27 Mar 2012
We all know how Bob Dylan feels about Maggie’s Farm. Apparently, he is not so fiercely antagonistic towards life on Hop Farm in Kent. The grand old lyrical sage of rock and roll returns to Tonbridge for his second headline slot at a festival shaping up to be the vintage music event of the year.
Fellow headliners making exclusive UK festival appearances include Peter Gabriel and Patti Smith, along with such relative youngsters as, er, Primal Scream and Suede.
It does seem a slightly odd place to find such a line up. There is something about the archaic, rustic image of a British farm that cannot but seem anachronous to rock superstardom, conjuring images of legendary guitar slingers of the 20th century picking their way between cow pats.
Don’t think twice, Bob Dylan’s still all right. More than 80 stars have recorded their versions of songs from Bob Dylan’s 50-year career for a new CD. What is his enduring appeal?
02 Feb 2012
At a birthday celebration in a London pub, I watched as two young women barely out of their teens stood on a small stage and belted out an enthusiastic, if not entirely tuneful version of a Bob Dylan song, hugging each other as they wailed about “the highway of regret”. And everyone in the pub seemed to be joining in, raising their voices in a beery bluster to bawl about a place where “the winds of change are blowing wild and free” and they could tell the object of their unrequited desires that “you ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet”. I swear tears were being shed.
I am not sure how many would have identified it as a Dylan song. Make You Feel My Love has become part of the soundtrack of our times, one of those tracks you can hear burbling in the background wherever you go.
Recorded by singing sensation Adele on her 10-million-selling debut album 19, her emotional version of Dylan’s romantic piano ballad has shifted more than a million copies as a single, regularly returning to the charts since its original release in 2008 and becoming a fixture of TV shows and the end credits of movies.
The teenage Adele was not even a Dylan fan herself. “I don’t like his voice – it really grates,” she blithely admits. “But I Googled the lyrics. They are so stunning, and it kind of summed up what I’d been trying to say in all my songs. They are the most beautiful lyrics, and it’s a beautiful tune.”
Who would have thought that, at 70, Dylan would still be a fixture in the pop charts?
February 1st, 2012
A rather spurious poll has declared REM’s Everybody Hurts “the saddest song of all time”. Given that there were only twenty songs to choose from, none of which were by Elliot Smith, I’m not sure how seriously we can take it. I have country albums that are more depressing than that entire list (note to whoever compiled it: Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is not a sad song. Try Famous Blue Raincoat, Master Song or Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye if you want to shed tears with Lenny).
I’m a sucker for a musical weepie. The first single I ever bought was Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun. I have shelves groaning under the weight of melancholic singer-songwriters, crammed with albums lamenting deaths and departures, propped up with a whiskey bottle. For my personal heartbreak, it’s hard to get past the forlorn ache of Frank Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours of the Morning, although there are parts of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks that run it close (Simple Twist of Fate, If You See Her Say Hello, She’s A Big Girl Now) and the combination of death and country music can floor me unexpectedly (I had to pull over to the side of the road recently listening to Willie Nelson’s new version of Guy Clark’s Desperadoes Waiting For A Train).
If we add up all that heartbreak and loss, there must be millions of sad songs floating about on oceans of minor chords. Far more, I suspect than there are happy songs.
October 14th, 2011
Last week, there was a rumour that Bob Dylan was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature which, to be fair, was quickly dismissed by anyone who had actually read past the first two lines of his 1966 stream of consciousness tome Tarantula. Yesterday we heard that Jarvis Cocker has been appointed editor at large at Faber & Faber. Britpop’s favourite speccy geek’s “broad commissioning role” in the publishing company will commence with an annotated collection of his lyrics, entitled Mother, Brother, Lover. Sadly, there are no plans to give him his own Pulp Fiction imprint, but he will be encouraged to help Faber “continue to build a reputation as the home for exciting and original writing on music.”Has rock and roll gone literary? There is a lot of excitement in the publishing industry about rock star authors at the moment. But, as editors snap up every old guitarhero with literary pretensions, hoping to emulate the runaway success of Keith Richard’s autobiography ‘Life’, there are three crucial points that need to be made:It was Keith Richards.He’s lived more life than almost anyone else.He didn’t actually write the book himself.Next year, we can look forward to autobiographies from Pete Townshend, Billy Idol, Morrissey and Greg Allman. Good luck with the last one. I interviewed Mr Allman this year. He’s certainly lived quite a life, the problem is he was drunk and stoned for most of the interesting stuff, and doesn’t seem to remember any of it.Rumour is that a whole host of other rock stars are currently putting pen to paper, or at least chatting with a trusted confidante over drinks and telling them to fill in the blanks.
October 12th, 2011
Paul Simon joins the 70 club tomorrow, one of an elite triumvirate of legendary singer-songwriters who have kept maturing, kept producing new and interesting work through every advancing decade of their lives: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and now Simon. His most recent album, So Beautiful Or So What, is as good as anything he has recorded since his 1986 classic Graceland, and that came over twenty years after sixties masterpieces like The Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Its an extraordinary body of work. Once icons of what was perceived as youth culture, Simon and his peers have become something else, something more steadfast, musical poets of the modern age.
I’ve interviewed Simon on several occasions, and am always impressed by how deeply he thinks about what he is doing.
29 Sep 2011
When Hank Williams died of heart failure, aged 29, in 1953, his body was found in the back of a car with some empty beer cans and an unfinished song lyric. This is the stuff of country legend.
