Todd Rundgren – “A Wizard/A True Star” (1973)

September 11, 2008 at 5:31 pm (Patti Smith, Reviews & Articles, Todd Rundgren)

Before she began her singing career, and at the same time she was writing books of poetry, Patti Smith also wrote music articles for Creem magazine. This one comes from April 1973. She reviews Todd’s then-recent album. As with her songs and poems, Patti was also a very interesting and singular critic, with unique insights into music…    

Todd’s Electric Exploitation

Ya know where Greaser’s Palace ends? That solar burst. The zoot suit Jesus returns to light. Physical atomic end. Well that’s where Todd’s record begins. Side one is pure brain rocket. Rock and roll for the skull. Todd Rundgren’s season in hell.

Put the record on. Internal voyage is not burnt out. Thank the stars for that. Now you got your system of brain travel, Todd got the plane. You’re gonna zoom but beware. What he does is very tricky. Mildly sinister. But I give you the satisfaction that all pain on his ticket is well spent. It beings glowing enough. Like a sacred drug. “International Feel.” Very Beaudelaire. Very godhead. And when he moves to “I Know I Know” you know. For one ecstatic moment you’ve gone beyond the point of pain into the realm of pure intellect.

I know, here is where I got caught. Not prepared for a transition like “Neverland.” Brutally nostalgic. I got that era under my belt. All about toyland. Once you leave no turning back. Well, why did Todd pull us back? The terror of beauty makes one momentarily bitter. First star to the right and straight on till morning. “Neverland” permanently poisons and sweetens. Gives a subconscious aftertaste. Tinges the whole record with Walt Disney. Also torments and slides you into journey a little weak above the belt. As side one progresses you age. There’s hair on your fingers.

Tic tic. Like the crocodile alarm that pleasantly ticked away Captain Hook’s lifeline, goodie good is wearing off. The move is maniac. Screeching monotone which eliminates mouth, limb and crotch but exalts in brain power. MIT science fiction. The next religion.

Even more ear-itating is “Rock’n’Roll Pussy.” Autobiographic as a brainiac. “I’m in the Clique” comes back as “Shove it up your ass, I’m the clique myself.” Sexual power is moving up the spine into the skull. It’s manic it’s magnificent.

Am I getting abstract? It doesn’t matter. Music is pure mathematics. And what is more abstract than trigonometry? Todd is further mystery than Greek. You can’t plot out his journey so easy. Marco Polo was a natural. Electric exploitation is never predictable.

But beauty is just that. The flamingos that wave you into “Zen Archer” leave you breathless. Happy death. And “Zen Archer” is full of wonder. Beautiful. I’m almost embarrassed to get so worked up over its brilliance. An elegy. Very German. Who did kill Cock Robin? An expression of his guilt? It makes one dizzy. Uncomfortable. He exhibits certain powers, certain confusions. Naked emotion is very frightening. It’s extended by Dave Sanborn’s saxophone. Elegant and moving as a high and spiraling tombstone.

His language is getting more sophisticated as is his humor and anger. Moving in a very valiant poetry.

The blessings of the turtles/ the eggs lay on the lawn.

Obscure images in “Da Da Dali.” Very painterly. Also very Rodgers and Hart. Oh Jesus where are we on this journey; All adolescence out the window. Fags, fag hags, weaklings, minor visionaries and paranoids caught in the cyclone. For the chosen ones there is one last splash in drug soup and up the yellow brick road to Utopia.

That’s how it hit me. Sound you can’t describe, only experience. Side one is double dose. It takes the bull by the brain. Another point to be examined. He’s always been eclectic. Why didn’t he care? The evidence is here. Something very magical is happening. The man is magi chef. His influences are homogenizings. Like a coat of many colors. May be someone else’s paintbox but the coat is all his. A Gershwin tone some Mr. Kite solid Motown early Rundgren. Several other colors. Telescoping sounds. All manipulated by a higher force. Production itself a form to be reckoned with. The conductor is often more blessed than the orchestra.

There are two sides to every record. Excluding Second Winter. So turn over. This is de soul side. White boys got it you know. Especially ones from Philadelphia. “Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel” is eighty per cent spade. It touches. I hope Motown grabs it and pumps it Top 40. “I Don’t Want to Tie You Down” touches too. “The balance of our minds together/ The perfect give and take.” Girl and boy move to man and woman.

Todd does a soul medley. The way he does “Ooo Baby Baby.” I know he’s no Smokey but I’m addicted to his throat. Cracks and all. I find Todd’s voice very sexy; it makes me feel teen-age. Less than perfect but a bit boozier than last shots. The way he does “Cool Jerk” is genius. Real cartoon. Goofy and Daffy Duck are there. Roller skates, Coney Island laughter, the mad bomber. Jesus, sometimes I think he’s crazy. Certainly not an earthling. The way he transforms mundane to miracle.

