Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature! I couldn’t be happier for him.
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature! I couldn’t be happier for him.
Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature! I couldn’t be happier for him.
Over this long weekend:
Bike ride to and picnic on Mount Tabor, with Isis
Fed and provided a lap to my friend’s cat Beezus
Veronica Mars marathon
I always have my favorite Bob Dylan songs, and then I have my current favorite. The rerelease of Another Self Portrait, which includes outtakes from the much under-appreciated New Morning, has led me to give the latter another spin. “Sign on the Window” is absolutely beautiful. Lyrically one of the more joyful songs Dylan wrote, it also features a lovely piano melody and understated but essential back-up vocals. It is the words of a grown-up; a man who is content and happy. So different from Highway 61 and the early political albums. I urge all of you to listen to New Morning and in particular this wonderful song.
Let me level with you. Bob Dylan doesn’t have good album covers. The music inside is beyond excellent. Any dude who can follow up Bringing It All Back Home with Highway 61 with Blonde on Blonde, or Blood on the Tracks with Desire, or Time Out of Mind with Love and Theft with Modern Times, is a dude who I will follow no matter what. That doesn’t mean he has a visual sense. I’ve heard Bob is a painter. I don’t want to see his paintings. If he is in charge of picking his album covers, I do not agree with his visual sensibilities.
At best, Bob’s albums feature a photograph of him with Joan Baez. At worst, you’ve got a lot to choose from. Planet Waves features a drunk sumi ink freestyle. Slow Train Coming looks like a Catholic high school art assignment. Modern Times is a nice stock photo. I’m still trying to figure out what Together Through Life is supposed to be about. But the worst, and I mean the absolute worst, album cover in Bob Dylan’s recording career has got to be his latest. What makes this even more of a tragedy is the fact that Tempest is a fantastic album. It will make greatest-album lists for years to come, and every time it does, we’ll have to endure this awful mess. What is going on here?
There is no coherence, no through line. Did two graphic artists work on this simultaneously, never once coming into contact with the other? I count three different fonts. No color coordination. The CD case itself is a plastic monstrosity straight out of 1987. Did Columbia Records forget they’ve been re-releasing Bob’s older albums in nice cardboard packaging? There is absolutely no excuse for Columbia or Bob to allow this travesty to be released as is. This is the kind of graphic design usually reserved for forgotten albums found exclusively in record store clearance bins, not one of the best albums from one of the greatest musicians to roam the earth.
With this in mind, I took a little time to redesign the Tempest album cover. Here is my version:
The front cover image is a screen shot from the Duquesne Whistle music video. I was thinking about the Blood on the Tracks cover when I designed this – I wanted a simple, iconic image of Bob as he was when the album was made. The hat, the coat, and the city street. I really like Futura, so I used that font for both front and back covers. The back cover image of Bob is the same. I like that picture of Bob. The ghostly image of a girl was something else I wanted to keep, although I needed to find a different girl since I had to replace the text. I tried to keep the same mysterious vibe they were going for in the original. I used two shades of brown for front and back covers.
While this is not perfect, I wanted to show how easy it would have been to produce a package worthy of holding the songs Bob and his band spent so many hours recording. An album should be something you want to look at while the music plays. I believe the Tempest package was slapped together without any thought.
Bob, if you ever read this post, be mindful the next time you release an album. You deserve the best packaging for the music you produce.
I’ve never met Bob Dylan. I heard Rainy Day Women on the radio, but it didn’t make much of an impression. Then I was given a mixtape and listened to it on my bike to and from high school. Each song was like the sprout of a plant with very deep, interconnected roots. Whenever I got the chance, I got another album and was only disappointed once (Infidels).
Most of the time, Bob is touring. He’s got too many songs to just play once in a while. When he’s not touring, he sits in a rocking chair holding a banjo. A giraffe wanders by. The sky goes through its changes. A phone rings.
Phone: Is this Bob Dylan?
Bob: That’s who I am.
Phone: We’d like you to do a Victoria’s Secret television commercial.
Bob: I knew a Victoria once. She wore duck boots and was last seen traipsing across a deserted World’s Fairgrounds in Tangiers while humming the Star Spangled Banner in Greek.
Phone: …is that a yes?
Bob: Yeah, sure. Sounds like fun.
Bob’s lyrics are frequently in my mind. “She said you look different/I said, ‘Well, I guess.’” “Some were mathematicians, others were carpenter’s wives.” “You know something is happening here/But you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?” These phrases don’t necessarily mean anything to me, but they do mean everything. Bob’s words have been with me for my entire adult life.
It makes me happy every time Bob puts out a new album. His songs, the best of them, are proof that the world contains some measure of truth. Even the clunkers are pretty snazzy. I’m not ashamed to deny the fabulousness of Man Gave Names To All The Animals.
Today Bob turns 70. Happy birthday, Bob. I couldn’t write a song for you, so instead I’ll post on my blog.
He is a titan who walks among us. He has given us the musical treasures Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, Time Out of Mind, and about 75 other albums. Last year, Bob Dylan saw a gaping hole in his catalog. Thankfully, we now have a Dylan Christmas album to put on when we’re sick of Elvis, Harry Connick Jr., Amy Grant, and nearly every American Idol contestant.