A huge star in his short lifetime, Williams was also one of pop’s first posthumous idols, a self-destructive prototype for the kind of hard-drinking, drug-taking musician who is almost defined by their pain. Williams’s final single was I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive but, such was his prodigious output, he notched up hits for years after his death, his legacy dubiously extended with radio sessions recorded during what was effectively six years as a published singer-songwriter.
Fifty-two years on, you might have thought this dead horse well and truly flogged.
But The Lost Notebooks… is a veritable holy grail for fans, a genuine mother lode of original lyrics by the artist whose direct, conversational songs of ordinary suffering (and sometimes joy) shaped contemporary country.
Alicia Keys, Albert Hall, review
14 Jun 2011Comment
“Where are all my real men?” asks Alicia Keys, surveying the Albert Hall. There is a gruff cheer in response. “And I must ask,” she continues, “where are all my phenomenal, brilliant, beautiful women?” And a cheer goes up that nearly takes the roof off.
If there was gender bias in the deployment of adjectives, it is because Keys is, at heart, a kind of new age feminist soul queen. She has played all kinds of pop diva roles with her public image, from balladeering sweetheart to urban hottie to sassy Bond girl, but, even at her most vulnerable and broken-hearted, never plays the victim. Keys has firmly cemented her place in the affections of a predominantly female audience with the constant thrust of her tender but tough, right on anthems of sisterhood. Songs like Superwoman, Woman’s Worth and No One embody a kind of real girl power that the heavily sexualised imagery of most female chart pop can only mimic.
Women may currently rule the hit parade but before Lady Gaga and Adele, Alicia Keys set a new standard for the modern urban female star, reaching back to the classic soul of Aretha and forward to the hip hop inflected “sassitude” of Beyonce.
May 24th, 2011
Musician and producer Dave Stewart knows a lot of famous people (indeed, he’s pretty famous himself). But he has one friend who has almost gone beyond fame, into a kind of mythological realm usually the preserve of the deceased. As an icon of modern popular culture, Bob Dylan occupies the same kind of territory as Elvis Presley and John Lennon, something that was brought home to Stewart when he set out with Dylan on an impromptu stroll through Camden Market in the early Nineties. No one approached them for autographs or photographs. Instead people would go pale, stop in their tracks and gesticulate open mouthed, as if they couldn’t believe what they were witnessing was real. Stewart described the experience to me as “like walking with a ghost”.
I had my own encounter with the ghost many years ago. I was backstage at a massive open-air Dylan concert in Ireland, chatting with two young American guys I had just met, when I noticed this weird looking fellow sidle up alongside us, his jowly face caked in orange make-up and baggy eyes ringed with thick black liner. I didn’t actually recognise him at first, perhaps because he bore so little resemblance to the skinny beatnik with the tangled psychedelic curls whose poster adorned my bedroom wall. But eventually it dawned on me that this paunchy, wrinkled old peach making small talk in a stoned drawl was Bob Dylan. I gaped at this strange vision, simultaneously amazed and disappointed. “He looks so old!” I whispered to my new American friends, before babbling some nonsense about it being better not to meet your heroes. They turned out to be Dylan’s sons, Samuel and Jakob. Not my finest moment.
<< Read More: My strange encounter with Bob Dylan – Telegraph >>.
As a nice early 70th birthday present, the BBC have taken it upon themselves to reveal Bob Dylan’s confession to a brief heroin addiction in New York in his youth. He made the remarks in a particularly candid interview with the late Robert Shelton in 1966, when Dylan was 25. By that time, the singer-songwriter was already over his alleged “$25 a day habit”, although certainly entering his full blown amphetamine period, which may have explained why he was quite so loose-tongued and loquacious with a journalist in what Shelton described as a “kaleidoscopic monologue running at full tilt”.
But Dylan’s comments had a context, which is lost in lurid headlines.
Once upon a time, rock music was young – and its stars were, too. As Bob Dylan turns 70, are the old ones still the best?
18 May 2011
Bob Dylan will be 70 years old next Tuesday, May 24. Seventy! From one perspective, looking through the prism of youth-obsessed pop culture, it seems such an extraordinary thing. Pop freezes its icons in moments in time, and Dylan will always be there at the explosive birth of the modern pop age, manning the barricades of the Sixties revolution, captured in black and white: a skinny, grave-faced, curly haired, visionary twentysomething, strumming his acoustic guitar, blowing bony notes through his harmonica, warning the adult establishment to get out of the way (“Senators, congressmen, please heed the call/ Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall”) because the times they were a-changin’.
Well, the times have changed all right and Dylan with them. This year, he has toured the once mysterious and inaccessible land of China, allegedly submitting his set list to censorship by the powers that be. He didn’t play The Times They Are a-Changin’ but he did play his world-weary postscript from the year 2000, Things Have Changed, in which he growls with a defeatism that borders on defiance: “People are crazy, times are strange/ I used to care but things have changed.” Yet he ended his set in Beijing with his beautiful 1974 hymn Forever Young, in which he elegantly celebrates the most positive virtues of youth: “May your heart always be joyful/ May your song always be sung.”
We are still singing Dylan’s songs, in all their poetry, wisdom, contradiction and complexity. His sombre, gospel-tinged ballad Make You Feel My Love from 1997 has just spent more than 40 weeks in the British top 40, delivered with worshipful authority by 23-year-old star of the moment, Adele.
Shift the pop-culture prism, and Dylan at 70 starts to make a different kind of sense, because he has been here, right in front of us all this time, hair greying, jowels sagging, wrinkles spreading across his face, voice slowly turning from the barbed wire ululations of a youth in thrall to the ageless depths of folk to a rubbed raw bullfrog croak of an old man giving it whatever his ragged vocal cords still can.