The motherfucker is “Is It My Name?” All the animal energy is in this one. A song that self-destructs. Dirty joke…flaming guitar…the cunt…the man to kick in your brains. It’s all there. I love it. Never has he seemed more like a son of a bitch. In fact that’s another move on this album. Not only is the quality of his intellect heightened but his emotions. This is the least predictable. The one closest to sainthood and hatchet murder.


My voice goes so high
You would think I was gay
But I play my guitar in such
a mancock way
You only love me for my machine…
“Is It My Name”


Moving into “Just One Victory.” A Rundgren classic. Very much a single. Though I would die to hear “International Feel” on the radio. To cruise at suicidal speed down the great highway with “I.F.” at full blast:


International feel
And there’s more
Interstellar appeal
Still there’s more
Universal ideal…


Each album he vomits like a diary. Each page closer to the stars. Process is the point. A kaleidoscoping view. Blasphemy even the gods smile on. Rock and roll for the skull. A very noble concept. Past present and tomorrow in one glance. Understanding through musical sensation. Todd Rundgren is preparing us for a generation of frenzied children who will dream in animation.

Patti Smith

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Prince – “Beautiful Strange” (2001)

September 11, 2008 at 4:19 pm (Music, Prince)

Taken from Prince’s remix album Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic, comes this rare track. This was only available through his fanclub. Slow, guitar-heavy track.

(Audio only)

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Van Dyke Parks – “Cabin Essence” (1966)

September 11, 2008 at 4:18 pm (Poetry & Literature, The Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks)

Light the lamp and fire mellow,
Cabin essence timely hello,
Welcomes the time for a change

Lost and found, you still remain there
You’ll find a meadow filled with grain there
I’ll give you a home on the range

Who ran the iron horse?

I want to watch you windblown facing
Waves of wheat for your embracing
Folks sing a song of the grange

Nestle in a kiss below there
The constellations ebb and flow there
And witness our home on the range

Who ran the iron horse?
(Truck driving man do what you can)
Who ran the iron horse?
(High-tail your load off the road)
Who ran the iron horse?
(Out of night-life-it’s a gas man)
Who ran the iron horse?
(I don’t believe I gotta grieve)
Who ran the iron horse?
(In and out of luck)
Who ran the iron horse?
(With a buck and a booth)
Who ran the iron horse?
(Catchin’ on to the truth)
Who ran the iron horse?
(In the vast past, the last gasp)
Who ran the iron horse?
(In the land, in the dust, trust that you must)
Who ran the iron horse?
(Catch as catch can)

Have you seen the grand coolie workin’ on the railroad?

Over and over,
The crow cries uncover the cornfield
Over and over,
The thresher and hover the wheat field.

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Prince – “Prettyman (Extended Version)” (1999)

September 11, 2008 at 4:14 pm (Funk, Prince)

Taken from the remixed version of his Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic album from 1999 – called Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic (slight name change) which wasn’t finally released until 2001. The track was recorded in 1999 though.
This brilliant James Brown pastiche features an extra minute of the great Maceo Parker blowing sax at the end.

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Paul Williams – “Bob Dylan: Time Again” (1998)

September 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm (Bob Dylan, Reviews & Articles)

Paul Williams is one of the leading authorities on Dylan. He has written about 4 books that are all definitely worth reading. He always gives great insight into the man and his music. This article was written the year after Dylan’s great comeback album Time Out of Mind came out, for Uncut magazine – March 1998…


“Oh honey, even after all these years, you’re still the one!”
– Bob Dylan, ‘Can’t Wait’, December 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20, 1997, El Rey Theatre; Los Angeles


For the man who once told us “don’t look back”, which of course we all took as instructions on How To Be Cool, 1997 was one hell of a year to look back on.

He got paid good money to play a few songs for the Pope. His first album of new songs in seven years was an immediate commercial and critical success (Best-Of-The-Year on most lists, Grammy-nominated, his first gold record since 1984), after decades of a frustrating, predictable indifference to every new album from both the press and the public. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and rumoured to have a good chance of getting it if he can just wait (stay alive) a few more years. President Clinton presented him with a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award (especially sweet because he received it along with one of his own heroes, his friend, Lauren Bacall). He also received the prestigious Lillian And Dorothy Gish Award (he expressed regret that he “never had a chance to appear in a movie with Lillian Gish”).

And Newsweek put him on the cover – a kind of American coronation – for the first time since 1974, partly in response to a brief death scare that got tremendous press and recharged his celebrity standing round the world.

But the really interesting story is not that these things happened, but rather how the old curmudgeon responded to them. That’s something I hoped to find out – and did find out – by standing in the audience for five nights of Bob Dylan performances (with his most polished band ever) in a relatively small venue (900-person capacity, no seats except in the tiny VIP section/balcony) in his sorta hometown, Los Angeles, mid-December, 1997. The end of a seven-city “club tour” celebrating (very atypical of Dylan) his new album…and his last five shows of the year. Sold out, star-studded (all his unannounced opening acts were million-selling recording artists), and most important of all (to the headliner, and to this reporter), the music sounded great. They were five fabulous nights.

