Posts Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

BRUCE CRASHES THROUGH WITH THE WRECKING BALL

March 5, 2012

To Bruce Springsteen’s great credit his ‘Wrecking Ball’ is a worthwhile, if contradictory album. I want the people I listen to to move on so I’m not critical of the fact that the storytelling Springsteen we first knew is not in evidence, not even the nostalgic Springsteen. Part of the album is the destruction (thanks to the wrecking ball) of where those ‘Glory Days’ of old took place. Instead of nostalgia there’s resignation and sadness.

Another (large) part of this album is Bruce addressing himself to the “financial crisis” America. He has the bankers and moneymen in his sights – literally. In the song ‘Jack Of All Trades’  he promises ‘we’ll be alright’ by doing what you can, by being a jack of all trades, but then in that same song he finds himself wishing for a gun so he can kill them all. I can hear those Tea Party rednecks waiting for and cheering that part of those song. Is this the way Bruce planned it?

Some of this album is going to be misunderstood, like the song ‘Born In The USA’ was misunderstood and misinterpreted. Maybe I’m the one who has misunderstood. You’ve probably heard the album’s opening song, ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’. While this flag is flying we’ll take care of our own. Bugger the rest?

Bruce is the modern Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. We’ve known that, said that, admired that. He allows himself to be blown by the wind of history. He tried in the aftermath of 9/11 with ‘The Rising’, but it was too soon, too unfathomable  to articulate properly. He does much better addressing the latest calamity America finds itself in. Through imagery rather than specifics he tries to find hope but can’t quite bring himself to promise it. The troubles will come again.

The last two tracks take us to that thought, where are we headed?  ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ puts us on the train scheduled by the Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’, and then comes the final standout track where Bruce Springsteen takes on the Dylan mantle. ‘We Are Alive’ addresses itself to the injustices of the past. They are not forgotten. ‘We are alive’ the wronged assure us.  They’re with us. But they’re dead. 

Despite the lyrical contradiction ‘Wrecking Ball’ gives voice to an era of history we’ve all shared. Music is great when id does that.

Dylan and Michael Jackson: PLUNDERING THE LEFTOVERS

August 1, 2010

What do Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan have in common?  Both have recorded much more than we ever heard. Michael Jackson recorded 20-30 songs for every album, and even though he didn’t have an official record contract for the last three years of his life, and was distracted for the four years before that, there is evidence of songwriting and recording by Michael Jackson during these “missing” seven years.

Recording Bob Dylan was once described by one of his producers as like “trying to capture lightning”. Bob famously comes up with a number of versions of every song and the one we happen to hear in the end is often just the one we happen to allowed to hear. His record company vaults are full of unreleased tracks, which used to be a headache for Dylan but isn’t now.

That backlog made it virtually impossible for Dylan for contemplate moving to another record company.  He did briefly in the 70s, recording one studio album (‘Planet Waves’) and a live album, possibly as a show of strength but he quickly hurried back soon after. The problem was that Columbia could have kept raiding the cupboard for years. While contracted to the company Dylan can control  the output.  Dylan’s official “bootleg” series is the obvious compromise finally arrived at. Slowly the shelves are being cleared, at the same time satisfying our thirst for the old Dylan and giving Bob himself the freedom to amuse himself with the present. Which he has.

In October, Sony Legacy will  be releasing The Bootleg Series Vol. 9, and a box set of the first eight Bob Dylan albums in mono. Bob’s Leeds Music and Witmark demos dating back to 1962 are expected to be included.

In November Sony – no coincidence, there aren’t many majors left – is also releasing a “new” Michael Jackson album, the first in a  10-album, seven-year deal the Jackson estate agreed with Sony BMG in March 2010. When he died the previous June MJ was without a contract, hanging by a Beatles thread to the Sony Corporation and in serious financial trouble. Within hours of his death he’d become a money-spinning industry.

