Why does Dylan’s commercial affect my car-buying beliefs?

A testament to the power of musical connections indeed.

I’m a die-hard Nissan fan, and fairly dismissive of American cars (too many Pintos and Vegas in my past.)

And yet, after watching Dylan’s Chrysler commercial last night, I feel an overwhelming desire to buy a Chrysler product.

My Little One, who’s not yet 10, watched the whole thing, and at the end when the snippet of lyrics comes in, she squealed “I KNEW it was that song” and made that the first song on her bedtime playlist.

The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine is toying with my head, and it’s all because of music.

This machine kills anything you want killed. Use your power for good instead of evil.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

I just watched the video for Bob Dylan’s wonderful new song Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ and felt compelled to warn you not to make the same mistake. Just listen to the song and don’t spoil it with twisted violent bizarre images. Dylan is often confusing, but I’ve never noticed his lyrics leaning toward gratuitous violence purely for shock effect.

I’ve never understood the music video directorial mandate to create something as far removed as possible from the content and/or spirit of the song. I realize that videos aren’t just a visual representation of the song. But it seems intentionally perverse to take a song with a positive feel, both musically and lyrically (like these opening words)

 Oh well, I love you pretty baby You're the only love I've ever known Just as long as you stay with me The whole world is my throne

and create a video of graphic domestic violence.

It’s not art, it’s just wasted space.

Like a Mattress Balances on a Bottle of Wine

I have managed to go an entire year without writing about Bob Dylan. I managed to go 40 years without hearing Blonde on Blonde, other than the bits played on the radio.

I’ve written about Dylan’s word play in an earlier post. The lyrics of Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat aren’t as disorienting as, for instance, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (on the same album, but ooh I love the live version on Hard Rain.) But it’s still Dylan. Not quite nonsense, but certainly not sensible.

I can’t hear the second verse without laughing:

 Well, you look so pretty in it Honey, can I jump on it sometime? Yes, I just wanna see If it's really that expensive kind You know it balances on your head Just like a mattress balances On a bottle of wine Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

A traditional 12-bar blues, it opens with Dylan himself playing a lead of sorts. It reminds me why Robbie Robertson played all the other leads on the song. Kenny Buttrey’s drumming is very non-traditional; cymbal accents in jazzy places a straight blues player might not have thought of, and an almost burlesque kick drum roll at the end of each chorus-less verse. The Wikipedia article talks about the near-agony of getting a final version recorded.

It all finishes up, lyrically, with a poke at her new boyfriend:

 You might think he loves you for your money But I know what he really loves you for It's your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Makes me want one of my very own.

Marketing with Mr. Zimmerman

Cool toy from BobDylan.com; I’m a sucker for great marketing, so giving us tools to sell Dylan’s music for him is a no-brainer for me. While other bands are worrying about someone ‘stealing’ their music, Dylan’s marketing machine is giving us more and more access and control. Great marketing message for my clients, I think.

Also, send yourself a video like this one!

Dylan Goes Country

Okay, he’s always had a huge country feel to a lot of his stuff, but last night, it was a very country-sounding show. Which, for me, was just fantastic. When it’s done well, I love country music; it doesn’t have to sturm and drang and clang to be good.

The arrangements, as usual, are totally different from the studio versions. I imagine over 40 years songs are bound to transmogrify a bit.

Bob Dylan's Greatest HitsThe one that was closest to the original was “Like a Rolling Stone.” Guess even he knows not to mess too much with perfection.

It also got the biggest roar from the crowd all night when he started the encore with it.

Not planning on waiting years and years to see another rock icon perform. I missed too many good shows over too many years.

No Direction Home Necessary

Greil Marcus didn’t like Martin Scorcese’s “No Direction Home” and he says so in great detail. I did like it; was fascinated, in fact, so I’ll say so, in detail.

First, I have to address two statements made in the opening paragraph of the essay: “It allows, say, the Irish folksinger Liam Clancy, telling stories of Dylan in Greenwich Village, to contradict Dylan telling his own stories about the same thing; the film contradicts itself.”

Bob Dylan - No Direction Home (DVD)No, it allows the people, telling their own stories, to tell the story they remember, as humans will do. And it does so without feeling compelled to annotate their commentary in order to ‘prove’ one version or the other.

Follows immediately “There is nothing definitive here; within the film there is not a single version of a single song that runs from beginning to end.”

Bob Dylan - No Direction Home (CD)As difficult as it is for some to imagine, Dylan is not his music. This is a biography of a man, not a concert film or music video. I may or may not have been aware that each song starts, or ends, where it doesn’t start or end. I certainly didn’t care.

I have been a huge fan of Bob Dylan for some time – but not for all time. When I was a teenager, some of his obvious classics appealed to me, but I couldn’t have understood “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” any more than the man in the moon. I went through a period of definite disgust with what I considered taradiddle; meaningless songs full of pretentious babbling and disrhythmic performance.

