Bob Dylan page 2 (continued from page 1)

Return to touring

Dylan together with three musicians from The Band onstage. Dylan is third from left, wearing a black jacket and pants. He is singing and playing an electric guitar.
Bob Dylan and The Band touring in Chicago, 1974

Dylan began 1973 by signing with a new record label, David Geffen's Asylum Records, when his contract with Columbia Records expired. On his next album, Planet Waves, he used The Band as backing group, while rehearsing for a major tour. The album included two versions of "Forever Young," which became one of his most popular songs.[141] As one critic described it, the song projected "something hymnal and heartfelt that spoke of the father in Dylan",[142] and Dylan himself commented: "I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental."[143] Biographer Howard Sounes noted that Jakob Dylan believed the song was about him.[141]

Columbia Records simultaneously released Dylan, a haphazard collection of studio outtakes (almost exclusively cover songs), which was widely interpreted as a churlish response to Dylan's signing with a rival record label.[144] In January 1974, Dylan returned to live touring after a break of seven years; backed by The Band, he embarked on a high-profile, coast-to-coast North American tour, playing 40 concerts. A live double album of the tour, Before the Flood, was released on Asylum Records. Soon, Columbia Records sent word that they "will spare nothing to bring Dylan back into the fold".[145] Dylan had second thoughts about Asylum, apparently miffed that while there had been millions of unfulfilled ticket requests for the 1974 tour, Geffen had managed to sell only 700,000 copies of Planet Waves.[145] Dylan returned to Columbia Records, which subsequently reissued his two Asylum albums on their imprint.

After the tour, Dylan and his wife became publicly estranged. He filled a small red notebook with songs about relationships and ruptures, and quickly recorded a new album entitled Blood on the Tracks in September 1974.[146] Dylan delayed the album's release, however, and re-recorded half of the songs at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis with production assistance from his brother David Zimmerman.[147]

Released in early 1975, Blood on the Tracks received mixed reviews. In the NME, Nick Kent described "the accompaniments [as] often so trashy they sound like mere practice takes."[148] In Rolling Stone, reviewer Jon Landau wrote that "the record has been made with typical shoddiness."[148] However, over the years critics have come to see it as one of Dylan's greatest achievements, perhaps the only serious rival to his mid-60s trilogy of albums. In Salon.com, Bill Wyman wrote: "Blood on the Tracks is his only flawless album and his best produced; the songs, each of them, are constructed in disciplined fashion. It is his kindest album and most dismayed, and seems in hindsight to have achieved a sublime balance between the logorrhea-plagued excesses of his mid-'60s output and the self-consciously simple compositions of his post-accident years."[149] Novelist Rick Moody called it "the truest, most honest account of a love affair from tip to stern ever put down on magnetic tape."[150]

Dylan, wearing a hat and leather coat, plays guitar and sings, seated. Crouched next to him is a bearded man, listening to him with head bent.
Bob Dylan photographed by Elsa Dorfman with Allen Ginsberg, on the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975

That summer Dylan wrote a lengthy ballad championing the cause of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who had been imprisoned for a triple murder committed in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. After visiting Carter in jail, Dylan wrote "Hurricane", presenting the case for Carter's innocence. Despite its 8:32 minute length, the song was released as a single, peaking at No.33 on the U.S. Billboard Chart, and performed at every 1975 date of Dylan's next tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue, named after the Shoshone medicine man, shaman, teacher, and activist Rolling Thunder.[151][152] The tour was a varied evening of entertainment featuring about one hundred performers and supporters drawn from the resurgent Greenwich Village folk scene, including T-Bone Burnett, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell,[153][154] David Mansfield, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Joan Baez, and violinist Scarlet Rivera, whom Dylan discovered while she was walking down the street, her violin case hanging on her back.[155] Allen Ginsberg accompanied the troupe, staging scenes for the film Dylan was simultaneously shooting. Sam Shepard was initially hired to write the film's screenplay, but ended up accompanying the tour as informal chronicler.[156]

Running through late 1975 and again through early 1976, the tour encompassed the release of the album Desire, with many of Dylan's new songs featuring an almost travelogue-like narrative style, showing the influence of his new collaborator, playwright Jacques Levy.[157][158] The spring 1976 half of the tour was documented by a TV concert special, Hard Rain, and the LP Hard Rain; no concert album from the better-received and better-known opening half of the tour was released until 2002's Live 1975.[159]

Dylan performing in Rotterdam, June 23, 1978

The fall 1975 tour with the Revue also provided the backdrop to Dylan's nearly four-hour film Renaldo and Clara, a sprawling and improvised narrative, mixed with concert footage and reminiscences. Released in 1978, the movie received generally poor, sometimes scathing, reviews and had a very brief theatrical run.[160][161] Later in that year, Dylan allowed a two-hour edit, dominated by the concert performances, to be more widely released.[162]

In November 1976, Dylan appeared at The Band's "farewell" concert, along with other guests including Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and Neil Young. Martin Scorsese's acclaimed cinematic chronicle of this show, The Last Waltz, was released in 1978 and included about half of Dylan's set.[163] In 1976, Dylan also wrote and duetted on the song "Sign Language" for Eric Clapton's No Reason To Cry.[164]

