I just finished Sean Wilentz’s “Bob Dylan in America,” a series of essays that looks at Dylan’s career, many of them about the later parts of it. Like Wilentz, I have been fascinated at Dylan’s reincarnation after a period of confusion that lasted through much of the 1980s as a kind of minstrel, performing regularly as well as becoming involved in other kinds of creative expression.
Dylan is marking 70 years next month, so I put together a special KGNU (88.5 FM) Roots & Branches show for Sunday, April 3, 9-11 am MT that will argue that the last twenty years of Dylan’s career will be a period that be considered one of his most fruitful. (Download the show here until April 17.)
Nothing could possibly match the evolutionary path Robert Zimmerman took from the moment he first stepped onto New York streets fifty years ago in January to the release of Nashville Skyline nine years later. But he hasn’t done so bad of late, either.
In Chronicles Dylan relates that he realized by 1987 that he had been coasting, riding the laurels of his legend, performing erratically and releasing albums that seemed little more than pale reflections of his glorious past. He minced few words about his predicament, which coincided with an injury to one of his hands that he feared might end his playing days. “Always prolific, never exact,” he wrote, “too many distractions had turned my musical path into a jungle of vines.”
At the same time he writes that he realized that he would have to change the way he wrote and presented his music. “By combining certain elements of technique which ignite each other I could shift the levels of perception, time-frame structures and systems of rhythm,” he wrote, “which would give my songs a brighter countenance, call them up from the grave – stretch out the stiffness in their bodies and straighten them out.”
He also describes a musical numerical system, which I still don’t understand, that he says the guitarist Lonnie Johnson taught him. But for whatever reasons, things began turning around for him.
In 20 years, he’s released two albums of traditional songs (Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, four albums of original material (Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life) and eight editions in his bootleg series that includes a couple of three-disc sets. He published the first of a three-part memoir, Chronicles, which offered his own memories of his early days in New York City and two other periods of his life where he felt at a crossroads. He let Martin Scorsese direct No Direction Home, a three-hour-plus documentary on his life to 1966, that included two more albums of outtakes and other interesting material.
He wrote, directed and produced Masked & Anonymous, an apocalyptic film that starred some of Hollywood’s finest acting talent. He curated and was host of Theme Time Radio Hour for three years, producing 100 hour-long programs that featured his obvious love for all kinds of music and American history and featured his oddball sense of humor. He let Twyla Tharp try to adapt his music for dance.
He plays about a hundred concerts a year, which isn’t an unusual number of shows except, it seems, in Dylan’s case, when it’s called the Never Ending Tour. His paintings are now hung in galleries around the world. He made Christmas in the Heart, a fantastic Christmas album and donated the money to charity. You probably wouldn’t have called Bob Dylan charitable in 1965, but you might today. He seems to have grown comfortably into old age with the same instincts and curiosity intact that have, except for a period in the 1980s, always sustained him.
And his most recent work, as Wilentz relates, recasts him as part of a long American tradition. In many ways, it’s no more than an extension of what he has always done. In Chronicles Dylan relates, as a voracious reader from an early age, how he dug into historical texts in friend’s apartments and the New York City Library. Early on he paid tribute to his heroes by copying them – his own tribute, “Song to Woody,” steals the melody of Woody Guthrie’s own “1913 Massacre.” Today, he finds different ways to connect with music and literature from, as Greil Marcus once dubbed it, the old, weird America, and spit it back out at us in different ways.
I think I make a strong case for his recent success, but the proof is in the music. Time willing, here’s the playlist for Sunday morning. The show will stream from kgnu.org, and I’ll post the link to the podcast Sunday afternoon.
Introduction, Bob Dylan Concert 2009
Blind Willie McTell, Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 1, Disc 3.
Tomorrow Night, Lonnie Johnson Bluebird single
Tomorrow Night, Bob Dylan, Good As I Been To You
Money Honey (take 2), Bob Dylan Unreleased
Nashville Skyline Rag, Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline
Love Sick, Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
Not Dark Yet, Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
Tryin’ To Get to Heaven (Oct. 5, 2000, London, England), Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Marchin to the City, Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Things Have Changed, Bob Dylan, Wonder Boys
Having Myself A Time, Billie Holiday, Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944 (Disc 4)
Bye & Bye, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft
Po’ Boy, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft
High Water, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft
Come Una Pietra Scalciata (Like A Rolling Stone), Articolo 31. Masked & Anonymous
Down In The Flood (New Version), Bob Dylan, Masked & Anonymous
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking Bob Dylan & Mavis Staples, Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan
Spirit On The Water, Bob Dylan, Modern Times
Beyond The Horizon, Bob Dylan, Modern Times
Cross the Green Mountain, Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Checkers by Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour: Dogs
Sinatra and Kennedy, Theme Time Radio Hour: President’s Day
Dylan GPS rap, Theme Time Radio Hour: Street Map
Life is Hard, Bob Dylan, Together Through Life
It’s All Good, Bob Dylan, Together Through Life
April 2, 2011 2 Comments
Here’s the set list for the R&B Program on KGNU Jan. 23, 2011. The only only rule for inclusion today is that it be a song by one musician written about another one. Musicians on Musicians.
