“Seth Rogovoy offers a unique perspective that examines Bob Dylan within the spectrum of Jewish religious history . . . an entertaining read; a book to add to the shelf of your Bob Dylan library.”
—Suzanne Vega
“Helps fill in one more piece of an endless and endlessly fascinating puzzle.”
— Alan Light, frequent contributor to The New York Times and former senior writer at Rolling Stone
“Required reading for those who seek to understand not only Dylan but the meaning of their own life.”
—Rabbi Alan Berg, Portland, Oregon
“A bold attempt to explain why Dylan so often sounds like my zeyde.”
—Michael Wex, author of Born to Kvetch and How To Be A Mentsh (And Not A Shmuck)

Random Notes and Favorite Quotes from Bob Dylan’s New Q&A

March 24th, 2017

by Seth Rogovoy

Among Bob Dylan’s many talents besides his widely-acclaimed, Nobel Prize-winning songwriting is doing interviews and, back in the 1960s when artists did them as a matter of course, holding press conferences. Dylan has always used the interview format as a means of personal expression in no less a creative and formalistic way than he does in his songwriting, poetry, books, painting, sculpture, acting, and filmmaking.

Bob Dylan

And in his newest Q&A, featured on the official Bob Dylan website, Dylan shows no signs of letting up. It’s a masterpiece of style, brilliance, humor, and phrasemaking. Slightly less arch than previous interviews – you really get the feeling Dylan is a lot less evasive than usual, a lot less tactical in his artful use of the dodge or the tall tale – Dylan comes across as remarkably present, thoughtful, and aware, and also as mischievous as ever.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the interview with his interlocutor, Bill Flanagan (BF), some just left to resonate on their own, others with my brief rejoinders. Much of the interview focuses on Dylan’s new triple-album of pre-rock pop standards, and more generally, his attachment to those songs and that era of popular music. All of Dylan’s quotes are in italics, and the full interview and context is available in the original interview at BobDylan.com:

On the pre-rock pop standards he records and performs:

There’s enough of my personality written into the lyrics so that I could just focus on the melodies within the arrangements.

I had some idea of where they stood, but I hadn’t realized how much of the essence of life is in them – the human condition, how perfectly the lyrics and melodies are intertwined, how relevant to everyday life they are, how non-materialistic.

I can’t help but note here that the opposite of materialistic is spiritual. When Dylan says “non-materialistic,” I think that’s what he means. — SR

These songs are some of the most heartbreaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them and lived through them I understand them better.

Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it.

These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.

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About postwar life growing up in Duluth:

My mom says there were food shortages…

I find it sweet that he still talks about his mother, Beatrice “Beatty” Stone Zimmerman, who died in 2000, in the present tense. — SR

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On seeing old footage of himself performing in the Sixties:

I see … a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That’s a different person than who I am now.

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On his singing:

My voice cracking here and there wouldn’t bother me, bum notes or wrong chords would bother me more.

This is so true and people have never understood this about his singing. Bob Dylan NEVER hits a wrong note. It’s his tone and phrasing that are so unique, that make him sound like Bob Dylan and no one else, and perhaps the vocal quality that some find to be – to their great loss – off-putting.  – SR

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Dylan recalls a private exchange with Frank Sinatra:

“You and me, pal, we got blue eyes, we’re from up there,” and he [Sinatra] pointed to the stars. “These other bums are from down here.” I remember thinking that he might be right.

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Songwriters have to have a reason to write songs, there has to be some purpose to performing it too. And sometimes it doesn’t connect. There is no magic formula to make that happen.

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Rock and roll was high energy, explosive and cut down. It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods.

Such a perfectly beautiful and magical description of rock and roll. Dylan goes on at length about this, returning twice more to the connection between the atomic bomb and rock and roll. A concept worth some extra thought. — SR

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You start out wondering why you bought those blue pajamas and later you’re wondering why you were born.

A classic Dylan Zen koan. — SR

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…. the melody in this song is kind of like the background in the Mona Lisa painting, a mystical, phantasmagorical fantasy land.

Add art critic to Dylan’s c.v. — SR

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On the passage of time:

Entire industries go, lifestyles change, corporations kill towns, new laws replace old ones, group interests triumph over individual ones, poor people themselves have become a commodity.

Dylan as prophet. — SR

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BF: “Is there a real woman you picture when you sing some of these? More than one?”

Dylan: Real? Of course they’re real. I hope so.

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On the creative process:

Once you get the idea, everything you see, read, taste or smell becomes an allusion to it. It’s the art of transforming things. You don’t really serve art, art serves you and it’s only an expression of life anyway; it’s not real life. It’s tricky, you have to have the right touch and integrity or you could end up with something stupid.
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Did you say Taylor Swift?