The ‘new’ as-yet Jackson untitled album reaches back to that leftover material from the 80s, reconnecting us and Jackson with his heyday. There will also be material he recorded in 2006 around the time of the ‘Thrilller 25th Anniversary’ project with Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am. Well, you would wouldn’t you, considering the Black Eyed Peas’ commercial appeal?  Just this week ‘I Got A Feeling’ became the first song to reach the 6 million mark in digital downloads.  

Beyond that there are the hard drives Jackson left behind, filled with unheard music. His manager Frank DiLeo claimed that the singer’s vaults contains more than 100 completed and unreleased songs, including collaborations with contemporary artists Akon and Ne-Yo.  There’s an  album’s worth  of new Michael Jackson songs which “belong” to Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins.  Jerkins is a family friend.  For Jackson’s ‘Invincible’ CD, his last official album Jerkins produced six songs, including the hit “You Rock My World.” He and Jackson subsequently worked on more than 200 tracks and “musical ideas” over three years. Perhaps Jerkins could play spoiler and hold them back from the “new deal”, but Jerkins is a career producer – he’s currently working with Britney Spears – and there’s no way he’d shit in his own nest and damage his future for the sake of a handful of contentious millions.

However,  there are still a few loose threads which might just unravel the best laid plans of the corporate machine. It took many years to clear up Jimi Hendrix’s leftovers and bring them all together under safe “control” under one roof. Despite the instant Jackson industry and Sony’s eager re-embracing of their lapsed hero not everything is in their keeping. 

In 2006 there was an announcement that Jackson had signed a contract with a Bahrain-based label called Two Seas Records. Later Two Seas said that the deal was never finalized. Are there some recordings that date from that period which might be contractually compromised?

And then there’s sister La Toya who IS a proven spoiler – she said Michael was a child molester when she needed the headline – and maybe she WOULD take a financial opportunity if there is one to be taken. In the immediate  aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death, within hours,  it was La Toya of all people who rushed to her brother’s rented home  to “rescue” the hard drives of unreleased songs. Are the all songs contained thereon now amongst the material safely in the family’s keeping?  Jackson’s manager, Frank DiLeo, said he was “pretty sure” they are.

There are even songs ‘intended’ for Michael Jackson. Ne-Yo was sending Jackson three or four drafts a week prior to Jackson’s unexpected death. What’s the fate of the submissions that were never touched by MJ?

There IS a positional minefield inside all of this, waiting for unscrupulous exploitation. History can easily repeat itself. Way back in 1971, when the Jackson 5 shot to fame and success, a record company the brothers had momentarily recorded for released a Jacksons-style single by Ripples And Waves, even adding a “with Michael” to the label credit. We were supposed to think it was the Jacksons and THAT Michael. It wasn’t. It wasn’t the Jacksons  and there was no-one called Michael in the group. That single, “Let Me Carry Your School Books”,  wasn’t a success but if you look at some Jackson 5 histories they’ll tell you Michael and his brothers DID once record as Ripple And Waves.

 What I’m listening to: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (Dark Night Of The Soul),  Snow Patrol (A Hundred Million Suns),  The Kills (Midnight Boom)

MUSIC IN A WORD:THE GREAT LYRICISTS

April 26, 2010

Earlier this month country music legend Hank Williams was given a special Pulitzer Prize citation for his lifetime achievement, based on a confidential survey of experts in popular music.

It’s taken a bit of time. Hank died in 1953. No-one was more responsible for turning “hillbilly music” into “country music’. He forced that redefinition by giving country music heart and soul, words. An elitist award at best – presented achievements in newspaper journalism, literature and musical composition –the Pulitzer has struggled with the latter. For a long time only classical music was favoured. Then jazz, once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive, was recognized. Two year ago there was a breakthrough when Bob Dylan was awarded an “Honorary” (not music) Pulitzer. Now Hank Williams.

How long is the list of great “literary” lyricists waiting to be recognized? More importantly, what’s happened to the “art” of words in music? Who are the great culturally significant lyricists of our time?

