Friday, December 29, 2017

Stephen King: Under The Dome (2009)

The genesis of Under The Dome dates back to Stephen King's earliest years as a writer. In 1972, King began work on a novel entitled Under The Dome. (1976 and 1978 have also been given as possible starting dates.) He returned to the idea in 1982, retitled it The Cannibals, but eventually abandoned the manuscript.

"I've got about four-hundred-and-fifty pages done and it is all about these people who are trapped in an apartment building," King said at the time. "Worst thing I could think of. And I thought, wouldn't it be funny if they all ended up eating each other? It's very, very bizarre because it's all on one note. And who knows whether it will be published or not?"

(In September 2009, King posted a 61-page excerpt from The Cannibals (the first four chapters of the original typescript) to his website. An additional 63 pages were posted the following month. These pages are still available for download.)

King has said these two unfinished works "were two very different attempts to utilize the same idea, which concerns itself with how people behave when they are cut off from the society they've always belonged to. Also, my memory of The Cannibals is that it, like Needful Things, was a kind of social comedy. The new Under the Dome is played dead straight."

From the very beginning, I saw it as a chance to write about the serious ecological problems that we face in the world today. The fact is we all live under the dome. We have this little blue world that we've all seen from outer space, and it appears like that's about all there is. It's a natural allegorical situation, without whamming the reader over the head with it. I don't like books where everything stands for everything else. It works with Animal Farm: You can be a child and read it as a story about animals, but when you're older, you realize it's about communism, capitalism, fascism. That's the genius of Orwell. But I love the idea about isolating these people, addressing the questions that we face. ... We have to conclude we're on our own, and we have to deal with it.
King, on UTD's politics:
I was angry about incompetency. Obviously I'm on the left of center. I didn't believe there was justification for going into the war in Iraq. And it just seemed at the time, that in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration was like this angry kid walking down the street who couldn't find whoever sucker punched him, and so turned around and punched the first likely suspect. Sometimes the sublimely wrong people can be in power at a time when you really need the right people. I put a lot of that into the book. ... The [Bush-Cheney] administration interested me because of the aura of fundamentalist religion that surrounded it and the rather amazing incompetency* of those two top guys. I thought there is something blackly humorous in it. So in a sense, Under the Dome is an apocalyptic version of The Peter Principle.
On an otherwise normal October afternoon, the small Maine town of Chester's Mill is thrown into chaos when some type of barrier cuts it off from the rest of the world. The barrier (or force field, perhaps) conforms to the exact boundaries of the town. It rises to a height of five miles, while also extending at least 100 feet into the ground. No one can come in or leave - and that includes deliveries of food and medicine.

This sounds promising, but the book (well, as much of it as I could stand) is a huge bore. King takes his time introducing the various characters and how they relate to each other. The narrative moves way too slowly - and there is no need for this book to be more than 1,000 pages long.

Big Jim Rennie is a town selectman, who yearns to run Chester's Mill his way. When the chief of police is killed on what becomes known as Dome Day - he stands too close to the dome and his pacemaker explodes - Rennie sees his chance to grab control.

Dale Barbara, a former Iraq War vet, had been working in the town and was about to leave when the dome appeared. As the US government takes an interest in the Chester's Mill situation, Barbara becomes the government's point-man inside the dome, much to Rennie's dismay.

I gave up after page 250 or so when it seemed like King was determined to explore the secret life of every single person in town, in minute detail. There are a couple of murders early in the book and we learn that Big Jim has been both embezzling from the town and running a meth lab (with the consent of one of the town's pastors).

When I looked online to see how the story was resolved, I was very glad I quit when I did. The New York Post's review noted that Under The Dome's finale "pales to the buildup. King is better at characters and situations than causes and reasons." And John Dugdale of The Sunday Times echoed the thoughts of other reviewers when he stated that readers deserved a more satisfying payoff for staying with King for 1,000 pages:
King's inability to raise his game—to relinquish the methods of his more straightforward tales of the paranormal—prevents you taking his socio-political vision seriously. The simple division of characters into goodies and baddies, the use of magic, the homespun style, the sentimental ending, the vital role played by a dog in defeating the forces of evil—all of these belong in fiction for older children, not the grown-up novels he's bent on emulating.
*: How can King (or anyone else, for that matter) think that the Bush administration was incompetent? Those motherfuckers did just about every legal and illegal thing they wanted to do - and no one stopped them. When you look at things from their point of view, their time in power was an enormous success. And then Obama continued and expanded their inhumane plans for another eight years. Mission Accomplished!

Next: Full Dark, No Stars.

Monday, December 25, 2017

"A Fundamental Divide On What It Means To Live In A Society"

Some people think you should converse (or even debate) with people whose beliefs differ from yours.

I do not agree. I do not need to 'stay informed' of what the other side thinks. (Those beliefs are everywhere, they are part of the atmosphere, and I will absorb them without even trying.) I do not believe it is healthy for me to listen to words that will only disgust or depress or frustrate or anger me.

I do not need to eat shit in order to better understand (or reinforce my love of) my favourite foods. I know how I feel and I am not so presumptuous as to think my words will change anyone's mind. So, really, what is the point?

Kayla Chadwick:
I'm perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I'm childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP. Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you're okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I don't know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. ... Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person ...