But what could possibly be next for Bob? Has he finally plumbed the bottom of his lyrical well? Never! This fall, get ready to be the first on your block to get Bob Dylan’s brand-new children’s album!
Rabbi Zimmy Sings for the Kids is a rollicking, romping rockfest that is sure to have your toddler screaming to turn it up to 11.
Hear Bob sing:
Ringiddy-Ding Them Bells
The Times They Are A-Jumpin’
The Boy In Me
Spanish Harlem Incident
Happy Eyed Girl of the Highlands
Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie
All the Animals on Maggie’s Farm
…and much, much more!
In addition to all those instant classics, the album itself comes packaged with a sticker book depicting Bob’s musical milestones. Have you ever wanted to populate your own Desolation Row? Well, now you can! Join Bob in his Woodstock basement when he played silly and soulful songs with The Band! Hang out with Bob in New Orleans when he was recording Oh Mercy! And kids under age 6 will love the colorful page devoted to Bob’s born-again period.
Yes, Rabbi Zimmy Sings for the Kids is sure to please anyone from ages 9 to 109.
Listening to the new album by Dead Weather, I noticed they included a (pretty sweet) cover of Bob Dylan’s New Pony, from the Street Legal album.
Doing a little research (yeah, I Googled it), I discovered this little gem of a video that features Jack White accompanying Bob on the tune One More Cup of Coffee. I also found out Bob has a Hank Williams project (a la Mermaid Avenue) in the pipeline and Jack is one of the performers on that.
My theory? I bet Bob’s acoustic guitar is buried in the mix of New Pony. There is absolutely nothing in the liner notes or online that I could find to substantiate that. I just got this feeling, you know?
My brother generously got me a book of Hannah Montana stickers for my birthday. Obviously, I had to use them.
I like the sticker that says “Part Time Pop Star.” It means that half the time she’s just Billy Ray Cyrus’ kid.
This next piece is a bit psychedelic.
A lot of people have asked me how Miley Cyrus came up with her stage name, Hannah Montana. It isn’t hard to find out. In her book, Chronicles Vol. 1, Cyrus says, “one time [a friend] asked me why I was using a different name when I played, especially in the neighboring towns. Like, didn’t I want people to know who I was?”
She wanted a name that encapsulated her identity. “What kind of confused me later was seeing an article in a Downbeat magazine with a story about a West Coast saxophone player named David Allyn. I had suspected that the musician had changed the spelling of Allen to Allyn. I could see why,” Cyrus continues. “It looked more exotic, more inscrutable. I was going to do this, too.”
“The first time I was asked my name in the Twin Cities, I instinctively and automatically without thinking simply said, ‘Hannah Montana.'”
That’s how real musicians do it, dear readers.
There’s been a lot of talk about commercial radio going the way of the dinosaur, and I honestly couldn’t care less. Unlike newspapers, a media that is still vital and hosts some great comics, radio has been completely out of touch ever since I can remember. I don’t see how it could ever hope to reclaim any sort of relevance.
As a kid, I listened to Oldies. This was fine for a few years until I learned every song they played. You see, Oldies are no longer being made. They stopped being made in the early 1960’s. You’d think that, even given that limitation, there would be more than enough material to keep listeners surprised. Thousands of singles were produced from 1950-1965, maybe even millions. Yet all I heard was a shuffle of Pretty Woman, Twist and Shout, and Stop! In the Name of Love. There comes a time in a young man’s life when he cannot hear Pretty Woman any longer without projectile vomiting, and for me that time came around age 13.
Fortunately my friend Andy turned me on to the Beatles around that time. The Beatles, as you know, made lots of good songs that they never play on the radio. It took a while to work my way through all their albums, and by the time I was pretty familiar I had another friend who saved me by making a Bob Dylan mix tape. Bob Dylan has even more songs that are played even less than the Beatles, which is kind of strange because whenever you see a documentary about the 60’s you hear either a Beatles song or a Dylan song played in the background. Go figure.
Tucson had a couple fairly decent radio stations over the years, but they always ended in tragedy. In high school, when I wasn’t listening to tapes or my parents’ record collection, I tuned in to The Hog, a Classic Rock station. It wasn’t always great, and they did commit the cardinal sin of having a morning show with two annoying DJs, but it did play Stairway to Heaven at least once a week so I guess I can’t complain.
The Hog met its fate one afternoon my senior year. I drove to school in the morning with my dial set to Hog. In the afternoon, driving home, I had the strangest feeling that something was amiss. Alternative Rock (or Alt Rock, or Green Day, however you want to classify it) was blaring from the tiny speakers in my dashboard. Then the station identification came on. It was no longer The Hog. Apparently this is how radio stations switch formats: no warning, mid-day. I made a fruitless call in to the station manager. I even took time from my Government/Current Events class to implore my classmates to call in as well, to bring back a radio station I felt ambivalent about but at least didn’t actively hate.