High points? There were many. Two that particularly stand out for me came in the middle of the second show at the El Rey, Wednesday night, December 17. When he started singing ‘Blind Willie McTell’ (1983, one of his all-time-greatest songs, and one he’d never performed live until 1997), I got tears in my eyes. It wasn’t just that it sounded good (which it did, the new arrangement is terrific, though of course no match for the solo piano performance of the officially released version). It was an overwhelming sense of the power of this moment.

Bob Dylan is barely 50-feet away from me, singing possibly the greatest tribute to “the singer” (any singer) ever written by an American songwriter or poet. “I know one thing, nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell,” Dylan sings in a slightly-modified wording in this ’97 version.

Just before this performance, however, came the single most ecstatic musical moment (for me) of the five shows: a version of ‘White Dove’ by Carter Stanley – the only “cover” song performed outside of the acoustic set over the five nights. Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, is, among other things, a very deliberate and extremely knowledgeable tribute to American roots music, folk, blues, folk-country, R’n’B. By singing ‘White Dove’ with his new guitar player, Larry Campbell, one of the relatively few full vocal duets Dylan has done with a male singer in his entire career, Dylan made a remarkably soulful statement about his love of music and his sense of time and place (rural USA, mid-20th century, that’s where he comes from). People tend to think of blue-grass in terms of banjos and fiddles, but Bob Dylan is aware that there is also a bluegrass vocal style, defined largely by the great early records of The Stanley Brothers. ‘White Dove’ was their first single, in 1949. Almost 50 years later, Wednesday night, the song was spine-tingling. “White dove will mourn in sorrow/The willows will hang their heads/Now that Mother and Daddy are dead.”

Before telling you more about the El Rey shows, however, I want to get to the other focus of this article, which is who Bob Dylan is at this moment in his life and our lives, as revealed on Time Out Of Mind and at these shows, and in a series of extraordinarily open and articulate interviews he has given in the past six months. Want to know who Bob Dylan really is at age 56? Listen. He’ll tell you.

To start with, he’s a happy man. This may seem an outrageous assertion to those who have listened casually to the lyrics of his new songs. Time Out Of Mind is the sort of record that is easily (mis)interpreted as a message of despair or decay (“That’s how it is, when things disintegrate”) (“Feel like I’m comin’ to the end of my way…”) (“The party’s over, and there’s less and less to say”) (“Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb”).

Phew. If you were arguing with me about whether on the evidence of his most recent songs and interviews and shows, Bob Dylan is/is not a happy man, all you would have to do is quote these four lines from four different Time Out Of Mind songs, cross your arms, and rest your case.

If this were television, I’d have to defend my position with a snappy soundbite – maybe something about how singing the blues is often misunderstood as bitter misery when it can actually be the exact equivalent of “making a joyful noise unto the Lord”.

Happily, I’ve been given space to stretch out a little here. So I can start – since Dylan’s lyrics, memorable as even these new ones are, function not as sound-bites (“He who is not busy being born is busy dying!”) but as components of songs and of musical performances – by placing each of these lines in the context of the verses and songs they’re extracted from.

‘Can’t Wait’, the gorgeous penultimate performance on Time Out Of Mind (and a song included at all five of the El Rey shows) is the source of the first quote. According to the original Rolling Stone review of the album, Time is “a self-portrait that pivots around a single line: ‘That’s how it is, when things disintegrate.’” The reviewer doesn’t note that this line occurs in a very specific context: the singer (who’s the protagonist of the story) is “tryin’ to recover the sweet love” he and the “you” of the song once had. And he is confessing his inability to handle the emotions her loss stirs in him: “If I ever saw you comin’, I don’t know what I might do/I’d like to think I could control myself, but it isn’t true/That’s how it is, when things disintegrate.” What man or woman who’s been through a separation could fail to identify with this story?

So is this whole album about Bob Dylan being horribly depressed right now?

Well, for one thing, the end of his marriage to the mother of his children occurred in 1977, which doesn’t mean he can’t use it as a source of song-material now, nor does it mean he hasn’t been hit equally hard by some more recent romantic (or other-than-romantic) separation. But the text of the verse does make one thing inarguable: the kind of “thing” that is disintegrating in this line is a relationship. And more important, in rock’n’roll there’s a context for every phrase that goes beyond lyrical context: the music, the performance as a whole. True, I’ve written two long books about Dylan’s performances, and so you could say this is a hobbyhorse of mine. But it doesn’t take an expert to note that the “feel” or musical (and vocal) mood of ‘Can’t Wait’ is one of relaxed humour. The singer is laconic, witty and charming.

OK, it isn’t 1966 and he isn’t saying, “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?”, but this music and this vocal performance are almost as likely to bring a smile to the listener’s face. Or even, as you listen more than once, a grin. Feels good. You mean to tell me this is the voice – and musical creation – of an unhappy man? He probably has his low moments like all the rest of us, but when he’s singing this song he sounds like a sly dog.