I'm done trying to convince these hordes of selfish, cruel people to look beyond themselves.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Bob Dylan: Trouble No More 1979-1981 - The Bootleg Series - Volume 13 (Part 2)

I follow God, so if my followers are following me, indirectly they're gonna be following
God too, because I don't sing any song which hasn't been given to me by the Lord to sing.

– Bob Dylan, December 7, 1979, Interview with Bruce Heiman (KMEX, Tuscon, Arizona)

I was 15 years old, growing up in northwest Vermont, when Slow Train Coming was released in August 1979. I heard "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Slow Train" on CHOM, an FM rock radio station in Montreal. I liked the title track, but wasn't very impressed with "Gotta Serve Somebody". (I read many years later that producer Jerry Wexler didn't want what he felt was a weak song on the album at all, let alone as the opening track.)

I was also at that time bristling under the strict rules of my mother's house. In 1972, she became involved, through her older sister, with Jehovah's Witnesses. Her deepening involvement in the religion led to my parents' divorce about five years later. I lived a kind of double life, going to meetings but fervently hoping that no one in the neighborhood or at school knew. I was listening to and reading about rock and roll, and while I certainly knew about Bob Dylan, I was not exactly running to buy an album of religious songs. Looking at the back of Slow Train Coming, I remember thinking: What could a song like "Man Gave Names To All The Animals" possibly sound like?

The next thing I heard about Dylan was that his born-again period was over and Infidels, released in October 1983, was a "secular" album. It was the first Dylan album I bought in real time. (It was not entirely secular, but I liked it anyway.) As far as the two records between Slow Train Coming and Infidels, I knew next-to-nothing. Shot of Love was a mystery (with a cheesy cover) and I believed the opinions of others that Saved was just about the worst album in the entire history of sound. (Not the history of recorded sound, but of all sound, back to the Big Bang.) Saved was unlistenable, in other words. (And yet that information did not make me curious to hear it.) It would be many years before I listened to all of Slow Train Coming and Saved and when I did, I liked what I heard. And when I heard tapes of the concerts Dylan played in 1979 and 1980 ... I was truly astounded. His band was fantastic, and he was singing with so much passion, warmth, and sincerity. I was an atheist, but the preaching – delivered in what some critics referred to as a hectoring tone – did not bother me. I found it fascinating.

I began tracking down more live tapes and trying to learn more about this period of Dylan's career. Most books on Dylan devoted very little space to the "gospel years", however. For a while, I considered researching and writing about this overlooked era myself (my previous post about this box set was taken largely from my book proposal to the editors of Bloomsbury's 33.3 Series), but I retired the idea in January 2015, when I heard that Tim Drummond, who had played bass with Dylan during this period (and with many others, including James Brown and Miles Davis, in his life) had died. Note: Clinton Heylin, the author of several solid books about Dylan, has just released Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years - What Really Happened.

It was only a few years ago that Dylan fans believed Sony/Columbia would never release a volume in the Bootleg Series devoted to this period. It was assumed the label felt it could not possibly sell enough copies to justify the effort. But perhaps, after the positive reviews for Another Self Portrait (Volume 10, 2013), which offered a re-examination of another much-maligned point in Dylan's long career – Greil Marcus began his Rolling Stone review with: "What is this shit?" – Sony thought the same rehabilitation could be performed on the Gospel Years. And here we are!

The Bootleg Series has evolved in interesting ways since 1991. Two-disc sets of live recordings from 1964, 1966, and 1975 were nice, but they paled in comparison to The Cutting Edge (Volume 12, 2015), an 18-CD behemoth of nearly every note Dylan recorded from 1965-66, when he recorded three seminal albums: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Sony then made available, exclusively to purchasers of that overpriced set, an access code to download The 1966 Live Recordings, a 36-CD set (!).

Now, it was clear: bigger was better. A box devoted to Blood On The Tracks was supposed to be next. But it was bumped for The Basement Tapes Complete (Volume 11, 2014) and it has been sidetracked again for Trouble No More. If Volume 14 covers Blood on the Tracks, I hope it contains every note from every recording session. I'd like to think Sony has now boxed itself into a corner, where they are almost forced to give Blood the same exhaustive treatment as those three mid-60s classics. (Also, the Rolling Thunder tours of 1975-76 deserve more than the 2-disc set released in 2002. There were two concerts filmed, including the gloriously intense Fort Collins show, part of which was broadcast on ABC-TV in 1976.)

Trouble No More contains eight CDs and one DVD. The discs are housed in a book with an introduction from Ben Rollins, an essay from Amanda Petrusich, and notes on the songs by Rob Bowman.

Rollins describes the gospel concerts as "a true revival meeting ... tightly paced and wonderfully played ... riveting and exciting". Several of the songs are in a "perpetual state of lyrical development" as Dylan "continues to search for their musical essence". He notes that most shows were captured only on cassette mixes off of the soundboards (although four nights in Toronto in April 1980 were recorded on 24-track tape). For music pulled from 37-year-old cassettes, these songs sound fantastic!

