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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Master Blueprints # 4: “Oh, What'll You Do Now My Blue Eyed Son, Oh, What'll You Do Now My Darling Young One”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”
Album: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Release Date: May, 1963

On the same weekend I turned 16 years of age, I attended the marriage of one of my parent’s closest friends, my Godfather Jack, to Ellen.  It was the ‘Godfather’ part that got me the invite, which allowed for some invaluable solo time with Mom and Dad for an entire day (being one of six, these alone-time memories with both my parents were few, far between, and cherished).  It was a beautiful summer day, with a slight breeze coming off the ocean on Massachusetts’ South Shore.  A large tent was set up for the reception in Ellen’s backyard, with a classical band contributing to the joyous mood, performing on the grassy hillside, which sloped off to reveal a serene view of Cape Cod Bay behind them.

In many respects this was a coming-of-age day for me.  The conversations with my parents – to, from, and at the wedding - were more adult-like than before.  Those conversations were also more two-way.  On top of that development, this was one of my very first weddings.  A vast majority of the people who attended were much older than I.  The food was adult.  The music was adult.  The beverages were adult. The dancing was adult.  The humor, the sophistication, the wealth, the strengths – and the weaknesses - were virtually all adult. 

There were several of us in the younger bracket there however, holding up our end of the generational spectrum.  This small representation would include my slightly older, free-spirited cousin, Lori, who I took a brief stroll with to the beach (engaging in yet another coming-of-age type conversation if I recall).  There were also several of Jack’s nieces and nephews, one of whom was doubling up on my own forays to the beer tent (and later paying for it).  This too was, in its own way, a coming of age experience.  However, it was the performance of another one of Jack’s nephews, one who was about half my age, which gave me my most lasting impressions of the day.

Toward the end of the ceremony, not long after the band had departed, this boy stood on a chair to make his presence known, with the obvious intention – with a little help from his Mom and Dad - of entertaining us.  I had never met him before, so I did not know what to expect.  Others in attendance knew what was coming though, and they gathered around him in hushed tones, listening intently as this youngster first collected himself, and then launched into the ballad, “Danny Boy”.  If not for his singing, you could have heard a pin drop over the subsequent 3-minute span.  It was a masterful rendition.  I say this not only because he was good, but because he got this jaded teenager’s attention, which was not an easy thing to pull in those days, particularly by a kid.  He also stimulated my curiosity, and in turn capped off a thought-provoking day; a day I look back on now as having contributed quite impressively to the shaping of my world view.

“Danny Boy”.  What was it that so deeply stirred this predominantly Boston-Irish crowd on that hot afternoon, August, 1978?  I concluded right off that it could not be the singing alone, which was good, but not that good.  No, there was history playing out here, recent history.  And deep raw emotion, which was thinly veiled just beneath the surface, but bubbling up now.  I saw tears and I heard sobs, and I connected.  It took a while for that connection to gel, but gel it would. 

The Irish journey, like many other 19th and early 20th century journeys, was not an easy one.  It witnessed its fair share of sacrifices and separations.  The people at this wedding were remembering their families past.  What I was seeing and hearing was both gratitude and lament for the sacrifices and turmoil that their forefathers (and I’m sure a number of them) had endured.  Yes, the song played out only for a few brief moments.  But for my then-newly-minted 16-year-old ears and eyes, a few moments was long enough.

“Danny Boy” is a ballad about the parting of a son from his Irish homeland, and it’s delivered from the perspective of his Dad.  There’s a sense that the son is going off to war, but it could also be that father and son are being forced to separate for some other reason equally dire (famine, opportunity overseas, British rule).  The lyrics are a grieving of sorts, that this is the last time the two will see each other, and that the father will no longer be alive when and if his son returns.  This is all heady stuff, but the toughest pill to swallow in the lyrics of “Danny Boy” are heard between the lines.  There’s a sense that this Dad knows all too well what his son is in for.  There’s an immense loss of innocence just around the corner.  And there’s nothing either of them can do about it.  The fact that this part of the story goes unspoken, makes “Danny Boy” even more stirring than if it was.