Our mind immediately turns to rap, a music form as reliant on words as it is a hypnotic beat. You can’t spit out so many words so quickly, as rap requires, without having a way with words. Tupac Shakir stands heads above the pack. He is to rap what Bob Dylan’s great hero Woody Guthrie was to folk music, the benchmark against which all others will be measured. Guthrie captures a moment in American society, as does 2Pac.

Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Tom Waits and John Fogerty also deserve honourable mentions. John Lennon and Leonard Cohen gave us a look into their worlds rather than our own. Morrissey and Nick Cave toy with our minds through words. When it comes to females Patti Smith was there once but time has taken away the passion.

When you look at however, in the era of technology driven music, and technology based consumption of music words have taken a back seat. Now, words are not enough.

 What I’m listening to: Jakob Dylan (Women And Country) , P.J.Harvey (Rid Of Me), The The (Mind Bomb)

SHOULD CHINA BE AFRAID OF BOB DYLAN?

April 6, 2010

Not only is China afraid of the Brave New World – Google – the world’s most populated nation is also is also seems to be afraid of the Old New World. Bob Dylan’s planned tour of east Asia later this month has been called off after Chinese officials refused permission for him to play in Beijing and Shanghai. From where we stand in the rest of the world, Bob long ago lost his mantle as the Voice Of A Generation.

If the truth be known it wouldn’t be Bob’s classic protest songs “The Times Are A Changin’” or “Blowin’ In The Wind” Chinese authorities are afraid of, but Bob himself. They’d be afraid that Dylan might use his visit to make some statement on the issue the Chinese government is MOST afraid of, Tibet. China’s trying to wear the rest of the world down through the passage of time. The longer their autocratic rule of Tibet is allowed to run, the harder it will be to unscramble that “egg”. Once the “real” Dalai Lama’s roaming the world ends by his inevitable death, China’s appointed Dalai Lama will hold more authority.

The Dalai Lama not Bob Dylan is the Voice Of A Generation China want to keep silent. The Dalai Lama represents the hopes and dreams of a generation of Tibetans. Once he’s no more, the hopes and dreams of that generation go with him. Every day, every month, ever year the old Tibet is being swallowed culturally and politically by China.

Bob Dylan long ago lost his mojo for leading the revolution. Read his book ‘Chronicles’ and you find out with what distain he regards that aspect of his career. What Dylan is today, what he’s become, is the character he invented for himself way back in the beginning. He didn’t want to be Robert Zimmerman, Jewish son of a furniture store owner. Even before landing in New York from Minnesota Bob was inventing his own history, telling everyone who didn’t know his true story that he has a drifter who had been wandering America for years. He was singing a mixture of traditional folk songs, some country and hillbilly. Then he read Woody Guthrie’s ‘Bound For Glory’, about poor people displaced by the depression. Woody was a writer, cartoonist AND entertainer. His guitar carried the words ‘This guitar kills fascists’. For a while the drifter Dylan became the “new” Woody Guthrie, never imagining the impact his songs in that vogue would have.

But that was never the “real” Bob Dylan. Dylan has spent years getting back where he started out. He’s really happier as that drifter he invented at the age of 19. He’s been on his Never Ending Tour for years now, performing some 100 shows every year. He wanted to “drift” to China, probably no more or less than  just that, but the Bob Dylan WE invented still haunts him.

 What I’m listening to: John Butler Trio (April Uprising), Hall And Oates (Abandoned Luncheonette), Billy Bragg (Life’s A Riot With Spy V Spy)

ELTON’S JESUS

February 21, 2010

I am loath to report or comment on Elton John supposedly claiming Jesus Christ was homosexual because we live in a world in search of instant headlines, and this might just be another. Straight-from-the-hip, uniformed outrage is too easy. As far I can see is that Elton said that Jesus was a “super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.” He didn’t use the word ‘gay’ in a way we can go straight to “Elton says that Jesus was homosexual”. He’s used the word ‘gay’ in a way which could also suggest that Elton was contributing attributes to Jesus he finds in gay people. This needn’t be sexual.

