Judas Touch

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Bob Dylan, eh?  A poet.  A singer of songs.  An artist.  A thief.  Everyone has their own take on the man.  Their idea of who he is shaped by his music and various articles and books, etc.  Most importantly, they all have their own experiences and their own take on that old ‘what Bob Dylan means to me’ chestnutt.

Me?  I try to stay clear of Dylan chat.  I’ve witnessed the ‘predictable choice’ elitist bullshit scoffing that can go on with certain fans and the scepticism if someone utters Blonde On Blonde within a few seconds of saying “my favourite album is”.  Better still, the scoffers will name that same album within their list of favourites.  That’s okay, people.  Chances are we have the same favourite albums just in a different order.  You chat with friends and strangers to discuss your top 5 or whatever, you’ll likely discover that you have a mutual appreciation for three of them.  By the end of the chat, you’re of the opinion that you need to revisit those that you’re just not keen on… and you may just find that you have a new appreciation for them.

“Dylan’s a poet”

It was my uncle Danny who introduced me to the songs of Bob Dylan.  He would sing Dylan numbers and tell us that Dylan’s a poet.  One of my fondest memories is of him singing The Times They Are a Changin’ and Blowing In The Wind during a Christmas or New Years get-together when I was maybe 15 or 16 thereabouts.  The PlayStation is on and he comes in to say hello to us weans.

He spots the guitar and he’s making a grab for it “geez a shot”.  He perches himself on the end of the bed… facing the pause screen on the wee portable telly… and he starts strumming the guitar.  No shapes.  No chords.  Just strumming.  Making a racket, essentially.  Eyes closed.  Head held high and singing like some Glaswegian Dylan.  “Wit aboot this wan?” and he’s into another.  Can of beer on the floor.  My dad standing at the door smiling.  Shaking his head.  Occasionally interjecting to encourage him back into the living room.  Laughing as he says “stop annoying the weans, Danny”.  He was gonna see it through, though.  He had songs to sing.  Not just any songs, but Dylan songs.  “Right, ‘er yi go…”.  He stands up and gives me the guitar before reiterating that Dylan is a poet.

Naturally, I would check out some Bob Dylan, but it would be a bit further down the line.

I picked up Time Out of Mind in 1998 after finding it in a clearance basket in John Menzies.  For one reason or another, I connected with much of that in a way that I never expected or maybe had any right to (still finding my way in the world and trying to establish who I was, while finding comfort in the likes of Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam and all that good stuff).  I don’t know if it was the rhythms or Dylan’s delivery and gravelly tones, but I really felt something.

Love Sick is such a powerful opener… it’s a deep blues dirge.  That same deep blues is all over the album.   Even during the waltz of Standing In The Doorway (which is just beautiful).  Even now I find myself caught in that moment.  “I know I cant win, but my heart just won’t give in.  Last night I danced with a stranger, but she reminded me you were the one”.  In all of this… the resignation and the weariness… there’s still some fight.  And that atmosphere… mystery and mastery in equal measure… he’s like a fading Ali who knows he’s gonna need to slug it out round after round.  Tryin’ To Get To HeavenNot Dark Yet.  Cold Irons BoundHighlands.  It’s a deep, deep, deep, deep blues.

Highway 61 Revisited, Blood On The Tracks and Oh Mercy would hit me the same.  Instantly immersed in all that’s powerful and good about them.  Connecting with certain tracks in certain circumstances.   Oh Mercy is the home to my (other) favourite Dylan song – Man In The Long Black Coat.  And while I’ve been underwhelmed by pretty much everything since Modern Times (which I liked a whole lot), I’m revisiting and appreciating the less celebrated Infidels and, more recently, Slow Train Coming.  Both those albums have an intensity that I heard on Time Out Of Mind, but there’s something simmering.  A darker side of Dylan, perhaps.  Contempt for those who criticised his creativity or desire to explore?  I dunno, but it’s clear there’s still much for me to discover.

“Fancy going to see Bob Dylan”

What about that ‘life-affirming Dylan live’ experience?  Unfortunately I just never had that.  My experience was very different.  Unremarkable.  Indifferent.  One of the worst gigs I’ve ever seen.  Careful, Jim.  Seriously.

My brother got tickets to see Dylan when he was playing in Glasgow back in 2005.  Despite The National, who I was digging a whole lot off the back of two great, great albums (Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and Alligator), playing King Tut’s that same evening, we figured “it’s Dylan!”.