Petrusich, the author of Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records, discusses the "incongruous" nature of Dylan becoming born again. If we think of Evangelicalism "as a kind of sense-making rubric – a stern and unambiguous system in which hopelessness and existential worry are addressed and corrected for", she states, then Dylan's change of heart is "maybe not so mystifying. ... Dylan has always performed devotional material ... He has always been searching." She concludes:
If you can separate the teachings of Jesus from the trappings and mistakes of organized religion, there is nothing but beautiful lessons. ... What's maybe most remarkable to me now about Dylan's gospel recordings is the humanity they inadvertently betray ... Feeling remorseful about your failures, and wanting both to prostrate yourself and to be forgiven – it's hard to think of anything more instinctive to the human heart. Listening to Dylan's music from this era, all I can hear any more is that plaintiveness. It's a pure signal. A man looking for a way forward.
I'll likely cite bits from Bowman's notes as I discuss the various songs. But at the start, he writes of hearing a song from Slow Train Coming prior to the album's release, at a Dylan convention in England.
One could hear a pin drop while we all focused our ears, neurons and emotions on the first public airing of "Precious Angel". You could cut the tension with a knife. After the last note vanished into the ether, a very divided room spent the rest of the conference arguing vociferously ... Many assumed that the man who had always asked questions was now unquestioningly accepting doctrine that left no room for critical thinking. ...

I personally loved the whole scene. It reminded me of nothing so much as the furor surrounding Bob's decision to go electric in 1965 ... Once again, Bob Dylan, the questor, was on the move forcing himself and, by extension, his audience to, despite what many thought, ask questions about their beliefs, values, existence and what life was really worth. All great art makes its audience think. All great art makes its audience question. This was, undoubtedly, great art ...
A second book, entitled Pressing On, contains photographs from the recording sessions and tours. (Why do box sets like this always include so many photos (from concerts, of foreign album covers, etc.? A few of these go a very long way. I'd rather have more essays and information about the music.) Among these photos are some real jewels: pages with typed and/or handwrittten lyrics to 14 songs, many of them further edited by Dylan in pencil.

Random phrases and lines are scrawled everywhere and it's sometimes impossible to decipher Dylan's handwriting. The lyrics for two songs – "Slow Train Coming" and "When You Gonna Wake Up?" – bear almost no relation to the recorded versions. There are also many wonderful lines that Dylan discarded, a testament to how prolific he was as a writer during these years.

There is also an essay from Penn Jillette. I thought he was an odd choice as a contributor, but it turns out that his Gospel Bob experience was somewhat similar to mine (and, likely, many other fans). Jillette is eight years older than I am, and he had been buying Dylan albums since Bringing It All Back Home. On August 20, 1979, the 24-year-old Jillette walked into his local record store.
I bought Slow Train Coming. I had been warned it was going to be a gospel record but I wasn't sufficiently prepared. I was shocked. I was bummed. ... I listened to that record but I didn't hear a note. I listened just once, shook my head, and filed it away. My world had fallen apart.
Jillette says he purchased Saved and Shot of Love, but they remained in plastic, unplayed, for years. He was living in San Francisco but did not attend any of the 14 shows Dylan played in that city just over two months later. Now, Jillette admits that he has changed his way of thinking.
Dylan's gospel records are good. I know the records haven't changed over these years, so it's me. I come to Dylan for passion, and profundity. I come to Dylan for truth. ... I come to Dylan to knock me out of the trivial. ... I come to Dylan to make life seem more important than just today, and these records deliver everything I want. At the time these recordings came out, I asked myself, "What's wrong with Dylan?" Now listening to these recordings full of heart, and truth, and passion, naked power, the question suddenly becomes "What was wrong with me?" ...

Here starts my revelation: When these recordings of live versions, outtakes, and rehearsals from the gospel period arrived, I experienced the burning bush. I was on the road to Damascus. These records changed me. I'm not Christian but I've changed. ...

As far the theological content of these records – I still disagree. ... But the medium isn't the message, the message is the message, and fortunately for me, I can hear the message on these records as not just the revealed word of Christianity. The singing on this record is some of the best of Bob's career. He cares. It all matters. Even the sound checks and rehearsals are full of fire. ... I no longer care that I don't agree with the cosmology. ... Art must be deeper and richer than theology.

I must face some of my own hypocrisy. I never sequestered Bach's Saint Matthew's Passion on my shelf in shrink wrap. I listen to all the Bach sacred music without the chip on my shoulder that I had for Bob. I feel the music, the inspiration and the passion directly. Bach's faith doesn't get in the way. The faith is a big part of what I love about it. ... I love Ray Charles singing "Amazing Grace." Why was that always okay with me? Why did it take so much longer to hear Dylan's gospel? ...

I must be careful that my new tolerance doesn't fall into disrespect. Listening to these records I mustn't pretend that Bob could be singing about any old thing. ... [A]s I listen to these gospel songs, I try to take his faith and passion seriously and honestly and feel it as best I can from his point of view. I need to let his preaching the word of god speak to me of the human condition, uplift me, inspire me, and not in any way cheapen the depth of his belief. ...

Common wisdom is that Dylan went back to being a secular song writer after this period, but that's a lie. The truth is Bob Dylan never was and never will be a secular song writer ...
The first two discs of Trouble No More are live recordings, presented in roughly the same order as a concert from 1979-80. Discs 3 and 4 have previously unreleased studio recordings and soundchecks – alternate takes of songs we know, songs that have appeared only on bootlegs (but in higher quality), and one song that almost no one (even hard-core collectors) knew existed.

Discs 5 and 6 are taken from Dylan's 1980 concerts in Toronto and the June 27, 1981 concert in London (when Dylan had re-introduced his older material into his set lists) is on Discs 7 and 8. The DVD includes concert and rehearsal clips interspersed with sermons written by Luc Sante and delivered by actor Michael Shannon. This was apparently done at Dylan's suggestion or insistence.