In 1978, Dylan embarked on a year-long world tour, performing 114 shows in Japan, the Far East, Europe and the US, to a total audience of two million people. For the tour, Dylan assembled an eight piece band, and was also accompanied by three backing singers. Concerts in Tokyo in February and March were recorded and released as the live double album, Bob Dylan At Budokan.[165] Reviews were mixed. Robert Christgau awarded the album a C+ rating, giving the album a derisory review,[166] while Janet Maslin defended it in Rolling Stone, writing: "These latest live versions of his old songs have the effect of liberating Bob Dylan from the originals."[167] When Dylan brought the tour to the US in September 1978, he was dismayed the press described the look and sound of the show as a 'Las Vegas Tour'.[168] The 1978 tour grossed more than $20 million, and Dylan acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that he had some debts to pay off because "I had a couple of bad years. I put a lot of money into the movie, built a big house ... and it costs a lot to get divorced in California."[165]

In April and May 1978, Dylan went into the studio in Santa Monica, California, to record an album of new material with the same large band and backing vocalists: Street-Legal.[169] It was described by Michael Gray as, "after Blood On The Tracks, arguably Dylan's best record of the 1970s: a crucial album documenting a crucial period in Dylan's own life".[170] However, it suffered from poor sound recording and mixing (attributed to Dylan's studio practices), muddying the instrumental detail until a remastered CD release in 1999 restored some of the songs' strengths.[171]

Born-again period

In the late 1970s, Dylan became a born-again Christian[172][173][174] and released two albums of Christian gospel music. Slow Train Coming (1979) featured the guitar accompaniment of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) and was produced by veteran R&B producer, Jerry Wexler. Wexler recalled that when Dylan had tried to evangelize him during the recording, he replied: "Bob, you're dealing with a sixty-two-year old Jewish atheist. Let's just make an album."[175] The album won Dylan a Grammy Award as "Best Male Vocalist" for the song "Gotta Serve Somebody". The second evangelical album, Saved (1980), received mixed reviews, and was described by Dylan critic Michael Gray as "the nearest thing to a follow-up album Dylan has ever made, Slow Train Coming II and inferior."[176] When touring from the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1980, Dylan would not play any of his older, secular works, and he delivered declarations of his faith from the stage, such as:

Years ago they ... said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No I'm not a prophet" they say "Yes you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No it's not me." They used to say "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, "Bob Dylan's no prophet." They just can't handle it.[177]

Dylan's embrace of Christianity was unpopular with some of his fans and fellow musicians.[178] Shortly before his murder, John Lennon recorded "Serve Yourself" in response to Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody".[179] By 1981, while Dylan's Christian faith was obvious, Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times that "neither age (he's now 40) nor his much-publicized conversion to born-again Christianity has altered his essentially iconoclastic temperament."[180]

1980s

Dylan plays his guitar and sings into a microphone onstage.
Dylan in Barcelona, Spain, 1984

In the fall of 1980 Dylan briefly resumed touring for a series of concerts billed as "A Musical Retrospective", where he restored several of his popular 1960s songs to the repertoire. Shot of Love, recorded the next spring, featured Dylan's first secular compositions in more than two years, mixed with explicitly Christian songs; the song "Every Grain of Sand" reminded some critics of William Blake's verses.[181]

In the 1980s the quality of Dylan's recorded work varied, from the well-regarded Infidels in 1983 to the panned Down in the Groove in 1988. Critics such as Michael Gray condemned Dylan's 1980s albums both for showing an extraordinary carelessness in the studio and for failing to release his best songs.[182] The Infidels recording sessions, for example, produced several notable songs that Dylan left off the album. Most well regarded of these were "Blind Willie McTell", a tribute to the dead blues musician and an evocation of African American history,[183] "Foot of Pride" and "Lord Protect My Child". These three songs were later released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.[184]

Between July 1984 and March 1985, Dylan recorded his next studio album, Empire Burlesque.[185] Arthur Baker, who had remixed hits for Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper, was asked to engineer and mix the album. Baker has said he felt he was hired to make Dylan's album sound "a little bit more contemporary".[185]

Dylan sang on USA for Africa's famine relief fundraising single "We Are the World". On July 13, 1985, he appeared at the climax at the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia. Backed by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, Dylan performed a ragged version of "Hollis Brown", his ballad of rural poverty, and then said to the worldwide audience exceeding one billion people: "I hope that some of the money ... maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe ... one or two million, maybe ... and use it to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks."[186] His remarks were widely criticized as inappropriate, but they did inspire Willie Nelson to organize a series of events, Farm Aid, to benefit debt-ridden American farmers.[187]