It was a cold November night and my brother and I made our way to Glasgow’s SECC.  Understandably, we were pretty excited.  Anyhoo, we got there… took our seats… and, well, Bob and the band played.  It was unremarkable.  Dull.  Dylan stood at a keyboard for much (if not all) of the set.  Sure, he can play what he likes and how he likes, but he and his band seemed very lacklustre.  Proficient, I guess, but never exciting or creative.  And that thing where you struggle to identify which song it is until the first or second chorus?  Yup – all night.  It wasn’t just cause the sound in the SECC is shitty.  There was no energy fizzing around… it was very clinical and, ultimately, I left the gig feeling a bit empty.  It didn’t help that I missed The National.

And that gig experience stayed with me.  When folks talk about their Dylan experience and they ask me if I’ve ever seen him I say “sure. It was dreadful”.  I appreciate that it wasn’t that way for loads of others; but it was for me.  That’s my experience.

Did I have high expectations?

No, I don’t think so.  I just expected to go along and get the badge that says “I saw Bob Dylan and it was fucking ace”.

Instead, I left with the one that says “Should have seen The National”.

*I got speaking with a colleague years later (a couple of years ago – didn’t know him at the time) and it turns out he was at that very gig.  He agrees that was a bit of a flat occasion.  He also happens to have seen him elsewhere a few years later and says it was as great as a live experience can be.  Completely living up to expectations.

**I originally  started drafting this for the Blog Dylan shenanigans last year.  Figured it was about time I finished it.  Sorry it’s late.

***If you’re interested, my favourite Bob Dylan album is Blood On The Tracks.

 

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54 Comments Add yours

  1. Love your approach to Dylan. I have about seven albums and refuse to go deeper as the purists seem to all lack a sense of fun about him

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Thanks, Steve. I think seven is a good number… I have a fair few… a couple on vinyl and some on CD. Of the seven you have, what’s the favourite?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Erm… Blonde on Blonde… it has Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat on it. I love that song

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        One of my favourite Dylan songs, actually. I listened to that daily for a while… and I reckon Blonde on Blonde is a super good album.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jay says:

    I guess that’s partly the thrill of live music. It can be magic. Or it can be ordinary. The worst is finding out that a band really cannot recreate live what they accomplish in a studio.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. J. says:

      I have to admit that I’ve rarely been disappointed by a live experience… In fact, I honestly couldn’t tell you I’ve ever walked away from a gig and thought “mnah”. Other than this Dylan one, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Spoilt Victorian Child says:

    Dylan purists are a rum bunch, yeah. Defending even his worst material. It’s so gutting when favourite artists are dull live. For me, it was Sonic Youth in Glasgow around 95. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      A friend of mine has pretty much said the same thing about Sonic Youth (though I believe he saw them a few years later than 95).

      I guess they can’t be great every night, but I get the feeling from things I’ve read and conversations I’ve had with others, that it’s not an odd bad night type thing… it’s a bit more regular.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great story. So glad you finished it!
    And sorry I snaffled ‘Blood on the tracks’ for Blog Dylan.
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Thanks, Bruce… and don’t worry about snaffling Blood on the Tracks. I’m very glad you did, actually.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Paul Kerr says:

    You can drown in the weird world of Dylanology. Personally I think that the majority of his albums are excellent (with only a couple of exceptions). Live however he is a total gamble.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      I like much of his early stuff, but I do find the 70’s and 80’s stuff a bit patchy. Likely due to production on a fair bit of it.

      Slow Train Coming (thanks again) and Infidels are certainly more consistent than some would suggest.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jim S. says:

    My favorite album is ‘Blonde on Blonde.” 🙂 Ha! Seriously, good post. I don’t know what my favorite album of his is. Probably were push come to shove. “Highway 61.” As to more recent stuff, I’m no fan of his later “smoker” voice and so have never gotten into some of those albums. As to seeing him live, I still kick myself that I didn’t see that show where he was touring with Van Morrison a number of years ago. I hear him now on YouTube and it sounds horrid. I won’t pay one single dime at this point just to say I saw him. I’ll enjoy his albums.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Highway 61 is a good choice.

      A very good choice.

      His voice has definitely gotten more strained and scratchy since I saw him. Certainly worse than it was on Modern Times… to a point where it sounds like a cough.