The truth is, none of the music I listen to was discovered on commercial radio. In college, I listened to the student-run radio station. You’ve got to sit through a lot of garbage but occasionally you’ll hear something that really moves you. Also, there were a few really cute girls who had radio shows so I listened and tried to like the music they were playing. It didn’t take much convincing.
National Public Radio is, strangely, the best station to hear new music. They have a couple shows dedicated to playing stuff you’d never hear unless you are one of those people who are “cool” and just know about new bands as they are formed.
Even now I’m listening to my ipod while I write this post. I have a meticulously maintained itunes library which has more music than any commercial radio playlist. When I hear a song on the radio, I either like it but already have it on itunes, don’t like it and don’t have it on itunes, or haven’t heard it but don’t like it. This isn’t snobbery; I really wish it wasn’t this way. Would you rather listen to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction for the billionth time or Exile on Main Street with no commercial interruptions?
I’d love to hear free, new music every time I get in my car. But radio stations (most of them owned by one evil company) will never work this way. Don’t ask me why. Ask capitalism.
For those of you living off-planet for the past twenty years, Denzel Washington is perhaps the greatest living actor. He can do drama, action, comedy. He can play characters or he can play himself. He can be the good guy or the bad guy. He can take a crap movie and make it watchable, and a decent movie great. Don’t even get me started on what he does in a truly awesome movie. (Hint: he makes it AWESOMER.) He totally got robbed by the Academy by not winning the Oscar for Hurricane (they made it up to him later).
He is so awesome I originally wanted my book, Dancing With Jack Ketch, to be a movie with him in the lead. Can you imagine Denzel as pirate captain? I sure can. Due to my lack of movie connections, the film fell apart in pre-pre-production, but you can still read my story. Whenever they say “Jackson,” think “Denzel.”
What follows is a list of Denzel’s best movies.
1. Malcolm X – The definitive Denzel. An epic movie that doesn’t feel 800 hours long, thanks to Spike Lee’s kinetic camerawork and a good editor.
2. He Got Game – Denzel as the self-serving, incarcerated dad of a college basketball recruit. The man uses his own son to get out of jail. Cold.
3. Inside Man – Denzel’s definitive Good Guy Cop. It really helps that this was a good Spike Lee movie; these two seem to bring the best out in each other.
4. The Mighty Quinn – Denzel’s first movie with a Bob Dylan connection. He plays Xavier Quinn, the Chief of Police in Jamaica. Includes a regge version of the song The Mighty Quinn. In Chronicles Vol. 1, Bob puts his seal of approval on Denzel’s performance. That’s all the reason I need to love this movie.
5. The Manchurian Candidate – There was no reason to remake the original; it had all the markings of a timeless classic political thriller. Somehow, this movie managed to become its own thing. It is modern and just as terrifying as the original.
6. The Siege – Especially prescient in the wake of September 11. Denzel plays an FBI agent hunting down terrorist cells in Brooklyn. Co-stars Bruce Willis as a flag-waving, power-mad general who uses the exact same logic as Dick Cheney. At least Bruce was just acting.
When Warren Zevon began work on The Wind, he knew it would be his last album. Zevon was diagnosed with cancer early; unfortunately, nothing could be done. Fortunately, he used his remaining time on earth to give us a great album. Knowing it was his last chance to say something made each line more poignant.
Most of us don’t have advance notice of impending death. We know it will happen someday, but the day, month, even year are uncertain at best. Most of us don’t get the chance to craft our last words. Or do we?
The sad fact is, every artist will have a parting shot. As I have said before, I hope Bob Dylan outlives us all, but there will come a day when he’s booked his last recording session. What will come of that music? Will it be especially meaningful? Will it be a continuation of whatever aspect he was exploring up to that point? Or will it be a sharp departure?
Buddy Holly didn’t have a head’s up from the Reaper. 50 years ago the world was left with what he hadn’t yet finished. The Apartment Tapes stand as the only glimpse we’ll ever get into Holly’s future recording plans. They are excellent, but they are finite.
George Herriman, cartoonist extraordinaire, died with a week’s worth of Krazy Kat dailies sitting at his desk. Some are nearly complete, some merely pencil sketches. I wonder if he was having a good week up until he died. If given the choice, would he have wanted to finish off that batch? Or would he have preferred to let another week stand in as his last words to the public?
This is all very morbid. I’m sorry. Allow me one final thought.
According to one website, my death will occur in exactly 47 years, 10 months, 23 days. (I was surprised at how soon I’m expected to go. Maybe I should move away from this nuclear waste storage facility.) I know the exact number of days because it’s on my Google homepage (right above the weather and NASA’s Image of the Day).
When I get Falling Rock syndicated, I’m going to begin work on the final week’s worth right away. That way I can tinker with it for a long time. Crafting my final message will be difficult, epecially if I’m in my 20’s when I start. Hopefully by the time I’m 77 I’ll have it all worked out.
Of course I’ll have to make changes as technology evolves. I expect to incorporate a few hover cars and a Mars colony in my final comics. Stay tooned! Who knows what wacky hijinks those desert critters will get up to in the future.