In April 1986, Dylan made a brief foray into the world of rap music when he added vocals to the opening verse of "Street Rock", a song featured on Kurtis Blow's album Kingdom Blow.[188] Dylan's next studio album, Knocked Out Loaded, was released in July 1986 and contained three cover songs (by Little Junior Parker, Kris Kristofferson and the traditional gospel hymn "Precious Memories"), plus three collaborations with other writers (Tom Petty, Sam Shepard and Carole Bayer Sager), and two solo compositions by Dylan. One reviewer commented that "the record follows too many detours to be consistently compelling, and some of those detours wind down roads that are indisputably dead ends. By 1986, such uneven records weren't entirely unexpected by Dylan, but that didn't make them any less frustrating."[189] It was the first Dylan album since Freewheelin' (1963) to fail to make the Top 50.[190] Since then, some critics have called the 11-minute epic that Dylan co-wrote with Sam Shepard, 'Brownsville Girl', a work of genius.[191]

In 1986 and 1987, Dylan toured extensively with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, sharing vocals with Petty on several songs each night. Dylan also toured with The Grateful Dead in 1987, resulting in a live album Dylan & The Dead. This album received some very negative reviews: Allmusic said, "Quite possibly the worst album by either Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead."[192] After performing with these musical permutations, Dylan initiated what came to be called The Never Ending Tour on June 7, 1988, performing with a tight back-up band featuring guitarist G. E. Smith. Dylan continued to tour with this small but constantly evolving band for the next 20 years.[65]

Dylan, onstage and with eyes closed, plays a chord on an electric guitar.
Dylan in Toronto April 18, 1980

In 1987, Dylan starred in Richard Marquand's movie Hearts of Fire, in which he played Billy Parker, a washed-up-rock-star-turned-chicken farmer whose teenage lover (Fiona) leaves him for a jaded English synth-pop sensation (played by Rupert Everett).[193] Dylan also contributed two original songs to the soundtrack—"Night After Night", and "I Had a Dream About You, Baby", as well as a cover of John Hiatt's "The Usual". The film was a critical and commercial flop.[194] Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988, with Bruce Springsteen's introductory speech declaring, "Bob freed your mind the way Elvis freed your body. He showed us that just because music was innately physical did not mean that it was anti-intellectual.[195]

When Dylan released the album Down in the Groove in May 1988, it was even more unsuccessful in its sales than his previous studio album.[196] Michael Gray wrote: "The very title undercuts any idea that inspired work may lie within. Here was a further devaluing of the notion of a new Bob Dylan album as something significant."[197] The critical and commercial disappointment of that album was swiftly followed by the success of the Traveling Wilburys. Dylan co-founded the band with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty, and in the fall of 1988 their multi-platinum Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 reached number three on the US album chart,[196] featuring songs that were described as Dylan's most accessible compositions in years.[198] Despite Orbison's death in December 1988, the remaining four recorded a second album in May 1990, which they released with the unexpected title Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.[199]

Dylan finished the decade on a critical high note with Oh Mercy produced by Daniel Lanois. Dylan critic Michael Gray wrote that the album was: "Attentively written, vocally distinctive, musically warm, and uncompromisingly professional, this cohesive whole is the nearest thing to a great Bob Dylan album in the 1980s."[197][200] The track "Most of the Time", a lost love composition, was later prominently featured in the film High Fidelity, while "What Was It You Wanted?" has been interpreted both as a catechism and a wry comment on the expectations of critics and fans.[201] The religious imagery of "Ring Them Bells" struck some critics as a re-affirmation of faith.[202]

1990s

Dylan's 1990s began with Under the Red Sky (1990), an about-face from the serious Oh Mercy. The album contained several apparently simple songs, including "Under the Red Sky" and "Wiggle Wiggle". The album was dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo"; this was later explained as a nickname for the daughter of Dylan and Carolyn Dennis, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, who was four at that time.[203] Sidemen on the album included George Harrison, Slash from Guns N' Roses, David Crosby, Bruce Hornsby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Elton John. Despite the stellar line-up, the record received bad reviews and sold poorly.[204]

In 1991, Dylan was honored by the recording industry with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from American actor Jack Nicholson.[205] The event coincided with the start of the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, and Dylan performed his song "Masters of War".[206] Dylan then made a short speech that startled some of the audience.[206]

The next few years saw Dylan returning to his roots with two albums covering old folk and blues numbers: Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993), featuring interpretations and acoustic guitar work. Many critics and fans commented on the quiet beauty of the song "Lone Pilgrim",[207] penned by a 19th century teacher and sung by Dylan with a haunting reverence. In November 1994 Dylan recorded two live shows for MTV Unplugged. He claimed his wish to perform a set of traditional songs for the show was overruled by Sony executives who insisted on a greatest hits package.[208] The album produced from it, MTV Unplugged, included "John Brown", an unreleased 1963 song detailing the ravages of both war and jingoism.