The second quote is from ‘Til I Fell in Love With You’, another song Dylan and his band played every night at the El Rey, and another song about a person suffering extravagantly because of love and separation. This one, admittedly, has a rather desperate (and very colourful) musical feel, very different from the relaxed humour of ‘Can’t Wait’. This is more like hysterical hilarity. But the contextual kicker this time is in the line that follows the quoted line. The whole verse reads: “Well, my house is on fire, burnin’ to the sky/Well, I thought it would rain, but the clouds passed by/And I feel like I’m comin’ to the end of my way/But I know God is my shield and He won’t lead me astray.” Still, he doesn’t know what he’s gonna do, but the wittiness of the chorus is reassuring.

Dylan no doubt has suffered in his life, as an artist is supposed to…but he also is clearly having a lot of fun writing and singing these lines, telling these musical stories with a pithiness that John Lennon was very glad to have achieved a few times.

The third quote is from ‘Highlands.’ (I’ve just heard that the long-rumoured video Dylan made for this 16-minute song can now be downloaded free from his Website, Welcome to the 21st century.) The context this time, I must say, does (very arguably) consciously tease the listener into believing Dylan is talking about his own career. This is almost the only song on the album that isn’t directly sung to, or about, a woman that the singer/protagonist evidently loved and lost. The comic supporting actress in this epic, the Bostonian waitress, is not that woman. This is not inside information; it should be evident to anyone who listens to the whole album. The work of art doesn’t need a key; it explains itself.

Anyway, the line I quoted above, “The party’s over, and there’s less and less to say,” is in a part of the song that isn’t narrative and comes across as a more universal and timeless voice than the voice of the jilted lover of ‘Can’t Wait’ and ‘Til I Fell In Love With You’. This is the voice of the protagonist, so to speak, of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, a guy who’s stepped outside the limitations of time. So, it’s in the context of this charming voice that croons the opening and closing segments of ‘Highlands’ that we hear these lines that seem time-based and very applicable to the real lifetime of Bob Dylan as we know it (he knows we have to hear it this way; he’s teasing us): “The sun is beginnin’ to shine on me/But it’s not like the sun that used to be/The party’s over, and there’s less and less to say.”

So, you know what? Even though I don’t like to admit to myself that I’m a Boomer (Bob Dylan isn’t; he was born in 1941), I can’t help but hear “the party’s over” as being not so much a reflection on the speaker’s own life, as the Voice Of A Generation speaking once again for that generation.

The party that’s over is the Sixties, and all that we understood that to mean. He’s right. There is less and less to say in, for example, rock’n’roll, or pop music. The Beatles today would very likely be drawing blanks, because the times have changed and what people were interested in listening to when they rushed out to buy the latest Beatles or Bob Dylan records, people are not so open to today. There’s definitely less and less to say when you don’t feel someone’s listening. Which doesn’t have to be considered a personal failure. “The party’s over” could just be an acknowledgment that the times have indeed changed. And is Bob Dylan unhappy about that? Well, he might be, or he might be laughing at you for asking, because he knows he doesn’t give a damn.

The fourth quote, “every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb,” is from ‘Not Dark Yet’. We’re all afraid of death, so the very chorus of this song – “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there” – is spooky, confrontational, unsettling for most listeners. Touche, Bob! So, should the fact that he has the courage to talk and sing about such a subject be taken as an indication that he’s less happy than the rest of us? More grounded in his happiness, more honest with himself, seems a more likely possibility.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” the other Dylan famously beseeched us. But ‘Not Dark Yet’ is a remarkably gentle song. The kindness of its pace (and of the singer’s voice) is almost hypnotic. I know people who’ve found themselves listening to this one song every day for weeks or more. Not just because they like to be unsettled, I think. Probably because it’s a deeply moving performance, and somehow quite comforting.

The second line of Dylan Thomas’ poem is “Old age should burn and rave at close of day”. There’s a lot of burning and raving in these Time songs. That shouldn’t be taken to mean (Bob) Dylan is obsessed with old age. Rather, the masterful poet is having fun playing with the feelings and images the subject evokes in him, and in his listeners. And as always with this particular master poet, every good phrase has the ability to serve a variety of purposes, can be heard dozens of stimulating ways by different listeners or by the same listener at different times. “Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from,” is a fabulous couplet, worthy of Pope (Alexander, not John Paul).

The second half evokes the cliche about men in the French Foreign Legion, who joined to forget someone or something. In the same way it evokes cliches about men, or women, in pubs or bars. Which, if we hear the speaker as someone drinking to forget, would explain why his nerves are numb. Funny. Name two or three other auteurs currently writing in the English language who are as witty as this Time Out Of Mind Dylan. Woody Allen? Ken Campbell? Philip K Dick could have gotten a nod in this category before his light darkened. So should we hear the words of this album as some kind of gloomy news? Surely, it’s more a case of “laugh, laugh, in the face of the dying of the light”.


