Recommended CDs

Friday, 28 November 2008

Bob's Big Freeze Left Me Lukewarm at Best

BOB DYLAN'S BIG FREEZE - BBC Radio 2, November 25th 2008 Bob's Big Freeze November 25th 2008 BBC Radio 2, 10.30-11.30pm

From The Times :

Radio Choice
Bob's Big Freeze Chris Campling Bob Harris tells the fascinating story of a significant but largely unknown chapter in the life of that living god, Bob Dylan. In 1962 the newly famous Bobster came to Britain to appear in a BBC TV play called Madhouse On Castle Street. While he was here he stayed with that eminent British folkie, Martin Carthy, who opened Dylan's ears to a whole new way of making music (Don't Think Twice It's Alright, and Bob Dylan's Dream were heavily influenced by his exposure to traditional English folk music). He also had the unequalled joy of living through the famously bitter winter of 1962-63, when Carthy was reduced to chopping up a piano for firewood.

This BBC radio documentary about Bob Dylan's first visit to the United Kingdom in the freezing winter of 1962/3 was OK, but could have been better, especially as this ground has been trod before and fairly recently, also by the BBC (Dylan in the Madhouse, 2005). It was interesting to hear a few different voices from the early 60s British folk scene, although of course Carthy and Davenport were trotted out again (not that I'm complaining, I love Martin in particular).

I also think it could have been a little less sloppy. For instance, when Bob Harris asks "Who knows what a big influence the U.K. folk scene had on Dylan at this time?" (or words to that effect), the song playing behind him is A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, which was written a couple of months before Bob set foot in England. It was left to Carthy to make the point that Dylan was already familiar with English, Scottish, and Irish folk music before he arrived in England. Hard Rain, for instance, is based partly on the Child Ballad, "Lord Randall." However, it was fascinating to hear in this programme that Bob may have also been influenced by another source (I shall elaborate later in an edit to this post). This was one of the few genuinely new (to me, at any rate) pieces of information in Dylan's Big Freeze.

It was also implied that the protest element in Bob's music came from the UK folk scene (especially Scottish folk song, which Davenport told him was all political). Carthy also claims that the anthemic quality of some of the songs Dylan wrote in the next couple of years came from his exposure to the UK scene.

But Bob was already writing political songs -- Death of Emmett Till, Let Me Die in My Footsteps, and Talking John Birch Society Paranoid Blues, for example. The important person here, apart from Bob himself, was his girlfriend at the time, Suze Rotolo, who inspired his interest in politics. Plus there is a protest element in some blues (Big Bill Broonzy, for instance, whose "When Will I Get To Be Called A Man?" may have given Bob the idea for one verse of Blowin'). And for anthemic material, Bob could turn to negro spirituals (as he did for Blowin' in the Wind, which was inspired by No More Auction Block, which he probably learned from Odetta). Plus, of course, Bob couldn't help being influenced by the Civil Rights movement in America itself at the time. All of this was surely more influential on Bob's political material than Carthy or Davenport. And that's without even mentioning Woody Guthrie!

It is true, though, that on his return to the States he withdrew the first version of Freewheelin' and replaced four of the songs with what he called "fingerpointing songs", which was probably the result of his British visit. Otherwise the record would probably have been more blues- oriented (its original title was Bob Dylan's Blues). But it already contained Blowin' in the Wind (recorded in July, written months earlier) and A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (recorded in December at what was supposed at the time to have been the final session for the album).

There is so much that Bob was absorbing at this time (including Brecht, which is a major influence on The Times, They Are A-Changin'). That's why he's so fascinating, and why programmes like this one, which only focus on one element, miss the point. The first part of Martin Scorsese's brilliant No Direction Home is the best documentary of Bob's early period precisely because it shows what a sponge he was, soaking up a wide range of influences incredibly quickly and using them to produce something new.

Incidentally, it is ironic that Bob left Minnesota because (as he tells us in his interview in No Direction Home) it was "too cold to be different", only to arrive in New York in the middle of "the coldest winter in 17 years." Then when he went to England for the first time, it was our coldest winter since the 18th century!

For those who missed the transmission, I have provided an mp3 below. If you download it, by way of thanks you might like to click on some of the Google Ads, which will help me stay on line.

Bob Dylan's Big Freeze

(Big download, 78MB).

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Snatched from deceiving death/By the articulate breath

I've had this volume of the collected poems of Edwin Muir (1887-1959) for several years now, but for some reason, I have hardly ever dipped into it. Which made it a pleasant surprise to discover the following superb poem today (from a series of meditations on time and eternity in his 1956 collection One Foot in Eden):


They do not live in the world,
Are not in time and space.
From birth to death hurled
No word do they have, not one
To plant a foot upon,
Were never in any place.

For with names the world was called
Out of the empty air,
With names was built and walled,
Line and circle and square,
Dust and emerald;
Snatched from deceiving death
By the articulate breath.