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On hunting as a boy:

I went into the woods with my uncle, my mother’s brother – he was an expert hunter and tried to teach me. But it wasn’t for me, I hated it.

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Is he, as is often suggested, the “jester” in Don McLean’s song “American Pie”?

Don McLean, “American Pie,” what a song that is. A jester? Sure, the jester writes songs like “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “It’s Alright, Ma” – some jester. I have to think he’s talking about somebody else. Ask him.

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On his discussion of Tom Wilson, the official record company executive credited as producer of his album “Bringing It All Back Home” and the track “Like a Rolling Stone” on the follow-up album, “Highway 61 Revisited”: Dylan’s comments about Wilson are quite revealing, in that while he’s somewhat complimentary, he’s also very diplomatic and not especially effusive in praise. I think you can hear loud and clear on “The Cutting Edge” sessions that the two of them merely tolerated each other (although they do occasionally enjoy a hearty laugh together). I think Dylan much more enjoyed working with his next producer, Bob Johnston, and you can also hear that on “The Cutting Edge.” – SR

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On Amy Winehouse:

I liked Amy Winehouse’s last record…. She was the last real individualist around.

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Heard any good records lately?

Iggy Pop’s Après, that’s a good record. Imelda May, I like her. Valerie June….

See what he does there? Always the joker. — SR

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BF: “When you’re on your bus, what shows do you watch on TV?”

BD: I Love Lucy, all the time, non-stop.

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BF: Why do fences come up between different styles of American music?

BD: Because of the pressure to conform.

Bob Dylan to Inaugurate New Kingston, N.Y., Venue in June

March 20th, 2017

Bob Dylan

(KINGSTON, N.Y.) – Bob Dylan, rock poet and Nobel Laureate, will perform with his band at the Hutton Brickyards, a new 3,500-seat riverfront concert venue, on Saturday, June 24, at 8pm (doors 6pm). The concert – a co-presentation of the Bardavon and the Brickyards – will inaugurate the venue at 200 North St., in Kingston.

Tickets to the performance go on sale to Bardavon members on March 23-24 (11am – 5pm). Sales to the general public begin on March 25 at 11am.

Winner of multiple Grammy Awards (including Lifetime Achievement), an Oscar, Golden Globe, Pulitzer Prize, and last year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Dylan is a Kennedy Center Honoree and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tickets: $125 and $75 (seated General Admission), $55 (standing).

Tickets can be purchased in person at the Bardavon Box Office, 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie, 845.473.2072; or in person at the UPAC Box Office, 601 Broadway Kingston, 845.339.6088.

Online at Ticketmaster : 800.745.3000. Please note that Bardavon Member benefits and special discounts are not available through Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster fees will apply.

 

 

Bob Dylan to Release New Triple-Album of Pre-Rock Pop Songs

January 31st, 2017

by Seth Rogovoy

A three-disc studio album from Nobel Prize-winning rock poet Bob Dylan called “Triplicate” will be released by Columbia Records on March 31, 2017, featuring 30 brand-new recordings of classic American tunes from the pre-rock era and marking the first triple-length set of the artist’s illustrious career. While it’s been almost five years since Dylan has released an album of new songs – “Tempest” in September 2012 – and while some – including this writer – may not exactly be jumping up and down with excitement about another Dylan “covers” album of pre-rock pop (following 2015’s “Shadows in the Night” and last year’s “Fallen Angels”), there are some reasons to look forward to the set.

For one, the first single, “I Could Have Told You,” has been released, and Dylan’s voice sounds better than it has than on previous recordings. While there’s still a growl that can be heard at the bottom of his voice, Dylan exercises more control of the melody and keeps the growl mostly at bay. The song was written by Carl Sigman and Jimmy Van Heusen and is most often associated with Frank Sinatra.

Secondly, last year’s concert tour, in which Dylan alternated the pre-rock covers with his own songs, made clear that he is carefully selecting songs and reinterpreting them to show how much of his own work fits logically in the context of early-to-mid 20th century American pop music – what is often called “standards” – mostly written by immigrant Jewish songwriters, for whom Dylan-as-singer clearly has great sympathy.

According to Columbia Records, each disc in the new set will be individually titled and presented in a thematically arranged 10-song sequence. The three themes are: “’Til the Sun Goes Down,” “Devil Dolls,” and “Comin’ Home Late.”

The song titles themselves are very suggestive and indicate that Dylan may be telling a story through them. The final song of the set, “Why Was I Born?” — written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II and previously recorded mostly be female singers, including Dorothy Lamour, Margaret Whiting, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday — asks the same question that Dylan has asked in several of his own songs (and in interviews) over the course of time.

