zaterdag 22 juli 2017

Time Out Of Mind. The Lives Of Bob Dylan. Ian Bell

Several years ago Wo. reviewed part 1 of this Dylan biography. You can read his findings here:

Now for part 2, but not before I point out the seeming oddity of the picture. Has it been photoshopped? Dylan's extended second and third fingers seem to indicate that he's smoking, don't they?

Part 2 starts with the live resurrection of Dylan and that brilliant album 'Blood On The Tracks'. This was just before I truly discovered Bob Dylan myself with the album 'Desire'. Quite simply one of my favourite Dylan albums. All the rest that came before was only discovered by me in the 80s and 90s. Whether on cd or second hand LP, whatever came on my path. I learned fairly quickly that the early Dylan, the folk/political hero was not for me. It just isn't my music, really.

Unfortunately for me, and the rest of the world, the career of Bob Dylan took a turn for the worst, after 'Desire'. After the so-so 'Street Legal', which holds a few brilliant songs, and the as far as I'm concerned great live album 'At Budokan', Dylan went religious or lost touch with his inner skills or just didn't care. With a few minor sparks on 'I and I' and 'Down In the Groove' (yes, I do hear them Mr. Bell) the 80s went by like for many 60s hero's: in a shambles of pretty awful music. It's not just Dylan, mind. Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, they all came up with (mostly) mediocre albums at best, to all return with a strong album in 1989. Why was that? (Van Morrison is the exception to this rule.)

The mystery of the great songs released on 'Biograph', the box set that got me into Dylan more, and "The Bootleg Series, Volume One', that won me over definitely, is something that Bell can only speculate about. The only one who knows why these songs did not make an album great or better, is Dylan himself and he's not talking. The fact that they got released anyway, means that either he saved them for a purpose or lost the final say over what is released and what not, after the original release. Fact is that Bell speculates a lot, but cannot fathom the true reasons.

What he does do, is that he seems to have started to dislike Bob Dylan because of it. The focus lies so much on what is withheld (from him), that it has become personal, while writing this book. It is the artist who decides what to release; even if it hurts his career, and not Mr. Bell or me. I've wondered, yes, of course, after having heard some of these great tracks, later, but that is all. I never cared about bootleg albums and such, so I was simply very pleasantly surprised when I bought the box sets and found all these great, some fantastic new songs there. Instead of being fed live versions and studio version #8 and #9, that for usually very obvious reasons did not make the record, what all other bands usually serve up in exchange for a lot of money, Dylan comes up with new songs that are great. I am the happier for it.

What Bell derives at, is that Dylan seems to have lost his ability to write and compose and his ability to see what is best work was. Personally I have come to the conclusion, somewhere in the 80s already, that he has tried to destroy his career for whatever reason and in the end miserably failed, because in the end he is too good and original an artist. The responses to the first radical change to electric may have genuinely surprised him, after that it was all effect. Maybe some self-loathing was involved after his marriage failed, who knows? Fact is that from 1979 onwards he has been trying to alienate his audience from him. Audiences that keep turning up right up to today, while he has no voice left and is unable to play guitar any more.

The part Bell doesn't cover any more, the book stops in 2012, is where Dylan has lost me completely. Who wants to hear someone with a croaky voice sing Sinatra, Crosby, etc.? I do not even want to hear the originals. It had happened before that with his last albums with original material. I haven't bothered to buy 'Tempest' and the one before that. Just like I didn't like 'Love and Theft'. That's fine. A lot of people like the albums, so I'm happy for them. It's just not my music. What I do, is play the albums I like every once in a while and enjoy them thoroughly. And all those Dylan's Ian Bell writes about? I leave them to Robert Allen Zimmerman to figure out. There's only one Bob Dylan, the one that evolved in public, where we ordinary mortals change more privately. And live? I've seen him three times, which is more than enough. One of them was good, I can't remember when it was, but I came home with a 'Time Out Of Mind' t-shirt.

Time Out Of Mind is very well written and thoroughly researched by Ian Bell. First hand accounts tell about what happened around Dylan or how people perceived things. It's too bad that so much focus on all these bad albums seems necessarily. Where it works is as a counterpoint to the prominent resurrection of Dylan that started with 'Time Out Of Mind'. Ian Bell runs out of pages to let us know how brilliant he thinks Dylan is from here onwards and that he truly is the greatest artist of his time. His book, 'Chronicles', his movie, 'Masters and Commanders', his record, 'Modern Times' and everything after are all lauded by him. Even the Christmas album is 'fun".

Again it becomes clear how much controversy there is around the person(s) Bob Dylan. (Take the cover of 'Oor' 4-2017. Dylan is on the cover, apparently for no special reason as the caption of the cover story reads "Bob Dylan, the treason of the saviour". Once inside I find it is because the April concerts in Amsterdam and his latest album. Controversy rages and sells, still, in 2017.) Nothing the man does can do without eschatology of his each and every word, deed and non-deeds. Ending in op-eds and research papers. There has probably never been an artist who has been (peer) reviewed so often and relentlessly. "I know nothing about it, I haven't seen/read a thing", is Dylan's standard reply it seems, in interviews. In the meantime he plays with it all. Let me give an example from beyond this book.

Fans like to see several of his albums as triptychs. They most probably are not and certainly were not started as thus. Out comes Dylan's latest album in 2017. What does he call it 'Triplicate'. That most be a joke.

With his latest albums (until 2012), reviewed and far beyond by Bell, Dylan has explored the music of the American songbook, like he did in his legendary radio shows 'Theme Time Hour With Bob Dylan'. These shows sort of resulted you could say in three albums, five records, filled with songs from that songbook as sung by Dylan. The man who all but lost his voice.

Who the man beneath all the masks is, if there is a "real" Bob Dylan, we will not divine from Bell's books. For that Dylan is too elusive. He plays the "Bob Dylan game" masterly. Always sowing confusion and thus able to be himself on the two nights in the year he's not out on the road somewhere in the world. With the Nobel Prize in his pocket, something which is speculated on hugely in Time Out Of Mind, it is time to contemplate Bob Dylan's next move. With 'Triplicate' he most probably released his final tribute album. Can he surprise the world again? I won't be surprised if he does. This man is full of them for over 50 years.

Did I read enough on Dylan? Probably yes, but I may surprise myself some more too.

To end on a positive note here. Because of Ian Bell's words I am listening to 'Tempest' again and boy was I wrong to halt at "that" voice at the time. Yes, masterpiece. My sincere apologies, Mr. Dylan.


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