Eventually, I came back around to a realization that this music had affected me, and continued to do so. Learning to play bass, “Maggie’s Farm” and “Like a Rolling Stone” came easily, and allowed me to play and sing at the same time. Being forced to learn the words, I developed a compulsion to understand them – and there’s no sword sharp enough for this Gordian knot.

Bob Dylan - Blonde On BlondeThe opening scene of Part II of “No Direction Home” provided a personal insight into the human being that was Robert Zimmerman which, to me, was all the explanation I needed for the lyrics to gems like those I’ve already mentioned: Dylan, walking down an English street, sees a handful of signs posted outside a shop. They advertise the banal and personal things little handmade signs might, on a wall outside a little shop in a small town. Dylan stops to read the signs, and a funny look comes over his face, perhaps at the bizarre juxtaposition of


& birds


– or –


on commission

on the left,

We will
bath and
return your dog

KNI 7727


and on the right

Reading the signs over again, a little faster, he repeats them again, even faster, then again, but now, the words are mixed together from the wrong signs; faster now, mixed more; even faster and more confused, but still the same words, just jumbled up in a frenzied salad of familiar words and phrases taken out of context; rent from their moorings, they’re tantalizingly familiar, whilst meaning nothing whatsoever.

The Essential Bob Dylan“I am looking for a place that will collect clip bath and return my dog. Kay enn one seven seven two seven. Cigarettes and tobacco”

“Animals and birds bought or sold on commission.”

“I want a dog that is going to collect and clean my bath, return my cigarette and give tobacco to my animals and give my birds a commission.”

Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks“I am looking for somebody to sell my dog, collect my clip, buy my animal and straighten out my bird.”

“I am looking for a place to bathe my bird, buy my dog, collect my clip, sell me cigarettes and commission my bath.”

“I am looking for a place that is going to collect my commission, sell my dog, burn my bird, and sell me to the cigarette.”

“Gonna bird my buy, collect my will, and bathe my commission.”

“I am looking for a place that is going to animal my soul, knit my return, bathe my foot and collect my dog.”

“Commission me to sell my animal to the bird to clip and buy my bath and return me back to the cigarette.”

Bob Dylan - Nashville SkylineAnd he’s laughing. Laughing out loud; rocking with laughter, and he stands in the middle of a little English street, playing with words like a child plays with brightly colored blocks.

And I know, now, what it means when Dylan says “he just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette.” It means that Robert Zimmerman, or Bob Dylan, or both, love words and laughter and the rhythm of speech.

And that’s all it has to mean, to me.

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

Woke up this morning to the strangest sound; like living next to a major freeway, but more of a rumble. It woke me up, starting suddenly and rolling and rumbling like distant thunder. After a couple minutes, I got up to look out into the dark to see if I could make out what it was. The closest freeway is a mile away, and not busy at night. I couldn’t see anything that looked like a sudden LA-sized influx of traffic.

Suddenly it hit me. One of the joys of living on the north side of Sacramento is that most of these small towns were built around the railroads. I was hearing a sound I hadn’t heard like this in years—a passing freight train.

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to spend some time each summer with our grandmother. One of her houses (she seems to have moved more than most grandmothers) was right across a narrow street from railroad tracks. I remember that when we’d first arrive, each passing train would awaken me as it growled past. But by the second night, it was just a comforting background sound like the ticking and quailing and cuckooing of the huge German clock in the hallway.

Trains seem to inspire musical feelings; I know they do in me. I started making a list of train songs, and I hope to come back and spend a bit of time riding each one. For now, I’ll just spit out a stream-of-consciousness blurb for each. Let me know if you have any favorites, or if there are some I’ve missed.

If Love Was A Train Michelle Shocked
Why Michelle ‘Shocked’ Johnston didn’t become a major star is beyond me. Brother Max (The Gourds) is benefitting from the same near-anonimity. Guess it’s better than watching ZZ Top go from serious blues influence to slithery pop gunk.

Midnight Special Credence Clearwater Revival
My dad bought ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’ because it had this tune and ‘Cotton Fields.’ Since his death, I hadn’t heard the album until I got it again two weeks ago. It’s hard to laugh with joy and cry in pain at the same time.

Driving the Last Spike Genesis
Phil Collins accidently lets us get another glimpse of genious. Phil, Phil, Phil; come back to us and leave the trivial pop nonsense. This deserves a movie to be made of it. Collins actually did research before writing the song.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy Gordon Lightfoot
Gord knows how good this is; it shows up on more of his albums than any other tune I can think of. I know Lightfoot haters who say, “But that railroad song; I can listen to that.” I want to go to Canada and ride the railroads for as long as my money lasts.

Steel Rail Blues Gordon Lightfoot
Yeah, Canadians get trains better than USicans do. From his first album, it’s the kind of tune my Dad and his brothers would have taken to if it hadn’t been so quietly obscure.

