Wednesday, June 12th

{ONE} A FEW THINGS ABOUT MARTIN SCORSESE’S NETFLIX FILM, “ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY
“It was more fun than the law allows, by a long shot. There were genius writers everywhere. It was a bus full of musicians and singers and painters hurtling through the night fueled by White Russians and other things, making a movie, writing songs and playing – on those evenings when we got the mixture right – some of the most incendiary, intense and inspired rock’ n’ roll, before or since. For evidence, please see the version of “Isis.” Check out Dylan’s reading of, “If you want me to, yes.” That was about it for me. That “yes” encapsulated all of it. The joy, the shock, the anger, the lust, the mirth, the bewilderment, the almost derangement of the whole ride.”
– T-Bone Burnett, one of the Revue guitarists

Watch it, it’s a hoot – brilliant and funny, and you can believe what you want to. Think back to Dylan’s playful press conferences – even now he has the ability to wrong-foot or con the audience, he’s just doing it here with Scorsese’s help. It makes no difference if the Sharon Stone bit is invented, or the Argentinian filmmaker doesn’t really exist. If you remember Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s political mockumentary, Tanner ’88, then the politician interviewed about Dylan’s closeness to President Jimmy Carter won’t be a surprise. It’s safe to say that no conventional film studio would have gone for this, but that’s what Netflix brings to the table. So here are a few great moments from Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story.

1 “Isis”. Scarlet Rivera’s limo driver says that he’d never really been to a rock show, before noting that the relationship between those on the stage and those in the audience was like “one battery charging another”, a neat way of conveying the excitement felt by the audience at being in such intimate spaces seeming to spur on the performers to reach some kind of ecstasy. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the mighty performance of “Isis” captured here, transformed from a rather plain, loping, piano-driven tune to an excessive, expressive romp. With no guitar (a Patti Smith inspired move) Dylan in white-face makeup gives it the full David Bowie (while, amusingly, Mick Ronson struts and solos behind him).

2 Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg went from being part of the first shows to being bumped off-stage as the running time needed to be cut, by a lot. He continues on tour, hilariously reading Kaddish to a group of mahjong-playing women, who just happened to be in the same hotel as the Revue (they’re then treated to Dylan and band romping through “Simple Twist of Fate” in an almost “Pub Singer” style). What’s great about Ginsberg is that when the camera alights on him, he sums up what’s happening and what it may mean, in gorgeous poetic sentences.

3 “Like stations in some relay…” Among the extraordinary Bob performances nestles something equally stunning. We’re at Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto, walking up darkened stairs before being ushered into a living room. Seated with guitars are Roger McGuinn, Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Joni proceeds to teach them the chords sequence that she wants them to play. When she’s satisfied that they’re not going to fuck it up, she starts… “No regrets, Coyote / We just come from such different sets of circumstances / I’m up all night in the studios / And you’re up early on your ranch…”

She delivers it drop-dead perfectly. She’s just written it about Sam Shepherd, who’s along for the ride to write a film that’s being shot as the tour winds its way up the Northeast coast of America. “I’m up all night in the studios / And you’re up early on your ranch / You’ll be brushing out a brood mare’s tail / While the sun is ascending / And I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel…” He was invited to join up, so he dropped what he was doing (setting up a horse ranch in California, since you ask) and caught a train (won’t fly, not since “Mexico, 1963”) to New York. If you like the film, his Rolling Thunder Logbook is a great companion piece.

4 Turning 180º from the big-boned performances and the blustery stadiums of Tour ’74, where even the acoustic performances are bellowed, here, in the gipsy caravan of RTR, “Mister Tambourine Man” is given a beautiful reading, every line caressed and shaped and caught in amazing close-up by David Myers’ lens.

5 The whipcrack of Howie Wyeth’s snare in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. Wyeth and bassist Rob Stoner (the MD of the whole shebang) are the MVPs of the Revue, providing a brilliant rhythmic and melodic platform for everyone to swan-dive off. Stoner does outrageous melodic walks up and down the neck while never missing an accent or a root note to anchor everything again. Wyeth, a student of orchestral percussion, plays the songs, commenting on the lyrics as he goes. In Sam Shepherd’s words, “Wyeth’s jackhammer drums are splitting the four-four time into smithereens. He has a right hand that’s not to be believed. It comes down on the accent and then plays half a dozen little cluster strokes in between striking two or three cymbals for added color. A drummer like this usually goes totally unnoticed, since he lacks the obvious flash of the more athletic types – Howie sits there like he’s driving a ’58 Impala, cruising down the highway.” Joni Mitchell intended to visit for one show, but stayed for the remaining 15, partly because, she said, “Howie Wyeth’s soul is so beautiful.”