Bob Dylan took this concept to the nth degree with “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall”.  Here we hear the other side of the son’s journey, the coming home side, and the journey experience the father had feared.  Where have you been?”, “What did you see?”, “Who did you meet?”, and “What did you hear, my blue eyed son?” “My darling young one?” the father repeatedly asks.  The son’s responses?  I’d do an injustice to extract a sampling, so here’s a link to the original studio version for a listen ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5al0HmR4to ).

Whether or not this ‘Danny-comes-home’ concept was Bob Dylan’s intention, I am of course not privy.  But it’s what I mostly hear when I listen.  I also on occasion, hear “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” as Dylan singing to his own father about his own journey.  For example, at one point near the end of this uncanny song he sings the line “And I’ll know my song well before I start singin’”, so you get the sense there’s at least a small piece of him there.  If this be case it could be related to his journey up to the date he wrote the song (1963) or more profoundly, it could be him anticipating his remaining journey as well, which is still playing out.  Bob Dylan is a poet, and poets see the world more intensely, and often more starkly, than most of us do.

If Bob Dylan left the song at those series of questions and answers mentioned above, it would have left the listener to ponder the gnawing pang of a conclusion: Who’s to blame? But Dylan doesn’t stop there.  The last question from father to son goes “Oh, What’ll you do now my blue eyed son; oh, what’ll you do now my darling young one?”  The response is a strong, defiant one, twice the length of all the previous responses, and includes the most brilliant line among brilliant lines: “then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’”.  In other words, faith will propel this son forward from this moment on.

The father has lost a boy, but he’s gained …..a man. 

My journey has not been the same as that of the son in “Oh Danny Boy” and “Hard Rain”, or the journey of Bob Dylan for that matter.  But despite this, I believe I can relate.  How can this be?  How can someone like me, who has lived a relatively sheltered life, relate to a storied son who has been to hell and back, or a man who has inspired a generation?  It comes down to moments in your life.  Moments that shape who you are.  Moments like the ones I spent on a hot summer day, with my parents, at a wedding, on my 16th birthday

Pete

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Master Blueprints # 3: “Oh, Though the Earth May Shake Me, Oh, Though My Friends Foresake Me, Oh, Even That Couldn't Make Me Go Back”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “I Believe In You”
Album: Slow Train Coming
Release Date: August, 1979

Several months ago the 13th volume of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Trouble No More 1979 -1981, was released, which includes recordings from his aptly-dubbed “gospel years”, a period that covered three studio albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love) along with a considerable amount of in-the-Spirit touring (yes, that’s Spirit with a capital S).  Dylan’s outpouring of his Christian faith (and little else) during this time would end up alienating him from much of his longstanding fan base, but, not surprisingly this did not deter him.  After all, by this stage in his career, Bob Dylan had abandoned his past on at least several occasions.  In each of those cases, a degree of separation soon followed. This time, however, the stakes were higher.  This stark new reality was not a change in his music - the root of his prior detours - which remained rocking and rolling.  No, this newness was in his unwavering, unequivocal message.   

My own introduction to this period of Bob Dylan’s life, came later in the 80s.  I was still playing catch up, only several years into my personal odyssey into Dylan’s music when a friend and colleague, Jeff, handed me a tape of Slow Train Coming and suggested I give it a listen.  Jeff was aware that my appreciation of Dylan was promising, but in its infancy, and he was trying to broaden my horizons.  Whether to simply connect me to good music (which Jeff did and does often) or to give me a new angle on my own belief system, to this day I am not certain (perhaps I should ask him).  Whatever the motivation, it worked, albeit - as the title of the album suggests - in a slow, methodical way. 

