Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dylan Video of the Week - Forever Young

Here's Mr. D. singing "Forever Young" on the Letterman show.

"Forever Young" was originally recorded by Dylan and The Band on November 8, 1973, and released on Planet Waves in 1974. Reportedly, it was one of the more difficult cuts to get on tape to Dylan's satisfaction.

"We only did one [complete] take of the slow version of 'Forever Young,'" said studio engineer Rob Fraboni, according to a Wikipedia entry. "This take was so riveting, it was so powerful, so immediate, I couldn't get over it... I was so mesmerized by it again I didn't even notice that Bob had come into the room...

"...So when we were assembling the master reel I was getting ready to put that [take] on the master reel. I didn't even ask. And Bob said, 'What're you doing with that? We're not gonna use that.' And I jumped up and said, 'What do you mean you're not gonna use that? You're crazy! Why?' Well, during the recording...[Dylan's childhood friend] Lou Kemp and this girl came by and she had made a crack to him, 'C'mon, Bob, what! Are you getting mushy in your old age?' It was based on her comment that he wanted to leave [that version] off the record."
Dylan would attempt another, acoustic, arrangement of the song on November 9th, telling Fraboni, "I've been carrying this song around in my head for five years and I never wrote it down and now I come to record it I just can't decide how to do it." Ultimately, the earlier, November 8th version would be used.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dylan Video of the Week - The Price of Fame

You sometimes wonder how the famous resist barricading themselves on a mountaintop somewhere.

It's not easy being a professional musician. Bad road food, a bad lifestyle where bottles, pills and needles are all too available.

And there's too much travel, and nights staring out at a sea of faces that you can barely see through the lights. And the next day is the next town, and the next sea of faces.

And then there are the crazies, people who might think you're God... or the Devil, and spend a lot of time imagining what it would be like to meet you, to talk to you, to touch you.

You wonder whether Dylan thinks about that on the Never-Ending Tour, looking out the window as the bus takes him to another town.

Our first video is of the so-called "Soy Bomb" incident at the 1998 Grammy Awards. Performance artist Michael Portnoy was hired by the Grammys to stand in the background with other dancers and bob his head to the music to "give Bob a good vibe." If you watch the video, you'll see that about three minutes into "Love Sick," Portnoy ripped off his shirt, displaying the words Soy Bomb on his chest, and started dancing wildly next to Dylan. Dylan gives Portnoy a bemused glance, but continues playing without missing a beat.

When later questioned by reporters, Portnoy made some opaque statements about reinvigorating the bland music scene of the `90s, but it was patently obvious that it had been a self-publicity stunt. The Grammys decided not to prosecute Portnoy, but perhaps the most fitting punishment was that the "Soy Bomb" dance was edited out when the performance of "Love Sick" was included on the bonus DVD released with Dylan's 2006 album album Modern Times.

Our second video is taken at a 1996 Dylan/Dead concert<, and is sure to produce a "Yikes!" moment or two. A swarm of kids prance on stage, stage-dive, and walk up to Dylan to talk to him, touch him, and kiss him, all while he gamely tries to finish "Like a Rolling Stone." As one commenter notes,

"I understand the urge to touch Bob Dylan, but this parade of obnoxious kids who won't let the man play the damn song is unbelievable. I never thought I'd say this, but...where the hell is security?"

Friday, March 23, 2007

Voices from Chronicles: Volume One - Karen Dalton

Of the Cafe Wha? and the singer/songwriter who ran the daytime show, Dylan writes in Chronicles: Volume One,

"Freddy [Neil] had the flow, dressed conservatively, sullen and brooding, with an enigmatical gaze, peachlike complexion, hair splashed with curls and an angry and powerful baritone voice that struck blue notes and blasted them to the rafters with or without a mike. He was the emperor of the place, even had his own harem, his devotees. You couldn't touch him. Everything revolved around him. Years later, Freddy would write the hit song 'Everybody's Talkin'.' I never played any of my own sets. I just accompanied Neil on all of his and that's where I began playing regular in New York."
In the same section, Dylan reveals his favorite singer at the Cafe Wha? was Karen Dalton.
"A tall white blues singer and guitar player, funky, lanky and sultry," Dylan writes. "Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed and went all the way with it."
Close your eyes. Picture a room, empty of furniture except for an unmade bed. A woman lies on it, staring up at the ceiling, watching a fan turn, slowly pulling the smoke from her cigarette into its blades. A half-empty glass of wine is on the floor, by the woman's arm...