Dylan preached to his audiences quite a bit during these tours. However, you will hear none of that preaching on this box set. (Even the 2-CD bonus that people (like me!) received if they ordered from Dylan's website, a recording of the San Diego concert from November 27, 1979, is devoid of sermonizing.)

Sony made the wrong decision in axing the sermons. They were an important part of these tours – additional evidence of Dylan's sincerity and zeal – and their absence short-changes listeners of exactly what went on during these shows. Sony could have make each spoken interlude a separate track and people could skip over them if they chose. Not including the six-song opening set by Dylan's background singers was also a mistake. But for those who need the full experience, the bootlegs remain available.

(Next: The music. (Finally!))

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bob Dylan: Trouble No More 1979-1981 - The Bootleg Series - Volume 13 (Part 1)

Lately I've been having evil dreams, I wake up in a cold blue glare
I run the tape back in my mind, wondering if I took the wrong road somewhere
Searching for the truth the way God designed it
When the real truth is that I may be afraid to find it

– Need A Woman

Throughout the summer of 1979, rumors circulated that Bob Dylan had become a born-again Christian. To most of his fans, the idea was preposterous. How could Dylan, a Jewish protest singer and free-thinking rock and roll iconoclast, have embraced Christian fundamentalism?

In August, Dylan released Slow Train Coming, a set of deeply religious songs that more than confirmed the earlier speculation. Dylan frequently had used Biblical imagery and references in his lyrics, but this was entirely different, and much more than literary allusion. While the music was rooted in rock and R&B, the lyrics were unambiguous expressions of faith in Christ and stark denunciations of non-believers. Insisting "there's only one authority and that's the Authority on high", Dylan pointedly asked: "When You Gonna Wake Up?"

Less than two weeks after a three-song appearance on Saturday Night Live in late October, Dylan began a tour of small theaters on the west coast. That was when fans got the real shock. Dylan ignored his entire back catalogue, refusing to play any song written before his conversion.

This was the bravest, most mystifying, most controversial, and utterly unexpected twist from a man famed for confounding expectations. Dylan's new stance reverberated across musical, cultural, and religious lines, producing a wider and more profound shock than when he famously plugged in an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. As Dylan biographer Howard Sounes put it, "Electricity had annoyed folk purists, but religion bothered everybody."

On the surface, what is now generally referred to as Dylan's "gospel period" was an abrupt and bewildering turn of events. Yet it was wholly in keeping with Dylan's artistic sensibilities. As he has eagerly absorbed all forms of American music – folk, country, blues, gospel – Dylan has refused to remain in any one musical place for very long. The creative spark Dylan derives from swimming against the cultural tide, fueled by the friction between his art and the public's expectations and reactions, has spurred him to create some of his best music. Invariably, by the time Dylan's fans have become comfortable with what he's done, he's already charting a course in another direction.

Slow Train Coming and Saved are message albums, just as Dylan's folk masterpieces are, even if the message wasn't what his fans wanted to hear. A closer look at Dylan's career reveals how far back he had been searching for something, asking family, friends, and fellow musicians about prayer, religion, and Christianity. His lyrics on John Wesley Harding are drawn from and inspired by his Bible reading. Street-Legal, the record that preceded Slow Train Coming, maps Dylan's inner turmoil following his divorce and leaves him on the cusp of a momentous transformation: "There's a new day at dawn and I've finally arrived. .. I can't believe it, I can't believe I'm alive."

Dylan began 1979 by attending Bible study classes at the Vineyard School of Discipleship, near his home in California. (Several members of his Rolling Thunder and Street-Legal bands were either born-again or belonged to the Vineyard Fellowship.) When Dylan began writing songs from a strict religious perspective, he was both surprised and scared. "I didn't like writing them. I didn't want to write them ... I didn't want to sing them." But by April, he had accepted this new direction: those songs would comprise his next album.

On Slow Train Coming and Saved, Dylan portrays himself as someone whose errant way of living should have landed him in a "pine box" years ago. Blinded by the devil, beaten down and empty inside, he was rescued by a "precious angel" who led him to the Lord. He feels he does not deserve this gift of salvation. "You have given Your life for me/How can I live for You?"

Not only has Dylan vowed to change his way of thinking – to "stop being influenced by fools" – he thinks you should, too. According to Dylan, we are all going to have to serve either the Devil or the Lord: "There ain't no neutral ground". He wants to know: "Are you ready for the judgment?/Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?" Dylan confesses some self-doubt – "I hope I'm ready" – but remains resolute: "I am pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord."

Dylan says he has been shunned and exiled by his "so-called friends" because "I don't be like they'd like me to". The religious context is new, but Dylan's image of himself as an uncompromising outsider is one of his recurring themes:
"I try my best to be just like I am, but everyone wants you to be like them" (Maggie's Farm, 1965)

"I just can't do what I've done before" (Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine), 1967)

"If I'd lived my life by what others were thinking, this heart inside me would have died" (Up To Me, 1974)

"What good am I if I'm like all the rest?" (What Good Am I?, 1989)
Dylan's religious lyrics are more straightforward than his usual writing, but their simplicity can be deceptive. The songs convey a lot of information, which may not be obvious without some familiarity with the Bible. Dylan's artistry is bringing together multiple scriptural ideas, yet still leaving the lyric with a light, flowing feel.