Jeff caught me at a good time with Slow Train Coming.  I was still just skimming the surface of the treasure chest that is Bob Dylan’s catalog, so this full frontal assault of a message disguised as an album was helpful at this stage in my learning curve, giving me the proper perspective to interpret Dylan’s more subtle faith-centered lyrics later, on albums like John Wesley Harding and Oh Mercy or songs like “SeƱor” and “Shelter From the Storm”.  The fact of the matter was that hearing songs about Christian faith in the rock music I loved was new to me.  Yes, I’d already delved into George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and virtually the entirety of Pete Townshend’s catalog; solo and with the Who. Both Harrison’s and Townshend’s music is loaded with beautiful songs of faith.  But their faith was the faith of Far Eastern origins, particularly India.  Conversely, what was radiating through each and every of the nine original songs on Slow Train Coming was my faith.  Up to that point, virtually all Christian faith-centric songs I connected with were hymns and psalms at Catholic Church services. I credit Bob Dylan (and my friend Jeff) for broadening that base for me.

The first song on Slow Train Coming that struck a chord was, strangely enough, “Man Gave Names to All the Animals”.  It’s the one light touch on the album, many critics referring to it as a children’s song.  But it does have an ominous ending, the song hanging in mid-lyric with the introduction (to the Garden) of the snake.  It’s this ending that ties “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” to the rest of the album; emblematic of the mood that permeates throughout.  Slow Train Coming is loaded with Biblical truths and consequences, from Genesis all the way through to Revelation.  Bob Dylan pulls no punches here.  An attentive listen to this album is not for the faint of heart, or the weak in spirit…. unless their willing to contemplate making some changes in their lives. 

There are three gems on Slow Train Coming:  “Precious Angel”, “When He Returns” and this entries’ Master Blueprint, “I Believe in You”.  As with just about any of Bob Dylan’s greatest songs, there’s always some point in the tune where his vocal delivery resonates particularly strongly; a stanza where you feel he is truly in the moment.  I have been touched this way listening to all 3 of these songs.  In “Precious Angel” it’s when Dylan sings the line “Sister let me tell you, about a vision that I saw” (at 2:40 mark of the url: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xh55de ).  It lasts all of 4 seconds, too fleeting to auto-repeat, but the essence of Bob Dylan can be heard on that brief stretch (put in proper context of course, by listening to the whole song).  Side Note: That’s Mark Knopfler playing the great lead guitar, which is topped only on the title track.

Start to finish, Bob Dylan’s singing on the song “When He Returns” (sorry, no studio-version video to be found online) is some of his best.  There are many great lines delivered here, but the most poignant one for me is near the end when he sings “Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is un-con-cerned”.  “When He Returns” closes Slow Train Coming, which is appropriate in Biblical terms.  The song is stripped down, Dylan alone at the piano.  It’s raw, emotional, and powerful. 

As for “I Believe in You” those resonating moments would be all 6 times he exclaims “Oh” in the song (i.e. “Oh, though the earth may shake me….”:  https://vimeo.com/61070918 ).  Listening to these exclamations, I can’t help but conclude that “I Believe in You” is as much a prayer as it is a song.  There’s as much resolute devotion in the track as any church hymn I’ve ever heard. 

“I Believe in You” is a perfect example of why I am calling this series Master Blueprints.  Bob Dylan’s vocals, though amazing to some (including myself) are not for everyone.  He’s probably always known this.  And so, I believe one aspect to Dylan’s genius is that his songs are studio-produced in a way for other musicians to listen to, feel a connection with, cover, and make their own.  Many musicians have tapped into this deep well, including Richie Havens (“Just Like a Woman”), Lou Reed (“Foot of Pride”), Jimi Hendrix (“All Along the Watchtower”), Johnny Winter (“Highway 61 Revisited”), Ronnie Wood (“Seven Days”), The Byrds (“Mr. Tambourine Man”), Manfred Mann (“Quinn the Eskimo”), Joan Baez (“Love is Just a Four Letter Word”, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”), the list goes on.  In all these cases, it’s as if the song was written for that artist alone to discover and to sing.  I don’t see this anywhere else in the annals of music, not to this degree anyway.  Heck, last night Nancy and I went to a local show and both bands played Bob Dylan songs in unique and admirable ways that were compatible to their own styles.  I see this on a routine basis at shows I attend.  Incredible.