Nina Simone Tom Russell Blood And Candle Smoke 2009
The Great Hank Robert Earl Keen What I Really Mean 2005
When The Beatles Hit America John Wesley Harding Just Say Da: Vol. 4 Of Just Say Yes 1990
Wilson Pickett Tim Krekel Soul Season 2007
Here’s Your Mop Mr. Johnson Keri Leigh The Last Soul Company (Disc 6) 1999
I’m So Restless Roger McGuinn Fantasy Factory vol.8 1973
Got to Find Blind Lemon-Part One Geoff Muldaur The Secret Handshake 1998
W. Lee O’Daniel And The Light Crust Dough Boys James Talley Got No Bread/Tryin’ Like The Devil 1989
I Dreamed Of A Hillbilly Heaven Tex Ritter Collectors Series 1961
The King & I Fred Koller Sxsw Live Volume 5 (Disc 2)
Baby Boom Ché John Trudell AKA Grafitti Man 1992
Went To See The Gypsy Bob Dylan Genuine Bootleg Series Vol 3 [Disc 2] 1970
Blind Willie McTell The Band Jericho 1993
Wild As The Wind (A Tribute To Rick Danko) Steve Forbert Just Like There’s Nothin’ To It 2004
Gram`s Song John Phillips Phillips 66 2001
Alcohol And Pills Todd Snider East Nashville Skyline 2004
The Late Great Johnny Ace [Demo] Paul Simon Hearts & Bones [Bonus Tracks] 1983
Death of Muddy Waters The Chicago Blues Reunion Buried Alive in the Blues 2005
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way Robert Earl Keen Lonesome, On’ry & Mean: A Tribute To Waylon Jennings 2003
My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) Neil Young A Perfect Echo: Vol. 3, Disc 1
Johnny Met June Shelby Lynne Suit Yourself 2005
Carl Perkins’ Cadillac Drive-By Truckers The Dirty South 2004
The Man Who Could Have Played Bass For Shanana Darrell Scott Theatre Of The Unheard 2003
House on the Lake Rosanne Cash Black Cadillac 2006
Link Wray Jason Ringenberg Empire Builders 2004
Where Is Bobbie Gentry? Jill Sobule California Years 2009
Flat Top Joint The Blasters American Music 1997
January 23, 2011 2 Comments
I host a program called “Roots & Branches” some Sunday mornings 9-11 a.m. on our local community radio station KGNU. The program is loosely based around American music, which I interpret as all recorded music in America that is blues, folk, country, gospel, soul, rock or bluegrass-based and whenever possible, played on acoustic instruments.
It’s a pretty big area from which to choose, but as one who is still amazed by the incredible depth and breadth of American music, it’s territory that I love exploring for program ideas.
This Sunday’s program was titled “History Lessons,” and it includes only songs that concern historical events or periods in U.S. history. After introducing the concept in the first set, the show follows a period the period from World War II to the fall of Saigon, with the songs interspersed with original audio clips of current events of the time.
As usual in this type of endeavor, I left off a batch of good songs that I forgot, couldn’t fit into the concept or the time frame. I received lots of good calls reminded me of songs I left off or forgot about, which means there is a chance I’ll get around to a Part Two sometime.
“History Lessons” Set List
“Everett Ruess,” Dave Alvin, Ashgrove
“Sailing To Philadelphia,” Mark Knopfler, Sailing to Philadelphia
“Galveston Flood,” Tom Rush, Take a Little Walk With Me
“When That Great Ship Went Down?”, William & Versey Smith, Anthology Of American Folk Music
“True Story Of Amelia Earhart,” Plainsong, In Search Of Amelia Earhart
“Franklin D. Roosevelt, Poor Man’s Friend,” Willie Eason, Sacred Steel
“New Orleans Wins The War,” Randy Newman, Land of Dreams
“Eisenhower Blues,” J.B. Lenoir, Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues
“The Great Atomic Power,” The Louvin Brothers, Hillbilly Music…Thank God!
“The Merry Minuet,” Kingston Trio, The Kingston Trio at the Hungry i
“On Beatniks,” Carl Sandburg, The Beat Generation
“Little Boxes,” Malvina Reynolds, Washington Square Memoirs: Urban Folk (1950-1970)
“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 : Rare And Unreleased
“I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” Phil Ochs, Washington Square Memoirs : The Great Urban Folk Boom 1950-1970
“Fortunate Son,” Todd Snider, Long May You Run : 15 Tracks In The Key Of Neil
“Tears Of Rage,” The Band, Music From Big Pink
“Vietnam Blues,” Cassandra Wilson, Martin Scorsese Presents: The Best Of The Blues
“Okie from Muskogee,” Merle Haggard, Vintage Collections Series
“What Is Truth,” Johnny Cash, The Legend
“Armstrong,” 2:40, John Stewart, American Originals
“Find The Cost Of Freedom,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Single
“Galveston,” Jimmy Webb, Ten Easy Pieces
“Lord God Bird,” Sufjan Stevens, Single
“Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” Plainsong, In Search Of Amelia Earhart
“Sail Away,” Randy Newman, Sail Away
“Talking Green Beret New Super Yellow Hydraulic Banana Teeny Bopper Blues,” Jaime Brockett, Remember The Wind And The Rain
“An Account Of Haley’s Comet,” John Stewart, Sunstorm
June 2, 2009 No Comments