Dylan and members of his band perform onstage. Dylan, wearing a red shirt and black pants, plays an electric guitar and sings.
Dylan performs at a 1996 concert in Stockholm

With a collection of songs reportedly written while snowed-in on his Minnesota ranch,[209] Dylan booked recording time with Daniel Lanois at Miami's Criteria Studios in January 1997. The subsequent recording sessions were, by some accounts, fraught with musical tension.[210] Late that spring, before the album's release, Dylan was hospitalized with a life-threatening heart infection, pericarditis, brought on by histoplasmosis. His scheduled European tour was cancelled, but Dylan made a speedy recovery and left the hospital saying, "I really thought I'd be seeing Elvis soon."[211] He was back on the road by midsummer, and in early fall performed before Pope John Paul II at the World Eucharistic Conference in Bologna, Italy. The Pope treated the audience of 200,000 people to a homily based on Dylan's lyric "Blowin' in the Wind".[212]

September saw the release of the new Lanois-produced album, Time Out of Mind. With its bitter assessment of love and morbid ruminations, Dylan's first collection of original songs in seven years was highly acclaimed. One critic wrote: "the songs themselves are uniformly powerful, adding up to Dylan's best overall collection in years."[213] This collection of complex songs won him his first solo "Album of the Year" Grammy Award.[214]

In December 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton presented Dylan with a Kennedy Center Honor in the East Room of the White House, paying this tribute: "He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but throughout his career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He's disturbed the peace and discomforted the powerful."[215]

2000s

Dylan commenced the new millennium by winning his first Oscar; his song "Things Have Changed", penned for the film Wonder Boys, won an Academy Award in March 2001.[217] The Oscar (by some reports a facsimile) tours with him, presiding over shows perched atop an amplifier.[218]

"Love and Theft" was released on September 11, 2001. Recorded with his touring band, Dylan produced the album himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost.[219] The album was critically well-received and earned nominations for several Grammy awards.[220] Critics noted that Dylan was widening his musical palette to include rockabilly, Western swing, jazz, and even lounge ballads.[221] "Love and Theft" generated controversy when The Wall Street Journal pointed out similarities between the album's lyrics and Japanese author Junichi Saga's book Confessions of a Yakuza.[222][223]

In 2003, Dylan revisited the evangelical songs from his "born again" period and participated in the CD project Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. That year also saw the release of the film Masked & Anonymous, which Dylan co-wrote with director Larry Charles under the alias Sergei Petrov.[224] Dylan played the central character in the film, Jack Fate, alongside a cast which included Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz and John Goodman. The film polarised critics: many dismissed it as an "incoherent mess";[225][226] a few treated it as a serious work of art.[227][228]

In October 2004, Dylan published the first part of his autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One. The book confounded expectations.[229] Dylan devoted three chapters to his first year in New York City in 1961–1962, virtually ignoring the mid-'60s when his fame was at its height. He also devoted chapters to the albums New Morning (1970) and Oh Mercy (1989). The book reached number two on The New York Times' Hardcover Non-Fiction best seller list in December 2004 and was nominated for a National Book Award.[230]

Martin Scorsese's acclaimed film biography No Direction Home was broadcast in September 2005.[231] It was shown on September 26–27, 2005, on BBC Two in the UK and PBS in the US.[232] The documentary focuses on the period from Dylan's arrival in New York in 1961 to his motorcycle crash in 1966, featuring interviews with Suze Rotolo, Liam Clancy, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, and Dylan himself. The film received a Peabody Award in April 2006[233] and a Columbia-duPont Award in January 2007.[234] The accompanying soundtrack featured unreleased songs from Dylan's early career.

Dylan earned yet another distinction in a 2007 study of US legal opinions and briefs that found his lyrics were quoted by judges and lawyers more than those of any other songwriter, 186 times versus 74 by The Beatles, who were second. Among those quoting Dylan were US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, both conservatives. The most widely cited lines included "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" from "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "when you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose" from "Like a Rolling Stone".[235][236]

Modern Times (2006–08)

May 3, 2006, was the premiere of Dylan's DJ career, hosting a weekly radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, for XM Satellite Radio, with song selections revolving around a chosen theme.[237][238] Dylan played classic and obscure records from the 1930s to the present day, including contemporary artists as diverse as Blur, Prince, L.L. Cool J and The Streets. The show was praised by fans and critics as "great radio," as Dylan told stories and made eclectic references with his sardonic humor, while achieving a thematic beauty with his musical choices.[239][240] In April 2009, Dylan broadcast the 100th show in his radio series; the theme was "Goodbye" and the final record played was Woody Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good To Know Yuh". This has led to speculation that Dylan's radio series may have ended.[241]

Dylan together with five members of his band onstage. Dylan, dressed in a white shirt and black pants, is second from right.
Dylan, the Spectrum, 2007

On August 29, 2006, Dylan released his Modern Times album. Despite some coarsening of Dylan's voice (a critic for The Guardian characterised his singing on the album as "a catarrhal death rattle"[242]) most reviewers praised the album, and many described it as the final installment of a successful trilogy, embracing Time Out of Mind and "Love and Theft".[243] Modern Times entered the U.S. charts at number one, making it Dylan's first album to reach that position since 1976's Desire.[244] The New York Times published an article exploring similarities between some of Dylan's lyrics in Modern Times and the work of the Civil War poet Henry Timrod.[245]