Elton has yet to explain himself , so I feel we should be a bit more intelligent in our reaction. There’s far too much religious fervour in the world as it is, people threatening violence over visual representation of the Prophet Mohammed, over what religion has the right to what words, people STILL in the twenty-first century killing each other in the “cause” of their religion. Let’s tread carefully then and allow Elton to embellish what he actually means.

It brings to mind of course John Lennon’s famous “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comment, which set off a storm of controversy months after Lennon’s comment was first published as part of an interview. At the time it made no headlines, but when the quote was repeated – not by Lennon – all hell broke loose. It could be said that John Lennon innocently set off the chain of events which ultimately caused the Beatles to break up.

The storm exploded just before the Beatles’ second tour of America. John Lennon was forced to publically apologize before the Beatles were able to set foot in God-fearing America. But the group’s records and posters were symbolically burnt anyway, and throughout that American tour the group were afraid for their lives. (Religious beliefs beget violence. It makes no sense does it?) But it’s no wonder that at the end of that tour, for that and other reasons the Beatles decided to give up live performances. George Harrison literally putting his guitar down in San Francisco on August 29, 1966 and out loud saying “That’s it”.

What followed then was years of creativity where the Beatles, with the “luxury” or not performing put all their efforts into their energies into making music in the studio. But they were musicians after all, and ultimately that decision also led to the band members fracturing and finally turning on each other. Musicians are able to put personal differences aside when they step on a stage together.

What will Elton John’s statement mean to his career? Hopefully the reaction which unfolds in the coming days will be mature and considered and we will all have had something to think about, not fight about.

What I’m listening to: Pantha Du Prince (Black Noise), Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy), Joni Mitchell (Mingus)

REALITY BITES

February 1, 2010

When I was looking into the Grammys’ track record recently in the Best new Artist category over the years I came across a famous blank – 1990 – when Milli Vanilli’s Grammy was withdrawn retrospectively after their record producer Frank Farian chose to reveal that Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus  hadn’t actually been the singers on the group’s million selling singles and albums and (we presume) had been miming during their public performances.

Lo and behold up pops Fabrice Morvan – Rob died in 1998 of alcoholic poisoning –  on the eve of the 2010 Grammy Awards, exactly 20 years on, to point the finger at today’s music makers.  Fab told USA Today , “It’s not about being authentic anymore, it’s about being entertaining”. He’s got a point of course. We’ve got suspicions that some of today’s top singers may not sing what they say they sing. We know that studio technology allows today’s singers to be moderated to be in tune. Our only exposure to a lot of artists is through video clips.

What’s real and what’s “entertainment”?

The Grammy decision 20 years ago concerning Milli Vanilli was a bit of a case of holier than thou. The music industry has a long history of deception on record and on stage, long before 1990. Not just miming. Even bands no-one ever “outed” were using backing tapes. These days of course we’re much more forgiving about all that. Drum machines “educated” us not to expect to “see” everything we “heard”.

The Milli Vanilli duo was punished. The music industry had to pretend indignation. But the real villain was German record producer Farian. He’d gone too far for too long and thought he could keep getting away with it. He exposed Morvan and Pilatus because fame had gone to their head. They’d insisted on singing on the next Milli Vanilli album. Pulling away the curtain of deceit was Farian’s very powerful “no”. He following up with records by the Real Milli Vanilli, but the brand name was tainted.

Farian had priors. Before Milli Vanilli he was responsible for the hits of Bony M. The band members pictured on the album covers weren’t the singers. He hired attractive models. It did the job and after that he didn’t care. With Milli Vanilli he just took the concept to its extreme. Too far.

So, the question remains. How much of what we see is what it pretends to be, and how much do we care?

What I’m listening to: The Eels (End Times), Bob Dylan (Blood On The Tracks), Dinosaur Jr (Green Mind)