Philosophers, pimps and pale kings may argue for the better angels of our nature, but riled-up septuagenarian Bob Dylan is having none of that shit. His 35th studio album Tempest drips with tales of carnage, Shakespearean vengeance and unrequited desires — not to mention a winding 14-minute title track that deconstructs the Titanic sinking in surreal details. The death-obsessed landscapes Dylan paints are no country for old men, yet Tempest bears the true grit of a grizzled survivor’s defiance in the face of mortality: The more I die, the more I live. – Keith.
mp3: Bob Dylan – Long And Wasted Years
Tempest is out now on Columbia.
Over the weekend, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips played a couple of shows in Asia (Taipei and Hong Kong) in which the pair performed songs from the back catalogue of Galaxie 500, the band fronted by Wareham that came to indie rock prominence during the late eighties. From the moment their Taipei show on Saturday evening kicked off with the arching dream pop of “Flowers”, we knew we were witnessing something quite incredible — this was, after all, the closest we may ever come to the Galaxie 500 reunion we have all been pining for. Dean, looking every bit like the weathered music veteran that he is, was in good spirits and seemed genuinely psyched to be revisiting his former band’s songs with Britta and drummer Anthony LaMarca. All the sediments of memory revolving Galaxie 500 just kept flooding back in that hour and a half — the spacey everything’s-swirling-slow aesthetics and the hallucinatory texture of the music, Dean’s ability to make the most apathetic concerns, such as standing in line outside a convenience store (“Strange”), sound absolutely sublime.
Before he launched into “Fourth of July”, Dean made a wisecrack about being in Taipei on the same day as pop diva Lady Gaga. Galaxie 500 didn’t last long as a band, but it is obvious enough to me that the music of their three near-perfect albums will last well beyond after Lady Gaga goes out of currency, if based on the strengths of “Fourth of July”. Like many Galaxie 500 favorites, “Fourth of July” abounds in tedium and restless mysteries. But there is a sense of uplift that the song invokes rather emphatically, the celebratory music breaking through the topography of loneliness disguised as misanthropic bravado (“I stayed at home on the Fourth of July, and I pulled the shades so I didn’t have to see the sky/ I decided to have a bed-in, but I forgot to invite anybody”).
After closing the main set with “Fourth of July”, Dean and Britta returned to the stage with a beautiful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, a cover version they have earlier recorded for the musical score to the 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests DVD. I have always had special associations with this wry little ballad written by Dylan, first hearing the song via Bettie Serveet’s awesome cover on the I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack when I was a teenager quite some years before I would be exposed to Dylan’s original on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3. “ Back then, I guess I really kinda identified with the flippant attitude towards romance (“I can’t help it if you might think that it’s odd, if I say I don’t love you for what you are but for what you’re not”) in Dylan’s lyrics; now that I’m older, I’m not so sure about that sort of sentiment. Dean & Britta’s lovely version of the song immerses one in a more reflective mood, touched with a more mature ambivalence and a strange hopefulness that indeed, “everybody will help you discover what you set out to find”. – Keith.
mp3: Galaxie 500 – Fourth Of July
mp3: Dean & Britta – I’ll Keep It With Mine
i’ve been listening again and again to the low anthem‘s oh my god, charlie darwin, the band’s independently released album that’s finally gotten a wider distribution on nonesuch, and i can’t understand how i can be so drawn to a genre and style so far removed from what i can identify with. covering a broad range of americana, blues and folk, the band communicates in a manner that transcends the cultural boundaries that so often limit these music types. i suspect part of the answer has to be the versatile vocals of ben knox miller, who tackles both the rollicking, rowdier tunes and the softer, more delicate ballads with equal relish, invoking on different occasions the influences of dylan (“champion angel”) and tom waits (“the horizon is a beltway”), and together with the band recalling the more recent sublime harmonies of the fleet foxes. in the title track, which also opens the album, the voices are simply magical, with the sparse instrumentation giving the most room for the words to fill every corner of your room until it’s really all around you, like the cold and shapeless water and the lifeless life painted in the song’s mournful chorus.
mp3: the low anthem – charlie darwin
oh my god, charlie darwin is now out on nonesuch records, handpainted on hardcover just like the original independent release.
after a thoroughly satisfying steamboat dinner with d and s (thanks for the treat) i headed down to catch watchmen with s. we arrived a little late, but in time for the opening credits screened to the soundtrack of bob dylan’s “the times they are a-changin'”. while the song’s original revolutionary message was somewhat decontextualized, it still fit quite well to the semi-historical sequence of events. as it turns out, dylan’s songwriting was to appear two more times in the film, first with hendrix’s classic cover of “all along the watchtower” and at the closing credits, an almost unrecognizable version of “desolation row” by my chemical romance, which provided a really jarring end to a film too high on action and too low on cohesive interpretation. i’m still undecided about how well these songs fit in the soundtrack, just as i’m unsure about how much i really enjoyed/disliked the film (the saving grace, really, is jackie earle hayley’s performance as rorschach), but one thing i’m certain about is the timeless legacy of dylan’s songwriting, which remains ever so relevant and moving today as it must have been back then. here they are, in their original versions, by the man himself.
mp3: bob dylan – the times they are a changin’
mp3: bob dylan – all along the watchtower
mp3: bob dylan – desolation row
i don’t usually talk about the photos i use for each entry, but this one is a personal favorite of a freewheelin’ bob dylan taken by rock & roll photographer jim marshall, from the proof collection my friends got me for my birthday this year. dylan had spotted a discarded tire while walking down seventh avenue in greenwich village, and marshall was quick enough to catch this single shot with a morning haze acting to filter the light. anyway, i finally caught murray lerner‘s the other side of the mirror this week, the film which traces dylan’s newport folk festival performances from a young starlet blowin’ in the wind in 1963 to his controversially ill-received electric statement in 1965, and found myself staring into the vacuum of his eyes in the confrontational close-up footage of his performance of “like a rolling stone”. the version i’m attaching here, though, is from a year later at the manchester free trade hall, an impetuous retort to his accuser’s allegation of “judas” which shows dylan at his arguably most electrifying.
mp3: bob dylan – like a rolling stone (live)
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Tagged 1965, 1966, bob dylan, greenwich village, highway 61 revisited, jim marshall, judas, like a rolling stone, manchester free trade hall, murray lerner, newport folk festival, no direction home, proof, the other side of the mirror