At least two musicians picked up on this made-for-me insight with “I Believe in You”.  The first was Sinead O’Connor, who was originally supposed to cover the song at Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert in 1992.  But in reaction to getting heckled by some in the audience as she walked onto the stage - this being not long after her appearance on SNL when she burned a photo of the Pope - she stared down the crowd for a good stretch.  At one point Kris Kristofferson came out to her from offstage to implore O’Connor by whispering - near enough to the mike for all to hear - “don’t let the bastards drag you down”.  His advice went unheeded.  Sinead tore off her headset, and stopped the band, who were trying to launch into “I Believe in You”.  She then ripped into a scathing vocal-only rendition of Bob Marley’s “War”, in turn ending up being the only artist that night who did not cover a Bob Dylan song.  Anyhow, she later covered the song at her own shows, including this lovely rendition in 1999: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uofTS1sI3rc ). God is forgiving. 

And then there was Alison Krauss who also makes “I Believe in You” her own in this moving rendition: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5dpkBV2ifs ).  Definitely worth a listen.

Slow Train Coming launched an invaluable 3-album period in Bob Dylan’s career. Faith was always in his repertoire, but full disclosure was necessary.  I believe the honesty, integrity and bravery of ‘the gospel years’ was a bridge of sorts that would eventually propel forth such brilliance in his later works.  That’s what faith, openness and honesty does.  It frees the soul and stirs the natural creative juices that are inside us all, juices always longing to be sprung.  I try to take these lessons to heart.  It’s not always easy, but I know when it’s happening, because when I feel it, it’s really, really real.

Pete

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Master Blueprints # 2: "My Clothes Are Wet, Tight On My Skin, Not As Tight As the Corner That I Painted Myself In”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Mississippi”
Album: Love and Theft
Release Date: September, 2001

I’ve done quite a bit of travelling for work over the past 30 years, allowing for a significant amount of time to reflect:  Long drives, generic hotel rooms, and an endless parade of airport terminals all provide the atmosphere that contribute to this state of mind.  In fact, many of these blog entries are the result of all that time alone and on the road.  Work travel for me triggers a range of often-conflicting emotions related to discovery, weariness, loneliness and wanderlust.  I’ve learned over the years that if you don’t find ways to exploit solitary time on the road, that time will find ways to exploit you.

It was on the return home a handful of years ago on a redeye after one of those trips (considering the depth of my weariness, more likely a series of back-to-backs) when I greeted my car awaiting me in the central parking garage at Logan Airport, and started my 1-hour drive home to Pepperell.   As I exited the ‘Big Dig’ and ramped up the Zakim Bridge, taking in the Boston landscape, I turned on the radio, which was queued to the cd I had inserted near the end of my drive into the airport earlier that week.  More specifically, it was queued to the start of track 2 on the 2001 album Love and Theft, the masterpiece that is “Mississippi”, one of my all-time favorite Bob Dylan songs ( https://rutube.ru/video/e448c39bd1ee8a6c6e7066d993fdf7cd/ ).

I’d purchased Love and Theft not long before, but my ears had not quite tuned into it.  Being the rocker I am, this blues-sounding album, which would eventually grow on me, was admittedly a real struggle to connect with out of the gate:  One of those albums that I have to give a listen, and then tuck away for a spell, and then give another listen, repeating this cycle until it all begins to seep in.  I knew it was good, but it was going to take a while, unlike Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan’s previous release four years earlier, which was near-instant karma, being much more in step with my music sensibilities. 

“Mississippi” was originally meant for Time Out of Mind, but in a move oh so typical of Bob Dylan over the years, he left this gem off the final release, and rerecorded it, with different musicians, and at a different tempo for Love and Theft.  It was the right thing to do, at least for me, because this song proved to be my inroad into Love and Theft that day on my drive thru Boston.  Whether it was the frazzled state of my mind that morning, or the cumulative effect of several weeks away from home, I am not sure, but at that moment this song talked to me, verse upon verse, upon verse.  And it has not stopped talking to me since.