      For clarity, we chose Dylan cause we liked him and figured there would be other chances to see The National. Grab that Dylan live experience while we could! I’ve never been tempted to see a an artist just so I could say I saw them… I had to have a reason for it. In this case, we liked Dylan and thought it would have been a great night.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep. That’s it

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jim S. says:

        Moral of the story – see the National before THEIR voices go.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. J. says:

        Yeah. 13 years later and I still haven’t seen them live!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That said I really do like his recent-ish one with Thunder On The Mountain On it. Was it called Modern Times or something like that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jim S. says:

        Yeah,, recent being a stretch as it was maybe 10 years ago. I think the most recent “product” he did was an album of standards. That Dylan protest guy, alas, lives on only on record and in our memories.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I guess it was about 10 years… yikes. I liked it though

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Jim S. says:

        Yeah he had a nice resurgence there for a while. And it’s certainly not like he hasn’t given the world enough.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. J. says:

        I think his last three (THREE!!!) albums have been of standards. Certainly a bunch of covers… one album being tracks made famous by Sinatra. Now, I may have said this before, but I consider Sinatra to be one of the voices… Dylan is no Sinatra.

        Like

      5. Jim S. says:

        Then again, Sinatra could not have written ‘Masters of War.’ 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      6. J. says:

        Ha! Very true. I wonder what Sinatra would make of these folks like Dylan and Rod Stewart recording all these standards…

        Seriously, though, they’re songs that need a voice… performance… the right phrasing and timing…

        Like

      7. J. says:

        Modern Times is pretty great. I have a lot of time for that one and, quite honestly, it’s the last one I think is worthwhile listening to start to finish.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Craig Hughes says:

    Nice post, that.

    Pretty much with you re: Dylan. I like what are probably the most obvious albums, like them very much indeed, but think a great deal of his output sucks clarty gibbon sphincters. As to live, I’ve never been tempted and likely never will be. Every live recording or video of his I’ve come across has been pitched somewhere between “quite bad” and “abysmal”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Hahaha… Thanks, Craig.

      I like the stuff I like a great deal. Some of it not so much. I haven’t even been inclined to listen to anything since Together Through Life (with the exception of the same year’s Christmas in the Heart).

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Really appreciated this, J. Was especially happy to see Time Out of Mind singled out for praise. I’ve since gathered many albums and embraced a large number of them, but I think TOoM was the first one where I really started to pay attention. As for the less-than-stellar live Dylan experience, that really is too bad. I’ve never seen him myself, but I have heard the same vastly varying reactions from others. The funny thing is that I’m not sure Bob himself has given much of a damn which way it goes for his live audiences for a few decades now (which may be the problem).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Time Out of Mind is a really remarkable album. Pretty much a perfect a ‘late career statement’. Although I’m all for artists playing songs as they see fit (it’s their songs, after all), a disregard for the audience is unforgivable. I’d never go see him again…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. hotfox63 says:

    Dylan crossed countless ways. His songbook became bigger and bigger, and there were always new traces of meanings behind his songs. In a certain sense his songs don’t belong to him; not only because he has taken a lot from others – which he self admits in his album “Love and Theft”. Every theft happened with of respect and love. Bob Dylan’s songs entered into the expression of so many people as if they were already part of the public domain, as if they came from the depths of meaning of the human par excellence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      I had planned to cover the ‘thief’ part in my post, but I thought I was rambling a bit… so thanks for the comment.

      Obviously the issue some take with Dylan (and other artists – like Led Zeppelin, for example) is / was the lack of transparency around stuff that had been out there in some form. Also, I seem to recall his paintings seeming to draw the same criticism.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. hotfox63 says:

        When it comes to the lyrics of Led Zeppelin, then I’m glad that their meaning is usually mutilated to the unrecognizable in the pounding of bass, drums and Jimmy Pages lead guitar. In particular, the sexist cockcrow of early Led Zeppelin songs really annoys me. Even though Dylan has taken much of his songwriting from others, he has transformed it so that his song lyrics turn out to be characteristic and poetic.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        That’s mostly why I don’t enjoy Led Zeppelin I too much.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Aphoristical says:

    When I get to a favourite five for Dylan I’m sure it will be pretty cliche, with big sixties records and Blood on the Tracks. I really like John Wesley Harding.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Yeah, I suspect most folks favourites include the obvious choices… cause they’re great albums. I’ll look forward to your five when you get to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. My favourite Dylan album would be… The Best Of Bob Dylan. Only kidding, I can’t really do His Bobness. I get my folk jollies elsewhere.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. J. says:

      Haha. I know a few folks who have no interest in anything other than a Best of Bob / Essential Bob.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. boppinsblog says:

    You have got me looking on Discogs and Amazon for Time Out Of Mind.
    There is a 20th anniversary vinyl version with an extra 7″.
    I think you just opened my wallet a bit.