So, have I gotten across my notion of who Bob Dylan is at this moment in his life?

He’s a person who’s having a fabulous time doing what he does best – writing, recording, singing, playing shows for live audiences. And having the satisfaction of feeling and knowing that he’s doing it as well as he ever has in his life and long career. That’s a very happy person, from my point of view.

What makes this a particularly joyous moment in the life of Bob Dylan is not just that he’s expressing himself with such gusto, and triumphantly attaining the secret and extremely high standards he sets for his own work. And being publicly acknowledged for it – the awards could be just for being “famous long ago”, as he once put it; but the sales of and acclaim for Time Out Of Mind are here and now. It’s that this comes after a long fallow period in some important respects.

True, he’s made great albums fairly recently (World Gone Wrong, 1993), and his band through 1995 was as good as any he’s ever played in. But 1997 was a year when he released an album that was both a better collection of new songs and a better-sounding recording than lots of people, including him, thought he could ever achieve again. And though he’s certainly had his share of public attention in the past decade, it hasn’t been anything like that absolutely extraordinary public response his new music, his avant-garde art, received constantly in his mid-Sixties heyday.

About this last point…Dylan expressed anger and disappointment to close friends a few months after the release of World Gone Wrong. He knew how good this album was, and he’d even pulled a few tricks out of the closet – wrote Dylanesque liner notes for the first time in decades, came up with a cover much closer to his mid-Sixties aesthetic than any album sleeve since. He loved this record and wanted it to get its due. But then it came out and sold the exact same numbers as any record he ever puts out, good or indifferent…and the reviews, while favourable, weren’t the kind of insane enthusiasm (or loud, angry, confused babbling) he’d always gotten in the Sixties.

My theory is he was “spoiled” by the almost impossibly responsive world that greeted his songs and albums and aesthetic persona when he was a young man. You get treated that absurdly well, you’re gonna miss it when it’s gone.

Let me tell you a quick anecdote from the El Rey shows that I think illustrates the kind of fun our man Bob has been having lately. Friday night, fourth show, after the fourth and final encore (the first two encores were the only times a guest musician appeared with Bob: Sheryl Crow sang with him and played guitar and then accordion on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’)…anyway, Friday after the last encore Bob grabbed his bass player, Tony Garnier, and said something to him excitedly while pointing up at the little balcony VIP Section in the back of the room.

Bob was pointing out Gregory Peck, who’d been moving his leg and tapping his foot furiously all through ‘Rainy Day Women’. What a moment for the co-author (with Sam Shepard) of ‘Brownsville Girl’, on which Dylan sang: “There was this movie I seen one time, about a man riding across the desert, and it starred Gregory Peck…” Did that young man falling in love with the movies at his uncle’s theatre in Hibbing ever dream that someday those figures on the screen would be watching him from the balcony of a similar theatre…?

Gregory Peck’s other cameo appearance in what we might call “This Is Your Life, Bob Dylan, 1997!” came when he delivered the spoken (as opposed to sung) tribute to Bob at the Kennedy Center ceremony a few weeks before the El Rey shows. Peck said he thinks of Dylan as “a kind of 19th century troubadour, a maverick American spirit…in him we hear the echo of old American voices, Whitman and Mark Twain, blues singers, fiddlers and balladeers…Bob Dylan’s voice reaches just as high and it will linger just as long.” He could have been reviewing Time Out Of Mind!

Peck’s description of Dylan’s impact in the Sixties included the sentences: “He expanded the canvas. It was a restless reinvention of the music, album after album.” That’s exactly what the El Rey shows were. Night after night.

Dylan started 1997 by reinventing his band, his instrument for expressing himself onstage. He broke in a new guitar player, Larry Campbell, six months after introducing a new drummer, David Kemper (who’d previously played in the Jerry Garcia Band). The other two band members in ’97, and at the El Rey, were stalwarts: Bucky Baxter on pedal steel and mandolin, with Dylan since ’92, and Tony Garnier on bass, with Dylan at every show he’s played since 1989.

“Restless reinvention” is an excellent summation of Dylan’s method as a performer, an artist. He plays with a band (he hasn’t performed solo since 1965) because in his aesthetic, the creation of a sound and the dynamics between the elements of that sound are as important as any messages words can convey. His voice is important, of course. It’s an instrument interacting with other instruments that must all play together at the moment when the art is created.

For Time Out Of Mind, Dylan took the very unusual step of giving a statement to the record company that they could quote in ads and on posters so he could speak directly to his audience: “Daniel [Lanois, Time‘s producer] and I talked about these songs and how they should sound long before we recorded them. As for listeners, some people, when it comes to me, extrapolate only the lyrics from the music. But in this case, the music itself has just as far-reaching effect, and it was meant to be that way.

“It’s definitely a performance record instead of a poetic literary type of thing. You can feel it rather than think about it.”