The set kicks off with Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans,” written in 1929 right around the beginning of the Great Depression, and recorded variously by Clifton Webb, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Julie London.

Other songwriters represented include Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (“Once Upon A Time”), Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (“Stormy Weather”), Harold Hupfield (“As Time Goes By”) and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh (“The Best Is Yet To Come”).

The album is the 38th studio set from Dylan and is credited to the producer Jack Frost, a pseudonym that Bob Dylan has used as producer since the 1990s.

“Triplicate” will be simultaneously released in several configurations, including a 3-CD 8-Panel Digipak, a 3-LP vinyl set and a 3-LP Deluxe Vinyl Limited Edition packaged in a numbered case. “Triplicate”  is also available for pre-order on iTunes, and one of its recordings, “I Could Have Told You,” can now be streamed via a “Vinyl Video” on YouTube. All physical products are also available for pre-order in the bobdylan.com store.

The artist’s two previous albums of classic American songs, last year’s “Fallen Angels: and 2015’s “Shadows in the Night,” were both worldwide hits and garnered Grammy Award nominations in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. “Fallen Angels” achieved Top Ten debuts in more than a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, The Netherlands and Austria, while “Shadows in the Night” debuted in the Top 10 in seventeen countries, with #1 debuts in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.

Bob Dylan’s seven previous studio albums have been universally hailed as among the best of his storied career, achieving new levels of commercial success and critical acclaim for the artist. The platinum-selling “Time Out of Mind” from 1997 earned multiple Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, while “Love and Theft” continued Dylan’s platinum streak and earned several Grammy nominations and a statue for Best Contemporary Folk album.

“Modern Times,” released in 2006, became one of the artist’s most popular albums, selling more than 2.5 million copies worldwide and earning Dylan two more Grammys. “Together Through Life” became the artist’s first album to debut at #1 in both the U.S. and the UK, as well as in five other countries, on its way to surpassing sales of one million copies. “Tempest” received unanimous worldwide critical acclaim upon release and reached the Top 5 in 14 countries, while “Shadows in the Night” and “Fallen Angels” were hailed by fans and lauded by critics for Dylan’s singular interpretive artistry.

These seven releases fell within a 19-year creative span that also included the recording of an Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning composition, “Things Have Changed,” from the film “Wonder Boys,” in 2001; a worldwide best-selling memoir, “Chronicles Vol. 1,” which spent 19 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List, in 2004, and a Martin Scorsese-directed documentary, “No Direction Home,” in 2005. Bob Dylan also released his first collection of holiday standards, “Christmas in the Heart,” in 2009, with all of the artist’s royalties from that album being donated to hunger charities around the world.

In December 2016, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He was a 2012 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, and was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” He was also the recipient of the Officier de la Legion d’honneur in 2013, Sweden’s Polar Music Award in 2000, Doctorates from the University of St. Andrews and Princeton University, as well as numerous other honors.

Bob Dylan has sold more than 125 million records around the world.

 

 

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Achievement

October 13th, 2016

old bob dylanby Seth Rogovoy

BOB DYLAN’S BEEN a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature for many years, but I don’t think any of us really thought he’d ever win. Now that he has, the question remains, what’s left? He’s already won all the other awards – medals of honor and freedom from the American and French governments, Grammys, Oscars (he loves his Oscar so much he brings it with him on tour and places it onstage each night that he performs), a Pulitzer. Really, now that he’s won the Nobel, there’s nothing left for him to win.

Of course, Dylan isn’t in the award-winning business, which makes it all the more so surreal that he’s won everything. He started out as the anti-everything candidate, with an agenda to overturn the tables and disconnect the cables. And he succeeded in doing so, along the way alienating probably more people than he won over to his side. He didn’t even win his first Grammy Award until 1979, nineteen albums into his career (and that one, ironically, was for his vocals of all things – not his songwriting).

Ah, but those on his side included a huge swath of outsiders – writers, artists, poets, filmmakers, and, of course, musicians. His unique achievement – nearly impossible to replicate – was to blow up the songwriting form and recombine the pieces, scattering in elements of the Jewish prophets, Shakespeare, the great English poets, the Beats, the New York Times, movie dialogue, history books, old folk and blues icons, combine it with a twist and shout all his own, and presto, he came up with the most brilliant literature of the second half of the 20th century (and running over into the 21st). And ever since then, everyone has been trying to figure out, how did he do that? What did he do? What happened? And why do I love it so much that I’ll buy 16 CDs just to hear all the versions of the recordings that weren’t good enough to make it onto the finished albums?

