Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Clinton Heylin’s new Dylan book: challenging… essential

Clinton Heylin’s challenging new book, Revolution In The Air, is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Dylan library.

The first volume of a pair, Revolution In The Air covers Dylan’s songs from the juvenilia of 1957’s Song to Brigit to the grown-up angst of Planet Waves’ Wedding Song. A second volume, Still On The Road, bringing the story up to 2006, is promised for next year.

Covering 300 songs – in the order they were written, thus imposing narrative and context – the book is a potted history of each title, focusing on composition, recording and/or performance. It eschews in-depth analysis of either lyrics or music and evaluates the songs’ quality only in passing.

Heylin adopts a scholarly approach to his mammoth task. His sources include recording logs, manuscripts, performance set lists, published works and other utterances by Dylan, the testimony of collaborators and eye-witnesses, and a handful of favoured websites.

Heylin’s strengths are the depth of his expertise, based on half a lifetime of heavy-duty research, and a lively, literate writing style.

Weaknesses? Not many. You need to be a dedicated fan to welcome the level of detail here, but the book is targeted at precisely such readers. And there’s bound to be an element of speculation in such a work, though Heylin’s musings are worth your attention.

Revolution In The Air: Bob Dylan’s Songs is, according to the publishers, “informative, opinionated, packed with new insights and revelations….”

Pretty fair summary, I’d say – it’s an essential purchase; volume two is eagerly awaited.

Heylin’s legacy now includes three key Dylan books, the new volume standing proudly alongside Behind The Shades (biography) and Behind Closed Doors (recording sessions). He’s a nuanced guide to Dylan and his peerless art.

Revolution In The Air: The Songs Of Bob Dylan vol. 1: 1957-73, by Clinton Heylin, Constable, 2009, 482pp, £20.


Gerry Smith

Friday, June 19, 2009

“Dylan” DVD series from Wienerworld: what do you think?

This week’s review on The Dylan Daily of the new DVD Bob Dylan - Never Ending Tour Diaries attracted loads of interest.

I’ve yet to see the rest of the “Dylan” DVDs in the series from Wienerworld, so I would value your opinions: are they worth buying?

If you’ve seen any of five DVDs in the series, listed below, please let The Dylan Daily know what you think – info@dylandaily.com:

* Bob Dylan - Never Ending Tour Diaries (Winston Watson)

* Bob Dylan - 1966 World Tour – The Home Movies (Mickey Jones)

* Bob Dylan World Tours 1966 – 1974 (Barry Feinstein photos)

* Bob Dylan – 1975 – 1981: Rolling Thunder & The Gospel Years

* Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years

Thanks in advance.

Gerry Smith

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Drummer Winston Watson reflects on the Never-Ending Tour in the 1990s

Such is the hunger for Dylan-related product, a whole new genre of unofficial DVDs has recently found a ready audience. Lacking official Dylan performances and appearances, they either focus on the testimony of former sidemen and associates or gather the opinions of critics and writers.

They’re aimed at the hardcore fan who’s exhausted all the official releases (and the best of the bootleg performance footage).

So the new DVD from Wienerworld, Bob Dylan: Never Ending Tour Diaries: Drummer Winston Watson’s Incredible Journey, was approached with a degree of scepticism.

Watson, Dylan’s flamboyant drummer in the mid-1990s, performed over 400 shows in five years. He saw enough to be able to tell an interesting tale, though he remains respectful and discreet.

This charming 100-minute film quickly won me over. Given the limited resources at his disposal – interview with Watson, the drummer’s rough video footage, fan bootleg videos, graphics and footage of their Dylan tribute band – director Joel Gilbert has worked wonders in creating a very watchable, occasionally revealing, documentary.

Gilbert was lucky in his subject – Watson’s an engaging, disarming, likeable character who’s walked the walk but is still modest enough to be thrilled by the memories. He was, and is, a big Dylan fan.

You share his triumphs, then sympathise that he lost the gig (and his wife), and that he’s now earning his living working as an electrician back in Tucson, Arizona. When a film draws you in like this, you know it works.

Bob Dylan: Never-Ending Tour Diaries is enjoyable and informative. Watson’s anecdotes and reflections help to flesh out what we know about Dylan the working, touring musician.


I’ll be exploring the rest of the Wienerworld Dylan DVDs.

Info: www.highway61ent.com

Gerry Smith

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Highway 61, Beyond Here, Heylin, Barker, Watson DVD

Thanks to readers who sent three interesting links:

* To Larry:

“The new Dylan Watch is a re-interpretation of some songs on Highway 61 Revisited. I thought you'd find the approach interesting:


* To Patrick:

“Pretty interesting video and interview on Behind Here Lies Nothin:


* And to Stav for a link to a Catholic Herald review of new Heylin and covers books, and Winston Watson DVD:


If you some across links you think other Dylan Daily readers might appreciate, please let me know – info@dylandaily.com

Gerry Smith

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Basement Tapes: debt to TS Eliot?