You’d expect, therefore, more musical and sonic reinvention at the “club tour” shows, and that’s what we got at the El Rey. As Dylan has done over the years, he had an outline, a basic structure that left lots of room for improvisation and spontaneity within that outline, that canvas. Sixteen songs a night, four of them from Time Out Of Mind, always the same four, serving as a kind of backbone for this set of performances, a starting point, a foundation to build each evening around. A statement the artist wants to make. Never mind that you were desperate to hear ‘Not Dark Yet’ – this is the bandleader’s show, his work of art, and he’s not showcasing the album’s “best” songs, but rather the ones that he senses will allow him to create and express what his muse asks of him this month, this moment.

‘Cold Irons Bound’ rocks out in the Number 3 spot, previously-held by ‘All Along The Watchtower’. ‘Can’t Wait’, gloriously expressive, never exactly the same one night to the next, is in the Number 5 spot between Number 4 (likely to be different every night, another surprise from the huge songbook Dylan and his band had rehearsed and were drawing from) and Number 6, always ‘Silvio’, a song clearly chosen because Dylan likes the response it invariably gets from audiences, a response not based on the song’s reputation or nostalgic value (never a hit, a song from an obscure 1988 album, with lyrics by the Dead’s Robert Hunter) and therefore necessarily based on the performance, the feel, what’s happening right here this moment.

”Til I Fell In Love With You’ is in the Number 12 spot, the dramatic “show-closer”, a kind of summation, a rave-up to make a big R’n’B band statement before walking offstage so the audience can go through the ritual of demanding encores.

Which encores always included ‘Love Sick’ at the penultimate Number 15 spot…Decades from now, when we’re nostalgic for these great 1997-98 club tour shows, it will be the sound of the opening of ‘Love Sick’ that we’ll remember. The opening song of the album, the closing song of the live show (except for the perfunctory ‘Rainy Day Women’), ‘Love Sick’ is what you hear in your ears as you’re walking out of the theatre. “I’m walkin’, through streets that are dead, walkin’ with you in my head/My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired…” Sounds great on the record. But it had a whole new sound at these shows, and it was unforgettable.

Also important to the show’s structure is the acoustic set, songs seven through nine, not exactly solo acoustic, but full band including drums. This set at the El Rey always started with a cover song, usually celebrating some kind of outlaw activity (‘Cocaine Blues’, ‘Roving Gambler’, ‘Stone Walls And Steel Bars’). This would be followed by a particular kind of Dylan classic, crowd-pleaser but singer-pleaser, too, all part of putting together a show that will satisfy the muse and thrill the crowd and fulfil the singer’s purpose in life, all at once.

Number 8 songs (mid-acoustic set) from the El Rey included: ‘Hattie Carroll’ (wow, what a performance!), ‘One Too Many Mornings’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Love Minus Zero’, ‘John Brown’. Number 8 songs that were “alternate choices” on Dylan’s set lists, the ones we could have gotten: ‘Desolation Row’, ‘To Ramona’.

I’m sure Dylan felt more confident of his ability to get exactly the sound and feel he wanted with this band than any unit he’s ever put together – not that they were better, it just has to do with the bandleader’s feeling about his instrument.

So imagine yourself standing in that high-ceilinged club (old burlesque theatre with great chandeliers) surrounded by other ecstatic Bob fans, including Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton and Andre Agassi, listening to ‘I And I’ and ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, and ‘Born In Time’ and ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’, which had Dylan bobbing his head in obvious enjoyment of his own guitar playing and of the unexpected and delightful vocal phrasing he just heard himself create and, most of all, of the audience’s response to all this, which he notices, which he revels in as evidently as if he were Chuck Berry or Jimi Hendrix or Little Richard or Howlin’ Wolf.

Finally, while the fans and experts debate endlessly about why Dylan does what he does, I suggest the answers are right there in these lines from Dylan’s 1997 interviews: “Being on the road to me is just as natural as breathing. It’s rewarding to thrill the crowd. That’s all I can tell you about it.” And this, in response to fans speculating again about his religious beliefs: “I don’t know what people are wondering about. I’ve always felt an unseen presence, all the time, ever since I was small.” And, “I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music, songs like ‘Let Me Rest On A Peaceful Mountain’. That’s my religion. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.” And: “The songs I play night after night are proven to be true and strong. Otherwise I couldn’t sing them night after night. They can be performed over and over because there is a truth in them. I was constantly thinking [while working on the new album], ‘Will any of these songs stand up with what I’m playing night after night?'”

At the El Rey, he found out that they do. And in that sense, completed Time Out Of Mind to his satisfaction. And as a member of the crowd, I’m here to tell you it’s rewarding (and kinda religious) to be thrilled by a great living artist.

Night after night. After all these years…

Paul Williams

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Public Enemy – “Harder Than You Think” (TV – 2007)

September 11, 2008 at 12:04 pm (Music)

Live on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” doing a song from last year’s great How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul??? album.  

