Here is an exchange between John Lennon and Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone Magazine on Bob Dylan’s 1970 release New Morning, ”
What do you think of Dylan’s album? LENNON:
I thought it wasn’t much. Because I expect more–maybe I expect too much from people – but I expect more. I haven’t been a Dylan follower since he stopped rocking. I liked “Rolling Stone” and a few things he did then; I like a few things he did in the early days. The rest of it is just like Lennon-McCartney or something. It’s no different, its a myth.WENNER:
You don’t think then it’s a legitimate New Morning? LENNON:
No, It might be a new morning for him because he stopped singing on the top of his voice. It’s all right, but it’s not him, it doesn’t mean a fucking thing. I’d sooner have “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmonds, it’s the top of England now.
Pretty damning stuff from John Beatle, but I understand. John was in a revolutionary mood at the time, firmly believing that rock records should be altering people’s consciousnesses and toppling governments. It’s ironic because ten years later he’d release a similar record to Bob’s New Morning in the form of Double Fantasy. Like John’s last release, New Morning was a record about escaping into the pleasures of domesticated life, taking it easy, and appreciating the little things. New Morning was mostly written on Bob’s piano, the instrument he would retreat to when he wanted to ruminate on less socially and psychologically intense themes that would come out on his acoustic guitar. I love this record. When you play it, it just hums along with a sweeping peaceful energy. John’s right about one thing, in this record, Bob left his high pitched country singing style behind in favor of his traditional folk rocking croon. There is almost a Jim Morrison lounge like imitation going on here as Bob enthusiastically moans his way through a bunch of gospel tinged bluesy numbers. The clearest example of this is “The Man in Me,” a boozy and rollicking celebration of romantic devotion. This song was famously featured in the Coen Brothers fabulously funny classic film, “The Big Lebowski.” The Coen’s apparently picked it because at the time the song was relatively obscure, and its the sort of song that only middle aged hippies like the Dude, (and my dad for that matter) would have on their mix tapes.
On the more playful side you get a cut like “Went to See the Gypsy,” a song where Bob seems to be mocking the hype surrounding some famous Las Vegas fortune teller. It’s not about meeting Elvis Presley, as some have suggested. The straightforward storytelling on this track is very reminiscent of the minimalistic style Bob mastered on John Wesley Harding. It’s a slow building song that just gets under you skin with repeat playings. It’s a feeling the record gives you spades.
“Day of the Locusts,” my favorite song on the album, is a lot like “Went to See the Gypsy” in its clear cut storytelling style, but way more epic. It’s a song inspired by Bob’s experience in receiving an honorary diploma from Princeton University and how the “singing” cicada’s spooked him. Folk rocker David Crosby, who was with Bob at the time tells the story best, “Sara (Dylan’s wife) was trying to get Bob to go to Princeton University, where he was being presented with an honorary doctorate. Bob did not want to go. I said, ‘C’mon, Bob it’s an honor!’ Sara and I both worked on him for a long time. Finally, he agreed. I had a car outside, a big limousine. That was the first thing he didn’t like. We smoked another joint on the way and I noticed Dylan getting really quite paranoid about it. When we arrived at Princeton, they took us to a little room and Bob was asked to wear a cap and gown. He refused outright. They said, ‘We won’t give you the degree if you don’t wear this.’ Dylan said, ‘Fine. I didn’t ask for it in the first place.’…Finally we convinced him to wear the cap and gown.” Priceless.
The last song I want to highlight is “If Not For You,” a song featured on my youtube countdown. This track continues the steady mature romanticism that defines the record. George Harrison famously covered the song with a lavish arrangement for his All Things Must Pass solo record, but I kinda prefer the low key presentation Dylan came up with. Here is George and Bob taking a stab at it in the more mellow vein.
In conclusion, it’s probably a very good idea to listen to this whole record if you haven’t gotten into it ever, despite what John Lennon says. Part of me suspects John was just projecting a hyper competitive spirit at the time. As a newly emerging solo artist, Lennon was trying to grab some credibility real estate in the field of solo stars, and if that meant knocking Dylan a bit to make room, that was probably all the rationalization he needed. In that same interview, he also did manage to knock the Stones, McCartney, Harrison, and all other rock artists in general outside of Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, leaving very little room for anyone but himself to revel in glory. Leaving John’s caustic criticisms aside, this is just the perfect Bob Dylan album to have on your playlist this summer. It’s a hiking record, a beach record, a meadow strolling record, a real peaceful outdoorsy sonic adventure if I ever heard one. You’d do yourself a big favor to download it, or buy it used somewhere. Until tomorrow, cheers everybody.