Who was “baby blue?” Was it Joan Baez, Dylan’s folk loving audience, Bob Dylan himself? No one knows, maybe not even Bob. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” is one of the greatest pieces of symbolist poetry ever, one of the greatest folk songs ever, and one of Bob’s best. Released in 1965 0n the incredible album, Bringing it All Back Home, the song was some kind of farewell ode to love, society, success, or failure. Maybe it was a portent of a coming apocalypse, or a grim nihilistic expression of desolation. Whatever it was about, it was beautiful, and British folkie Donovan knew it. The video clip below is from the 1967 documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” which focused on Dylan’s 64-65 tour of England. In the clip, we see Donovan play a lovely little tune, which is really great, but then request Bob play one of his favorites, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” I was always struck by what the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand Alex Kapranos had to say on the encounter.
“That guy was so self-assured. It’s breathtaking to watch him at the pinnacle of his cruel glory in this film. The most intense scene is when Donovan meets his mentor. The lovely wee guy plays an optimistic Dylanesque tune on his guitar. Dylan then plays “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and sniggers at Donovan’s amateurism through the acid of his delivery. Watch the muscles flinch in Donovan’s jaw.”
I’m not sure if Dylan was sniggering at Donovan’s song, and if Donovan’s jaw was flinching, it was out of awe and respect, not jealousy. Still, Alex, captures the essence of the effect Dylan’s music must have been having on his rabid and possessive folk audience that Bob was now ditching. “Don’t Look Back,” captures the Dylan fan rebellion as they openly boo Bob when he plugs in electric guitars and starts to rock. It’s one of the more stunning moments in rock and roll history, and an example of how different culture was back then; one that held hard onto icons, status qu0, and familiarity. The clip, the song, and the moment is one of the greatest in rock history so buckle up your brain before you press play.
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.
For part 77 of my countdown, I got Jeff Bridges performing “The Man in Me” at a Lebowski Fest in Los Angeles. The song of course was featured beautifully in the Coen Brothers ultra cult classic, “The Big Lebowski,” when the Dude is riding that magic rug. Dylan wrote this song for his 1970 LP New Morning. It’s a gorgeous folk rock ballad about love from a man’s perspective, featuring an aching lead vocal and beautiful background vocals. I think it’s one of Bob’s more touching melodies, and I’m glad its popularity is enhanced by its inclusion in the film. Jeff Bridges does a really good job crooning this, and it speaks highly to his character to attend a Lebowski Fest and give his fans something so personal and fun. So, check this video out, and share it with your friends, its really great.
The hits keep rolling, and for part 37 of my youtube countdown I present this incredible and rare video of George Harrison and Bob Dylan playing Bob’s “If Not For You.” Holy shit, where to begin. First of all, this was a rehearsal for George’s “Concert for Bangladesh” show, the first rock charity show ever. George was Bob Dylan’s biggest fan, worshiping all his music, his whole life. At this point in Dylan’s life, he was in exile in Woodstock not wanting to make any public appearances, but somehow George convinced to appear at his Madison Square Garden mega show to play a set. Bob was nervous as fuck, having panic attacks and throwing up back stage before the actual show. George wasn’t sure if Bob would have the nerve to do it, but he did, and it inspired Dylan to get out there on the road again. This video speaks for itself. Two icons of musical genius expression, playing one of Bob’s most gentle songs from his New Morning album, (George covered the song on his All Things Must Pass record just the year before.) Just a fantastic moment in music history. Enjoy.
Part 36 of my youtube countdown rolls on with a performance of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads Blues’ by Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. I’ve been in a real bluesy mood this week, and a clip like this really hits the sweet spot. The song, a gem in Robert Johnson’s absurdly mythological repertoire, is heavily electrified by Bob and Eric. I’m guessing its the old Cream arrangement, though I could be wrong about that. While Bob and Eric are having a great time playing this tune, it shouldn’t escape you that these are two of the most devoted Robert Johnson worshipers that ever lived. Before Bob recorded ‘The Freewheelin,” his first album of original songs, CBS executives gave Bob a copy of Johnson’s recordings before they were ever widely distributed or known by anybody. Johnson’s music had a profound effect on him, just as deep as Woody Guthrie’s. In Johnson, Bob heard a ghost lost to time, the most authentic blues folk expressionist he could imagine. Eric had similar epiphanies, but his most striking reaction upon hearing Johnson for the first time was fear. Eric was downright spooked by Johnson’s creaky high pitched voice, and his complex and perfect, not to mention revolutionary, guitar technique. Over time, Eric would describe Johnson as “the most important blues musician who ever lived,” and subsequently did his best to spread his myth and music to the masses. While on the surface, Eric and Bob just seem to be enjoying themselves, with Eric giving a beautiful melodic blues solo, and rarity of rarities, Bob playing an electric solo too, (granted he’s just alternating two notes, but still!). But there is something much deeper going on. I don’t know, but I get over-awed thinking about these two gods of popular music playing the song of a god who somehow sits over them on a higher level. It’s really something to sit back and think of the power surging from these guy’s lips and fingertips; where it all comes from, how it changed the world, and what it all means. It’s a moment a lot of people might ignore, but hopefully realize one day, its utter preciousness in the pantheon of things that matter. Enjoy.
My performance of Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street. This one has WAY better audio this time because it dawned on me to use a real mic. Expect my videos to get much better in the future when I get more confidence recording these things, though I like the little rasp I’ve got going here. I leave these posts short because I provide some commentary in the video itself..ENJOY!
As promised, my performance of Buckets of Rain by Bob Dylan. I played it on my Epiphone Casino because the mic picked it up better. Also, I did it in Open E tuning, so that’s why I’m looking at my guitar so much, to make sure I’m playing the right chords. I hope to have many more of these in the future, with better quality. This was admittedly a hard song for me, but I think I peeled it off ok. I hope you enjoy.
In part 32 of my youtube countdown, we find Neko Case covering Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain from Bob’s “Blood on the Tracks” album. There are two things you need to understand. First, Neko Case is my favorite female singer in the world. Her voice is just a soaring laser beam of power and clarity. Second, Buckets of Rain is among my favorite songs ever. It’s just a gorgeous poem of love and devotion. I was planning to record a video of me playing Buckets of Rain, but there’s some guy operating a power drill outside my window right now, so that will have to wait for another day. In lieu of such activities, you’ll just have to enjoy Neko’s golden voice giving life to Bob’s golden words for now. I’m so sorry. ; )
It’s kind of shame that it took 23 notches in my youtube countdown to get to Bob Dylan, one of my immortal heroes of music..and uhh..life. The video I present to you is utterly fantastic. It’s from the old Steve Allen Tonight Show in 1964. Steve Allen gives Bob an lovely epic introduction to the United States, elevating him further from his cult singer status to the perennial icon that he is. Bob is very shy, barely giving more then a one or two word answer to Steve’s easy questions. It’s just a remarkably restrained interview on both sides with Steve eventually breaking out into Bob’s poetry, putting poor young Bob on the spot. But it’s a beautiful moment. Then Bob breaks into “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” one of his absolute best classic “fuck you rich people” tear jerkers. At the end of the performance, you can see there is not a dry eye in the house, with Bob having cemented himself as America’s greatest poet, songwriter, and all around genius. If you want to see how an artist can change the world, and how revolutions of the mind and heart are really made and won, then you have to look no further then this clip. I love this, and you should too. Enjoy.