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Steely Dan – “Cousin Dupree” (Live – 2000)

September 11, 2008 at 11:58 am (Music, Steely Dan)

Recorded live at the Sony Studios…

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Neil Young – “Let’s Roll” (Video – 2002)

September 11, 2008 at 11:51 am (Music)

Neil Young’s response to 9/11 and the plane that was heading for the White House. The passengers stormed the cockpit and stopped the terrorists from reaching their target. Sadly, all the passengers aboard died but they did not die in vain.  May we never forget their brave efforts on this day.

NOTE: Please double click on video for it to start playing (in seperate window)

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Al Aronowitz – “Merle Haggard: Home-fried Humor and Cowboy Soul” (1968)

September 11, 2008 at 12:38 am (Reviews & Articles)

Written for the Aug. 10, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone


Country music is blowing in like a fresh wind from the West. America can’t be defined by its pay-toilets and its smog. Merle Haggard never heard of Woody Guthrie, but they’re both going to be heroes in the plagued remnants of this murderous decade.

Merle Haggard’s father was one of those Okies that Woody Guthrie used to sing about. Merle is a gentleman of the cowboy ethic. When he was 14, he was thrown into jail for suspicion of armed robbery. Merle Haggard, a name out of a morality play. That’s the kind of songs he sings.

Country people come to the city for excitement. Just to live in the city is enough to drive people to the country for a rest. Westerns are still the peanut butter and jelly of America’s cultural diet and even the Underground, like marijuana, has its roots in the soil.

Neal Cassady was a Denver cowboy before he became the hero of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a novel which still reads like a road map for the cross-country lifestyle.

“I don’t know if you could call my music cowboy music,” says Merle Haggard. “I don’t sing about horses. I call it country music, or American music. It’s one of the only musics that began with our nation.” If Merle Haggard had never heard a Woody Guthrie song, neither had much of the audience that attended the Woody Guthrie memorial concert at Carnegie Hall last January.

Bakersfield is where the wind dropped Jim Haggard after the draught blew into Chacotah, Okla. All his friends and neighbors were migrating there. Jim Haggard was a country fiddler in Chacotah. In Bakersfield, he went to work for the Santa Fe Railway. The year was 1935 and Merle was born two Aprils later, Jim Haggard’s second son and third child When Merle was 9, his father died, leaving little more than the echo of his music.

Bakersfield is one of the most thoroughly modern cities in America now, rebuilt out of the splinters of a 1952 earthquake, but the Bakersfield in which Merle grew up might as well have been back in Oklahoma, with the settler’s shacks, the oil wells, the dirt farms, the cotton fields and the ten-gallon drawl of America’s Southwest. Merle drove a potato truck, hitch-hiked to Texas, pitched hay on a farm, hopped freight cars to anywhere, worked as a shooter in the oil fields and drank like a man in Bakersfield’s country music saloons.

“It helps a guy’s outlook on life,” he says, “to see how the other half lives, depending on what half you’re living in.” By the time he was 17, he had spent two years in a reform school. The whole story is in his music, a melodrama of hot buttered regret, deep dish sentimentality, home fried humor and clear, cool cowboy soul. “I’ve done a lot of living.” he says. He sings as if there isn’t a mistake he hasn’t made. The trinity of his sadness is whiskey, women and the law. His church is righteousness. His laments are simple. “I’ll leave the bottle on the bar.” he sings. “I’ll sober up and come back home to you.”

As a kid, he kept running away, he says, because he didn’t want to be a burden to his mother. Now his lyrics are about a branded man whose jail record trails after him like leg irons or about a condemned prisoner who asks to hear a song his mama sang before he’s put to death. “Well I’m gonna get me a seeing-eye dog to help me find my way.” he sings. If Merle Haggard wears his scars as badges, it is not out of pride for the lack of virtue which caused them, but as a celebration of having survived the wounds. He can play the role of the hero, the foot, and the itinerant highway counterman. You look at his album covers and you see his name in his face.

Sing Me Back Home is Merle Haggard’s sixth album, and if you really listen to any of them, you’ll really want to listen to the rest. The orchestration is as down home as Oklahoma, ranging from a swinging door piano to that buffalo of American instruments, the steel guitar. Merle’s five-man group, the Strangers, are also from Bakersfield, which certainly has as much of a claim on Nashville as Boston does on San Francisco.

Buck Owens, Mr. Number One of the Country and Western charts, comes from Bakersfield. So does Tommy Collins, who sometimes writes songs with Merle. So does Liz Anderson and Wynn Stewart and Ferlin Husky and an entire honor roll of other Country and Western stars. And so does Bonnie Owens, who is the new Mrs. Merle Haggard. Bonnie sings the high harmonies with Merle. If you’ve never heard country harmony, it’s like the rough-hewn logs of a cabin. Somehow, the voices fit together. Somehow, sadly, they tell you they’re going to endure.