The end titles list every gig, by years, that Dylan has played since the Revue’s tours. It’s astonishing…

{TWO} EAZY DOES IT
It seems that the Eazy-E bench in Newhaven [for the earlier story go here] is not an unalloyed hit. But it has produced a classic local paper story. The Argus reports.

One angry resident said he was “truly shocked and outraged” by the decision to allow the bench. William Bartoli told the council: “You are all responsible for polluting our cherished town. I would have applauded Guy Stevens’ interest, and hard work in raising the funds, until I discovered it was a shrine to a drug-dealing rapper whose many song titles included ‘F*** the Police’.” He raged: “Would I get permission to have a memorial bench for Jimmy Savile? I think not.”

In response, Councillor Pinky McLean said that the bench was “a project of passion from a local taxpayer. Although we may not agree with lyrics that this American man wrote, there are many music legends who have not lived a truly wholesome life and recorded songs and lyrics that offend. But they are just humans. Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright was too. He was just a man who has been remembered on a bench and, while not everyone’s cup of tea, made many, many people happy.”

Mr Stevens, who campaigned for the bench, said: “I’d encourage everyone to get a bench of a dead rapper in their town.” Unveiling the bench, Town Mayor Amy said: “I would like to see a John Lennon bench – that was more my era. After looking up Eazy -E on the internet, I am now an expert on gangster rap. His LP Straight Outta Compton was rated as one of the best ever made, and for me, that’s fascinating, because I didn’t have a clue who he was.”


{THREE} LEE KRASNER
Thanks to Caroline and Bill, we went to the opening of Lee Krasner: Living Colour. “I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.” It’s a great show, especially the early-to-mid work that the brutalist Barbican space really suits. When MoMa had an exhibition of the paintings of her husband, Jackson Pollock in 1998, they released a CD of music drawn from the Jazz 78s found in his studio. As it’s 2019, The Barbican has made a Spotify playlist for Lee, and it’s very cool.


{FOUR} THERE’S A LOT OF TALENT OUT THERE…

The ingenuity of folk knows no bounds – here’s four people with a strange band name (Walk off the Earth), some loose change, drinking glasses and giant handbells, playing my new favourite song, Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road.”


{FIVE} B.B. KING – LIFE OF RILEY
A sombre, serious portrait that ends up being less celebratory than it could be, and more melancholy. It’s on Netflix now, and beautifully directed by Jon Brewer, but I felt it needed less of the talking heads and a few more of B.B.’s milestone performances. One nugget, though, was an interesting story about his aversion to playing acoustic guitars. Eric Clapton had asked B.B. to make an album with him (2000’s Riding With the King)…

Eric Clapton: I thought the best thing to do – we’ll go into the room with a couple of guitars and see what comes out…
B.B. King: I said, “Whatever you think is good we’ll try it”, and we did, and he was right, except trying to make me play acoustic – I didn’t like that… [laughs] I had been cut all to pieces by a guy called Alexis Korner. Alexis Korner said, “B, I got two Martin guitars, acoustic guitars and I got an idea for something called “Alexis Boogie”, so let’s try it…” Boy, when we started recording, he just cut me to pieces. I said, I’ll never play another [acoustic] as long as you’re alive [laugh] and I didn’t! I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but now Alexis is dead I’ll try it. And Eric did the same thing, cut me to pieces!

Wednesday, January 30th

Much fabulousness in the news that Robbie Williams is blasting neighbour Jimmy Page with the music of Black Sabbath over a basement-swimming-pool-building-issue. This week, BBC4 returns the Friday Night Jukebox (February 1st at 9pm) to our screens, and, as the BBC’s website says, “Phill Jupitus and Clare Grogan want your stories, dedications and memories about a stack of classic BBC Music performances, around the theme of friendship. Check out the clips page, email jukebox@bbc.co.uk and request a song.” Hopefully sweet music can inspire a rapprochement in Holland Park…

{ONE} PROPS TO CARDI B
… For her take on the US Government shutdown: “I know a lot of y’all don’t care cos y’all don’t work for the government, or y’all don’t even have a job, but this shit is really f*cking serious… Our country is in a hell hole right now, all for a f*cking wall. I feel like we need to take some action. I don’t know what type of action, ’cos this is not what I do, but I’m scared. And I feel bad for these b*tches that got to go to f*cking work to not get motherf*cking paid.” Talking of previous government shutdowns, like Obama’s 2013 standoff in the name of universal healthcare, she said they had been for logical and important reasons: “Yeah b*tch!” For health care, so your grandma could check her blood pressure.”