I’ve written at least once before in this blog about the reflective effects of travelling on my mind; in that case 5 different night-driving experiences, the entry inspired by the Rolling Stones’ ethereal “Moonlight Mile” ( http://pete-gemsandbeyond.blogspot.com/2012/04/14th-in-series-of-stepping-stones.html ).  “Mississippi” takes the traveler a lot deeper though.  It’s a song written by a much older, wiser, and experienced soul.  Instead of simply a song about longing to be back home with your beloved one (“Moonlight Mile”), “Mississippi” stretches this way out,  longing also for what once was, in head-shaking ways (“Some people will offer you their hand and some won’t; Last night I knew you, tonight I don’t”) and it laments (“So many things we will never undo; I know you’re sorry; I’m sorry too”), and it connects with the innocence of youth (“I was raised in the country, I been workin' in the town; I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down”) and it self-evaluates (“All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime; Could never do you justice in reason or rhyme”) and it captures an on-the road mindset (“Walking through the leaves, falling from the trees; Feeling like a stranger nobody sees”) and it praises (“But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free; I've got nothin' but affection for all those who've sailed with me”) and it pleads its case with spot-on confidence and hope (“Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow; Things should start to get interesting right about now”) and it sums it all up with the metaphorical refrain “Only one thing I did wrong; Stayed in Mississippi a day too long”.  Dylan stirs all this up in one big pot of lifelong reflection, somehow pulling it off in 5 magical musical minutes.

Bob Dylan’s singing on “Mississippi” is some of his most emotional.  At times, it almost sounds like he’s crying out the words.  Two thoughts came to mind when I arrived at this conclusion earlier this week.  The first was in relation to a Dylan interview with Rock DJ Tony Pigg on New York City radio station WPLJ back in 1991, in celebration of the first 3 volumes of his phenomenal Bootleg Series. The interview coincided with the year of Dylan’s 50th birthday, which was brought up, and in turn had him in a particularly open and reflective mood as they weaved through highlights of his rare and unreleased songs (the theme of those first 3 volumes).  I taped this interview at the time and listened to it often in the ensuing months (man, I wish I could find that tape).  At one point Bob Dylan, who is an encyclopedia of music-history knowledge, was asked by Pigg if he knew of musicians who would readily cry on stage while singing their songs.   For the life of me, I can’t recall who he mentioned (Judy Garland may have been one), but he sounded quite reverential to a singers ability to cry lyrics with a degree of composure for an audience. 

The second thought took some research.  I had a faint recollection of reading a quote somewhere from a studio musician who played on one of Bob Dylan’s albums, talking about how Dylan experimented for a time with ‘singing into a corner’ during the sessions.  When I first read it, I did not think much of it.  Perhaps it was to get a bit more edge on focus, seeing as Dylan’s music is typically loaded with lyrics.  But now I was thinking there was way more to it.  Anyhow, a quick Google search got me nowhere, so I started leafing through several magazines that I had purchased over the past year as part of my preparation for Master Blueprints.  Finally there it was, in “The Ultimate Music Guide: Dylan” from the makers of Uncut.  The quote was from organist Augie Meyers (formally of the Sir Douglas Quintet), who was talking about ……the Love and Theft sessions!  Bingo!  My thinking now is, Bob Dylan was not so much trying to squeeze out more focus.   No, what he was really trying to do was squeeze out more emotion.  “Mississippi” may have very well been recorded as tears flowed down Dylan’s face, with only the wall as witness.  And yet, if this be the case, it was recorded live, with brilliant musicians playing behind him, and so we all get to hear.  These kinds of emotions often need some level of privacy in this macho world we live in, even for a troubadour like Bob.

“Mississippi” has been a particularly (and to the degree, peculiarly) moving song to these ears ever since that early morning drive out of Boston.  Now, after a solid week of listening and contemplating, I think I know why.  Bob Dylan figured out a way to deliver extra emotion into his music by the turn of the century, in similar fashion to those musicians he talked about in reverential tones in his interview with WPLJ.  He faced a wall to do it.   I followed suit on the listening end, alone in my car.