Nominated for three Grammy Awards, Modern Times won Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album and Bob Dylan also won Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for "Someday Baby". Modern Times was named Album of the Year, 2006, by Rolling Stone magazine,[246] and by Uncut in the UK.[247] On the same day that Modern Times was released the iTunes Music Store released Bob Dylan: The Collection, a digital box set containing all of his albums (773 tracks in total), along with 42 rare and unreleased tracks.[248]

In August 2007, the award-winning film biography of Dylan I'm Not There, written and directed by Todd Haynes, was released—bearing the tagline "inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan".[249][250] The movie uses six distinct characters to represent different aspects of Dylan's life, played by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw.[250][251] Dylan's previously unreleased 1967 recording from which the film takes its name[252] was released for the first time on the film's original soundtrack; all other tracks are covers of Dylan songs, specially recorded for the movie by a diverse range of artists, including Eddie Vedder, Mason Jennings, Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Karen O, Willie Nelson, Cat Power, Richie Havens, and Tom Verlaine.[253]

Dylan, dressed in a black western outfit with red highlights, stands onstage and plays the keyboards. He gazes to the left of the photo. Behind him is a guitar player, dressed in black.
Bob Dylan performs at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, November 7, 2006

On October 1, 2007, Columbia Records released the triple CD retrospective album Dylan, anthologising his entire career under the Dylan 07 logo.[254] As part of this campaign, Mark Ronson produced a re-mix of Dylan's 1966 tune "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)," which was released as a maxi-single. This was the first time Dylan had sanctioned a re-mix of one of his classic recordings.[255]

The sophistication of the Dylan 07 marketing campaign was a reminder that Dylan's commercial profile had risen considerably since the 1990s. This first became evidenced in 2004, when Dylan appeared in a TV advertisement for Victoria's Secret lingerie.[256] Three years later, in October 2007, he participated in a multi-media campaign for the 2008 Cadillac Escalade.[257][258] Then, in 2009, he gave the highest profile endorsement of his career, appearing with rapper Will.i.am in a Pepsi ad that debuted during the telecast of Super Bowl XLIII.[259] The ad, broadcast to a record audience of 98 million viewers, opened with Dylan singing the first verse of "Forever Young" followed by Will.i.am doing a hip hop version of the song's third and final verse.[260]

In October 2008, Columbia released Volume 8 of Dylan's Bootleg Series, Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989–2006 as both a two-CD set and a three-CD version with a 150-page hardcover book. The set contains live performances and outtakes from selected studio albums from Oh Mercy to Modern Times, as well as soundtrack contributions and collaborations with David Bromberg and Ralph Stanley.[261] The pricing of the album—the two-CD set went on sale for $18.99 and the three-CD version for $129.99—led to complaints about "rip-off packaging" from some fans and commentators.[262][263] The release was widely acclaimed by critics.[264] The plethora of alternative takes and unreleased material suggested to Uncut's reviewer: "Tell Tale Signs is awash with evidence of (Dylan's) staggering mercuriality, his evident determination even in the studio to repeat himself as little as possible."[265]

Together Through Life, Christmas in the Heart (2009)

Bob Dylan released his album Together Through Life on April 28, 2009. In a conversation with music journalist Bill Flanagan, published on Dylan's website, Dylan explained that the genesis of the record was when French film director Olivier Dahan asked him to supply a song for his new road movie, My Own Love Song; initially only intending to record a single track, "Life Is Hard," "the record sort of took its own direction".[266] Nine of the ten songs on the album are credited as co-written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter.[267]

The album received largely favorable reviews,[268] although several critics described it as a minor addition to Dylan's canon of work. Andy Gill wrote in The Independent that the record "features Dylan in fairly relaxed, spontaneous mood, content to grab such grooves and sentiments as flit momentarily across his radar. So while it may not contain too many landmark tracks, it's one of the most naturally enjoyable albums you'll hear all year."[269]

Dylan, wearing a white shirt and pants, sunglasses and a cowboy hat, plays the keyboards onstage.
On keyboards at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 28, 2006

In its first week of release, the album reached number one in the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S.,[270] making Bob Dylan (67 years of age) the oldest artist to ever debut at number one on that chart.[270] It also reached number one on the UK album chart, 39 years after Dylan's previous UK album chart topper New Morning. This meant that Dylan currently holds the record for the longest gap between solo number one albums in the UK chart.[271]

On October 13, 2009, Dylan released a Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart, comprising such Christmas standards as "Little Drummer Boy", "Winter Wonderland" and "Here Comes Santa Claus".[272] Dylan's royalties from the sale of this album will benefit the charities Feeding America in the USA, Crisis in the UK, and the World Food Programme.[273]

The album received generally favorable reviews.[274] The New Yorker commented that Dylan had welded a pre-rock musical sound to "some of his croakiest vocals in a while", and speculated that Dylan's intentions might be ironic: "Dylan has a long and highly publicized history with Christianity; to claim there's not a wink in the childish optimism of 'Here Comes Santa Claus' or 'Winter Wonderland' is to ignore a half-century of biting satire."[275] In USA Today, Edna Gundersen pointed out that Dylan was "revisiting yuletide styles popularized by Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, and the Ray Conniff Singers." Gundersen concluded that Dylan "couldn't sound more sentimental or sincere".[276]