That's Karen Dalton, singing "It Hurts Me Too," from her first album, It's So Hard To Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best, originally released in 1969 and reissued on CD in 1997.

As Dylan, and nearly everyone else who heard her noted, Karen's voice strongly resembled that of Billie Holiday's, in fact to the point where the Capitol press release for her first album described her as "the folksinger's answer to Billie Holiday."

Dalton's voice is also eerily similar to the modern day smoky voiced singer, Madeleine Peyroux, who herself is often compared to Holiday.

Unlike Peyroux, Dalton never had much popular success. Possibly because she was uncomfortable in the studio and had to be coaxed into recording the two albums she did produce. Or perhaps it was because of her distinctive voice - which, like Dylan's - listeners tended to immediately love or hate. Or perhaps because she rarely wrote her own songs, during a period where it was the singer/songwriter who claimed the most attention. Or perhaps because of the drug and alcohol problems she reportedly struggled with until her death in 1993.

Fred Neil, who had first brought her to the attention of Capitol Records, wrote in his original 1971 liner notes to her second album, In My Own Time:
"She did 'Blues On The Ceiling' (which is my song) with so much feeling that if she told me she had written it herself I would have believed her. Her voice is so unique, to describe it would take a poet. All I can say is she sure can sing the shit out of the blues."
Recorded during 1970-71 at Bearsville NY, 'In My Own Time' was produced by Harvey Brooks, a Renaissance musician who crossed the the rock/jazz line, playing bass on two seminal albums - Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" and Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew".

The country singer Lacy J. Dalton has said that she took her name from Karen, who had greatly influenced her singing style. "Karen was tall, willowy, had straight black hair, was long-waisted and slender, what we all wanted to look like,' Lacy J. Dalton said.

Also known as "Sweet Mother K.D.", it is said that the songs "Katie's Been Gone" by The Band and Nick Cave's "When I First Came To Town" were written for and about Karen Dalton.

A great, haunting talent that never got the audience she deserved, you can buy Karen Dalton's first album on Amazon or as separate tracks (only) through iTunes.

Karen Dalton - It's So Hard to Tell You Who's Going to Love You the Best

There's also a European version of "It's So Hard…" released in July of 2006, that includes a DVD of Dalton performing four songs, which I believe is where the YouTube video originated.

Dalton's second album, "In My Own Time," can also be found through Light in the Attic Records (my recommendation: support the small), or through Amazon or as either an album or separate tracks through iTunes.

Karen Dalton - In My Own Time

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bob Dylan - Mississippi

was recorded for Dylan's Time Out of Mind but, when that album ran long, it was shunted to the next one down the line, 'Love and Theft.'

Thematically, I think it makes more sense grouped with the other TOoM songs, but it's a powerful work, nonetheless.

Sheryl Crow would later rework the song's melody, phrasing, and arrangement, and record it for The Globe Sessions, released in 1998, before Dylan released it on 'Love and Theft.'

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Who's that Hippy-Hoppy Character Without Any Beard?

This week's Dylan Video of the Week doesn't have Mr. D, but instead features two people who played a large role in Dylan's early career. Although you wouldn't have been able to tell that from reading Chronicles, where Dylan only gives a one-line mention to Dick Fariña, probably because of David Hajdu's gossipy Positively 4th Street, which chronicles, pun unintended, the complex, competitive relationship among the Fariñas, Dylan, and Mimi's older sister, Joan Baez.

Richard and Mimi Fariña performing House Un-American Blues Activity Dream on Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest television show.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Bob Dylan - Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight

Bob Dylan performs "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" from his 1983 album "Infidels." An unreleased music video.

I can't tell whether it's out-of-synch, or Dylan was just miming for later synching.