The attention paid to these religious lyrics obscured the fact that Dylan had also written some magnificent music. Both albums were recorded at Alabama's famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studios with legendary producer Jerry Wexler. On Slow Train Coming, Dylan's backing band, led by guitarist Mark Knopfler and augmented by a horn section, gave many of the songs a warm R&B groove.

Anyone hoping for a return of the "old Dylan" in 1980 would have been seriously disappointed by Saved. The music was pure gospel, though it failed in capturing the power and passion of the band's live sound. In singing almost exclusively about his personal redemption, Dylan offered an astonishing affirmation of his faith in the face of intense criticism.

Back in November 1979, a San Francisco Chronicle writer called Dylan's initial gospel concert "god-awful", and that set the tone for many subsequent reviews. There were news reports of hostile crowds booing and storming out of theaters, but bootleg recordings of the shows reveal that Dylan's songs of faith were often warmly received. There were some rough audiences, of course. The band took a tremendous amount of abuse in Tempe, Arizona, in late November, although Dylan made things worse by antagonizing the hecklers.

Each night began with a short set of traditional spirituals sung by a trio of female backup singers. Dylan would then come out with the full band and play most of Slow Train Coming. He would take a short break while the women sang another song or two, returning for another set and an encore. He usually played between 16-18 songs. The second half of each show consisted almost entirely of songs no one had ever heard (most of them would be released on Saved). Angry and confused fans yelled out requests for Dylan's hits – or any of his old songs – but he ignored them.

Despite the negative reaction, Dylan was playing some of the most exciting music of his life. (That sentence could also have been written in 1966.) At first, the band was tentative – getting accustomed to the shouts from the audience and feeling its way through the newer, Saved songs, even as Dylan was tinkering with the arrangements. They could rock, but it was the slower, more reflective songs – "I Believe In You," "When He Returns," "Saving Grace" – that stood out every night.

Dylan was singing with urgency, vulnerability, and sincerity, sharing something intensely personal, trying to connect with his audience in a way he rarely had before. It seems to be the time when he was least interested in playing the role of "Bob Dylan".

He was also uncharacteristically talkative during many of these shows, lecturing the crowds about the Book of Revelation and the "end times". Many of his monologues (often referred to as "raps" or "sermons") – how Russia's recent invasion of Afghanistan presaged the coming battle of Armageddon – were heavily influenced by Hal Lindsey's book, The Late, Great Planet Earth.

As the tours went on, though, Dylan softened. He eased up on trying to convert the audience, and even joked about fans walking out on him. At one January 1980 show, while in the thick of playing the unreleased Saved material, he quipped, "And the hits just keep comin'." In April, Dylan added some fresh material to the set. One song, "Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody", was written after he met with several rabbis who urged him to return to his Jewish roots.

When Dylan played a series of concerts in November 1980 dubbed "A Music Retrospective", he added some of his earlier material to the set. He toured for most of 1981, playing a full mix of his music, both secular and sacred. On his 1984 tour, the gospel songs were all but absent, however, leading many people to assume Dylan had moved on, that his embrace of Christianity had been a passing phase. But Dylan has continued to play songs from Slow Train Coming and Saved at various points over the years and he has made references to his faith in his more recent songs.

(More on "Trouble No More" to come.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rosenberger Posts

My posts related to Joseph Rosenberger and his Death Merchant books can now be found here.

Future Rosenberger posts will be posted at that blog.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Heylin: "Dylan Delivered An Unceasing Barrage Of Biblical Glossaries"

UPDATED: 15 Songs from the Box Are Streaming!

UPDATED: Links to 9 songs below!

From the Introduction to Clinton Heylin's "Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years - What Really Happened":
Just as from September 1965 to May 1966, the shows which ran from November 1979 to the following May saw the gospel gauntlet thrown down nightly. Dylan delivered an unceasing barrage of biblical glossaries set to the soundtrack of a heavenly choir and a band of unbelievers riding the musical tide all the way to New Jerusalem. ... He would continue beating his ecumenical drum most of the time for the next eighteen months.

For much of this period, his was very much a voice in the wilderness. Much of the media, and a large percentage of his hardcore fan base, simply switched off. ...

As for the shows themselves, journalists delighted in reporting that this 'voice of a generation' couldn't even sell out intimate theatres. ...

So, on the face of it, hardly the sort of period where a thorough revisit would send ripples of excitement through the Dylan world in 2017. And yet, when at the start of the year Dylan's long-time manager hinted to a Rolling Stone reporter that the next Bootleg Series (lucky thirteen!) would re-examine the gospel years afresh, the fan sites were abuzz with anticipation. ...

The good news – praise the Lord of Happenstance – is that the period 1979 to 1981 turns out to be among the best documented eras in Dylan's six-decade-long career as a recording/performance artist. ...

With the release of an 8-CD Deluxe Bootleg Series, the three studio albums [Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love] will no longer be the be-all and end-all of the gospel years, and we are a whole lot closer to knowing what really happened, artistically. As always with Dylan, it turns out that the more we understand, the more we can enjoy...
Box Set: November 3.
Book: November 14.