Pete

Monday, January 1, 2018

Master Blueprints # 1: “Take Me On A Trip Upon Your Magic Swirlin’ Ship”

(Personal reflections inspired by Bob Dylan songs)

Song: “Mr. Tambourine Man”
Album: Bringing It All Back Home
Release Date: January, 1965

It was a cold winter’s night, I’m thinking 1987-88.  I’d driven into ‘Boston Town’ to meet good friends, Phil and Mac and catch some live music at a jazz club.  First order of business was finding a metered parking space, particularly seeing that in those days every penny counted and meters ran free after dusk.  After a few circles around the block, I spied a prime spot near the club, and shoehorned my barebones white Datsun into the questionable car space available.  As was always the case in the 80s, WBCN FM, the “Rock of Boston”, was blaring on my radio, and as I proceeded to turn off my ignition - and in turn the music - the DJ just happened to be in the middle of introducing the next song.  Out of curiosity I hesitated:  WBCN DJ’s were known to throw deep cuts and curve balls at the listener in those days, and experience told me to hear her out.  It was a wise decision.

Over the airwaves, the opening guitar salvo to the live Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue version of “Shelter from the Storm” (off the live Hard Rain album) permeated through my speakers.  To my knowledge, I’d never heard this song, not even the studio version off of Blood on the Tracks.  It immediately resonated with me, and despite its length (the studio version clocks in at a bit over 5 minutes) and my running a tad late, I sat and listened to it in its entirety.  It was the tipping point moment in my connection with the music of Bob Dylan.

In the years previous, I’d slowly been perking my ears to Dylan’s music.  All my other major music influences from the 60s and 70s, including the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, the Kinks, and Van Morrison, had already made serious inroads into my rock and roll heart.  But Bob Dylan had remained elusive, despite being mentioned as a major influence by these musicians, and so many more who I already had the utmost respect for.  Dylan’s songs were also covered more often than anyone else’s music at shows I attended.  What was it that they were drawn to?  What did these incredible musicians connect to that I did not quite grasp?  Sure I had respect for the man who had written a handful of timeless protest folk songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.   But why all the seemingly over-the-top accolades?  What did they hear in this gravelly voiced soothsayer that blew their minds?  I - wanted - to - know.

That Boston car-parking moment was the first real clue for me.  Since then it’s been an avalanche of head shaking, jaw dropping wonder.  Very few people I know understand this fascination, and since I have been so moved by this artist, I see it as my duty to try and explain.  And so, over the next year or so, I’ll attempt to do just that through my standard approach; blending personal reflections that are inspired by music (as I’ve already done with 50 blog entries respectively in relation to the music of the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and the Who).  Bob Dylan is truly the cream of the crop.  He’s poetry in music.  His greatest strengths are inspiration and truth.  He ceaselessly seeks redemption.  He’s a man who is always busy being born.  He is the artist of our times who will above all others, not just survive the test of time, but thrive the test of time.  And oh boy, does he ever have a body of work.  There’s no way I can fit it all in with 50 entries, but I welcome that challenge. 

I can’t think of a song more apropos to launch this series than “Mr. Tambourine Man” (I’ll get to “Shelter from the Storm” later).  There are several reasons for this. The first is related to the only personal connection I ever made with Bob Dylan.  It was at the Roy Orbison tribute show at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles in the spring of 1990, which I have written about in a previous entry (see http://pete-gemsandbeyond.blogspot.com/2009/02/gmvw-59-got-it.html ).  My wife, Nancy and I had won tickets to this show and were seated in the second row, center stage.  Every musician that performed that night covered a Roy Orbison song, except for a surprise, somewhat out-of-context, one-off reunion of three of the original members of the Byrds (David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn) who played a short set of several of their most famous songs from the 60s.  If that were not shocking enough, who comes roaming onstage with them halfway through their set, but Bob Dylan!  After he playfully tussled with Crosby for a moment they all got serious and broke into “Mr. Tambourine Man”, a Dylan song made into a hit by the Byrds in 1965. 