Yes, it’s literature, and I’m not going to argue that point beyond saying that anyone who spends time “reading” Dylan closely understands that. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s some other thing. Something utterly sui generis, perhaps. So what? It combines thought and expression, using words and meter and line and melody and rhythm and call-and-response as tools of communication to say the most important things that anyone’s said about what it means to be living in our world, in our time.

Is the Bible literature? Not really. Is it the greatest – certainly the most influential – book ever written? Absolutely. Does Dylan’s work find its proper place in that tradition, where it can best be heard, read, studied, picked apart, and understood? Positively.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s worth a Nobel Prize.
 

Seth Rogovoy is the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner, 2009).

Don’t Look Back: What to Expect When Bob Dylan Plays Tanglewood

June 28th, 2016

old bob dylanby Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass.) – Consider yourselves warned. When you go to see Bob Dylan perform at Tanglewood on Saturday, July 2, (or at Forest Hills Stadium on July 8, or anywhere during his summer tour), you will be hearing almost no songs you associate with Bob Dylan. In fact, unless you’re a hardcore fan, you may only recognize one or two of the 20 songs he will probably play that night. All together, only four songs – 20 percent of the concert – were originally recorded by Dylan in the 20th century.

(SPOILER ALERT: What follows includes specific discussion of the songs Bob Dylan will likely sing at Tanglewood.)

If the set lists Dylan has been performing for the last couple of months are any indication – and while once upon a time, Dylan shook things up from night to night, these days he seems to be adhering closely to a set list that works for him night after night – the only “famous” Bob Dylan songs he will be playing are “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” Those are likely the only two songs the average music fan and casual Bob Dylan fan will know, and even then, they may be delivered in renditions bearing little to no resemblance to the originals or previous versions of the songs.

Here’s an overview of what concertgoers are likely to hear:

Over the course of two sets plus a two-song encore, for a total of 20 songs, fully 1/3 of the songs Dylan will sing are his renditions of pre-rock pop standards typically associated with Frank Sinatra and his ilk, recorded on Dylan’s two most recent albums, “Shadows in the Night” and “Fallen Angels.” Some of these seven songs are “Melancholy Mood,” “All or Nothing at All,” “I’m a Fool to Want You,” “Why Try to Change Me,” and “Autumn Leaves,” which will likely close the second set.

Fully one-quarter – five songs – of the set will be pulled from Dylan’s most recent album of original songs, “Tempest,” recorded in 2012 – interestingly enough, at Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica (Browne just played Tanglewood last week). While “Tempest” garnered critical acclaim and commercial success, with time, much of that praise seems overheated, except perhaps for the song “Pay in Blood,” which Dylan will likely perform at Tanglewood, as well as “Duquesne Whistle,” “Long and Wasted Years,” “Scarlet Town” and “Early Roman Kings.” Those not familiar with “Tempest” who are heading to Saturday’s show may do well to give those songs a good listen to before then.

The concert will feature only two songs Dylan recorded in the 1960s – the aforementioned “Blowin’ in the Wind” (as an encore) and the lesser-known “She Belongs to Me,” whose opening line is often mistaken for the title as well as supplying one of Dylan’s best known catchphrases: “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back.”

“Tangled Up in Blue,” from Dylan’s landmark “Blood on the Tracks” album, is the only song Dylan recorded in the 1970s that he will sing. Notably, Dylan sings no songs from his late 1970s/early 1980s “gospel” albums, nor does he sing anything from his 1989 “comeback” album, “Oh Mercy,” or anything else from that decade, for that matter.

The 1990s are represented by “Love Sick,” from his Grammy Award-winning 1997 comeback album, “Time Out of Mind,” and that’s it. He’ll play four songs from the aughties, including the Academy Award-winning number, “Things Have Changed” (from “Wonder Boys”), and one song each from 2001’s “Love and Theft” (“High Water”), 2006’s “Modern Times” (“Spirit on the Water” and 2009’s “Together Through Life” (“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”).

There’s hope for hearing some other Bob Dylan songs – Mavis Staples, who warms up the crowd for Dylan, typically sings some of his songs in her sets. But don’t expect any interaction between the two longtime friends and musical collaborators. Dylan doesn’t roll that way.

Also of note: Don’t expect Dylan to play guitar. He will mostly sing with microphone in hand, old-skool style. Maybe he’ll play some harmonica.

And finally – Dylan is wholly unpredictable. Lightning could strike and he could totally rewrite the history of Tour 2016 with an entirely new setlist for Tanglewood. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Seth Rogovoy is the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner, 2009).