Bob Dylan - Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series - Volume 13

Slow Train, October 5, 1978 (Soundcheck)

Slow Train, October 2, 1979 (Rehearsal, with horns)

Slow Train, November 16, 1979 (San Francisco, CA)

Making A Liar Out Of Me, September 26, 1980 (Rehearsal, Previously unknown song)

Every Grain Of Sand, September 26, 1980 (Rehearsal)

The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar, November 13, 1980 (San Francisco, CA)

Solid Rock, June 27, 1981 (London, England)

Slow Train, June 29, 1981 (London, England)

When You Gonna Wake Up, July 9, 1981 (Oslo, Norway)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Last Month, The United States Expressed Its Support For The Murder Of People Because Of Their Sexual Orientation, Or Religious Or Personal Beliefs

Pierre Tristam, Flaglerlive:
Last [month] at the United Nations the United States cast a vote that speaks loads about where this country is going ...

The vote was on a resolution condemning the execution of people for their religious or personal beliefs ... [T]he resolution was condemning executions of people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender ...

It was the first time in the history of the United Nations that the world community had agreed more or less together that killing people for their sexual orientation is as fundamental a violation of human rights as murder. ...

Yet the United States voted against it.

This is not the vote of a great country. It's the vote of a small-minded, a mean and demeaning country. ... You may be proud of it. I'm not.
This is a portion of the resolution rejected by the United States (it can be read in full here):
The Human Rights Council,

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations ...

Deploring the fact that, frequently ... laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association ...

Condemning the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations ...

Also urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not imposed as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations ...
Andrew Bacevich, Tom Dispatch:
Consider, if you will, these two indisputable facts. First, the United States is today more or less permanently engaged in hostilities in not one faraway place, but at least seven. Second, the vast majority of the American people could not care less. ...

While serving as defense secretary in the 1960s, Robert McNamara once mused that the "greatest contribution" of the Vietnam War might have been to make it possible for the United States "to go to war without the necessity of arousing the public ire." ... [A] half-century later, his wish has become reality.

Why do Americans today show so little interest in the wars waged in their name and at least nominally on their behalf? ...

1. U.S. casualty rates are low. ...

2. The true costs of Washington's wars go untabulated. ...

5. Blather crowds out substance. When it comes to foreign policy, American public discourse is -- not to put too fine a point on it -- vacuous, insipid, and mindlessly repetitive. ... Cheerleading displaces serious thought.

7. Anyway, the next president will save us. At regular intervals, Americans indulge in the fantasy that, if we just install the right person in the White House, all will be well. ...
Bacevich quotes President Dwight D. Eisenhower:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
Azeezah Kanji, Toronto Star:
Last month, two well-known Americans — former president Barack Obama, and whistleblower Chelsea Manning — were supposed to visit Canada. ...

Two weeks ago, Canadian border officials prohibited Manning from entering the country ...

Obama, in contrast, was eagerly embraced when he arrived in Toronto to deliver a speech last Friday. He was greeted by throngs of admirers and acclaimed by media commentators ...

As president, Obama claimed the authority to engage in covert wars without congressional authorization, bypassing legal provisions ...

Obama used the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in 2001 ... to justify the campaign against Daesh (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, even though Daesh publicly split from Al Qaeda in 2014. In 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped more than 26,000 bombs on seven different countries.

Obama's manipulation of the AUMF transmuted it into a license for open-ended aggression ... Obama increased the use of drones outside official theaters of war, raining death on thousands of people, including unknown scores of civilians. At the same time, his government successfully fought to preclude judges from reviewing drone killings, keeping the use of lethal force behind a wall of secrecy and unaccountability. ...

Under Obama, the only official punished in connection with the U.S. torture program was John Kiriakou: the ex-CIA employee who blew the whistle on it. ...

Obama prosecuted more than twice as many whistleblowers as all previous administrations combined ...

One of the whistleblowers attacked during Obama's presidency was Chelsea Manning ...

None of the documents that Manning publicized were top secret ... And yet, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and subjected to treatment the UN described as "cruel and inhuman." ...

In his speech last week in Toronto, Barack Obama hailed those who work to "pull [the arc of the moral universe] in the direction of justice." But as president, Obama not only failed to pull with the champions of justice; he often punished them.
Bill O'Reilly, "Mass Murder In Las Vegas":
Once again, the big downside of American freedom is on gruesome display. A psychotic gunman in Las Vegas has committed the worst mass murder in U.S. history. ...

[G]overnment restrictions will not stop psychopaths from harming people.

They will find a way. ...

This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.

The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.
Michael Harriot, The Root:
News reporters and anchors have repeatedly referred to the recent tragedy in Las Vegas as the "worst mass shooting in U.S. history." Like all things that are constantly repeated, the proclamation has become fact. ...

Is 64-year-old Stephen Paddock the worst mass shooter in the long history of America? Does the Las Vegas incident qualify as the "deadliest" mass-shooting incident?

Only if you don't count black people. ...

Bloody Island Massacre
Pomo Indians Remember 1850 Bloody Island Massacre

The Colfax Massacre
The 1873 Colfax Massacre Crippled the Reconstruction Era

The Thibodaux Massacre

The Elaine Massacre
America's Forgotten Mass Lynching: When 237 People Were Murdered In Arkansas

The Bombing of Black Wall Street
The Legacy of the Tulsa Race Riot
It's Been 96 Years Since White Mobs Destroyed Tulsa's Black Wall Street]

We will not count the 1864 Fort Pillow massacre in Tennessee, when Confederate troops mowed down 164 black soldiers who were surrendering, because that is officially a war crime. The same goes for the 1864 Saltville Massacre in Virginia. The Achulet Massacre of Native Americans in California in 1854 doesn't count, either, because they were killed for their land, so technically that is a robbery. Some say as many as 150 were killed in Rosewood, Fla., in 1923, but the official count is six.