In GQ last year, she revealed that she’s into “political science”, American civics history, and can even name every single American president in order of term. “I love government. I’m obsessed with presidents. I’m obsessed to know how the system works.” Her favourite pres is Franklin D. Roosevelt – “He helped us get over the Depression, all while he was in a wheelchair. Like, this man was suffering from polio at the time of his presidency, and yet all he was worried about was trying to make America great – make America great again for real.”

{TWO} CLASSIC ALBUM SUNDAYS: ARETHA!
Listening to I Never Loved a Man and Lady Soul at CAS’s get together at Brilliant Corners, I was struck most by songs that I would have probably regarded as filler back in the Seventies. Maybe because their edges weren’t blunted by familiarity, it was great to listen to the mighty grooves of “Save Me”, “Niki Hoeky”, “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” and “Come Back Baby”. Of course, really clear and present sound from a £10,000 system helps to up the thrill factor – it was a great way to be reacquainted with the killer combo of Tommy Cogbill and Roger Hawkins on bass and drums. The sheer heft and thump was something to behold, and Cogbill’s syncopation on top of Hawkins’ verve energises these performances. And in the time before the playbacks started, Coleen Murphy played an extraordinary Nina Simone live version of “Young, Gifted and Black” – I was glad to hear someone else say “I’ve never heard that!”, so it wasn’t just me…

And in The Guardian, this street art tribute to Aretha, made by Jim Bachor.
“Inspired to make mosaics after a trip to Italy in the late 90s, Bachor has become the pothole guy, decorating holes in streets with colourful designs ranging from chickens to Aretha Franklin’s face,” wrote Naomi Larsson.

{THREE} DAVY/RONNIE
From a London Jazz Collector piece on British saxophonist, Ronnie Ross. “Apart from leaving behind good music, he also left some good anecdotes, including this story, from a September 2003 Rolling Stone magazine interview with David Bowie, in actuality David Jones, on his formative years in London’s leafy suburb of Bromley [or maybe it’s in Kent; there are many arguments over this fact – ed]

Rolling Stone: Your first instrument was the saxophone. Why the sax?
David Bowie: My brother was a huge jazz fan. He played me way-out stuff like Eric Dolphy and Coltrane. I wanted a baritone, but I got an alto sax.
RS: Did you take lessons?
DB: Ronnie Ross – who was featured in Downbeat as one of the great baritone players – lived locally, so I looked in the telephone book, and I rung him up. I said, “Hi, my name is David Jones, and I’m twelve years old, and I want to play the saxophone. Can you give me lessons?” He sounded like Keith [Richards], and he said no. But I begged until he said, “If you can get yourself over here Saturday morning, I’ll have a look at you.” He was so cool. Much later on, when I was producing Lou Reed, we decided we needed a sax solo on the end of “Walk on the Wild Side.” So I got the agent to book Ronnie Ross. He pulled out a wonderful solo in one take. Afterwards, I said, “Thanks, Ron. Should I come over to your house on Saturday morning?” He said, “I don’t fucking believe it! You are Ziggy Stardust?”

THREE EXTRA This interesting conversation between Phil G and John A from the New York Times on Adams conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the premiere of Glass’s Symphony No. 12, [Lodger], based on Bowie, Eno and Visconti’s album. “The great thing about American music is the total bleed-through of, if you want to call it that, high or low, popular versus art. I think both Philip and I share this. We have very loose filters in terms of classification.”

{FOUR} ACOUSTASONIC?
I’m not convinced that this will have a huge audience, and it may be, as one comment on YouTube put it, “the answer to a question no one asked”, but it is pretty cool…

Moses Sumney, Acoustasonic

{FIVE} GO MARTY!
If you love the Rolling Thunder Tour (as I do), yet find Ronaldo and Clara turgid (as I do), then this is excellent news: “Netflix has confirmed the existence of a new Martin Scorsese-directed Bob Dylan documentary, due to launch on the streaming service later in 2019. Scorsese previously directed 2005’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, concerning Dylan’s rise to fame in the early to mid-’60s. According to publicity material, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the joyous music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. Part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream, Rolling Thunder is a one of a kind experience, from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.”

{OH!} BEFORE I GO…
This beautiful piece of writing on Sonny Rollins by Liam Noble, which ends with: “I am saying this because he is still alive. I want him to know. There are too many obituaries.”

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