But these have never trod
Twice the familiar track
Never never turned back
Into the memoried day.
All is new and near
In the unchanging Here
Of the fifth great day of God,
That shall remain the same
Never shall pass away.

On the sixth day we came.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Bullingdon Conservatives Trash Talk the UK Economy

An Ipsos Mori opinion poll puts Labour just three points behind the New Tories, which of course makes it a statistical dead heat.

While Gordon Brown, the victim of so much yah-boo derision over the past 12 months, has emerged as virtually the savour of the European economy, the Tories' collection of ex-Etonian hooray-henries has been exposed as weak, opportunistic, and out of their depth. In particular, the reputation of 'Boy' George Osborne will possibly never recover. His attempt to discredit Peter Mandelson over the "Deripaska yacht" affair backfired spectacularly (how silly to try to out-Mandy Mandy in the black arts!), and his latest irresponsible talk about the economy is likely to provoke a run on the pound and will be viewed very dimly in the City (he and his other fellow graduates from Eton's notorious Bullingdon Club have been trash-talking the UK economy in the way they allegedly used to trash restaurants, totally without regard for the consequences for other people, secure in their own unearned wealth).

In short, the dangers of Britain sleepwalking into Bullingdon Conservatism* have somewhat receded. We just need Boris to make a complete chump of himself now; so give it a couple of months tops, then.

*Please feel free to chuck this phrase around liberally. I don't know if it's my own coinage, but I'm trying to give it currency as a counterpart to the long-standing "Bolinger socialist".

Thursday, 13 November 2008

10 Reasons Why Rolf Harris Is Better Than Bob Dylan

1. Two Little Boys. The children's classic that has a strange effect on grown men (and on a certain evil ex-prime minister). The real greatest single ever made!

2. Didgeridoo vs. harmonica -- I mean, which is cooler?
Well, ok, but which is more phallic?

3. Bob can't play the wobble board either.

4. His Rolfness has been backed by all four Beatles on a remake of 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down' sport -- Bob has only ever sung with George and Ringo, separately, and has never sung about kangaroos.

5. The Rolfster has sung on a Kate Bush album.

6. Make that two Kate Bush albums!

7. Rolf can draw. Sorry, Bob, but just because you have an exhibition of your pisspoor paintings nowadays, it doesn't mean they're any good.

8. Jake the Peg -- a more poignant story of an outcast than Hollis Brown?

9. Has Bob Dylan ever performed a cover of the Divynyls 'I Touch Myself' accompanied only by a wobble board? I think not.

10. Bob was the voice of his generation, but Rolf is the voice of every generation.

What's more, that "vocal percussion" thing that Tom Waits does -- Rolf invented that, he did.

The Pet Goat -- the Reviews Deleted by Amazon

News that President-elect Barack Obama has been reading Derek Walcott's Collected Poems 1948-1984 (it's apparently the book he's holding in the picture) reminds me that outgoing President George W. Bush will soon finally have an opportunity to finish reading The Pet Goat, the story (often erroneously referred to as My Pet Goat) in a children's book he spent so much time immersed in on September 11, 2001.

The book prominently sold out, and inspired lots of satirical reviews on, which has since deleted them.

But of course, on the Internet, nothing really disappears
, so here are some of those reviews:

It's out of work and back to school for Dumbfuck!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

I Finally Remembered Who McCain's Attack Bimbo Reminds Me Of....

I've been trying to work out who Sarah Palin reminds me of, and now I've got it!

Anyone remember the Gus Van Sant movie from the mid-nineties, To Die For, about a dim but ruthless weather girl (Nicole Kidman) who has her husband bumped off to further her career?

Its tagline was, as I recall: "All she wanted was a little attention"...!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Return of the Brown Bounce?

Compared to the U.S. presidential election, Labour holding onto a once safe seat in Scotland with a reduced majority is not even on the scale. And yet it may just be the turning point in Gordon Brown's premiership. His stewardship of the economy at this momentous time has won golden praise globally from political leaders across the spectrum. If Labour had lost, as the polls had predicted that they would throughout the campaign and even on polling day, it would have been the end for Brown, and probably Labour too. At last there is the hope of stopping the election of a Tory government that would take us right back to the discredited Thatcherite economics of the 1980s.

Not to mention that Alex Salmond and the SNP are starting to look like a busted flush. Salmond's ridiculous claim that Scotland would have been able to weather the current economic storm alone, comparing it to Norway, is laughable. Norway is one the richest countries in Europe with considerable greater oil reserves than Scotland, and due to sensible economic management it has been largely untouched by the present economic crisis. In fact, Scotland (pop. 5 million, among whom pensioners greatly outnumber schoolchildren) would probably have been more like Iceland. The SNP's claims are pure demagoguery.

Perhaps the election of the most liberal U.S. President since JFK will encourage more progressive policies from Labour, the sort of policies it is rumoured that Gordon Brown would in fact like to pursue.