The mass deaths at Philadelphia's MOVE headquarters in 1985 don't make the list because law-enforcement officers bombed the men, women and children living there. And the time whites nearly wiped out the Wiyot Native American tribe in 1860 doesn't belong on this list because the Wiyot were killed with knives and hatchets as well as guns.
The Grapevine, October 9, 2017:
"Chance the Rapper Livestreams Police Stop in Chicago in Case It Goes 'Sideways'"

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Gospel Bob: Nine-Disc Set Of Dylan's Christian Recordings Due November 3

Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Volume 13 / 1979-1981 - eight CDs and one DVD spotlighting Bob Dylan's "gospel period" - will be released on November 3.

Only one of the 102 tracks has been previously released. In addition to dozens of unreleased live performances and studio outtakes, the set features 14 songs which have never appeared on any Dylan album in any form.

As the 1970s ended and the 1980s began, Dylan responded to the changing of the decades with a three album trilogy – Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980) and Shot of Love (1981) – of spirit-filled songs of praise, worship and devotion. These songs were as deeply personal and packed with poetics as any Dylan had ever written, but the force of conviction and power of faith evident in these performances baffled segments of Dylan's fanbase (just as Dylan's "going electric" had alienated folk purists in 1965).
I have been fascinated by this short, much-maligned period of Dylan's career for many years. This was a time when Dylan appeared to be performing with a minimum of masks, when he perhaps allowed more of his true self to be seen than at any other. And he was serious. During three short tours in late 1979 and early 1980, Dylan performed only his new religious material; everything else he had written was ignored. He also preached to the audience, sometimes talking for close to ten minutes about world events (especially in Russia and the Middle East), what form the anti-Christ might take, and the coming Battle of Armageddon.

Also available in November: Clinton Heylin's Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan's Gospel Years - What Really Happened, described as "the first book to focus on the life and works of Dylan as a born-again Christian from the perspective of both his artistic growth and the development of his eschatological worldview. It will draw on previously undocumented song drafts, rehearsal tapes, and new interviews with engineers, musicians, and girlfriends."

Rolling Stone calls this period "an intense, wildly controversial time that produced three albums and some of the most compelling and confrontational concerts of [Dylan's] long career".
Most [of the 14 unreleased songs from the era] have circulated in fan communities, but "Making a Liar Out of Me" has never been heard anywhere. "It wasn't even known to exist until we started going through the tapes," says the source. "Others were just played a few times on concert. We were able to go to the original sources for everything, even if it's just a cassette source. It's all going to sound better than anyone has ever heard before. ...

None of [Dylan's sermons] will be included on the set. "You had to be there at the time for those things to really work," says the Dylan source. "We wanted to find something that would be a little more dynamic." Heylin, who quotes Dylan's sermons at length in his book, is disappointed by the decision to leave them off the set. "It does slightly dull the edge," he says. "I do think that there was an element of power, particularly in the live performances, that comes from some of the things that Dylan was saying between the songs. This does tone down some of the seriously apocalyptic nature of Dylan's performances and some of the things he was writing. I guess that's understandable in 2017." ...

The deluxe edition of Trouble No More opens with two discs of live material culled from every leg of the gospel tour. They had a breadth of material to draw from since an Otari MX-5050 captured every night of the tour. The tapes are two-track, but the sound quality is extremely high, far better than the many bootlegs from the time that exist.
Disc 1: Live
1. Slow Train (November 16, 1979)
2. Gotta Serve Somebody (November 15, 1979)
3. I Believe in You (May 16, 1980)
4. When You Gonna Wake Up? (July 9, 1981)
5. When He Returns (December 5, 1979)
6. Man Gave Names to All the Animals (January 16, 1980)
7. Precious Angel (November 16, 1979)
8. Covenant Woman (November 20, 1979)
9. Gonna Change My Way of Thinking (January 31, 1980)
10. Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others) (January 28, 1980)
11. Solid Rock (November 27, 1979)
12. What Can I Do for You? (November 27, 1979)
13. Saved (January 12, 1980)
14. In the Garden (January 27, 1980)

Disc 2: Live
1. Slow Train (June 29, 1981)
2. Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (April 24, 1980; unreleased song)
3. Gotta Serve Somebody (July 15, 1981)
4. Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One (November 16, 1979; unreleased song)
5. Saving Grace (November 6, 1979)
6. Blessed Is the Name (November 20, 1979; unreleased song)
7. Solid Rock (October 23, 1981)
8. Are You Ready? (April 30, 1980)
9. Pressing On (November 6, 1979)
10. Shot of Love (July 25, 1981)
11. Dead Man, Dead Man (June 21, 1981)
12. Watered-Down Love (June 12, 1981)
13. In the Summertime (October 21, 1981)
14. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (November 13, 1980)
15. Caribbean Wind (November 12, 1980)
16. Every Grain of Sand (November 21, 1981)

[Dylan played Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One only three times; this is the first.]