The history of pop is written in the account books at the box office. You can trace it down the river to New Orleans. You can find its extract in the blue grass of Kentucky. You can claim it to be the bastard son of Southern Negro field chants. But pop is an expression of the people not the purists, and its lineage includes an incest that ranges from Harry Richman to Elvis Presley, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Frank Sinatra, from Stephen Foster to George Gershwin, from Giacomo Puccini to Roy Rogers. Everyone likes to think his taste is improving, but pop is what the people buy.

Now comes Merle Haggard singing songs descended from his father with a voice that can sway an audience like a wheatfield in the wind. Even restricted to the Country and Western charts, he can sell close to 200,000 copies of a 45 r.p.m. produced with a hint of Phil Spector in the control booth. ‘Sing Me Back Home’, the title song of his album, could be a Top-40 hit if the big city radio stations would only play it. The big cities could use the fresh air.

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Cream – “Wheels of Fire” (1968)

September 11, 2008 at 12:35 am (Reviews & Articles)

Jann Wenner’s infamous review of Cream’s double album Wheels of Fire for Rolling Stone issue #14 (July 20, 1968). After reading this review, Eric Clapton supposedly became so dejected that he decided to break up Cream… 


Cream is good at a number of things; unfortunately song-writing and recording are not among them. However, they are fantastic performers and excellent musicians. Their latest recording, Wheels of Fire, a two-record set inside a silver jacket, proves all this.

One record is subtitled “In the Studio.” The set begins with a Jack Bruce original, “White Room,” which is practically an exact duplication of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” from their Disraeli Gears album, including the exact same lines for guitar, bass and drums. The lyrics are not much to speak of and it’s very difficult to imagine why they would want to do this again, unless of course, they had forgotten that they had done it before. The Sonny Bono-ish production job adds little. “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” a Howlin’ Wolf song, is a fine slow blues, done much closer to the original than the familiar speeded-up version by the Grateful Dead. The song is a good vehicle for Clapton, but that’s about it. Wolf’s ballad-style singing and melody is far superior to Bruce’s. (Those interested in comparisons might want to pick up Wolf’s Real Folk Blues LP on the Chess label, and compare the two, and then compare that comparison to what the Electric Flag did with Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” also on the same record. The Flag wins.)

“Passing the Time,” a soft sad-circus tune with various instrumental paraphernalia thrown in, is a stone bore. The transition from verse to chorus is absolutely absurd. Ginger Baker stands out on glockenspiel. Of all of Jack Bruce’s compositions in this release, only one of them is good, “As You Said.” The structure is thoughtful and pleasant. Clapton is totally absent from this cut; Ginger Baker uses only his high hat and Bruce plays acoustic guitar and cello. The way they play back and forth and with each other, each on the melody together, is musicianship worthy of their reputation.

“Pressed Rat and Warthog,” a Ginger Baker poem recited to a good background of drum rolls and Clapton’s chording, is a track open to individual taste. It’s nice, but not what you want to get the album for. The trumpet solos spoil whatever mood was trying to be evoked by their superfluousness and obviousness.

It is unfortunate that the group chose to do “Born Under a Bad Sign,” that fine blues that Booker T. Jones wrote for Albert King. King’s guitar solo can hardly be improved, although Clapton does do it with his own style. The real mistake is that Jack Bruce doesn’t have a good voice for blues, but he chooses to try it out on one that is currently popular in an exceptionally fine original version. His throaty breathing is just plain wrong. Ginger Baker also ought to learn that knocking on a cowbell and woodblock does not make a song funky.

There is really only one good side to come out of the studio, and that is “Politician,” a track which really gets to the heart of Cream’s very real problem. Because only rarely do they have a good original song to work with, their standard procedure is to put a strong rhythm and chord structure behind it and sort of recite the lyrics, spoken almost rather than sung because there is no melody. The trouble with this studio LP is that confronted with this problem — and their predilection to use miserable originals.The really fine side of this whole business is the one with “Crossroads” and “Spoonful.” This is where Cream really shines because it is where they are at: live, without superfluity of any kind, and into the blues. Clapton is a much better blues singer than Bruce, and his vocal on “Crossroads” is a relief. The tune is Clapton’s showpiece, and he does it just like he’s supposed to. It’s far and away the best cut on the album.

“Spoonful” only really gets going about a third of the way into it. The only criticism I have about this cut is that Jack Bruce’s bass-playing is much too busy when he should be the bottom of the sound. On the other hand, he and Clapton really move. The way they do it as a trio is excellent: Clapton and Bruce get going into their “rolling and tumbling” groove, making it madly through the record while Ginger Baker is playing vertically, walking along at just as mad a clip. This is the kind of thing that people who have seen Cream perform walk away raving about and it’s good to at last have it on a record.

Anyway, the whole bundle comes in a double-fold packet with this exploding, psychedelicized imitation Saul Steinberg (of the New Yorker) cartoon mural on the cover and a totally tasteless Ken Kesey-ism on the inside.
The album will be a monster.


Jann S. Wenner 

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