Bob Dylan Scholar Seth Rogovoy to Explore Dylan’s Jewish Influences in Program at Albany Temple

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Seth Rogovoy (photo Richard Lovrich)

(ALBANY, N.Y.) – Seth Rogovoy, termed “American Jewry’s greatest Dylan scholar” by Religion News Service and the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet,” will present “The Kabbalah of Bob Dylan” – a multimedia program exploring the Jewish influences in the life and work of the recent Nobel Prize winner – at B’nai Sholom Reform Congregation in Albany, on Saturday, October 21, at 7:30 pm.

There will also be a live music component to the event, featuring Seth Rogovoy as well as an ensemble from the congregation. The temple is located at 420 Whitehall Road, Albany; tickets are $10, available at the door. Books will be available for purchase and signing after the presentation.

With the aid of audio clips, video, still images and textual comparison, Rogovoy will illustrate how Bob Dylan’s songwriting has always been profoundly rooted in Jewish writings, including the Torah, the Prophets, the Talmud and mysticism, fusing these inspirations into a genre of “rock ’n’ roll midrash.”

Along the way, the program will examine the Minnesota-born folksinger’s deeply religious and cultural upbringing; his commitment to Jewish practice and causes; and his decades-long connection to the Jewish outreach organization Chabad.

Attendees will learn that Dylan grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in a family that was at the very nexus of his hometown’s Jewish community; how classic Dylan songs including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Forever Young” have their lyrical roots in the words of prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and in Jewish liturgy; and view rare video footage of Dylan performing Jewish music and quoting from the Book of Psalms.

In addition, the audience will be treated to a concert of Dylan’s Jewish-influenced songs performed by resident B’nai Sholom folkies Rabbi Don Cashman and Phil Teumim and perhaps a special guest or two.

Author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner, 2009), Rogovoy is a familiar name to public radio listeners and Berkshire readers. He was a music critic and arts writer at the Berkshire Eagle for 16 years, was founding editor of Berkshire Living magazine, and his weekly cultural commentary has been heard on WAMC Northeast Public Radio for more than two decades.

Rogovoy also is an expert on klezmer, having penned “The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover’s Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music” (Algonquin, 2000), the all-time best-selling guide to the music.

Rogovoy was awarded the 2016 Simon Rockower Award from the American Jewish Press Association for excellence in arts and criticism for his portrait of musician Leonard Cohen, published in the April/May 2015 issue of Hadassah Magazine.

Rogovoy is a contributing editor to the English language edition of the Forward, for which he has written for more than 25 years. His work has been published in Haaretz (Israel), Jewish Press (U.K.), Jewish Quarterly (U.K.), Tablet, Pakn Treger, Berkshire Jewish Voice, Newsday, Boston Phoenix, Chronogram, Woodstock Times, and others.

Rogovoy’s books will be available for purchase and signing at the October 21 program.

Seth Rogovoy to Discuss Bob Dylan’s Jewish Influences in Pittsfield, Mass.

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Seth Rogovoy, termed “American Jewry’s greatest Dylan scholar” by Religious News Service, will present a multimedia program exploring the Jewish influences in the life and work of the recent Nobel Prize-winner entitled “The Kabbalah of Bob Dylan,” at Congregation Knesset Israel (16 Colt Rd.) on Monday, May 22, at 7pm.

With the aid of audio clips, video, still images, and textual comparisons, Seth Rogovoy, author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner 2009), will illustrate how Bob Dylan’s songwriting has always been profoundly rooted in Jewish writings, including the Torah, the Prophets, the Talmud, and mysticism, fusing these inspirations into a genre of “rock ’n’ roll midrash.”

Along the way, the program will examine the Minnesota-born folksinger’s deeply religious and cultural upbringing, his commitment to Jewish practice and causes, and his decades-long connection to the Jewish outreach organization Chabad.

Attendees will learn how Dylan grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in a family that was at the very nexus of his hometown’s Jewish community; how classic Dylan songs including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Forever Young” have their lyrical roots in the words of prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and in Jewish liturgy; and view rare video footage of Dylan performing Jewish music and quoting from the Book of Psalms.

The event is co-sponsored by Congregation Knesset Israel and Temple Anshe Amunim.

 

Seth Rogovoy is a familiar name to Berkshire readers and public radio listeners. For 16 years, he was a music critic and arts writer at the Berkshire Eagle; he was the founding editor of Berkshire Living magazine; and his weekly cultural commentary has been heard on WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network for over two decades.

A graduate of Williams College, Rogovoy was formerly a board member of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and a member of congregations Ahavat Sholom in Great Barrington, Mass., and Beth-El in Bennington, Vt. A founder of the South Berkshire Minyan, Rogovoy now lives in Hudson, N.Y.

Rogovoy is also an expert on klezmer, having penned “The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover’s Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music” (Algonquin, 2000), the all-time, best-selling guide to the music.

Rogovoy was awarded the 2016 Simon Rockower Award from the American Jewish Press Association for excellence in arts and criticism for his portrait of musician Leonard Cohen (z’l) published in the April/May 2015 issue of Hadassah Magazine.

Rogovoy is a contributing editor to the English edition of the Forward, for which he has written for more than 25 years. His work has been published in Haaretz (Israel), Jewish Press (U.K.), Jewish Quarterly (U.K.), Tablet, Pakn Treger, Berkshire Jewish Voice, Newsday, Boston Phoenix, Chronogram, Woodstock (N.Y.) Times, and others.

Rogovoy is the programming consultant for the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, where he curates the annual Yidstock: Festival of New Yiddish Music. Rogovoy’s Friday weekly cultural commentary can be heard on WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network on Midday Magazine.  He also publishes daily and weekly newsletters in his online magazine of cultural and critical news and observations, the Rogovoy Report.

Guitar players can bring their instruments to “jam” with Rogovoy on Bob Dylan songs after his presentation. Light refreshments and beverages will be served. Rogovoy’s books will be available for purchase and signing after the program.

Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at Congregation Knesset Israel; reserved at Knesset Israel’s main office during business hours; by phone at (413) 445-4872 x. 10, with over-the-phone charge taken; or payable by check sent and made out to Knesset Israel, 16 Colt Road, Pittsfield, MA 01201 (please note the word “concert” on the envelope).

 

 

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

Friday, 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

Monday, 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

Tuesday, 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.