Monday, August 27, 2001

Rollin' and Holdin' On

If there are but two things in life I still look forward to it's getting to see my favorite five wheeler with bloody toes and eyes wide open veins, and having the chance and the honor to hear new Bob Dylan songs.

Readers of the newsletter might recall the award winning series of articles we devoted back in 1966 when Blonde on Blonde first came out, analyzing every word, every nuance of those wild thin mercurial sounding songs. Well come shortly this fall expect no less: page upon page devoted to the one artist out there who it's always worth waiting for to hear exactly what he has to say next.

Dylan has a new CD, Love and Theft, due out September 11. The latest effort is the long anticipated follow-up to his 1997 Grammy award winning Time Out of Mind. That CD was stark and spooky- featuring songs about a walker desperately trying to find some way to connect with things and people around him as he wanders in the world with a mind trying to make sense of the past and find some way to endure the future.

From what has already been written about Love and Theft the tone is much lighter- it's apparently a trip down Americana lane. Dylan in his typically flip and iconoclastic way when asked a question comparing the new songs with his last CD replied, "I think of it (Love and Theft) more as a greatest hits album, Volume 1 or Volume 2. Without the hits; not yet, anyway."

This past Monday Columbia Records released the first song from Love and Theft on Dylan's official web site ( The song "Po' Boy" is a shuffling country number with some trademark Dylan lines. His current touring band (Tony Garnier, Charlie Sexton, Larry Campbell, and David Kemper) provide the necessary lazy sunny Sunday strolling embellishments as well as they do on the many bluegrass tinged songs being played in concerts these days: "Hallelujah I'm Ready to Go," "Somebody Touched Me," "Roving Gambler," and "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie."

"Po' Boy" is the first song in Dylan's 500+ song catalog to end with a knock-knock joke (and a darn fine knock-knock joke at that). Somehow it's the perfect finish to a song that's difficult to describe exactly what or who it is about. "Knockin' on the door -- I say, 'Who's it, where ya from?'/Man say 'Freddie.'/I say, 'Freddie who?'/He say, 'Freddie or not, here I come!'/Po' boy, 'neath the stars that shine,/Washin' them dishes, feedin' them swine."

The never ending tour and singing most every night has had its pluses and minuses on Dylan's voice. His most effective instrument has become less and less nasally and more and more raspy. His range isn't nearly as good as it was before but the tone is more and more fitting to the bluesy songs and arrangements. Throughout his career there's been one consistency and that is the authenticity of the performance (nobody does Dylan like Dylan) and his voice fits his current songs (or the current arrangement of the old songs) better than ever (and vice versa).

The expression on "Po' Boy" is no exception. It's difficult to imagine any singer wringing the heart and soul out of such Dylanese as "'How much you want for that?'/I go into the store/Man says, 'Three dollars.'/ 'Alright,' I say, 'Will you take four?'/Po' boy, never say die/Things'll be all right by and by."

Dylan, more than any other artist, is able through his songs to connect to some of the chaos that is always going on in my own life. "Po' Boy" is a good example of this. I've taken to taking a lot of long walks around Como Park these days. The walking is a lot of effort for a variety of different reasons. Haunted and strenuous some days it's a matter of thinking about the baby steps process- putting one foot in front of the other. Other days I marvel at the grand scope of things- a marvelous view and a chance for redemption on one level or another. The cynicism ("The game is the same, it's just up on another level") tinged with a lingering never say die optimism ("All I know is that I'm thrilled by your kiss/I don't know any more than this"). September 11 can't come soon enough.

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