I knew right away it was a historic music moment and, in a rare move in relation to the plethora of concerts I have attended throughout my life, I pulled a camera out, not heeding a warning from friend Jeff Strause that Bob Dylan was averse to any means of recording him in those days (Jeff having his tape recorder swiped from him by security at a Boston show earlier that year).  As the song played out, and I snapped a few shots, Dylan honed in on me, drifted to the edge of the stage in front of us, and glared at me and my camera.  My one encounter with this musician-icon, as with another, Pete Townshend, years later ( http://pete-gemsandbeyond.blogspot.com/2016/01/under-big-top-1-pete-meet-and-greet.html ), was not a warm and fuzzy.  But after all the stories I had read about how Dylan sometimes works with studio musicians and how he often deals with reporters and fans, at least I did not feel completely isolated in my supposed wayward moment.  Regardless it felt in that instance as if daggers were emanating out of Bob Dylan’s eyes, cutting clear though to my soul.  This was one intense man, and I got a self-inflicted taste of his medicine, momentarily losing my good vibrations on that otherwise glorious evening.  I got the hint, put my camera away, and simply took in the show for memory alone from that moment on.

The second strong connection I made with “Mr. Tambourine Man” was while watching the live simulcast of the 1992 Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert (I plan to write more on this show in the months ahead, seeing as there were so many highlights).  The song was performed that night by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, along with the aforementioned Roger McGuinn.  I recall as I listened to it thinking at the time that Petty and crew had in mind Dylan himself as they sang the lyrics.  And then near the end of the song, Tom Petty catches McGuinn’s eye and offers a knowing wink.  At that moment, I felt a kinship with these musicians.  A common sense of wonder in relation to the man they were honoring, not only through a song written by him, but now being interpreted as also being about him.  Not long after, I purchased the VCR tape of the show and every time I get to that Petty-winking moment, I feel that same connection (most recently in a slightly different light after the sudden death of Tom Petty this past October).  

Which brings me to the meaning of “Mr. Tambourine Man”.  Let me say right off, I’m not going to make any claims in this series to know precisely what Bob Dylan means when he puts pencil to paper when composing.  All I can do is to try and relay how I interpret his songs, which often evolves with each listen.  Anyhow, to me this song is about being astonished by the strength of someone’s (or God’s) character, which is conveyed here in that being’s ability to emit unearthly beautiful music, and you yourself wanting nothing else but to listen.  Dylan gets this across with the aura of an early morning urban setting after an all-night escapade, the protagonist weary but somehow energized.  We’ve all been there.  Dylan is an expert at this sort of thing - tapping into your conscience through common life experiences - like no other songwriter I know. 

I’m thinking this series on Bob Dylan will be fairly unique.  Unlike other series on the Rolling Stones, Who, and Neil Young, I’ll be discussing the instrumentation much less here.  Dylan is more about the spoken word, the lyrics, the cadence, and the meaning (although the meaning is a commonality with all these series’, it’s a bit more so here).  I’ve dubbed this series “Master Blueprints” because part of what fascinates me with Dylan is that he never appears to try and perfect his delivery on stage or in studio.  He lays it out there, for others to work with, even more so than for himself.  These are blueprints you hear on his records, which in some miraculous way, makes his songs even more profound than if they had been expertly crafted.  I will strive to make this blueprint concept a common them in this series, particularly in regards to how I write my part of the story. 

Also, unlike other series, I’m not going to make a regular attempt to add a url link of the song of choice.  The original studio versions are too hard to find on the web.  I suggest if you find yourself intrigued or curious that you go out and purchase the given record if you don’t have it, or borrow it from the library.  And finally, these entries are likely to be more sporadic than the weekly output In typically try to pull off, as I’m multitasking with all sorts of things these days.  I’ll try my best to keep a routine though.

Happy New Year.

Pete