    I wish I had an uncle like yours.
    I do have one I remember driving a Corvette, wearing bell bottoms and having Geddy Lee hair circa 1974 though. He never sang Dylan unfortunately.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      My uncle Danny was / is quite the chap. He also used to sing Sweet Child O’ Mine.

      I’ve been tempted by recent reissues of Time Out of Mind. Triple LP, yes? Is that the one?I’ll add it at some point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. boppinsblog says:

        Oh, Danny Boy, the Axl, the Axl’s callin’…
        the summers gone, and Guns n Roses fallin’…

        Yes triple lp. All say the pressing is a good ‘un too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        Ha!

        If the pressing is a good ‘un, and the album’s a good ‘un, all that’s left is to add it to the want list. Definitely worth mulling over… especially if it’s a good price!

        Like

  13. Blonde On Blonde
    Highway 61
    Bring It On Home
    The Freewheelin’
    Desire
    Blood On The Tracks
    Modern Times

    That’s all the Dylan I have.

    Oh and some extra tracks from here and there.

    Oh Mercy looks kinda fun

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      That’s a good selection, Steve. I have eleven… six of those (minus Desire). Oh Mercy, Love and Theft, Slow Train Coming, Infidels, and Time Out of Mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. stephen1001 says:

    A friend who is a lifelong Dylan fan had that experience you described at a concert in the mid 2000s – a minute in, he was still playing name that tune, even with the hits!
    Enjoyed this post – and I also liked time out of mind.
    Of his 1001-listed albums (I think there were 7?), Bringing it All Back Home was the standout for me. But I would never say no to a spin of blood on the tracks either!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      It’s unfortunate that so many folks have that live experience… especially folks who are far bigger fans than I (and I dare say prices are three times as much as I paid back then!).

      I’ll need to have a proper look at that 1001 book. I’ve had it sitting there a while now… mine include 2008 releases, I’m sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stephen1001 says:

        Though I should say – another friend saw him on a more recent tour (I believe he spent most of the concert at the piano?) and thought it was terrific, so perhaps he struggled in the 2000s but is back on track in the 2010s!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        Glad that someone got the splendid live experience! It sounds like it depends on what mood Dylan’s in.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. keepsmealive says:

    I have BotT on LP and you’re right it’s a special one! Also, love the guitar story. Ach, poor weans! haha!

    I think the trouble with seeing Dylan in concert might be that his records are iconic, and if you go see him in 2005 he is in no way gonna sound like he did in the 60s, and he’s such a mercurial character that it likely just comes down to whether he could be arsed that night or not, or whether he was just messing with things just because he could, you know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Well, I don’t imagine too many folk attend a Dylan gig expecting the same Dylan, but they go cause they like him, like the albums, and like the songs. We certainly didn’t expect to hear 60’s and 70’s Dylan up there…

      My issue that night is just what you said… he either couldn’t be arsed, or he was messing with things cause he could. Either way, it’s a bit disrespectful to the audience.

      “I wrote them and I can play them how I like”… that’s fair enough, but at least give a damn about it. It’s not about playing for himself, but it’s about playing for, and giving a damn about, those that put him up there on that stage.

      Like

  16. 80smetalman says:

    My first experience with Bob was when he went electric on the Hard Rain album. Maybe that was the best time to see him live but I never got around to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I dare say you’re right. Back when he had something to offer… he was kicking against something… be it perception or criticism.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Real good work J. You personalized your take (the only way to go). All the stuff around Time Out of Mind I really dig. It took old (young CB) CB to warm up to old Bob. Pat Garret soundtrack was my start into liking his music. I too stay away from all the Bob bullshit that has nothing to do with me. To much explanation bores the shit out of this cowboy. I’m listening to the Main Title Theme (Billy) from that soundtrack. Man do I dig it. Again good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Thanks, CB. Time Out of Mind is a perfect album… even if it’s 70+ minutes long. I view it as a double album… whole load of stuff to take in and soak up. And it would have been if it weren’t for the CD age.

      The Pat Garrett… soundtrack is really good. I really like that one, too… if I ever see it I’ll add it to the vinyl collection. For sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love the photo on the back of the album cover. RG Armstrong trying to get Kristofferson to repent. A fave album and film.

        Liked by 1 person

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