Friday, March 6, 2015

Bob Dylan, traditionalist

Christopher Caldwell's "AWOL from the Summer of Love" is a review of Dylan's The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, with considerable attention to the songs themselves and the circumstances surrounding their creation. I suspect that anyone who cares about Bob Dylan would find the whole article interesting. These excerpts are representative of the none-album-review portions:
.... Working mostly in the garage of a big, pink-asbestos-shingled split-level house that Danko had rented in the woods of West Saugerties, Dylan recorded at least 10 dozen songs in just a few months around the middle of 1967. All sorts of songs: blues standards, sea shanties, gunslinger ballads, Welsh folk songs, some reworked pop hits from the 1950s, some reworked hits of Dylan’s own. But most of the recordings were newly written Dylan songs of astonishing originality and wit. And the musicians backing him up coalesced in ways they hadn’t before. Towards the end of the sessions they were rejoined by the Arkansan drummer-singer Levon Helm, who had left Dylan’s 1966 tour in a huff. The band would become The Band. Building on the tracks recorded with Dylan and even releasing their own versions of some of them, they would produce two or three of the most original albums of the rock era, starting, the following year, with Music from Big Pink.

The summer of 1967 was the Summer of Love. People going to San Francisco were sure to wear flowers in their hair. The country had got itself in a terrible jam, way down yonder in Vietnam. But aside from one mumbled aside about burning draft cards, nowhere in the hours of recordings Dylan made with The Band is there the slightest mention of the concerns of the 1960s—peace, race, revolution, psychedelia. Their collective secession from the fuss of the sixties astonished the English guitarist Eric Clapton when he went to visit them: “It became quite obvious to me I was on a different planet to these guys,” Clapton recalled in a 2004 interview. “I had an Afghan jacket and curly hair and pink trousers. They looked like The Hole in the Wall Gang.” ....

By the mid-1960s, Dylan was in an impossible position. He had become perhaps the most famous person on the planet by snickering at the American game of ambition as a rat race. Dylan’s fans not only had unmeetable expectations of his music, they had unmeetable expectations of him. He was supposed to share and even embody a whole set of burn-it-down, I-spit-on-your-bourgeois-institutions attitudes towards American society—and he simply didn’t. He was suspended like a cartoon character in midair over the chasm separating his own pre-1960s America from the post-1960s America he had done so much to create. His fans would have been appalled (perhaps he, too, would have been appalled) to recognize on which side of that chasm he thought virtue lay.

When the songwriter Carly Simon...met Dylan around the time of his move to Woodstock, he was drunk and, she later said in an interview, “saying a lot about God and Jesus.” Dylan’s Christianity has, ever since, been allusive, idiosyncratic, and never of the sort to place him on anyone’s side in any Kulturkampf. But there are a half-dozen songs in these sessions that begin to show the more open Christian religiosity that would appear on his late 1967 album John Wesley Harding. .... [more]