In an interview published by Street News Service, journalist Bill Flanagan asked Dylan why he had performed the songs in a straightforward style, and Dylan responded: "There wasn't any other way to play it. These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight too."[277]

2010s

On October 18, 2010, Dylan released Volume 9 of his Bootleg Series, The Witmark Demos. This comprised 47 demo recordings of songs taped between 1962 and 1964 for Dylan's earliest music publishers: Leeds Music in 1962, and Witmark Music from 1962 to 1964. One reviewer described the set as "a kind of alternate early history of Dylan's songwriting process, 'writing five new songs before breakfast,' as he once famously quipped".[278] The critical aggregator website Metacritic awarded the album a Metascore of 86, indicating "universal acclaim".[279] In the same week, Sony Legacy released Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings, a box set which for the first time presented Dylan's eight earliest albums, from Bob Dylan (1962) to John Wesley Harding (1967), in their original mono mix in the CD format, accompanied by new liner notes by Dylan critic Greil Marcus.[280]

On April 12, 2011, Legacy Recordings released Bob Dylan in Concert – Brandeis University 1963 . The recording was taped at Brandeis University on May 10, 1963, two weeks prior to the release of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The tape had been discovered in the archive of music writer Ralph J. Gleason, and had previously been available as a limited edition supplement to The Bootleg Series Vol. 9. The recording carries liner notes by Dylan scholar Michael Gray. Gray writes, "(The) Dylan performance it captured, from way back when Kennedy was President and the Beatles hadn't yet reached America, wasn't even on fans' radar.... It reveals him not at any Big Moment but giving a performance like his folk club sets of the period... This is the last live performance we have of Bob Dylan before he becomes a star."[281]

The extent to which his work was studied at an academic level was demonstrated on Dylan's 70th birthday on May 24, 2011, when three universities organised symposia on his work. The University of Mainz,[282] the University of Vienna,[283] and the University of Bristol[284] invited literary critics and cultural historians from Europe and the US to give papers on aspects of Dylan's work. Other events, including tribute bands, intellectual debates and simple singalongs, took place around the world, as reported in The Guardian: "From Moscow to Madrid, Norway to Northampton and Malaysia to his home state of Minnesota, self-confessed "Bobcats" will gather today to celebrate the 70th birthday of a giant of popular music."[285]

In August 2011, Dylan's label, Egyptian Records, announced that an album of previously unheard Hank Williams songs, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, would be released in October. Dylan had helped to curate this project, in which songs unfinished when Williams died in 1953 were completed and recorded by a variety of artists, including Dylan himself, his son Jakob Dylan, Levon Helm, Norah Jones, Jack White, and others.[286][287]

Never Ending Tour

Dylan, standing and playing the keyboards, onstage with members of his band.
Bob Dylan (right on keyboards) at the Roskilde Festival, 2006

The Never Ending Tour commenced on June 7, 1988,[288] and Dylan has played roughly 100 dates a year for the entirety of the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century—a heavier schedule than most performers who started out in the 1960s.[289] By the end of 2010, Dylan and his band had played more than 2300 shows,[290] anchored by long-time bassist Tony Garnier, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron and guitarist Charlie Sexton. To the dismay of some of his audience,[291] Dylan's performances remain unpredictable as he alters his arrangements and changes his vocal approach night after night.[292] Critical opinion about Dylan's shows remains divided. Critics such as Richard Williams and Andy Gill have argued that Dylan has found a successful way to present his rich legacy of material.[293][294] Others have criticised his vocal style as a "one-dimensional growl with which he chews up, mangles and spits out the greatest lyrics ever written so that they are effectively unrecognisable",[295] and his lack of interest in bonding with his audience.[296]

Dylan's performances in China in April 2011 generated controversy. Some criticised him for not making any explicit comment on the political situation in China, and for, allegedly, allowing the Chinese authorities to censor his set-list.[297] Others defended Dylan's performances, arguing that such criticism represented a misunderstanding of Dylan's art, and that no evidence for the censorship of Dylan's set-list existed.[298][299]

Dylan responded to these allegations of censorship by posting a statement on his website: "As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There's no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous 3 months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play."[300]

In April 2011, Dylan performed concerts in Taiwan, China, Vietnam and Australia.[301] Dylan's website has published details of Dylan's 2011 tour of Europe, Israel and the US from June to August, commencing in Cork, Ireland, and concluding in Bangor, Maine.[302]

Artist

Over a decade after Random House had published Drawn Blank (1994), a book of Dylan's drawings, an exhibit of his art, The Drawn Blank Series, opened in October 2007 at the Kunstsammlungen in Chemnitz, Germany.[11] This first public exhibition of Dylan's paintings showcased more than 200 watercolors and gouaches made earlier in 2007 from the original drawings. The exhibition coincided with the publication of the book Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series, which includes 170 reproductions from the series.[11][303][10]