The “Say hello to Valerie…“ verse in The Basement Tapes song Too Much Of Nothing always struck me as very clever, and very funny. But it had never occurred to me that it referenced another great writer.

Until Saturday’s TS Eliot Arena programme on BBC2, when I stumbled upon the connection – Vivienne and Valerie were the names of Eliot’s two wives.

Crowing about my discovery, I smugly turned to Gray’s Encyclopedia, entirely confident that there’d be no mention - that I was the very first fan to get the connection.

Lo and Behold!

The redoubtable Gray had been there before me. He credits recent Dylan Daily contributor Matthew Zuckerman with the discovery, first aired years ago in an article in ISIS fanzine.

Gray, Zuckerman: respect!

Gerry Smith

Your Dylan book recommendations #4 & #5

Thanks to Peter Mackie:

“It all depends what is meant by analytical but, after Ricks and Gray, I think Mike Marqusee - Wicked Messenger, and Betsy Bowden - Performed Literature are well worth reading.”

And to Martin Cowan:

“Heylin – Behind The Shades”

Monday, June 08, 2009

TS Eliot TV doc uses Desolation Row, With God On Our Side

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

“I'd commend the superb BBC2 documentary shown Saturday night about TS Eliot, as part of the BBC's celebration of poetry.

“It opens with a generous snatch of Desolation Row and should be of interest to all Dylan fans.

For those that missed it, it can be viewed (for seven days after broadcast) on the BBC iPlayer here:


And thanks to Peter Mackie:

“The excellent Arena programme on Eliot featured Desolation Row and also the first verse of With God on Our Side. Could that verse really have been written with Eliot in mind?”

Friday, June 05, 2009

Your Dylan book recommendations #2 & #3

Thanks to Gerald Bamford:

“I would recommend the Paul Williams series of books to Jonas and everybody else for that matter, dealing with Bob Dylan as a 'Performing Artist' from 1960 onwards and these together with his book of Dylan related essays - 'Watching The River Flow' - make for a wonderful assessment of Bob as the most extraordinary artist of our time and are essential to an understanding of what makes Bob tick.

“The three 'Performing Artist' volumes can often be found very reasonably priced at 'The Works' bookshops.”

And thanks to Bernard McGuinn:

“Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the Gray recommendation, I find, personally, that Ricks' style, and his obsession with puns, makes for rather painful reading.

“And the latest offering from Heylin - Revolution in the Air - totally eclipses his previous worthy efforts. It's a great read, and I await volume 2 with eager anticipation.

“I also think that any serious student could do far worse than begin with the three volumes of Paul Williams’ Performing Artist series. He never fails to re-ignite my urge to dig out the appropriate recordings whenever I dip back into his writing.”

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Your Dylan book recommendations #1

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

“To add to your list:

* I have always enjoyed dipping into "Oh No Not Another Bob Dylan Book" by Patrick Humphries and John Bauldie;

* the Anthony Scaduto biography is worth seeking out because although very out of date now, he did at least get to interview Dylan;

* and Nigel Williamson's Rough Guide to Bob Dylan is intelligently written and provides a good overview of the man and his music.”

Monday, June 01, 2009

Louis Armstrong’s canon more important than Dylan’s?

Thanks to Matthew Zuckerman:

“As much as I value Dylan's art, I think many would argue otherwise, and with powerful ammunition. Arguments could surely be made for Louis Armstrong's 'canon' being the most important in 20th century music.

“I would argue, come to that, that Armstrong's musical influence is pervasive in every strand of music -- jazz, blues, pop, classical, gospel, r&b, rock, country and most facets of world music -- and that he may be the most important musical figure since JS Bach.

“Bob may just be the key jazz musican to follow in the wake of Armstrong (as opposed to Parker, who is generally mentioned in that regard) but that's another story.”

> Editor Kevin Dettmar¹s Introduction is a wide-ranging survey of the field of
> DylanLit. But, even here, I found myself challenging basic premises: according
> to Dettmar, ³Dylan¹s is arguably the most important canon in all of twentieth
> century American popular music².
> Arguably? Who would argue otherwise? Dettmar could safely delete ³arguably²,
> ³American² and ³popular² and his assessment might still undervalue Dylan¹s
> art. And the Editor¹s depiction of Dylan¹s voice as ³unlovely², the voice of a
> ³crow², rather than a nightingale, also raises questions.