Disc 3: Rare and Unreleased
1. Slow Train (October 5, 1978; soundcheck)
2. Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others) (December 7, 1978; soundcheck)
3. Help Me Understand (October 5, 1978; unreleased song)
4. Gonna Change My Way of Thinking (October 2, 1979; rehearsal)
5. Gotta Serve Somebody (May 4, 1979; outtake)
6. When He Returns (May 4, 1979; outtake)
7. Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One (May 1, 1979; unreleased song)
8. Trouble in Mind (April 30, 1979; outtake)
9. Ye Shall Be Changed (May 2, 1979; outtake)
10. Covenant Woman (February 11, 1980; outtake)
11. Stand by Faith (September 26, 1979; unreleased song)
12. I Will Love Him (April 19, 1980; unreleased song)
13. Jesus Is the One (July 17, 1981; unreleased song)
14. City of Gold (November 22, 1980; unreleased song)
15. Thief on the Cross (November 10, 1981; unreleased song)
16. Pressing On (February 13, 1980; outtake)

[The first two songs were played at the end of Dylan's Street Legal tour. On Slow Train Coming, Dylan sings When He Returns accompanied by only a piano. He recorded a full-band version and I hope that is what's included here.]

Disc 4: Rare and Unreleased
1. Slow Train (October 2, 1979; rehearsal)
2. Gotta Serve Somebody (October 9, 1979; rehearsal)
3. Making a Liar Out of Me (September 26, 1980; unreleased song)
4. Yonder Comes Sin (October 1, 1980; unreleased song)
5. Radio Spot - January 1980, Portland, OR show
6. Cover Down, Pray Through (May 1, 1980; unreleased song)
7. Rise Again (October 16, 1980; unreleased song)
8. Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (December 2, 1980; unreleased song)
9. The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar (May 1, 1981; outtake)
10. Caribbean Wind (September 23, 1980; rehearsal)
11. You Changed My Life (April 23, 1981; outtake)
12. Shot of Love (March 25, 1981; outtake)
13. Watered-Down Love (May 15, 1981; outtake)
14. Dead Man, Dead Man (April 24, 1981; outtake)
15. Every Grain of Sand (September 26, 1980)

[An incomplete version of Yonder Comes Sin circulates. Maybe this is the full song. The lyrics to Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody in December 1980 are completely different from (and far more complex than) the April 1980 version. Maybe we'll be able to decipher the words in the second version with a high-quality recording. And while Caribbean Wind is here, it is (inexplicably) not the live version (the only time Dylan played it - a version many fans find superior to the several studio attempts that have been bootlegged).]

Disc 5 – Live in Toronto (April 1980)
1. Gotta Serve Somebody (April 18, 1980)
2. I Believe In You (April 18, 1980)
3. Covenant Woman (April 19, 1980)
4. When You Gonna Wake Up? (April 18, 1980)
5. When He Returns (April 20, 1980)
6. Ain't Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody (April 18, 1980; unreleased song)
7. Cover Down, Pray Through (April 19, 1980; unreleased song)
8. Man Gave Names To All The Animals (April 19, 1980)
9. Precious Angel (April 19, 1980)

Disc 6 – Live in Toronto (April 1980)
1. Slow Train (April 18, 1980)
2. Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others) (April 20, 1980)
3. Solid Rock (April 20, 1980)
4. Saving Grace (April 18, 1980)
5. What Can I Do For You? (April 19, 1980)
6. In The Garden (April 20, 1980)
7. Band Introductions (April 19, 1980)
8. Are You Ready? (April 19, 1980)
9. Pressing On (April 18, 1980)

Disc 7 – Live in Earl's Court, London (June 27, 1981)
1. Gotta Serve Somebody
2. I Believe In You
3. Like A Rolling Stone
4. Man Gave Names To All The Animals
5. Maggie's Farm
6. I Don't Believe You
7. Dead Man, Dead Man
8. Girl From The North Country
9. Ballad Of A Thin Man

[Dylan began re-introducing his other songs into his sets in late 1980.]

Disc 8 – Live in Earl's Court, London (June 27, 1981)
1. Slow Train
2. Let's Begin
3. Lenny Bruce
4. Mr. Tambourine Man
5. Solid Rock
6. Just Like A Woman
7. Watered-Down Love
8. Forever Young
9. When You Gonna Wake Up
10. In The Garden
11. Band Introductions
12. Blowin' In The Wind
13. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
14. Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Disc 9 – DVD
Trouble No More – A Musical Film
DVD Extras:
Shot of Love
Cover Down, Pray Through
Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (Alternate version)
Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody (Complete version)
Precious Angel (Complete version)
Slow Train (Complete version)
The DVD is not of a full concert, as many fans hoped, but "a new feature-length cinematic presentation combining unreleased footage from Dylan's 1980 tours". Variety notes that about three-fourths of the film consists of concert footage. (Dylan's show in Toronto on April 20, 1980 was professionally filmed and bootleg copies have circulated for years. It is essential viewing. Four songs from that show are included on Discs 5 and 6, including Dylan playing piano on a stunning "When He Returns".)

AND ....... If you order the deluxe box set from Dylan's official website, you will also get a bonus two-disc set of the complete show from November 28, 1979 in San Diego. (Only half of that show circulates as a bootleg.)

Friday, September 08, 2017

Still Here

It's been roughly nine months since my last post, but I will be posting again soon.