Honky Tonk Train Time Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis
This one shows up in two different arrangements on the Smithsonian Jazz Collection; once on the piano set, once on the band set. (If you know someone who has these CDs, I’ll take out a bank loan to buy them. Call me; write me; send up smoke signals. I want these classics.) Kieth Emerson covered it as well. It rolls.

Hellbound Train Savoy Brown
How sad it was to see Foghat live in ’98. Right up until the nostalgic bit in the middle where ‘Lonesome’ Dave Peverett took the lead guitar and did some Savoy Brown. No, they didn’t do “Doin’ Right” or any of the great stuff from “Hellbound Train” but they did justice to “It Hurts Me Too.” Buy “Hellbound Train”, but don’t listen to the title track. Some clown decided the re-issue should have a fade-out ending instead of the jarring vaporisation of the original. So, buy the “Savoy Brown Collection” as well; you’ll get the original unbastardized version of “Hellbound Train” plus more rockin’ blues than you can shake a pick at.

Aww. Just took a look for some info, and found out Lonesome Dave died from complications of kidney cancer in February of 2000. What a huge loss to blues.

Southern Pacific (Neil Young)
Neil’s ‘re*ac*tor’ is one of his very best albums. Huge crunchy tunes which repeat the fact that he invented grunge and is still its master; goofball stuff like “Get Back On It” and “Motor City”:

My army jeep is still alive
Got locking hubs and four wheel drive
Ain’t got no radio
Ain’t got no mag wheels
Ain’t got no digital clock
(ain’t got no clo-o-o-o-o-o-ck)

and ending with the driving, gut-wrenching “Shots.” No one, no one, rocks like Neil Young.

Oh, and how ’bout the track I stole this title from, or Harry Nilsson’s “Nobody Loves the Railroads Anymore”?

Man there’s a lot of train songs. Maybe I’ll start a whole new site.

Shelter from the Storm

Webster’s defines it as ‘a position or the state of being covered and protected.’ Sometimes some of us reach a place in life where, if we can’t have love, at least we hope for a shelter from the storm.

From the opening verse

 'Twas in another life time, One of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue And the road was full of mud. I came in from the wilderness, A creature void of form. "Come in" she said, "I'll give you Shelter from the storm."

it’s not completely clear whether the shelter is real or imagined.

Later, “Dylan sings

 Try imagining a place Where it's always safe and warm

but if he’s reassuring us, why use the word ‘imagine’? It’s as if his life has become so bleak that he’s blind to the cost of her ‘shelter.’ Too late, he learns.

 I bargained for salvation And she gave me a lethal dose. I offered up my innocence And got repaid with scorn

Perhaps ‘learns’ isn’t the right word; still hopeful at the end,

 Beauty walks a razors edge, Someday I'll make it mine. If I could only turn back the clock

but clocks don’t turn back; the past is irretrievably gone.

Bob Dylan’s “Bob Dylan's 'Blood on the Tracks'Blood on the Tracks” is a treasure of an album. “Tangled Up in Blue” hits me just as hard today as it did the first time I heard it 27 years ago, but “Shelter from the Storm” has taken on a whole new meaning over the years.

Musically sparse, as Dylan often is, one thing that struck me when I rediscovered “Shelter” a few years ago was how stong the bass-playing is. It reminds me of Rick Haynes on some of Gordon Lightfoot’s early albums; strong, melodic, not content to stay in the background, but never quite competing with vocals or guitar. It’s a link I thoroughly enjoy.

The Watchtower, All Along

Written by “Bob Dylan and recorded on his 1967 album “Bob Dylan's 'John Wesley Harding'John Wesley Harding“, “All Along the Watchtower” is one of those songs which seems to work no matter who’s performing it. Certainly, only a Dylan purist would complain of its treatment at the hands of “Jimi Hendrix's 'Smash Hits'Jimi Hendrix, whose version is certainly the best known among casual rock listeners.

Perhaps not as well known is “U2‘s cover on their big live album, “U2's 'Rattle & Hum'Rattle and Hum.” If we are to believe the clips from the movie, the band figured out the song in the trailer just before the show, with Bono scrambling to find someone who knew all the lyrics. Hendrix didn’t; at least, he mangles some lines pretty badly. U2’s version is a bit clearer, although not adventurous by any means.

As always, my favorite is even farther afield. Discovered and signed to Windham Hill Records by William Ackerman, “Michael Hedges was a remarkable live performer. I hope someday to find a copy of the PBS special containing Ackerman, Hedges, and Shadowfax; Hedges performs “All Along the Watchtower” solo, on an acoustic 6-string guitar, and turns in the hardest rocking version I’ve ever heard. I haven’t had a chance to sample the version on his live album “Michael Hedges' 'Live On The Double Planet'Live On The Double Planet but it’s safe to say it won’t disappoint.

It’s no match, though, for the impact of seeing the man perform it; this white Detroit boy with dreadlocks past his shoulders, pink zebra pants, and blue leopard spotted shirt. Not a sight you’ll soon get over; nor a sound you’ll soon forget.