From September 2010 until April 2011, the National Gallery of Denmark exhibited 40 large-scale acrylic paintings by Dylan, The Brazil Series.[304][305] In July 2011, a leading contemporary art gallery, Gagosian Gallery, announced their representation of Dylan's paintings.[306] An exhibition of Dylan's art, The Asia Series, opened at the Gagosian Madison Avenue Gallery on September 20, displaying Dylan's paintings of scenes in China and the Far East.[307] The New York Times reported that "some fans and Dylanologists have raised questions about whether some of these paintings are based on the singer’s own experiences and observations, or on photographs that are widely available and were not taken by Mr. Dylan", pointing to resemblances between Dylan's paintings and photographs taken by Dmitri Kessel and Henri Cartier-Bresson.[308]

Discography

Awards

Personal life

Family

Dylan married Sara Lownds on November 22, 1965. Their first child, Jesse Byron Dylan, was born on January 6, 1966, and they had three more children: Anna Lea (born July 11, 1967), Samuel Isaac Abraham (born July 30, 1968), and Jakob Luke (born December 9, 1969). Dylan also adopted Sara's daughter from a prior marriage, Maria Lownds (later Dylan, born October 21, 1961). Maria married musician Peter Himmelman, an Orthodox Jew, in 1988.[309] In the 1990s, Dylan's son Jakob became well known as the lead singer of the band The Wallflowers. Jesse Dylan is a film director and a successful businessman. Bob and Sara Dylan were divorced on June 29, 1977.[310]

In June 1986, Dylan married his longtime backup singer Carolyn Dennis (often professionally known as Carol Dennis).[311] Their daughter, Desiree Gabrielle Dennis-Dylan, was born on January 31, 1986. The couple divorced in October 1992. Their marriage and child remained a closely guarded secret until the publication of Howard Sounes' Dylan biography, Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan in 2001.[312] Dylan now lives in Malibu, California, when not on the road.[313]

Religious beliefs

Growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota, Dylan and his family were part of the area's small but close-knit Jewish community, and in May 1954 Dylan had his Bar Mitzvah.[314] Around the time of his 30th birthday, in 1971, Dylan visited Israel, and also met Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the New York-based Jewish Defense League.[315] Time Magazine quoted Dylan saying about Kahane, "He's a really sincere guy. He's really put it all together."[316] Subsequently, Dylan downplayed the extent of his contact with Kahane.[317]

Dylan performing onstage with an electric guitar.
Dylan touring in the Netherlands, in 1984

For a period during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dylan was a public convert to Christianity. From January to April 1979, he participated in Bible study classes at the Vineyard School of Discipleship in Reseda, California. Pastor Kenn Gulliksen has recalled: "Larry Myers and Paul Emond went over to Bob's house and ministered to him. He responded by saying, 'Yes he did in fact want Christ in his life.' And he prayed that day and received the Lord."[318][319]

By 1984, Dylan was deliberately distancing himself from the "born-again" label. He told Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone magazine: "I've never said I'm born again. That's just a media term. I don't think I've been an agnostic. I've always thought there's a superior power, that this is not the real world and that there's a world to come." In response to Loder's asking whether he belonged to any Church or synagogue, Dylan laughingly replied, "Not really. Uh, the Church of the Poison Mind."[320] In 1997 he told David Gates of Newsweek:

Here's the thing with me and the religious thing. This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else. Songs like "Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain" or "I Saw the Light"—that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.[1]

In an interview published in The New York Times on September 28, 1997, journalist Jon Pareles reported that "Dylan says he now subscribes to no organized religion."[321]

Dylan has been described, in the last 20 years, as a supporter of the Chabad Lubavitch movement[322] and has privately participated in Jewish religious events, including the bar mitzvahs of his sons and attending Hadar Hatorah, a Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva. In September 1989 and September 1991, Dylan appeared on the Chabad telethon.[323] Jewish news services have reported that Dylan has visited Chabad synagogues; on September 22, 2007 (Yom Kippur), he attended Congregation Beth Tefillah, in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was called to the Torah for the sixth aliyah.[324]

Dylan has continued to perform songs from his gospel albums in concert, occasionally covering traditional religious songs. He has also made passing references to his religious faith—such as in a 2004 interview with 60 Minutes, when he told Ed Bradley that "the only person you have to think twice about lying to is either yourself or to God." He also explained his constant touring schedule as part of a bargain he made a long time ago with the "chief commander—in this earth and in the world we can't see."[31]

In a 2009 interview with Bill Flanagan promoting his Christmas LP, Christmas in the Heart, Flanagan commented on the "heroic performance" Dylan gave of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and that Dylan "delivered the song like a true believer". Dylan replied: "Well, I am a true believer."[277]

Legacy

Bob Dylan is one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, musically and culturally. Dylan was included in the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century where he was called "master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation".[2] Biographer Howard Sounes placed him among the most exalted company when he said, "There are giant figures in art who are sublimely good—Mozart, Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Shakespeare, Dickens. Dylan ranks alongside these artists."[325]

