mention, but Simple Twist of Fate most notably just seemed to get better each time out.  I’d almost rather here this one than the Blood version.  Almost, that Blood version kills me every time.

Then the only High Water of this leg, a bass-heavy tune I often skip.  But because of some nice finger-picking and a sharp delivery from Bob, this could definitely fit on a compilation of say, the 25 most interesting High Waters from 2006 to present, which I’m sure many hardcore fans would listen to out of pure sick Bob Dylan love.

Bob was sing-songing again on Hard Rain, and growling out comical “Yaaa’s”, the way I like.

Hot damn.  Bob Dylan in 2011 eh?  Should Bob Dylan retire you ask?  Bob selling out Dowdy writes?  Uh, something is happening here, Bob Dylan is performing world-class, innovative…(whoa, another adjective parade, I’ll just stop now.)

China tells us one thing:  Bob Dylan is still one hell of a performer, Forever Young even if he sounds old as hell relying entirely on phrasing now that his voice is so battered, but still producing a more interesting couple hours of music than McCartney, The Stones, and Tom Petty combined could ever hope to.

One final note:  I noticed Bob forgot a few more lyrics than usual over the course of these shows.  I’m too lazy to listen to them all again in pursuit of these screw-ups though, and besides, the guy has 600+ songs, so this should be forgiven.

All of these shows are available for free legal download at various file-sharing sites.  For a great catch-all I highly recommend the Expecting Rain message board.  Just sign up for free and be in Bob boot heaven.

Taipei, Taiwan, April 3

  1.  Gotta Serve Somebody
  2.  It Ain’t Me, Babe
  3.  Things Have Changed
  4.  Sugar Baby
  5.  Cold Irons Bound
  6.  Simple twise of – Fate
  7.  Honest With Me
  8.  Desolation Row
  9.  Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  10.  Forgetful Heart
  11.  Highway 61 Revisited
  12.  Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
  13.  Jolene
  14.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
  15.  Like A Rolling Stone
  16.  Blowin’ In The Wind

Beijing, China, April 6

Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium

Shanghai, April 8th

Kowloon, Hong Kong, April 12

  1.   Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
  2.  Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
  3.  Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
  4.  Tangled Up In Blue
  5.  Honest With Me
  6.  Simple twise of – Fate
  7.  Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  8.  Blind Willie McTell
  9.  Jolene
  10.  Desolation Row
  11.  Highway 61 Revisited
  12.  Spirit On The Water
  13.  My Wife’s Home Town
  14.  Thunder On The Mountain
  15.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
  16.  Like A Rolling Stone
  17.  Forever Young

Kowloon, Hong Kong – April 13

  1.  Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
  2.  It Ain’t Me, Babe
  3.  Things Have Changed
  4.  Tangled Up In Blue
  5.  Rollin’ And Tumblin’
  6.  Simple twise of – Fate
  7.  High Water (for Charlie Patton)
  8.  A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
  9.  The Levee’s Gonna Break
  10.  If You Ever Go To Houston
  11.  Highway 61 Revisited
  12.  Spirit On The Water
  13.  My Wife’s Home Town
  14.  Thunder On The Mountain
  15.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
  16.  Like A Rolling Stone
  17.  Forever Young

Review of Harmony Korine’s Umshini Wam

Harmony Korine’s new short film Umshini Wam (or Bring Me my Machine Gun) exists in the same desolate world of Trash Humpers insofar as that two wheelchair-conveyed lowlifes wheel their way around what appears to be the same rural Nashville streets the Humpers reaked such ugly havoc on.   The immediate aesthetic difference is that while TH was presumed to have been shot on grainy VHS, this is crystal clear HD.  Also, instead of Korine, his young wife and other friends in realistic monster masks, this film enlists Ninja and Yo Landi (aka Die Antwoord) the foremost “futuristic rap-rave crew” from Cape Town, South Africa and outfits them in onesy pajamas.

Yo Landi’s pixyish voice combined with THean murder rhymes such as “I’m old enough to breed.  I’m old enough to bleed.  I’m old enough to crack a brick in your teeth while you sleep” are both surreal and creepy to the extreme, like all of Korine’s best work.

The 15-minute film could be perceived almost as a parody of rap videos if Korine’s films were possible to define so easily:  the two go around firing machine guns, rapping in strange accents and they eventually murder a wheelchair salesmen so they can upgrade their wheelchairs, then murder another retailer to upgrade their wheelchair rims.  This is the only way Yo Landi sees them getting the respect they deserve on the streets.  Not to mention cartoonish elements like the baseball-bat sized joints they smoke.  But just as one wants to throw this in the easy category of all-style/no-substance slapstick maximalism, there’s a moving bit of dialogue as Ninja and Yo Landi try to sleep under the stars during which Yo Landi wonders if God will forgive them—for the murders, for some past deeds, in general?  We’re left to wonder.

The whole thing has the vague feel of those “I’m the cash-man” gold-buyer ads.  There are some delightfully tacky effects (A glow-in-the-dark marijuana decal on a wheelchair wheel, a giant alien head shooting lasers from its skull that looks like it could effectively promote a monster truck rally) and is stylistically reminiscent of the bouncing balls adorned with the characters’ faces from Mr. Lonely (a strange little anomaly in that film.)

Speaking of that lone misstep in Korine’s career, in some indefinable way this short is kind of the perfect hybrid of the provocation of Trash Humpers with the sentimentality of Mr. Lonely. Many saw Lonely, despite its strangeness, as a permanent departure into linear narratives and austere cinematography for Korine, a misconception he’s blown out of the water with the brilliant and uncategorizable Trash Humpers, and now this insanity.

Korine is an independent filmmaker in the truest sense of the world, in that these films can’t cost much money and there are art-lovers all over the world willing to finance him, and most importantly, he does whatever the hell he wants.  It’s becoming clear there is a whole lot more genius in store from Korine, who is currently filming a hotly-anticipated film called Rebel with James Franco.