Initially modeling his writing style on the songs of Woody Guthrie,[6] and lessons learned from the blues of Robert Johnson,[7] Dylan added increasingly sophisticated lyrical techniques to the folk music of the early 60s, infusing it "with the intellectualism of classic literature and poetry".[326] Paul Simon suggested that Dylan's early compositions virtually took over the folk genre: "[Dylan's] early songs were very rich ... with strong melodies. 'Blowin' in the Wind' has a really strong melody. He so enlarged himself through the folk background that he incorporated it for a while. He defined the genre for a while."[327]

When Dylan made his move from acoustic music to a rock backing, the mix became more complex. For many critics, Dylan's greatest achievement was the cultural synthesis exemplified by his mid-'60s trilogy of albums—Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. In Mike Marqusee's words: "Between late 1964 and the summer of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock'n'roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console."[328]

One legacy of Dylan's verbal sophistication was the increasing attention paid by literary critics to his lyrics. Professor Christopher Ricks published a 500-page analysis of Dylan's work, placing him in the context of Eliot, Keats and Tennyson,[329] and claiming that Dylan was a poet worthy of the same close and painstaking analysis.[330] Former British poet laureate, Andrew Motion, argued that Bob Dylan's lyrics should be studied in schools.[331] Since 1996, academics have lobbied the Swedish Academy to award Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature.[332][333][334][335]

Dylan's voice was, in some ways, as startling as his lyrics. New York Times critic Robert Shelton described Dylan's early vocal style as "a rusty voice suggesting Guthrie's old performances, etched in gravel like Dave Van Ronk's."[336] David Bowie, in his tribute, "Song for Bob Dylan", described Dylan's singing as "a voice like sand and glue". Dylan's voice continued to develop as he began to work with rock'n'roll backing bands; critic Michael Gray described the sound of Dylan's vocal on his hit single, "Like a Rolling Stone", as "at once young and jeeringly cynical".[337] As Dylan's voice aged during the 1980s, for some critics, it became more expressive. Christophe Lebold writes in the journal Oral Tradition, "Dylan's more recent broken voice enables him to present a world view at the sonic surface of the songs—this voice carries us across the landscape of a broken, fallen world. The anatomy of a broken world in "Everything is Broken" (on the album Oh Mercy) is but an example of how the thematic concern with all things broken is grounded in a concrete sonic reality."[338]

Dylan's influence has been felt in several musical genres. As Edna Gundersen stated in USA Today: "Dylan's musical DNA has informed nearly every simple twist of pop since 1962."[339] Many musicians have testified to Dylan's influence, such as Joe Strummer, who praised Dylan as having "laid down the template for lyric, tune, seriousness, spirituality, depth of rock music."[340] Other major musicians to have acknowledged Dylan's importance include John Lennon,[341] Paul McCartney,[342] Pete Townshend,[343] Neil Young,[344] Bruce Springsteen,[92] David Bowie,[345] Bryan Ferry,[346] Nick Cave,[347][348] Patti Smith,[349] Syd Barrett,[350] Cat Stevens,[351]Joni Mitchell,[352] and Tom Waits.[353] More directly, both The Byrds and The Band, two 1960s contemporary groups with some measure of influence on popular music themselves, largely owed their initial success to Dylan: the Byrds with their hit of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and subsequent album; and the Band for their association with him on tour in 1966, on retreat in Woodstock, and on their debut album featuring three previously unreleased Dylan songs.

There have been dissenters. Because Dylan was widely credited with imbuing pop culture with a new seriousness, the critic Nik Cohn objected: "I can't take the vision of Dylan as seer, as teenage messiah, as everything else he's been worshipped as. The way I see him, he's a minor talent with a major gift for self-hype."[354] Similarly, Australian critic Jack Marx credited Dylan with changing the persona of the rock star: "What cannot be disputed is that Dylan invented the arrogant, faux-cerebral posturing that has been the dominant style in rock since, with everyone from Mick Jagger to Eminem educating themselves from the Dylan handbook."[355] Joni Mitchell described Dylan as a "plagiarist" and his voice as "fake" in a 2010 interview in the Los Angeles Times, in response to a suggestion that she and Dylan were similar since they had both changed their birthnames.[356][357] Mitchell's comment led to discussions of Dylan's use of other people's material, both supporting and criticizing Dylan.[358]

If Bob Dylan's legacy in the 1960s was seen as bringing intellectual ambition to popular music, now that he has reached the age of 70, he has been described as a figure who has greatly expanded the folk culture from which he initially emerged. As J. Hoberman wrote in The Village Voice, "Elvis might never have been born, but someone else would surely have brought the world rock 'n' roll. No such logic accounts for Bob Dylan. No iron law of history demanded that a would-be Elvis from Hibbing, Minnesota, would swerve through the Greenwich Village folk revival to become the world's first and greatest rock 'n' roll beatnik bard and then—having achieved fame and adoration beyond reckoning—vanish into a folk tradition of his own making."

Author:Bling King
Published:Sep 29th 2011
Modified:Feb 27th 2013
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